My love affair with TEDx

I don’t know when my romance with TED Talks first started – I’ve been a fan for decades although I’ve never let it become an obsession. But my love of TEDx  (or little TED as I call it) started in 2013 when I helped to organise a TEDx gathering in Bedford.

TEDx is the independently organised offspring of big TED. If you haven’t already flirted with TED Talks, they’re a vast collection of 18-or-less-minutes talks – presented direct to camera in front of a live audience – on every subject under the sun, and probably some on the sun itself. Discover them online after reading this blog post and your life will be changed forever – just like when you fall in love.

After Bedford, I attended TEDxChelmsford twice, giving a talk – Male, stale and in a shed – in June 2016 and watching others go through the same ordeal a year later. I’ve also been in the audience at TEDxNorwichED (ED indicates the focus for the talks was education in its widest sense) twice – most recently on April 28th 2018 – which is what has prompted this post.

As readers of this blog series may remember (I try to forget it) my appearance on stage in Chelmsford in June 2016 was not without incident and it spawned a new series of blog posts which continue to this day. To cut a long and painful story short, in the middle of my 14-minute talk I dried up on stage for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only around 10 seconds.

It’s an experience you don’t easily forget, so I was with the presenters of their TEDx talks every step of the way as they went out under the spotlight – in front of 450 people at TEDx NorwichED, and literally thousands following the live stream on YouTube (so no pressure then, as they say). Scary stuff indeed, particularly as the idea is that you speak without notes (and most didn’t have slides as a prompt either)

I take no delight in reporting that, of the 30 speakers, at least half a dozen lost it like I did in Chelmsford (and more probably came close to it). This is no criticism of the speakers or their preparation for the day – it’s just something that happens. And each amazing one had their own technique for recovering – from admitting their mind had gone blank (with some skilfully making a joke of it), to pulling a small list of prompts from their pocket, to looking at a friend on the front row for a verbal prompt.

I am delighted to say that these very natural and understandable hiccups mattered not one bit. The audience in the hall was with them 100%. If anything, the vulnerability of the speakers endeared them to us all the more; our admiration grew for their bravery – and the applause and cheers rang out at the end as it did for all the speakers.

Which is why I love TEDx. The strapline for big TED is ‘ideas worth spreading’ and we got loads of inspiring ideas at TEDx NorwichED. But for me what mattered as much was experiencing the sense of community, the togetherness, sharing a thirst for learning about ways we can make the world a better place. And that, in my book, is a brilliantly worthwhile use of a very wet Saturday in Norwich.

A spot of bother https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2016/12/17/a-spot-of-bother-no-mans-land-1)

 Male, stale and in a shed – the edited version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ1e8FVcWEo 

PS The wonders of editing – if you think that the big TED talks look slick and professional, apparently even those speakers are known to lose it mid-presentation.

 

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On being a new father – No man’s land #9

Reflections on masculinity, mental health and trying to make a difference 

Years before I was even considering parenthood, I got seriously concerned about the prospect of being a father. I don’t really know why, but I got burdened by just thinking about the parental responsibility of influencing a growing child by everything said and done in his/her presence. Now, of course, I know better; parents are just not that influential – much of what they say is rarely heard, let alone acted upon!

Which is not to say that our lovely daughter has even gone out of her way to challenge her upbringing; it never ceases to amaze me how lightly we’ve got off as parents. When she was a toddler everyone talked about ‘the terrible twos’ but that never happened. Then people warned us about the teenage years – they came and went. We’re still waiting for the storm…

Which is not to say her birth was without incident. In fact, for my wife it could be fairly described as traumatic. 14 weeks before her due date, my wife’s blood pressure rose alarmingly and two weeks later our very special daughter was born by emergency caesarean section. She weighed in at 2lbs 1.5 ozs – “less than a bag of sugar, but infinitely sweeter” was how I reported the news to my parents (and a surrogate grandmother from Uruguay).

