Be like Burnley, a hotspot of innovation and enterprise

Perhaps necessity and hardship is the mother of entrepreneurship after all, rather than inspired thinking – I say this as Burnley, a small Victorian mill town in East Lancashire, with pride and passion in its heart, has been named as the most enterprising town in the UK by the Government for its pioneering culture and economic prospects

The Lancashire town won an Enterprising Britain Award announced last week by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Burnley is pulling itself up by its own bootstraps. With a heritage of graft and enterprise, it is one of a handful of Lancashire towns where more businesses are being created than are closing down.

The town was praised for its ‘Burnley Bondholders’ scheme, which brought together 125 local firms to promote the town as a place for business and has attracted £10m investment. The scheme is reinvigorating the local economy and helping to change perceptions. Burnley is well on its way to forging an international reputation as a centre of excellence for manufacturing, particularly in the aerospace industry.

Like many Northern towns, Burnley has got a great sense of identity. When it comes to the epicentre of entrepreneurial vigour, Burnley might not seem to have quite the glamour and hi-tech attractions of London’s cosmopolitan Shoreditch, but do not be fooled by the London-centric self-publicists, the Bondholders scheme demonstrates that collaborative thinking can make a real difference, and it doesn’t always have to be about digital this-and-that. This accolade puts us on the map as a place where enterprise and innovation are thriving.

This recognition follows the success of Dave Fishwick, who simply calls himself ‘Dave from Burnley’. Dave achieved success manufacturing and selling minibuses, and sponsors a stand at Burnley FC. However, when he saw local companies struggling to secure funding from traditional lenders as the credit crisis hit, he set up the ‘Bank of Dave’, a peer-to-peer lender, to plug the funding gap. Check out http://www.burnleysavingsandloans.co.uk/ and http://www.channel4.com/programmes/bank-of-dave/articles/all/meet-dave

It’s great that we’re the most enterprising area in the UK but it’s only the start. It reflects what’s happening in the town but it’s nowhere near the end of the story – for example, work is underway to create an innovative aerospace ‘Supply Village’, converting an old manufacturing site that was symbolic of Britain’s industrial decline into a shining high-tech manufacturing future.

To fully appreciate the enterprising culture of Burnley and Lancashire today, we must look to its past to understand the role it played in what is arguably the single most significant event in our history, and the start of entrepreneurship – the Industrial Revolution.

The Lancashire textile industry is one of the enduring images of the Industrial Revolution. We see thousands of workers beavering away in tune to vast machinery, hear the deafening clatter of the looms, sense the air thick with cotton, feel the heat and the crowds – men, women and children pouring in and out of factories to the sound of the factory bell, under the beady eye of the factory owner, and swarming through the streets of the newly expanding mill towns.

Danny Boyle’s 2012 Olympics opening ceremony reminded the nation not only of the power and money that stemmed from the Industrial Revolution but also of its great cultural impact. Lancashire was blessed with a dazzling array of serendipitous boons that an inventive people were able to exploit.

There are many heroes in the Industrial Revolution and Lancastrian heritage relishes the larger-than-life inventors and entrepreneurs such as Hargreaves, Arkwright, Kay and Crompton, and their inventiveness that created the technical innovations that led to mechanised textile production.

An accident is said to have given Oswaldtwistle born spinner James Hargreaves the idea for the first mechanical improvement of the spinning process. In 1764 he noticed an overturned spinning wheel continued to turn with the spindle vertical rather than horizontal. This gave him the idea that several spindles could be worked simultaneously from a wheel in this position. He developed a version with eight spindles for use by his own family, immediately raising their output eight times.

It acquired the name ‘spinning jenny’, after Hargreaves’ daughter, who gave him the idea when she knocked over her spinning wheel. He patented his device in 1770. By his death in 1778, the latest versions of his machine worked eighty spindles each – and there were 20,000 jennies in use.

This was still a hand-operated mechanism; the next development was the application of power. This was developed by Richard Arkwright, whose innovation was drawing out the cotton by means of rollers before it is twisted into yarn. He succeeds first with a machine worked by a horse, but two years later he successfully applied water power, with the result that his invention became known as the ‘water frame’. It lead to an immense expansion of the cotton industry.

