Firstly, it takes a lot of organising so I want to say thank you to Rob Wilson and his team at the OU who put this programme together for the benefit of OU students in the throws of business development. As well, to Santander Universities for their support in funding such an initiative, not only with the OU but with many Universities across the country. Also those speakers who gave us their wisdom and insights – we all certainly appreciated. The event took place at the Business Design Centre in London, was hosted by Rob and was attended by a diverse selection of people with one common goal, the development of their idea into a value creating piece of work.
Common purpose is a unifying force for learning. There were perhaps two or three previously connected individuals but for the most part this weekend was no more than 13 individuals coming together keen to break through the barriers of any emotional disconnect and get on with the job of learning. The breadth of ideas was, as you would expect, intriguing. From tech based educational models to yoga and health, from socially driven tech to traditional publishing opportunities, from business development and support initiatives to innovative thinking around the needs of post-natal mums. This is perhaps the sole reason why events like this, and any socially driven piece of work, are so valuable in the formation and exploration of ideas, because we cross fertilise from industry to industry. What we have is a coming together of a mix of worldviews, of experiences and of models and theories from an eclectic academic background. Wow, that’s a powerful and heady cocktail and one that can make you braver and more focused than you were before.
Let’s face it business is about making our customers happy no matter whether you are servicing their minds, bodies or businesses. We need the operational ability to make this happen, the skills to figure out how best to get it into the public domain, but in the end unless we leave someone with either a smile on their face or a sense of uplift, we are not creating value.
The weekend started with the traditional introductions, not directly pitching ideas at that stage but focused on a brief jaunt through your experiences and learning. It was a formal means of understanding of who we are and a brief foray into the baggage and thinking we might bring to the table. Inevitably people will always include their ideas because these are starting to become a part of their own image of themselves, as entrepreneurs in the early or not so early stages of formation. This was I felt, a moment for an ‘ice-breaker’, an immediate piece of team working that could have livened the process up, and also scrapped away early nerves and inhibitions. Perhaps the inevitable late arrivals scuppered this approach since it is far easier to announce who you are at any stage than join a group who have just come together, at that moment and without you. At the end of the weekend the suggestion that two days was not enough time was muted, and if an extended period could be funded, team formation and emotional connections could be explored socially first. Meet on a Thursday evening for ice-breaker sessions and a dinner, followed by learning Friday to Sunday?
The learning pathway for the weekend was then presented to us in the form of a journey into the agenda and off we went eager to engage with whatever was thrown at us.
In an event like this there will always be areas where we feel we have experience. We start with a sense of preconceived knowing, our arrogance and perhaps even dogmatism, freezes our experiences like prehistoric ice around the body of an ancient animal. The belief that our own thinking, shaped by experiences, could in anyway be challenged or worse, invalidated, is a potential emotional blackhole, a discomfort zone leading to a state where our minds close down. The goal for any learner is to shelve this notion of preconceived knowledge, to thaw the ice and let new ideas percolate through the filter of ‘know-it, done-it, lived-it’ inhibitors. If we can counter this resistance in our mind and let in the familiar so we can start to engage with other perspectives seeing our experiences as only only one side of a multi-dimensional challenge. Over the weekend there were moments where I felt not so challenged but the challenge of that moment was to suspend my preconceptions and focus on the new. It works to let your mind be open because it reinforces as well as stimulates previously un-sensed connections that existed that go unrecognised in your own thinking but upon reflection become a challenge to the way we perhaps need to shift or moderate behaviours. You are one person in your business looking to find the many who see value in what you do, so perhaps the greatest piece of arrogance is to believe we can do that in isolation.
Over the weekend we, as a group, explored the many facets of business acceleration from communication, speaking openly, being asked to share, to become and be porous. We were forced to engage with the intricacies of marketing, community building and the creating of evangelists. We touched upon the sources of finance, the pitfalls and where-with-all of intellectual property, branding and licenses and explored the many facets of communication. All areas I have experience in and feel comfortable with (perhaps over comfortable at times) so when insight appears I counter any immediate response of being defensive to a secondary act, forcing myself to be open to and engage with strands of new thinking. There was not a session over the weekend that did not shed new light on an ever developing knowledge bank, it shifted my thinking to explore not only what was being said but the ways that it was being said. The valuable use of metaphors and analogies to visualise messages, these included over the weekend gardens, galleries, forests and journeys, whether they be those taken in the air or on the ground or across the sea, all relevant to learning and development of business and the individuals. The thinking that came to light on how we have a tendency to negatively highlight things, focus on what is missing instead on what is there and the power that this can have in undermining the positive intent. Every presenter had their own use of non-language ………….. the pause that leads to expectation and the reinforcement of ideas, humour, we remember that we laughed if not what exactly made us do that. All moments of punctuation in the presentation of ideas and thinking.
Weekends like this acquaint you with the theory but also, inevitably connect you directly to the practice. It was also interesting to see how people use the Business Model Canvas, how they connect with it, use it and think with it. I have my approach and they have theirs. My use is as a tool for narration and change, for some it’s a clearly discrete metaphor for business building, for others, their own. Any way is a valid way, that is why it remains one of the most powerful tools in the entrepreneurs armoury. A weekend of entrepreneurial thinking would not be replete without touching on the complexities of finance and intellectual property, yet together, novices and experts could chip away at the ice that surrounds these subjects to reveal a new level of understanding. To see them as not the forces of procrastination but the tools of valuable understanding to move the business forward.
The primary piece of learning that I got from this weekend was why, as humans, social events are essential. If we are to deliver our own accelerator events for our region it is not enough to simply bring one segment of people together to learn we need to bring a diversity of people together to celebrate that learning, to party, to share and support the process. This was a common outcome of every conversation, every shared piece of laughter, every pat on the back, encouragement for your next steps and a renewed sense of being closer to the next staging post, perhaps even at base-camp, summit in sight but much work to be done. Perhaps it was the breadth of ages, interests and passions that made us feel unthreatened and truly open to exploring our own limitations.
Before I attended the OU Accelerate weekend I held the assumption that events like these are valuable. I wanted to be challenged in this thinking, I wanted to feel that there were perhaps other ways of stimulating entrepreneurial thinking. Upon reflection, I feel that they are not just valuable, they are essential in the way we start to stimulate the pond from beneath. Generate ripples that disturb the surface, not from above but by recognising the prevailing currents and eddies beneath the surface and forcing them to the top. Whitewater rafting is fun but is also dangerous, but danger in itself is perhaps the greatest catalyst to create movement and change. If we, that is the entrepreneurs within a geographic region, want to create more entrepreneurial opportunity then we have to embrace entrepreneurial learning, social learning and the creation of a porous entrepreneurial eco-system.
Relocon is aiming to do this, use established connections between our regional institutions and agencies, tap into the wisdom of the entrepreneurial crowd, bring finance out of the darkness and shadows and get us to recognise the talent and skills of this region on the precipice of new opportunity. How we do this is through education, mentoring and networks that foster a pourous culture, supportive and regionally bound. Why? Because by doing this we create the quality jobs that this region needs if we are to create a culture of opportunity that the next generation can tap into.
If you want to know more about Relocon, its approach to entrepreneurial education and its vision for the future of NE Essex and Suffolk then please visit www.relocon.co.uk or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org