The NHS care our daughter received for the next nine weeks was brilliant. Even at her birth in the operating theatre there was one team looking after my wife, one for our daughter, and a nurse for me – in case I fainted. For the record, I didn’t. I had absolute faith in the doctors and nurses and the bank of life-supporting equipment in the neonatal intensive care unit to which we had access 24 hours a day.

My wife was less calm and with good reason. She’d trained as a maternity nurse and knew too much about the hazardous journey ahead for our seriously premature baby. This, combined with a new mother’s strong maternal bond and hormonal turmoil, made our daughter’s nine week stay in hospital a particularly massive ordeal for her. My role as the ‘supportive husband’ included daily lunchtime visits to get photos developed that had been taken the day before and then visiting the hospital each evening. I felt it was very much a walk-on part and I now wonder whether I really understood what my daughter and her new mother were going through, or acknowledged my own true feelings.

Two weeks ahead of her due date, our beautiful daughter came home and some sort of normality returned to our household. Having a nurse and health visitor for a wife was both reassuring and slightly isolating. I didn’t think to ask questions about our growing child’s development assuming if all had not been normal my wife would have said something. My wife appeared to be in control but I’m not sure I ever thought to check.

I feel our daughter has developed and demonstrated her resilience by surviving those first precarious 12 weeks of her life. That and ‘willingly’ being sent to school at times she was probably unfit to go – that’s what comes from having a nurse for a mother! As parents of an only child with such a precarious arrival into this world, it would have been easy to spoil her, but we’ve tried to leave that to others.

We were warned that lung development might present problems for our daughter in later life (she had an emergency intervention when she was 12 hours old) but apart from a short stay in hospital aged 2 with bronchiolitis, her development has been smooth and untroubled. The medics said she’d be average weight by the age of two and that’s just what happened.

In earlier blog posts I’ve referred to the well-known advice for parents – that they should give their children ‘roots to grow and wings to fly’. But all parents will know the mixed emotions as they watch their young ones go off to school alone or with a friend for the first time. We  celebrate their new-found independence while regretting that one more parental tie has been broken. And then comes the recognition that our children have reached an age and stage in their lives when their pain can’t simply be removed by a kiss and a cuddle. I’ve sometimes look on feeling helpless and inadequate not knowing what to say. But then maybe just being there says something worthwhile?

We also want to shield our offspring from the darker side of life forever, but that’s just not possible. I’ll never know how my mental ill health during my daughter’s formative years may have affected her, and I don’t think the health professionals would know either.

So, was parenthood as concerning as I thought it would be all those years ago in my late teens? No – it was much less daunting thanks to the support and love of others. Before taking paternity leave, my then work colleagues reassured me that babies could be dropped without breaking (not that I ever put this to the test). And while parenting was not the number one topic of conversation at the fathers’ nights out after leaving London, we compared notes about sleep deprivation and joked about taking our daughters to football matches in the interests of being politically correct (remember this was nearly three decades ago…)

I know it’s a cliché to say so, but raising our daughter and seeing the person she has become is my proudest achievement. Her love and support have enriched my life and given me strength when I was at my lowest. She has inspired me to take on new challenges, her values, wisdom and approach to life have shown me new routes to a better world. I am truly blessed.

Further reading:

My father’s shadow https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/my-fathers-shadow-no-mans-land-6/

For other posts in the ‘No man’s land’ series go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/no-mans-land

Take note!

I recently did some mandatory online training modules at work. You know the sort of thing – manual lifting, equality and diversity and, new for 2018, GDPR (if you don’t know what that is, look it up). I’ve come to like this form of learning – it’s an in-my-own-time, read, listen and then answer some multiple-choice questions type of thing.

What online learning doesn’t dictate is how you absorb the information and, while it’s all fairly basic stuff, I do this by taking notes as I’m going through the module. I know my style of learning is ‘by doing’ which is not enough reason to start a fire to find out how to use the extinguisher… so I have to find other ways to embed the learning – hence the notes.

