We all know that academics are capable of dedicating huge effort to defining terms. In fact at if we allowed them to police a riot I’m sure the first three days would be spent defining what exactly we mean by riot. But I’m going to jump in here and argue that we don’t even have so much as a coarse filter in terms of enterprise – and that we at least need a colander.
I have vague memories of the late 80s and during this time there was a big push in the UK towards self-employment. I don’t think we emphasised the terms enterprise or entrepreneurship in the way we do now (though there was the Enterprise Allowance Scheme). This move towards self-employment was designed to massage unemployment figures and to ease supply side constraints. In fact we called it ‘self-unemployment’ and I was one. In my industry we saw lots of staff shift from being ‘on the books’ to being subbies – sub-contractors. This was not especially enterprising of them as it basically meant they did the same work, for the same construction firm, with a slightly higher hourly rate but no sick pay and no holidays. I think that model is still with us and can be seen in the artisan and the consultant. I think it explains a lot of the ‘jobbing’ style activity that sees people working for many firms. I think it explains your plumber still. I would call activity that involves very few or no employees and is reliant on selling a service or home produced product as self-employment.
Some of these self-employed have the capacity and drive to grow, to establish enterprises. This growth is enterprising behaviour. Closely aligned is a similar growth drive that relies less on the service or product based skills of the start-up individual. Perhaps they take advantage of arbitrage and invest in physical stock in clever ways. Perhaps they take the mass of hairdressers we seem to churn out and turn an old MacDs into an out of town drive through hairdressers (don’t try that – it’s an attempt at humour). This potential spotting and risk taking behaviour is classic entrepreneur.
Finally we get the slow, careful and calculating business people. The ones who benefit most from MBAs. The Warren Buffet and Alf Roberts (UK soap opera) style approach. These often take established business and make them more efficient. I sit here nowadays.
To me, what matters here is how this translates to education. We have this last group well catered for, though the syllabus needs constant updating and tweaking. The first group, the self-employed, need basic technical skills relating to tax and legal requirements of running a business. The middle two are the two we need to push. The growth individuals are the ones that we lack. Of course it would be great if everyone could be in this band but they are not going to be. What we need is to ensure that enterprise education is delivered by people who understand it’s about creativity and growth; not business plans; not tax; not legal entities. People who realise it’s as much about the woman down the road who has grown to have six staff and a £1m turnover in two years as it is about an unrepeatable Branson or Jobs case study. People who realise that a day spent with artists may be more beneficial than a day spent with an economist like me.