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An inclusive industrial strategy….

26 Apr

I’ve written a blog over at Social Enterprise UK towers which might be of interest, all about what an industrial strategy for an inclusive economy might look like. Which mostly talks about:

– being growth agnostic

– changing how we think about productivity…and value

– creating opportunities and being unafraid of ownership

– using procurement for policy ends

Click here to read the whole piece….


5 New Year books to get you thinking differently

15 Jan

brains-on-fireLast January (2016), I resolved to read a book a week, which I just about managed to stick to (see my other blog, Dog Eared Man, for 52 weeks of reviews), and I’m trying to carry on this year as well. If you like a diet of police procedurals, business books, Kindle Daily Deals and Scandinavian crime, I’m your man. Recommendations welcome – I’m going through the New Yorker’s Books We Loved in 2016
at the moment.

I noticed that Amazon, in its wisdom, had a ‘New Year, New You’ sale which has actually got some good stuff to get you thinking differently. So I thought I’d draw up a little list of 5 books from last year that got me thinking differently, some of which are in the sale.

  1. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande – just a brilliant book by a brilliant man on a hugely important subject: death and how we die. But it goes much further than that, with the central question really being about what makes us happy, and what is progress. Essential reading (and find his Reith lectures online too).
  2. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson – Ronson is another author you can’t really go wrong with, but I think this is one of his strongest. It’s all about social media and the ramifications of the ‘mob’ mentality and the ‘transparency’ that comes with Twitter and Facebook and all that that involves. It’s a fascinating look at an incredibly fast-changing part of modern life; and it is by turns funny and deeply sad as well.
  3. Quiet by Susan Cain – all about introversion and the (unrealised) power of introverts. There’s much here to challenge some long-held beliefs, and things that challenge (people like me) who tend to be comfortable speaking, ‘holding court’ and in outward communication. Great ideas here on recruitment, workspaces, meetings and more. If you’re ‘Loud’, it’s just as important you read it.
  4. Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall – the subtitle of this book says it all (10 Maps that Tell you Everything You Need to Know about Global Politics) and it’s the book that made me feel most ignorant reading it and that also had the most ‘blimey, I had never thought of that’ moments. The combination of historical perspective and geographical foundations makes for a read that usefully took me out of the spiralling 24-hour news here & now.
  5. On the Move by Oliver Sacks – Sacks is, of course, best known for his books about the patients he worked with (AwakeningsThe Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat etc), but this is his biography, and it’s hugely entertaining. What struck me reading this is the sheer energy and adventure with which he approaches life and a reminder to never assume you know a whole person. Sacks is full of surprises, contradictions, and unexpected views – and is all the richer for it.

Others in the sale worth a look – The Examined Life, The Lean Start-up, Decisive.

Happy reading and Happy New Year.

10 things to read ahead of 2017

23 Dec

stay-curiousIt’s that time of year when I finally get somewhere near the end of the inbox and to-do list, and catch up on the hundreds of things I’ve bookmarked and haven’t read.

So here’s some I have managed to read and that I recommend:

1) Why Time Management is Ruining Our Lives – I’m an enormous fan of Oliver Burkeman, and highly recommend his books which are an antidote to all the nonsensical self-help books out there. This is equally sensible in relation to email and time management (and the myths associated with it). Obviously ironic to start with this one given my comment about inbox / to-do list.

2) Disagree with the result but you can learn from Trump and Brexit campaigns – The page headline rather says it all, but there’s much good sense here for all of us in the social sector and in the policy space. Includes a great quote from Craig Oliver in number 10 that I’m tempted to pin up in our office…

3) The Gig Economy…and making it work? – I am no fan of the so-called ‘sharing economy’ and am glad that it’s started to be called the ‘gig’ economy. This post focuses on the reality of the ‘jobs’ that are being created, and starts to explore what can be done about it.

4) Tech and the Low Wage Workforce – friend or foe? – follows on from number 3 with a really fascinating look at how tech could be used to *help* the low wage workforce, rather than find ever more creative ways to exploit them. Genuine ‘tech for good’ initiative, in the face of a lot of app-lite bollocks.

5) Why there will never be an Uber for Healthcare – this is a good rejoinder for anyone who lapses into ‘what we need is an uber for [insert sector / industry]’. No we don’t.

6) Across the Returns Continuum – not a title to set the pulse racing, and it’s a long read; but it’s an interesting one with much to ponder on social impact and financial return, how they can be achieved, how they should be thought about, and how best to operate across the continuum.