This note-taking is an extension on my normal practice when in meetings – it helps me to concentrate and to recall what was said and agreed – weeks later if necessary. And it’s surprising how often a discussion at a meeting can spark a completely unrelated idea; I need some means to record the idea for future investigation at a later date – I don’t trust my memory.

Another time I take notes at work is when I’m in a 1-2-1 with a would-be entrepreneur – often a young person thinking of starting their own business. I’ve been in advice roles for over 15 years and I find that being seen to take notes (pretty much whatever I actually write on my pad!) shows them that I’m listening; they’ve got my attention.

What worries me is that I’m not at all sure I’ve got the attention of the young people I support. I share detailed feedback on their business plans – usually my scribbled notes on their word-processed plan – and then see a look of horror on their faces when I say I’m going to hang on to their plan and my notes! Very few of them bring any note-taking materials to our meetings and I sometimes comment on this – giving them a pen and paper if they take the hint. Do they bring paper and pen next time? Not often.

I can only conclude that young people don’t need to take notes these days (and the hand-written work I’ve seen suggests some of them might not be able to) that in our fast-moving, information-filled lives the modern brains of the younger generation have adapted to record and recall information at will. Unlikely.

Which might bring me on to lists (my reliance on and love of them) and the state of my hand-written work diary, but that sounds like the subject for another blog post or two (or possibly a new online training module?)

For other blog posts about ‘working well’ go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/working-well

Is agile working the answer?

In our ever-changing world of work, management theories have had trouble keeping up with the speed of that change, and the ways of coping with the impact of these changes for workers. The ‘new’ solutions are often nothing more than a re-hash of old ideas (that may or may not have worked in the past) which is not in itself a criticism – most change is cyclical and re-inventing the wheel isn’t always a bad thing.

The idea of ‘flexible working’ has underpinned discussions about working practices for decades. Traditionally, standardisation with workers being treated as ‘units of production’ – a conveyor belt mentality – was seen as the panacea for running efficient and cost-effective organisations. Since then the pendulum has swung the other way. Flexitime – flexible start and finish times covering certain ‘core’ hours – has been part of the management speak lexicon for at least the past four decades; the concept was actually trademarked in 1971. Hotdesking may be seen as a more recent idea, but its origins date back to the 16th Century and the naval practice of ‘hot-racking’ where one sailor would vacate a bunk bed for use by another (so sleeping and working in shifts).

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, one of my heroes, Charles Handy, popularised the phrase ‘portfolio working’ – being employed by different businesses at the same time, often on a freelance basis. Handy’s book The Empty Raincoat was some brilliant crystal-ball-gazing into the future of work.

Behind all these concepts is the theory of making the best use of time and space.

Since the global financial crisis of 2007 at least, I’ve noted the rise of management-speak, business bullshit – call it what you like – that tends to put the focus on the individual worker’s behaviour, rather than that of the employer, as the potential remedy for inefficiency and under-use of resources in organisations of all shapes and sizes. This may be dressed up with words like ‘empowerment’ but, not surprisingly in the age of austerity, it’s more about cost-cutting than anything else.

We see increased use of phrases like ‘mobile working’. With the advent of technological advances, and the mobile phone in particular, not only can we work anytime, but we can work anywhere – at home, in our cars, in cafés. And if someone else is picking up the cost of heat, light and rent so much the better. In the name of increased efficiency and cost-savings in the wake of the financial crisis, a decade ago I also noticed the introduction of the phrase ‘smart working’. It was easy to say, sounded good but, in my experience, no one ever really defined what it meant (perhaps because we all already knew it was about getting people to do more for less).

And coupled with the idea of doing more for less, if that endangers out mental wellbeing we can now learn to be resilient – to bounce back whatever life and work throws at us. Resilience in technical circles is a measure of what stress it takes to break something… The NHS is awash with resilience training for staff which at least acknowledges that the service and the people who work in it are at breaking point.

