Being Streetwize in Business

Many years ago I saw a graph of the Total Entrepreneurial Activity Index which is a ranking of the countries according to the percentage of entrepreneurs in their population(*). To my surprise, Belgium was one of the last countries in the ranking at that time and still is. Even more surprising to me than Belgium being one of the last, was that the top of this ranking was populated with a lot of African, South-American and developing Asian countries. The explanation was however simple. In these countries people have to be entrepreneurial and creative to survive, while in a country like Belgium we all have our comfort zone and a large social safety net. Of course there is more than necessity; but nevertheless.

Some speak about Jugaad Innovation. Wikepedia learns us that Jugaad is a colloquial Hindi word that can mean an innovative fix or a simple work-around or a person who can solve a complicated issue. It is used as much to describe enterprising street mechanics as for political fixers. Jugaad Innovation is often used to describe the creativity to make existing things work or to create new things with very limited resources. Sometimes you get nice results even with imperfect tooling or limited resources. Although not having the right tooling or resources causes often inefficiencies; it sometimes results in innovation and sharpness.

As a bass player I cannot resist to quote Este Haim, bass player of Haim – pop revelation of 2013: “a good carpenter doesn’t blame his tools; it’s my job to make the bass sound good”.

Or, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” Apollo 13 didn’t land on the moon. The lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days after launch. Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of potable water, and especially the critical need to repair a carbon dioxide removal system with very limited, maladaptive resources, the crew returned safely to Earth.

Forgotten where the adage came from – “Je kunt beter met een kromme lucifer een vuurtje maken dan je hele leven te wijden aan het uitlijnen van een lucifer” (loosely translated to “It is better to use a curved match to light a fire than to devote your entire life to straightening a match”) – it makes sense to me.

So let us enter Arnoud Raskin, he has hands-on experience.

Arnoud Raskin is the founder of the companies Streetwize and the Mobile School. Mobile School is a Belgian organization dedicated to helping street children throughout the world. They have developed mobile school carts and they train local street workers in 21 countries, spread across Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Under the motto ‘if a child cannot come to school, we will bring the school to the child’, they make it possible for street workers to organize educational activities with moving blackboards with hundreds of educational games. But the educational curriculum does not aim to replace the traditional school curriculum. All the materials and games target to increase the children’s self-respect and identity, and to empower the discovery of their talents.

Streetwize translates years of research and the experience on the streets with Mobile School into ‘unorthodox’ training programs for companies. The major identified street skills are a positive focus, agility plus resilience, creativity, pro-activity and cooperative competences. Indeed, these skills are very valuable in our business context as well.

(*) has been refined over the years taken into account the different phases of the entrepreneurial process

Musicians and Entrepreneurs

If you sum up a tweet of @Poppunt with the May 2012 edition of Bass Player magazine and with two of my previous blogs yet get this blog.

Let me explain.

It started with the following tweet from @Poppunt  (May 21; 2012):

Deze namiddag wordt de Popthesisprijs 2011 uitgereikt aan Kathleen Vogelaers die onderzocht welke nood…

I.e., Kathleen Vogelaers wins the Popthesisprijs 2011 for her thesis titled “Higher education in pop music today in Flanders: the need for business training (“Hogere opleidingen in de popmuziek vandaag in Vlaanderen: de nood aan zakelijke vorming”). In the thesis she examined which business and entrepreneurial skills professional musicians need to have in order to be successful in “real life” and to what degree higher education in Flanders prepares the musicians in this aspect for their later professional career.

So when I wrote in my blog “On Creativity and Playing Music” that becoming a musician requires mastery, a proper learning attitude, collaboration skills, a musical vision, goal setting, etc. it was related to a certain urge to move forward.

The May 2012 edition of Bass Player magazine reports on the third annual Jazz Education Network Conference held in Louisville, Kentucky last January and highlights among others some tips from different speakers. A phrase which caught my attention was one of Dr. Lou Fisher, Professor of Music: “The music chooses you, but only you can accept the challenge of dedicating your life to it”.  I interpreted this (perhaps incorrectly) in the sense of Louis Pasteur’s famous quote “Chance favors the prepared mind”; or to rephrase “Opportunity favors the prepared musician”.

But of course for those who earn their living being a musician there is an extra dimension to it: being a one-man company making money and survive in a competitive environment. So also musicians; They Are Just BEING an Entrepreneur. Therefore; business and entrepreneurial skills are really required. Of course you cannot teach the complete portfolio of business skills within a musician’s education program, but at least some business awareness should be created and the first business insights and some skill should be taught.

From my personal engineering education I learned the most on non-technical issues (such as organization management and social psychology) from guest speakers; people from the field,  working in “real” organizations and sharing their experiences, the Do’s and Don’ts  from real business life.

I hope that the recommendations of Kathleen Vogelaers’s thesis will get some hearing …

They Are Just BEING an Entrepreneur

A colleague recently asked me “what’s your definition of entrepreneurship?”

Well, my answer could be twelve words short or take a presentation of 50 slides long.  But here’s my answer in blog format.

To start with the twelve word version: entrepreneurship is the process by which new opportunities are identified and implemented.

It refers in the first place to an individual’s ability to turn ideas into action. It includes a clear sense of direction, creativity, risk taking and in many cases a lot of perseverance. In many cases (but not necessary always), there is a sense of innovation.  Therefore I deliberately mention the individual and not the organization. To quote myself:  organizations do not innovate; only PEOPLE do!  but organizations can facilitate or destroy innovation.  Innovation and entrepreneurship  being very akin , the same can be said of  entrepreneurship:  organizations are not entrepreneurial; only PEOPLE are!  but organizations can facilitate or destroy entrepreneurship.

The 4 keywords for entrepreneurial organizations are vision, culture, resources and people.

A strong vision is needed to create a clear direction and to identify the playground.

A culture which starts with the sincere belief of management in the need of individual entrepreneurship within the company and with the support management actually gives providing freedom, authority and responsibility. A culture encouraging entrepreneurship should give people the room they need.  Without some freedom, there is no experiment. Without experiment there is no success or failure and no entrepreneurship. People need some time, incentives, job security and room to experiment. And a culture that accepts that mistakes will be made (from which one can learn).

Resources imply that people should get the means and time and that some confined supporting structure is available. A well-known example is Google expecting innovation and entrepreneurship from everybody so many of its employees have a 20% time budget for defining, implementing or contributing to innovation projects. One cannot expect from an employee under high operational pressure working overtime to start new initiatives.

And this brings me to the fourth keyword, people.  A real entrepreneur will not work for long in that kind of environment with no opportunity to start new initiatives.  Entrepreneurs have some specific attributes like being able to seize opportunities, have focus & drive, being able to organize and manage ambiguity, etc.  and mostly they are just BEING an entrepreneur.