The technologies of Arkwright and Hargreaves complemented each other for a few years until the merits of each were combined by Samuel Crompton, who takes the final step in the evolution of spinning technology. He observed the tendency of the spinning jenny to break the yarn, and he improves this aspect of the process by a machine, which he perfects in 1779, called the ‘mule’ due to its flexibility of spinning almost every kind of yarn at considerable speed.

Lancashire’s damp climate (some may call it rainy!) was perfect for maintaining the moisture in fine cotton yarns, whilst the abundant supply of water via Pennine rivers drove water-powered mills. Twenty-nine of the first 35 steam driven engines were installed in Lancashire. By the end of the C19th century, Lancashire mills accounted for 25% of Britain’s entire export trade.

Lancashire’s entrepreneurs and enterprising culture were crucial in Britain’s Industrial Revolution and by 1830 East Lancashire had emerged as a highly sophisticated local economy including manufacturing, commerce, finance, transport, mining, machine making and machine tools.

So what is it that saw Lancashire as the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, a hotbed of enterprise, entrepreneurship and endeavour that has resurfaced in the resurgence and re-ignition of Burnley? What makes a town, an organisation, people like ‘Dave from Burnley’, entrepreneurs?

The C20th economist Joseph Schumpeter focused on how the entrepreneur’s drive for innovation and improvement creates upheaval and change. Schumpeter viewed entrepreneurship as a force of ‘creative destruction’. Business thinker Peter Drucker took this idea further, describing the entrepreneur as someone who searches for change, responds to it, and exploits change as an opportunity – which clearly profiles the Lancastrian cotton machine entrepreneurs.

An enterprising culture, as seen in the cotton industry, is the way the spirit and passion of innovation is embedded as a core value in its people. An enterprising culture serves to socialise new ideas and disruptive thinking as it promotes curiosity and discovery. So how does this manifest itself in an organisation?

Jim Stengel, formerly Global Marketing head of Proctor & Gamble, in his book Grow: how ideals power growth and profit chronicles a ten-year study of 50 businesses, and concludes that those who focused on their culture had a growth rate triple that of competitors in their categories.

Here are the key enterprising culture principles from his study that I believe have the potential for tripling the growth potential of your own entrepreneurial efforts:

Be clear about what you stand for, inside and outside your company Your personal priorities, values, and principles set the culture. The best way to be clear about them is to regularly engage team members, customers and suppliers. People follow what you do, not what you say.

Design your organisation for what it needs to win This includes the capabilities you need to build for a competitive advantage, and the career path for team members to bring this to life. Be bold, ‘traditional’ organisation structures often lead to mediocrity.

Get your team right, and do it quickly This means knowing where you need help and hiring carefully. Hire people who are smarter than you in the domain they know, and ensure they are ‘thinkers and doers’.

Champion innovation of all kinds You must visibly champion a passion for innovation, emanating from dreams, not desperation. Innovation should be much more than just product or process improvements, and include searching for new business models.

Set your aspirations very high Tell people every day what meets your aspirations and keep this visible. Ensure the entire organisation steps up to the challenge, and your customers will notice and respond to the culture of aspiration.

Continuous Learning Every interaction every day is a learning event, coach, rather than criticise, to improve the outcome next time. Learning is a hallmark of an enterprising culture.

Think like a winner, act like a winner Customers sense an organisation’s culture from seeing the people and how they communicate and behave, so never back away from an opportunity to delight a customer.

Live your desired legacy If you don’t know your ultimate goal, you will never get there. Create a culture that builds and sustains a business of tomorrow, not just today.

How many of these principles do you practice in your business?

An enterprising business culture doesn’t require a cult atmosphere, but it does require a disdain for conventional wisdom and status quo. It has to be built around vision, values and ideals. It’s all about making a difference and something other than just making profit. The Burnley Bondholders scheme is just this.

