I’d heard about Pop Up Restuarants and maybe even Pop Up Art Galleries before, but I’d never heard of a Pop Up Business School… seemed a bit odd. But then it was Eddie Cochrane (Ed Uni Biz School, Exec Dev Mgr) who was talking to me – so it was bound to be right enough… errr probably.
The Univerity of Edinburgh were pulling together a Pop Up Business School to explore the topic – “Leadership For Social Change”. Could I go along and help one of the MBA groups by throwing in a small minded perspective… sorry that should have read a small business perspective. No problem Ed, I’m your man.
A week later and there I was introducing myself to a collection of MBA’ers from various parts of the globe. Greece, South Africa, The States, China, and many more including Norn Irelin (good to see a local).
“So how does small business relate to these issues?”
I looked at the sheet I’d been handed…. it listed all the socially important things which I studiously avoid reading in the Sunday Observer and instead head straight to Nigel Slater explaining what you can do with a left over sausage. I turned the sheet over looking for a recipe, nope nothing there, I was stuck.
The list of issues that I was expected to reflect on for Small Businesses everywhere was lengthy, ranging across Green Issues, Social Polarisation, Education Reform, Paternal Rights, Prisoner Reform – even World Peace. The word “tricky” was forming somewhere deep in me.
So nothing else for it – time to behave like the stereotypical Small Business – “As a small business I don’t care about these issues, I can only properly care about generating sales. If someone wants to incentivise me to care that’s great – but normally if this sort of stuff comes through the door it’s normally going to cost me time and maybe cash. As a small business I don’t care and I can’t afford to care.”
Now admittedly that does seem a bit harsh in the cold light of blogging. As a person of course I care – but the business has completely different drivers from my wishy, washy liberal sentiments, lets face it the business is a brutal master when it comes to priorities.
However, apparently it was the correct answer. The team had been out and about doing the Pop Up Business School thing and had been interviewing the entire population of Edinburgh on the question of who was best placed to address these big issues (a) Central Government (b) Local Government (c) Business (d) Simon Cowell. And yip – no one felt Business was the answer. In fact the answer was (a) followed by (b). Phew – got that question right, nearly got found out there. And yes, no one even considered Simon Cowell for a second, he’ll be crushed.
But with almost an hour still to fill in the workshop we thought we should discuss these big issues a little bit further, and that’s when it all started to make sense. Looking at the list again it seemed to change from being a simple list to being a challenge that we were obliged to fix in the next 45 minutes.
Well…time for a sweeping statement… fix the economy and you fix all these things. If you have a strong flourishing economy, you can find the funds, you can secure the resource, motivate the people and reach Nirvana (A one time Washington based indie rock band… ok, Nevermind lets move on).
But how to fix the economy? As a small business it’s nice to put yourself at the centre of things – afterall 59% of private employment is in the SME sector- isn’t Google great? So to fix the economy lets put small local businesses at the centre.
After that it was easy to lead social change…heres how:
If Small Local Businesses are the engine room lets give the engine a tune up. Why don’t we remove employers NI contributions for small businesses so that they can improve profits, and develop through non penalised employment and renewed growth.
With increased employment there will be less chance of the young becoming the long term unemployed and adding to the already socially divided nation.
With a livelier and healthier local collection of businesses and employees, money will flow locally to rebuild communities and fan optimism.
The increased tax take from an expanded workforce will offset the reduced NI income for central government. Any reduction in central spending will require to be addressed at a local level where the community will need to figure things out. That’s not to suggest we start playing at being nurses or policemen – but the occasional run to the local tip with the neighbours garden refuse shouldn’t hurt, or lifting discarded cans and paper from the street is hardly penal. It might create some social ownership.
And that was pretty much it – QED. Put SMEs at the centre of the economy and everything gets fixed (bowling averages go way up, mini golf scores go way down – excellent… or was that San Dimas?).
Small Businesses are by their very nature sustainable – tick the green thing box. They help cement communities – tick the social fabric thingy box. If you’re busy you’re not getting into trouble – tick the prisoner reform box. If you’re working hard you won’t have any energy left to become a parent – tick the paternal rights thing. And if the kids can see there is a decent job or the chance of building a business for themselves when they leave school we might need to worry less about education reform and instead worry more about making sure they understand that dropping the chip wrapper from their cholesterol dripping hands at lunchtime isn’t cool. (World Peace we would have cracked given another 9 minutes.)
So at the end of our Pop Up hour and much to my surprise it turns out that small business does actually care about Social Leadership and the BIG Social issues of the day after all – and small businesses can actually fix all the issues given the opportunity. That was a surprise.
The team did their big presentation thing later that week (I couldn’t make it – as I was too busy shoving 8 year old children up chimneys – it helps build communities) but apparently the team won the competition side of their week long Pop Up Business event. I’ve no idea what they presented – but I suspect it would have included something on World Peace in 10 easy steps (just like the “10 step” list things you get in the Sunday Observer that I don’t read either).
Best of luck to MBA’ers everywhere, and remember think small! You only need a small idea.
Cheers Ed, that was fun.