Tag Archives: measuring

Being last, not fast

“There is more to life than increasing its speed” Mahatma Gandhi

My dear old dad hated school sports. He told me he was so determined not to come last in running races (he had standards…) that he once ended up in second place and was annoyed that he had to run again in another heat!

At the weekend I recalled my dad’s remark about not coming last when attending my local parkrun. I’ve written other blog posts about my love of parkrun – particularly that it’s about community rather than competition – but last Saturday’s experience was a first for me – I came last!

My time was 00.55.41 for the 5K – the slowest of 304 parkrunners – but that was all part of the plan as I was a ‘tail walker’. It involves making sure everyone returns safe and sound at the end of their run/walk/whatever. My hour-long walk around the route was a joy – very fresh air (a good blow in bright sunshine), great exercise in beautiful National Trust surroundings, and friendly chat – mainly with my co-tail walker who’s recovering from a hamstring injury. We talked about everything from sports injuries obviously, to dogs, caring duties, films, and the NHS.

It wasn’t quite a stroll in the park, but I was pleased there was no pressure (self-imposed or otherwise) to do other than finish the 5K circuit… last. I feel society is increasingly inclined to make us think that fast is desirable – that cramming more and more into our already busy lives is ‘a good thing’.

The idea of slowing things down is, of course, nothing new – the slow food movement in Italy dates back to the late 1980s https://www.slowfood.com.  I bought Carl Honore’s intriguing bestseller In Praise of Slow soon after it was published in 2004  https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Carl-Honore/In-Praise-of-Slow–How-a-Worldwide-Movement-is-Challengin/1980344 and I’d probably buy The Idler (a bi-monthly magazine for people who like to live in the slow lane https://www.idler.co.uk) if I had time to read it.

On a similar theme, if there was a competition for firing up your laptop, mine would probably come last. Every time I sit there after switching on my computer, I’m reminded of an early marketing database I used which allowed me time enough to make a cup of tea while it was selecting records from a list of 10,000 book-buyers. Fast forward three decades and, for all my impatience while waiting to use my computer, I’m grateful for the enforced delay as an opportunity for some mindful reflection at the beginning on the working day.

To coincide with its 15th anniversary, parkrun-UK commissioned some research  https://blog.parkrun.com/uk/2019/10/05/not-just-run-park. Two findings particularly interested me – firstly, that volunteering at parkrun was found to be better for our health and well-being than just running or walking the 5K. Interestingly the role of tail walker has been renamed in recent years – it used to be ‘tail runner’ – and this relates to a second research finding; that the average time for the 5K circuit had increased year-on-year – reflecting the growing number of people taking up parkrun (and running?) for the first time.

Looking more widely at slowing down society I don’t think I’m inclined to start a ‘come last’ campaign, but anything we can do to find more flexible ways of working (I’m right behind the campaign for a four day working week https://www.4dayweek.co.uk ) and to reduce the pressure on the next generation, is to be welcomed as a route to improved well-being.

Related blog posts:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/08/16/counting-what-counts

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2019/06/01/coming-from-behind

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2019/07/29/my-four-day-weekend

What young people have taught me about starting a business #1 – what it takes 

I’m a year into my new job with The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme, supporting young people aged 18 – 30 as they explore enterprise and self-employment. It seems like a good time to reflect and take stock.

As someone old enough to be their parent (and, dare I say it, I could be their grandparent) there’s a temptation to think that the wisdom of age and experience trumps all other knowledge. Of course it doesn’t – I never stop learning. So what have I learnt over the past 12 months from the young entrepreneurs?

Many of the young people I meet expect to be told what to do and castigated when they don’t (or can’t) do it. The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme is not about pushing young people to start their own businesses – it’s about enabling them to make informed decisions about where they want to get to in the world of work, and how they might get there. Self-employment is just one possible destination.

A lot of the young people are surprised by this laid-back approach. It’s a fine line between encouragement and more assertive guidance but, in reality, if they can’t motivate themselves to develop their business ideas they’re unlikely to succeed. And if they want a regular boot up the backside, I suggest to them they find someone else to do the kicking.

It’s easy to make achievement one dimensional – as if only what can be counted counts. Yes, it’s important to celebrate success and statistics about new business starts, number of loans made, and mentors matched; these are tangible and easy to compare year on year. But the real progress may be far less visible. Given the complicated lives of some of the young entrepreneurs, arriving at a meeting at the right time and place can be a major achievement in itself. Many are trying to set up a business against all odds – and there are some remarkable successes, even within some ‘failed’ businesses.