The Burnley scheme is a statement of vision and has started to remove the stigma that the town has as an industrial wasteland marred by social deprivation. Whilst Burnley remains amongst the dozen most socially deprived areas of the UK, it has started to buck the decline. It is the tenth best town in Britain for private sector growth – since 2011, private sector employment has risen by 2.8% compared to a 3% national decline.

When people from outside Lancashire talk about Burnley, it’s the football club they recall, with recognition of the achievements on the 1960s, when the club was top of the pile in England and a force in Europe. They think Burnley FC’s glory days are 50 years behind us. With the advent of the monopoly money from Sky and egotistical billionaire foreign owners, in reality it probably is. However, like the town itself, we dare to dream. Without the dream, why bother? It’s the same mind-set you need for your business.

Across the North, the legacy of the Industrial Revolution is being recast in faded brick and glittering plate glass. Its old mills and factories are now the best addresses in town. The canals are places of leisure, not labour. It’s easy to forget the people who made these towns what they are, and whose lives we can barely imagine.

It may no longer be true that ‘what Lancashire thinks today, the world thinks tomorrow’ but this county, peopled by its highly individual inhabitants, has led the way with its endeavour and enterprising culture. Looking forward, get your head up and make your business like the town of Burnley: learn from yesterday, live for today and be positive about tomorrow.

When Saturday comes – lessons from Manchester City’s success

Oh Manchester, so much to answer for – just one of Stephen Morrissey’s lyrics amongst many, but they sprung to mind on Sunday afternoon when the blue half of Manchester got one over the red half of town and earned the bragging rights, the first time in a generation. A blue moon over Manchester. Not that we often have a red sun, rather grey clouds and rain.

Meanwhile, 30 miles up the road in Burnley, we’re eagerly awaiting the Championship fixtures published 9am 18 June to welcome Bolton and Blackburn, and hopefully Blackpool next season too, where we’ll overcome alphabetical order and be Lancashire’s Number One. Of course, we all ready are and always will be Number One, whatever the statistics of a league table say.

Having previously blogged about Barcelona’s tactical approach to the game and lessons we can take into business, I’ve looked at Mancini’s Marvels and pulled out some thoughts as to the key features of the team’s success, and suggested ten ways in which business owners and managers can likewise raise their own game by learning from their example.

1. Collective pride instead of individual egos. Football, by its very nature, requires teamwork. While big egos are common, long-term success is built on a strong team ethic. Some teams bank on the ability of one star player. However, City stood out in that not only were all the players important, but that no one was indispensable either. Companies should remind themselves that teamwork and group pride are essential for success.

2. Balance between youth and experience. The City team, with an average age of 26, had just the right mix of talented youth and more experienced players. Teams that rely too much on youth often lack the experience needed to flourish. On the other hand, older teams are unable to withstand the physical demands of the season. For companies, having a balanced team enables constant rejuvenation, the transfer of knowledge from seniors to juniors, and takes advantage of youthful irreverence and elder wisdom.

3. Solid leadership. One essential part of Mancini’s success was his captain, Vincent Kompany, who brought discretion, calmness and patience to the role. Firms, like football teams, often struggle due to an absence of strong leadership.

4. Dream big and believe in it. Watching the games over the season I was taken by City’s players’ high level of self-belief. Of course, dreaming big does not by itself guarantee success, what made the difference was that the players seemed to think the dream was attainable. To win a 38 game season in the last two minutes of the final games shows this! The same goes for companies. In order to develop a genuine dream for the company, there must be a shared mission that is bold and big on passion, yet grounded in reality.

5. Professionalism. With their Dubai backers’ deep pockets, City attracted the finest foreign players as a means of reaching the highest levels of competition. This seemed to make the English players in the squad raise their own game. This virtuous circle of continuous improvement has had a huge, positive effect on the team’s technical levels, which impressed throughout the season. Frequently, certain firms – family businesses, in particular – tend to avoid the professionalism process, because they fear change. As a result, they miss out on potential benefits, including enhanced performance and greater longevity.

6. Leverage competition. Fierce competition between the top four clubs in the Premier League has led to higher levels of competitiveness. It is often forgotten that competition can have positive effects on company performance, leading to more innovation, productivity and growth.