7) Why For-Profit Education Fails – US context, of course, but interesting and relevant to not only our approaches to education here, but our approaches to public services more broadly. NB – isn’t an anti-privatisation piece.

8) Ten Steps to Sustainable Innovation – Mike Barry heads up Plan A at Marks & Spencer and is a leading thinker on this stuff; I found this a useful and practical piece of writing. Ten steps to follow. [gratuitous promo – Mike B will be speaking at the Social Value Summit in February]

9) An Entrepreneurial Society Needs an Entrepreneurial State – Mariana Mazzucato’s profile continues to rise, and she continues to puncture the nonsensical binary private vs public sector narratives we hear so often.

10) We need incremental improvements, not grand projects – I am, by nature, an incrementalist, so this appealed a lot. John Kay is talking about infrastructure here, but you could apply the same logic to many other areas. Strapline for 2017? “A multiplicity of incremental projects”. Catchy.

Have a great Xmas & 2017 all.

Running Man….

8 Sep

v7qluor7_400x400I’m signed up to run a half marathon in October. This is not headline news. It’s the Royal Parks Marathon, a picturesque and very flat half marathon. This is also not headline news – though it is good news, as I don’t like running up hills. And I’m running the half marathon for Breast Cancer Now. Which is also not headline news. Although they did email me and ask me to write a blog. So here we are.

I’m running it for a number of reasons: partly because I need a goal as motivation to do some exercise, and I am overweight; partly because I love London; and partly (ok, mostly) because my wife Katie was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2011. So this is a chance to raise money for a cause that is extremely close to me.

Katie is well and cancer-free, but only because of the advances in research, surgery and treatment which charities like Breast Cancer Now have raised millions to fund and implement. And there is still much to do, particularly for younger women:

more awareness: as the wonderfully-monikered Coppa Feel make clear, there is one obvious route to early detection, but still not enough women know how important this is; put simply, Katie may not be alive if she hadn’t found her cancer as early as she did

more research: it’s been surprising (to me) the relative lack of research into the effects of drugs and treatment on pre-menopausal women with breast cancer; estimating prognosis is an exercise in uncertainty already, but it helps if you know that you are making the right choices

more support: this is where charities like Breast Cancer Now come into their own with clear, practical advice, online and off-line support and more. Our breast cancer nurse Sue was utterly *phenomenal*, helping us navigate various parts of the NHS and providing clarity, continuity and humour when needed most. (By the way, everyone in the NHS has been nothing short of magnificent)

So all of that needs more money and if I (or rather all of the people supporting) can help with that in a small way, it’s worth doing.

Katie is amazing: not only has she overcome major surgery, chemotherapy, and three different types of drug treatment, but also powered on with renewed energy in life. She’s now running her own fashion business in (what little) spare time she has from being a full-time secondary school teacher and head of year…

If she can get through all of that with good humour, doggedness, resilience and determination for the last 5 years, then I hope I can do the same with this much smaller, much less significant personal challenge for about 2 hours. And help Breast Cancer Now help more women like Katie in future.

>> Please sponsor and support if you can <<

Social enterprise: complex

31 Dec

As I log back into this blog, I clear the electronic tumbleweed away and say hello – it’s been a long, tough and challenging year; for most in the social sector, and certainly for many of our members over at SEUK. For some in Yorkshire & the North West, they will be entering the new year facing a significant  floods-created challenge too. The reference to the challenging year is also partly  by way of an apology for the increasingly long gaps in posts here…

What strikes me, looking back at the last 12 months and more, is how complicated and complex things are. Sometimes by our own hand, sometimes by their nature and sometimes by a mix of the two – or so it seems to me. So far, so banal…here goes.

For four years and more now, I’ve been working closely with a lot of the social enterprises who spun out of the NHS between 2008 & 2014. As you get deeper into that world, the complexity and interlinked nature of things is, at times, mind-boggling. Not to mention deeply frustrating and worrying. But rather than just list adjectives, let me give you some examples of what organisations have to cope with. A social enterprise that spun out with one contract was tendering for the same services – but now they were in 37 different contracts. Another social enterprise is sub-contracted by a hospital which is commissioned by the CCG – the hospital has just decided to (arbitarily) not re-sub-contract the social enterprise with no notice and no reason (the outcomes it has been achieving are first-rate); the CCG are supportive but won’t intervene, and no-one really knows who in the system is accountable for something that will a) reduce the quality of the service and b) actually cost the system more.