This focus on the individual continues with ‘agile working’ which seems to differ from flexible working in that the latter is about what primarily suits the employer, which agile working is intended to (also) meet the needs of the employee. This is a 2013 definition…

Agile working is a way of working in which an organisation empowers its people to work where, when and how they choose – with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints – to optimise their performance and deliver “best in class” value and customer service. It uses communications and information technology to enable people to work in ways, which best suit their needs without the traditional limitations of where and when tasks must be performed.

Asking ‘Is agile working the answer?’ – the title of this blog post –  begs the question, what is it meant to achieve?

Cost-saving? Almost certainly, transferring core costs away from the centre and having them absorbed by others, often the employees (and owners of public meeting spaces such as cafes and bars).

Time-saving? Agile working, like home-working, implies less unproductive time spent travelling made ever more possible by technology. But I fear the reduction in face-to-contact with colleagues and customers may bring new costs (in terms of effectiveness) down the line.

Increasing productivity? More time ‘on the job’ – in your pyjamas at home late at night, on a laptop or mobile phone in your car (a mobile office) – is certainly more possible in theory but relies on the commitment of workers that will be increasingly managed at arm’s length. It also increasing blurs the line between work and play.

A happier workforce?  Being empowered and in greater control of our working conditions are objectively ‘good things’. But everyone is different, and many employees are happier working regular hours in a structured environment alongside colleagues they can see and bounce ideas off, rather than working alone with the freedom to decide when and where the job gets done.

At the heart of the debate about different ways of working is the difference between efficiency and effectiveness, about balancing short and long-term gains, and the importance of the health of the individual relative to the health of the organisation (the two may not always go hand in hand).

Efficiency is about the relationship between inputs and outputs, effectiveness is about inputs and outcomes. In a service-based business, the first tends to be about quantity and profit, while the second – effectiveness – tends to be about quality and people. As is the case in politics, when budgets are squeezed short-term decisions may be made for financial expediency without due regard for long term cost (and potential future savings). Witness pressure on the NHS to treat symptoms of ill health rather than the causes.

Employees across the UK are being asked to accept unpalatable changes to their terms and conditions for the greater good – sustaining services, making sacrifices now for jam tomorrow. This is all about changing cultures and mindsets and the best ways to do this will be as various as the organisations needing to make those changes.

My primary concern about this, borne out in part by personal experience, is that short term sacrifice is rarely rewarded in the long term. This is not just for individuals that feel the pain most personally, but also for the organisations and causes that are the reason we get out of bed in the morning. The health of well-run organisations is intrinsically tied up with the health of those running them; if staff get burnt out and leave, I fear for the future.

Further reading on agile working http://www.nhsemployers.org/~/media/Employers/Documents/SiteCollectionDocuments/Agile%20Working%20Guide.pdf

Back to school – no man’s land #8 part 2

Reflections on masculinity, mental health and trying to make a difference 

May 2000

When I was young, I was lucky enough to be taken to the Liverpool Playhouse. The performances there were high quality because they were warm-ups ‘in the provinces’ for plays before they transferred to the West End. I shall never forget a performance in 1971 – I was 16.

It was Michael Redgrave in The Old Boys a play of the novel by William Trevor centred on a small group of old scholars reminiscing about their boarding school days in slightly nasty tones. I remember Michael Redgrave’s powerful performance more than the play itself. A reviewer of the William Trevor book suggests “It reminds us that at every level of every society there are groups of Old Boys cocooned in smug insularity.” I now suspect the resonance might have something to do with my age and the stage of my own boarding school education and an awareness about my privileged insularity.

In the years immediately after leaving school, I returned for the annual reunions while I still knew people at the school, particularly the teachers. There then followed a long break at the end of which I first experienced clinical depression, eight months before my 40th birthday, with further episodes in the following two decades. The ‘black dog’ can always return uninvited but hasn’t done so for more than two years.

I made a conscious decision to organise a 25th anniversary reunion to try to discover if any of my contemporaries had had comparable psychological experiences in the intervening years that might be attributed to our shared education. It was also a form of ‘coming out’ to my former class mates about my mental ill health. In the event, there was no great revelation at that gathering – we didn’t all start expressing feelings that had been suppressed over the previous three decades.

