Ok got a bit carried away this time and thought I would look at four areas of ‘business’ education in one short blog – but things have been swirling around in my mind inspired by various posts and conversations. I think there’s a theme here though – we’ll find out soon.
Enterprise and Entrepreneurship
Starting with the newest first we also come across wonderfully misapplied terms. To me, and by no means am I an authority, there is a subtle difference between these two terms. To me an entrepreneur is an individual that risks their own wealth for growth of an innovative venture. Said quickly it sounds like any business, or can be constructed that way, but of we look again we see two key terms. ‘Risk own wealth for growth’ – not the company’s, not yours or mine, but their own on-going wealth. So the individual puts at risk themselves and does this in an obsessive drive for growth. So there is no comfort, no success but growth. The entrepreneur is interested in percentage growth not actual sales – a strange beast. Now, of course, this also describes Warren Buffet to a large extent – but I would never describe Buffet as an entrepreneur and, I suspect, neither would the Sage of Omaha himself. This is because Buffet is a brilliant businessman and not one who seeks innovation, the second of our two terms. Innovation is required in entrepreneurs (I believe). Taking something and making something very new.
Switching to enterprise things get a little easier. We see the same interest in new ways of working, of change, of innovation and creativity but we drop the risk. So far so good. Two areas that share a central them – creativity. Great, so how do we teach this? Well this is where we start to have problems. Too often enterprise is taught in terms of ‘business start-up’, ‘business plans’, ‘tax returns’ and ‘margins’ – in other words a little too much Dragons’ Den. Not that this does not have its place but imagine dedicating most of a music degree to box office sales, staffing, PR, finance and such and only a small proportion to composition – that certainly wouldn’t work would it? Enterprise needs to focus on problems, solutions, creativity, fun and ideas. Unfortunately most business schools are ill equipped to teach these – and as for state schools – well maybe the PE teacher can look at it in a free period? I know I get more of my enterprise solutions from Dr Seuss than I do from Ansoff, and I get precious little from standing on the shoulder of the ‘would be giants’ and reading their biographies.
After having tore a little bit polemically through enterprise let’s turn our sights toward traditional business education. At this point I need to declare that I have a degree in business so am guilty as charged. Business is a great degree, ideal if you are not sure on career and want real value for money. But, and you knew there was going to be a but, I am not sure what it creates. We dabble across a range of subjects, each subject itself problematic. Taking accountancy for example, we do instruct in the basics and cover a fair bit of ground but to what end? Accountancy itself is a very poor lens through which to view business. It is dwells too forensically on too few variables. It’s boring – no really it is. It lacks an understanding of wider environment and of markets. Which takes us to marketing, is this a creative or analytical subject, or both, or neither? Human resources will equip you with a few insights (too strong a word) into motivation and leadership and strategy will tell you why Coca-Cola is successful (in case you couldn’t work it out for yourself). Don’t worry all of this will get you a good job, it is an accepted discipline. What interest me is the link between subjects and reality. Before you say the next line for me “you can’t teach experience” let me stop you. If experience was that useful a guide we would be in a much more prosperous country – we have too long been embarrassed of theoretical studies and allowed ourselves to be lured onto the rocks by the sirens of ‘common sense’. You’ve had your turn – we threw away academic funding 30 years ago and followed you into the abyss. No what I am calling for is a breaking up of silos, a move away from pseudo-disciplines. Most accounting problems can be solved by an un-indoctrinated maths graduate and better marketing copy written by an English graduate – so what on earth are we teaching?
Vying with enterprise for first place in the policy beauty pageant is employability. I’m not too sure what this means, or at least what the universally accepted definition is. I have seen everything dumped underneath it - CVs, interviews, literacy, numeracy, research methods with the ‘common sense’ answer that you need these to get a job. True. But that makes anything part of the employability curriculum – and we pretty much have all assumed that learning makes people better and better probably helps them get a job. I think if we back off of this meta view and look at what helps someone get work and gain promotion, and what is lacking in students’ more general education, we can probably focus on attitude. If we consider the contestants on the Apprentice, perhaps with the exception of the recent winner, we see a collection of un-employables. Over sold CVs, a ‘say what they want to hear’ mentality, over confident and under-delivering – great TV though. We need to help students realise the importance of attitude, of accepting that they have a positive role to play in society and that, despite what the adverts say, you don’t automatically deserve everything just because you can breathe. I’m not sure how we teach this alongside CV writing and interview skills, and I admire those who are trying.
Apologies for another long blog, but I think we have developed a bit of a theme that I will flip into another blog – common sense and its limits.