Passion is not enough. TV talent shows have created this myth for young people that if they want something badly enough they’ll succeed. This is unfair, it sets up unrealistic expectation in the young entrepreneurs – their business idea may be a bad one and/or they may simply not have what it takes. Managing expectations calls for sensitivity and sometimes, as with parenting, you have to bite your lip and allow young people to make mistakes and, hopefully, learn from them.

A final lesson I’ve learned from these young, sometimes inspirational, entrepreneurs is that setting up a business is often their ‘plan B’. Plan A is to get someone else to pay you to work 9 – 5 with limited responsibility and certainly with someone else working out Tax and National Insurance.

And that’s where The Prince’s Trust can also point to success.

A large number of young people may not be successful business owners but, after attending a four-day ‘Explore Enterprise’ course, mentoring, and developing a business plan, they’re more confident and employable. And a good number then get work – job done!

If you’re 18-30 and want to explore the possibility of starting your own business (or you know someone who does), The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme is for you. It’s free and available both face-to-face and online, visit www.princes-trust.org.uk/enterprise to find out more.

Counting what counts

Last Friday I found myself staring at a quotation on a hotel wall at 7.30am. I was about to enjoy a community breakfast meeting that I attend each month at the same hotel. I’ve seen the quote many times before and I like it almost as much as a full English breakfast, even though it’s widely mis-attributed (including by the hotel) to Albert Einstein.

The correct attribution for ‘Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted’ appears to be William Bruce Cameron. The first reference found is as recent as 1986, but that was 30 years after Einstein’s death in 1955. That doesn’t matter to me – it’s the insight I value – but I expect it would bother Cameron.

A day after re-admiring the quote, I had its significance confirmed at parkrun – a free timed 5 kilometres run involving over 1 million runners of all ages and abilities across the UK every Saturday morning at 9am, not to mention a vast army of volunteer marshals. The big thing for me about parkrun is (apart from it being independent of government and the 2012 Olympic legacy) that, as is always emphasised, it’s a run not a race.

We’re also told that parkrun is all about community – everyone supporting each other – it’s not about the running. But last Saturday for the first time in four years and 64 parkruns I forgot to take my barcode – essential for getting a time for my run. In my 15 + years of off-road running I’ve only run competitively on three occasions – I run for fun, not to compete with myself or anyone else. So, I was taken aback by my reaction to discovering (after my 5K run) that the time wouldn’t appear on my personal parkrun profile.

I was surprised to be bothered about not being able to get my parkrun time, although I think it was as much annoyance about my own forgetfulness. Then I remembered that William Cameron quote and I realised that what really mattered was running around a beautiful National Trust estate on a sunny Saturday morning in August with 350 lovely parkrunners.

More on measurement https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/measure-what-matters

Discover parkrun at www.parkrun.org.uk

Learning about Earning: lessons 5 and 6 from a social enterprise start-up

Needs vs wants (evidence)

We’ve all heard of the youth centre that was built at great (public) expense but remained unused by young people. Someone decided they needed somewhere to meet but failed to ask the young themselves whether they wanted a place (or what kind).

When spending someone else’s money (grant or loan) you’ll rightly be asked to show that there’s demand – a market and or need for what you’re proposing to offer. Make sure it’s also a ‘want’ if you’re expecting users to be paying customers. In short, needs are what funders will pay for, wants are what users will pay for.

You should have evidence to demonstrate the need and the difference you’re making, but don’t get tied up in knots – decide what matters and measure that http://bit.ly/1xu5Mx7

Sharing vs protecting ideas

Like many others with an idea for a new enterprise, I thought mine was brilliant – merging two proven concepts – the Men’s Shed and the Repair Cafe – into one. For a very short time I investigated the idea of protecting ‘my’ idea (even though I’d borrowed the ingredients from other sources…) particularly as I planned to replicate it elsewhere at a later stage.

Aside from the practicalities of protecting intellectual property (IP), I was persuaded not to bother by someone I admire and respect from afar. David Floyd is a writer and critical friend of the social enterprise sector. He writes a brilliant blog – Beanbags and Bullsh*t  and he wrote one for the Young Foundation quite simply concluded that keeping your ideas close to your chest is far more likely to harm your enterprise development than sharing those ideas as widely as possible. Read the blog at http://bit.ly/1w4FArf (David also point out that having the idea is the easy bit – turning it into action is the hard part).

If you’re interested in exploring ways to turn ideas into action, join Chris Lee for a day-long workshop on December 4 in Chelmsford Details at www.voluntarysectortraining.org.uk/courses/event/70/Ideas-Into-Action