With my parents retiring to the north of England it was easy to return for the annual school reunions and I took on an informal role keeping our year group in touch with each other in the run-up to each reunion. Very gradually I learnt more about the boarding school experience of my fellow old scholars.

Those who were prepared to talk shared stories of prescription medication for anxiety, of hating everything apart from sport which, perhaps surprisingly, kept them coming back for the reunions. Then there were the night time escapades involving climbing over walls, motorbikes, and girls. These and other more daring exploits now seem like small rebellions against our cocooned existence.

Much was probably quite normal for post-pubescent boys, but I also remember some vicious, physical and psychological bullying (and of one teacher in particular) which seemed at odds with the pacifist ethos that was meant to pervade the school. I think it tended to focus on the intellectual deep thinkers; people interested in cerebral rather than physical exertions. I’ve always felt there were some anti-semitic undertones in some of the more unpleasant confrontations, but I have to say that Jewish friends I’ve asked about this had no such experiences. I once also thought there was some anti-semitism behind the antagonism towards Leeds United supporters (of whom there were many at the school). I now think it probably had more to do with the team’s success and style of play at that time – these were the days of Norman ‘bites yer legs’ Hunter…

Ironically, it wasn’t until I started writing this ‘No man’s land’ blog series that I felt able to ask others about their emotional development while at boarding school. It was as if ‘research’ was a valid reason to ask personal questions, rather than being free to make supportive enquiries of friends of over 40 years (when the first half dozen years of those friendships had been forged 24 hours a day).

One of my contemporaries says of his own wellbeing. I find it difficult to be open about such things [mental health] having been conditioned by years in the NHS where stigma is embedded and to admit to anything marks you out as weak/vulnerable and therefore career limiting. The NHS is not very good at looking after its own people and inclined to exploit them. I did suffer anxiety in my last job in which I worked far too many hours and often felt I was not achieving very much.”  

In loco parentis’ is Latin for “in the place of a parent”. It refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent. All boarding schools take on that role, and our school the more so, selling itself on the caring and inclusive environment it claimed to offer the parents of young men through adolescence.

At the time I didn’t consciously feel an absence of nurturing by the school, but I now realise that they didn’t do very well with the in loco parenting. This may not be too surprising as I’ve since learnt from a former Schools’ Inspector that the school was, by current standards of ‘good practice’, under-staffed by 30%. As with historical sexual abuse in wider society, it’s too easy to say ‘we’re talking about 50 years ago’; the impact of those years, and the lack of emotional support, are still being felt by those who endured that schooling.

In my time at boarding school, I can’t recall any members of staff asking me ‘how are you?’ – none of the pastoral support you’d expect from your parents and hope to have from those looking after your welfare 24 hours a day, 30+ weeks a year, for seven years. I’ve recently been reminded that the headmaster’s wife and the nurse in the sick wing did offer some pastoral support (but I had to be reminded about this…)

There was no offer of support to help us through the emotional and physical upheaval that is puberty – the delight and concern associated with wet dreams (what’s happening to me?!)   No one addressing the first flush of love – romances, crushes, infatuations – for either sex, but I accept that this may have been common in similar schools in the late 1960’s and early 70’s.

Our sexual awakening was not helped by the portrayal as members of the opposite sex as ‘others’ – residing on the other side of the city, protected by a headmistress who tried to convince us that being tucked up in our own beds was the only place to be after dark – probably for life, except for the act of pro-creation. Of course, such a stance made us all the more curious about the ‘forbidden fruit’ as those stories about after-dark escapades – re-told, and probably embellished – testify.

My sex education at school was gleaned from the (anatomically incorrect) graffiti on the toilet walls. The only health education I remember was being told if we combed our hair regularly it would stimulate the follicles. No reference to how the soft porn magazines hidden in those same toilets might stimulate other parts of our bodies!

As regards homosexuality, I think I lived in a bubble. Apart from a teacher and sixth form student leaving the school following an ‘affair’, I was unaware of covert or overt homosexuality. There was no education about homosexuality, let along the associated physical and emotional baggage. Maybe this is not so surprising as some of the teachers were not much older than us – being straight out of teacher training college.

