I was on a call the other week with a cohort of start-up enthusiasts discussing the next stages of the New Venture Challenge (NVC) we are working on. This challenge is a piece of practice that entrepreneurs can use to help develop their thinking – how to be innovative, to eek out some ideas around a previously defined problems, and to understand the creative and innovative process. Then, once this has been done, to develop this into a conceptual but at least theoretically substantiated business model.
I come from the school of thought that we must simply jump in and get on with it. I have always seen myself as a doer from which learning flows, and we use this learning to shape the next steps. Up until recently I had no time for the idea of entrepreneurial practice. Practice held no ‘perceived’ value, the world belonged to those who ventured into the reality, all guns blazing, and with the power of self-belief. Yet, upon reflection, all my career this notion of practice has been an ever present attribute to my skill set and what I did to help business meet the challenges of applying and building an innovative mindset, no matter the industry or field I operated in. I also now sense that practice is held in contempt and not fully understood because we would rather abdicate to others the know-how and thinking that is required. We want the short-cut to success not the long haul.
My first autonomous project, which in hindsight was such a leap of faith and trust for my then employer, was to design a product to sit within an ecosystem of products that targeted a specific audience. I was 22 years of age and working for Thomas Cook Holidays (TCH) as a marketing junior. This was in the late 70’s early 80’s. I joined them after a poor set of academic results stemmed my ability to go to university, and TCH gave me a chance to step into the bottom run of a career.
I learned to ply a trade; priced holidays that were designed by others, wrote copy that was lifted through a process of enquiry rather than experience, and met those who were challenged with selling a dream then giving them the tools and insight to do so. I worked primarily on short haul products, and eventually spent time travelling in mainland southern Europe but also around its many islands. I knew the client base but also sensed that within the seasoned traveller there may well be an opportunity for a more independent travelling style, a desire for smaller, more intimate holidays. It was my first experience of understanding how niches work, how pricing and value sit within a formula and also how brand can ignite passions but also, if not well communicated, snuff out the candle.
Given the power to deliver something from start to finish is a privilege that, at the time, I did not appreciate. It is only some 40 years later when this type of ‘practice’ informed my career, that I can truly appreciate what I had, what was given to me, and how that confidence, insight and a clarity of thinking gave me the successes in later life.
So I learned how practice, not just reading and absorbing the theories of others, is about action applied with insight and knowledge garnered from doing things in relative safety. Informed practice (praxis) is what we should all be about and that information is something we should be happy to share and learn from together.
On the call for the NVC one of the team remarked how it was all really bullshit and fantasy land stuff. That what we were doing was playing and that this play held no real relevance or value. I acknowledged that the likelihood of taking this concept and delivering it was a step towards an unachievable reality but I was learning plenty, not least how to recognise value in the process. It was this thinking that challenged me to do one thing, make the theory mean something.
Numbers can do that – I work with numbers and have done all my working life. At school I was endlessly told how bad at maths I was, how I had inherited some form of mathematical bluntness. This barrage of negativity eroded any confidence I had. It wasn’t until I was pricing holidays, planning budgets and figuring out foreign exchange exposures that maths became less of a challenge and more of a passion. All of a sudden the application of models to real life situations was like taking a machete to a thicket and clearing away years of complexity and overgrowth. It started out in absorbing linearity but ended up living with complexity. Self-taught maths needed to be wrapped in academic rigour and I attained a certificate in Maths from the OU – equivalent to the old AS level.
My NVC challenge was to take the words and conversations of a disparate group of people from across the globe and present them with a snapshot of a perceived reality in numerical form. Maybe by doing this the bullshit becomes less negative and more about possibility, the bullshit is now the fertiliser for the idea not the waste of time my colleague perceived it to be?
The power of numbers is that they translate language, in itself the palette of colours we paint possibilities in, into a metric we all understand. They take aspiration and say ‘what if’, they tweak opportunity and make conversations flow into a possible reality. The power of numbers is that they make the conversations come to life because we all know what ‘£’ means to ourselves, our families and our lives
If entrepreneurs truly believe that an idea has merit they need to present that merit into a well laid out pathway to success. Understanding the power of numbers and the tools that can help us present them in such a way, this is an essential part of entrepreneurial practice. I have presented these numbers to the words of others and we have moved our thinking from ‘so what’ to ‘what now’. If you want help in seeing this then invest in practice, in the skills of entrepreneurism – because practice never does make perfection, it makes for improvement in an ever expanding reality.
Relocon is designed to support the entrepreneurial eco-system of NE Essex and Suffolk. We work with entrepreneurs to help them become better at what they do, we hold them accountable, help them explore new opportunity and give them the time and resources to scale business. Contact email@example.com for information or visit www.relocon.co.uk to keep in contact when we start our delivery.