The systems are very complex, of course – we had the slightly strange occurrence in the comprehensive spending review of people celebrating an up-front settlement for the NHS. But social care remains under significant strain (even with a possible council tax levy) and public health spending has been cut substantially – and what removes stress and cost from primary health care system? Yes, that’s right, social care and (in the medium to long-term) preventative public health work. And while large swathes of the general public consider “healthcare” to mean “hospitals and A&E”, and until there is cross-party agreement on a 25-30 year plan, we remain trapped in a short-term cycle that makes the situation worse.

Another area where complexity has manifested itself is charities and their accounts (& other broader activities). Charity accounts are difficult to read and understand, making them prone to misunderstanding, as seen in the recent True & Fair Foundation debacle in which a manifestly flawed analysis was deemed to merit front page news in several papers. If it wasn’t so damaging it would be laughable – the True & Fair Foundation failed its own test in previous years; the charity the journalist tweeted about two days later failed the same arbitrary test – and both displayed a lack of understanding about charitable trading, restricted funding, endowments and much else besides. This felt like an area where, in a quest for clarity and better understanding, people leapt to the simple rather than the clear. But the complexity demands more transparency and better explanation from charities themselves.

Another simple phrase masking complexity is “social enterprise needs to go mainstream”, which – along with “what is a social enterprise anyway” and “I can’t find these social enterprises” – is probably the thing I hear the most. But a few quick questions opens up the complications: for some, mainstreaming means the concept being known about by everyone; for some, it means everything being a social enterprise; for some, it means greater influence and infiltration of ‘mainstream’ business to the point where its tenets are accepted; for some, it means more social enterprises involved in big scale public service delivery; and so on. All might be worthy goals, but all involve and require different strategies, approaches, risks and benefits.

For example, if you go down the public service delivery route, you are part of a ‘social enterprise industrial complex’ (see Pamela Hartigan here), doing government’s work and losing the entrepreneurial spirit; if you focus on awareness, you are a campaign, and awareness doesn’t necessarily translate into anything – everyone knows who Kim Kardashian is; if you go for influence and infiltration, you are tackling symptoms and accepting the (capitalist) system as it is…and so on and so on. And we further complicate by adding countless different versions with different titles – inclusive capitalism, a blueprint for better business, impact enterprises, social ventures, social business, B corporations, non-profits, not-for-profits, more-than-profits, responsible business, and more and more. It’s no surprise to me that our most successful work in recent years has been Buy Social. Easy to understand, easy to communicate, and clear – more please.

The other frustration with this complexity, particularly as it relates to systems, is that it tends to lead to an avalanche of analysis. Which seems, in turn, to lead to more analysis and no small degree of paralysis. Do we need any more research or surveys or commissions that tell us that local charitable and social enterprise infrastructure is struggling? We knew this five years ago, yet still the reports arrive – newsflash: writing another report isn’t solving anything (on its own) unless it is paired with action, be that advocacy or (better) practical help and solutions and partnerships. It’s been instructive to test out, and to try and find sustainable models to work with and support local and regional social enterprise networks in the last few years – recognising that we need to be better at the local, and that we all need to be leaner and more collaborative nationally. I’m deeply proud of our work on Social Enterprise Places, the Social Economy Alliance, closer work with our home nations’ equivalents, and different partnerships with regional bodies in the East and West Midlands – not all of it has worked perfectly, and we have got things wrong, but we continue to be committed to this work: doing, not writing about what we should do.

I feel slightly the same on systems more broadly – this seems to have been the year when ‘systems’ became the key word to use, I guess partly because of the complexity I’m talking about. So we heard about ‘systempreneurs’ (yes, really) and we had a rash of  reports about systems change. The problem with reports about systems change (as a topic) is that they tend to, inevitably, be very general. So you get banalities like “understand what your shared objectives are” or “relationships between partners are important”. Well, thanks for that. Actually, what makes progress is diving in, obsessing about detail, bringing people with you, tackling the thorny challenges, and doing all of that and more over a long period of time with a relentless focus on a) action and b) outcomes and c) openness. Weirdly, it seems there is more money available at times for the analysis rather than the action; deeply frustrating.

What does this all mean? I’m not sure, to be honest – I just hope that 2016 sees us not confusing clarity with simplicity, or action with analysis, or logo placements with partnership; and that we act in the long-term even when all the drivers push us towards the opposite.

Getting going

6 Feb

It’s time to get writing and prepare a bit about me. So check out the site…hopefully there will be much more up soon.