It has taken 45 years for me to learn there were as many as five young gay men in a year below mine. Other than heterosexual marriages, I still have no indication of the sexuality of my contemporaries – such is the repression of expression of emotions and feelings amongst this particular group of boarding school educated men.

Most shocking for me was something I learnt quite recently from one of my contemporaries. He, like a good percentage of our age group, had come to our school in the third year, having previously been at preparatory school (prep school) which often meant boarding from a younger age than I had. This particular friend confided that he’d been sexually abused on a number of occasions when at prep school and that up to that point – more than 40 years after leaving school – he’s never told anyone else about this, other than his partner.

I know my emotional development suffered from leaving home at 11, for others that went away to prep school at a younger age, the impact may have been even greater. A former classmate notes “I was away from home age 9.  In my case I think I missed some family dynamics and goings on I’ve only recently discovered, and I think my sister who was left at home without her brothers considers herself to have been the one who suffered.  And though I’ve never been especially close to my brother, and he never liked boarding school, I probably benefited from his already being there.”

My father had some lifelong nervous twitches which he attributed to his boarding school education (he too had gone to a prep school at an early age). Clearly he didn’t like being sent away to school and his education served his emotional development poorly, so I’ll never quite understand why he did something similar to his only son.

But I don’t want to finish this blog so negatively. My contemporaries have recently pointed to some positives which are no doubt shared by others. Those who describe their prep school days as ‘miserable’ say their later schooling – including the friendship of fellow students and teachers – made a refreshing change. While some point to damaged family relationships from being away from home, others (including myself) pay tribute to the subsequent support of partners with strong, loving and enduring relationships that defy our being ‘cocooned in smug insularity’ in our formative years.

Many who gather on a regular basis at our annual reunions confirm the value of the lasting friendships they made so many years ago. This group is, of course, self-selecting and others may be suffering in silence, not suffering at all, or have come to terms with our shared educational experience. I believe that I owe the school my self-confidence and I know others do so as well. A friend talks of gaining resilience from his schooling but then suggests that very resilience [and self-confidence] may ‘obscure an awareness of natural human frailty and therefore not recognising a need to ask for help’.

Further reading

Part 1 of this blog https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/11/06/back-to-school-no-mans-land-8-part-1/

https://buildingboys.net

For other blogs in the ‘No man’s land’ series click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/no-mans-land

 

 

Uniform

Exactly three years ago, I posted a blog about male identity. It alluded to the importance of uniform in the working lives of many men. Even something like a suit can give self-confidence to the wearer and may instill authority and status in a business context.

All the more so when the uniform – like those of the emergency services – is also associated with an ‘important’ role, particular skills and expertise, and makes the wearer instantly recognisable in public places. As such uniforms may genuinely be described as life-savers in emergency situations.

Even work-wear such as a high-viz jacket says something about the wearer; I certainly tend to associate them with someone I assume knows more than me about the particular situation in which I find myself – whether it’s on a building site, in a traffic jam, or taking part in parkrun (at which I’m sometimes the high-viz wearer).

When I posted that blog in March 2015 we were about to get fleeces and polo shirts for the Shedders at The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead. Soon after the arrival of the bright red garments I realised that I should have brought them in much sooner. They’re practical – keeping Shed members warm, and their own clothes clean – but equally important I think, is the sense of ‘shared identity’ it gives the group. I’ve never asked, but I’d like to think that it gives wearers a sense of pride to be associated with others and, hopefully, a great commitment to the team effort.

Fast forward three years and this week I was talking about uniforms with a young person planning to ‘create a fashion brand’. We had an interesting discussion about the importance of labels – the literal brand. We established that designer labels, and people being seen wearing them, is about the wearer wanting to make a statement about themselves and to project an image (that may or may not be accurate).

We also concluded that fashion is a bit contradictory – while it unites people under certain style banners, those same people hope they’ll stand out in a crowd – so they want personal and group identity at the same time! We ended the conversation by noting that when a brand or style become too popular and the clothes become ubiquitous, there’s a natural (or is it orchestrated by the fashion industry?) search for something different. Note I say ‘different‘; fashion developments are not always new – as shown by the current trend for tears in jeans.

When the young entrepreneur works out what he means by ‘creating a fashion brand’ I think and hope he’ll go far. For a 20-year old who realised college was not for him he deserves to go far.

Men’s Sheds and male identity https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/mens-sheds-and-male-identity/

The Repair Shed www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed

Eight tips for business start-ups    

Share your start-up ideas

You may be tempted to think your business idea is so clever that others will steal your idea as soon as they hear about it. Chances are your idea isn’t so unique, and you have more to gain from telling everyone who is prepared to listen than keeping your cards close to your chest. Unless you have a potentially patentable product, don’t waste time and money on protection – even with a patent you probably can’t afford to defend it. https://youngfoundation.org/social-innovation-investment/social-enterprise-mistakes-worrying-that-someone-will-steal-your-idea/

Consider a lean start-up

We talk about finishing a business plan before launching a business to lay solid foundations to give the business the best chance of success. In reality, a business plan is never finished – it’s a promise not proof and sometimes waiting to ‘get it right’ is an excuse for doing nothing. Sometimes it’s good to jump in before all the details are worked out. At that ‘test trading/ piloting’ stage you’re doing real life market research and you’ll probably be more willing to make changes because the plan is less fixed and you’ve committed less time to it. https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/running-on-fumes-a-case-for-lean-business-start-up

Things always take longer than you want/ expect

When you’re fired up about your business idea, you don’t want to be told that it won’t develop as quickly as you’d like; that things won’t follow the time-line in your well-worked business plan. You’ll want to keep the momentum going but remember – your timetable is no one else’s. If you’re collaborating with others and depending on the support of partners who have less interest in your success than you do, you may have to be patient – they have their own timetables.

Passion is rarely enough

People are too eager to say that passion is all you need for starting a business (it certainly helps) and if you want it badly enough you’ll succeed. The latter is not true and sets up people to fail. Some business ideas and the people behind them have no chance of success and ‘managing expectations’, if not actually damping down their enthusiasm, is often kinder in the long run. That said, being proved wrong is always a delight! https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/lesson-1-roots-wings-and-balance

Be prepared to stop making products you want to sell and start making products that people want to buy.

The paying customers is (almost) always right – if they want it, make it. Business is business – don’t let your personal views stop a sale (unless it’s a commission that simply won’t work).

If you’re making products, you’ll probably take pride in your creation having spent a lot of time and effort in the process. But you have to let go – in business you must be prepared to sell your favourite pieces, even to people who don’t appreciated your talent. You may also have to compromise your standards and at times; accept ‘good enough’ to operate competitively. https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/the-paying-customer-is-always-right

Keep it simple and limit choice

Whether it’s pricing and discounts / membership processes and application forms / product and service ranges, keep it simple. You shouldn’t need a degree to work out the price of an item after taking off the discount, adding delivery and VAT etc. It’s also proven that limiting choice will result in higher overall sales. So, don’t display 15 different ‘bespoke’ mirrors – put 5 in the spotlight and keep 10 under the counter.

The ‘right way’ is rarely clear cut

‘Getting it right’ is usually a question of balancing different options. Whether it’s balancing social and financial objectives, pricing for affordability vs pricing for viability, and balancing quality against cost-effective production, there’s usually a judgement to be made. Making 150 bird boxes is good for business but not for the wellbeing of workers who want to be creative.

You can’t run a business on fresh air and goodwill

You can go a long way by appealing to your friends and family and tapping into the time and expertise of volunteers – there’s a lot of free support and advice around, particularly for start-ups. But sustaining a functioning business in the longer term, is likely to need at least some paid staff input. A contract of employment is important for underpinning commitment and reliability.

For more start-up lessons go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/learning-about-earning