7. Faith in strategy. City’s fast-paced, creative style of play meant it could pick other teams apart with relative ease. More importantly, unlike the other teams they always kept the same style, regardless of circumstances. Firms, like football teams, must accept that good strategies often take time to crystallise. Results don’t always come with the first try, and patience is vital in achieving long-term goals.

8. Ability to overcome adversity. City had to overcome the prospect of losing their final game – 1-2 down and into injury time – and yet still went on to win the game and the league. This was the result of strong morale, a collegial atmosphere and a profound passion for what they were doing. Disappointing results are just as common in business, but you can overcome them, if you have passion, ability and mind-set to win.

9. Do not let dependency dictate your future. After so many decades of disappointment, the City team could have been forgiven for succumbing to defeatism. But while history matters, past results are not necessarily good predictors of future performance. Business executives need to challenge the belief that path dependency is hard to break, and acknowledge that experiences from the past are not necessarily the best recipes for the future.

10. Fans’ support. A key external factor in City’s triumph was the strength of the support received from their fans, like Burnley’s, always regarded as genuine football fans. City’s support is based largely on a traditional fan base, passed down from generations of the same family, predominantly Mancunians. This creates a genuine emotional connection and gives people reason to believe that bigger things are possible.

Fans (customers) are obviously equally important for companies. When firms gain a following, revenues improve, and profits and cash generate benefits for all stakeholders, leading to an improved ability to innovate, enhance corporate image and reputation, and build a better business.

But like many, I don’t see Burnley FC as a business and the role of the fans as customers. However I’m in a generation which has seen the game run by money. You can’t avoid talking about it with Manchester City and Chelsea’s recent rise. It’s the word ‘business’ that gets me. Admittedly a football club is now, more than ever, a business with assets, employees, a management structure, a marketing department etc. and tries to make money. But how many ‘businesses’ do you know that have provided such a multitude of emotions for so many people consistently year upon year and have legions of dedicated followers? To quote Sean Bean in a Sky Sports advertisement football is a feeling that can’t be explained, but we spend our lives trying to explain it.

Despite looking for the business lessons from City’s success – remember it is game – everyone talks about the riches of playing in the Premiership. It’s not about pride, pitching your wits and skills against the very best, building a team from talented young players – the reward of getting into the top league is all calibrated in monetary terms. For me, it’s still romantic, evocative. Every time I leave Turf Moor after a home game, I walk through the streets of terraced houses around the ground with the hordes of people, and turn round to see the floodlights fully 100ft high adorning the exterior of one of the stands, lit up in the twilight. I think of the families, adults and children alike who frequent those houses and who sometimes catch a glimpse of these lights through their bedroom windows or through the gap between streets and what it must mean to them to have their football club on their doorstep, serving the community and uniting residents year upon year.

Friendships, relationships and family all come and go. They live and they die. But one thing that certainly stays for life is your football club, and I’m chuffed for the die-hard City fans I know. It’s nothing like being a loyal customer, you only have one team, and it’s an emotional, lifetime commitment. But this is slowly being eroded with the financial pressures to succeed and the cost of being in the Premiership club, which is ultimately closed to clubs like Burnley because we have passion, a heritage and an identity  but not an overseas billionaire to fund us. But do you what, it’s all about how you measure success and why you follow your team, and for me it’s about my team, my fellow fans, seeing a good game, winning more than we lose, and simply being there.

So it’s come down to this: Manchester City has been crowned champions of England for the first time since 1968. Or put another way, a business that over the last five years has outlaid nearly double what its nearest financial rival can stump up, saw the results of all that hard work, with a final day triumph decided on goal difference.

The facts are that City’s net spend for the last five years is £419m, dwarfing Chelsea’s £156m, Liverpool’s £120m and Tottenham’s £67m. Bringing up the middle are the titans of Sunderland with £69m, Aston Villa on £68m and Stoke on £60m, while Manchester United limp in at a lowly eighth with £52m. When a club with the largest revenues in world football is being out-spent on player resources by Stoke, something surely must be rotten in the state of Mancunia.

The typical football fan’s experience is low-key, downbeat, a series of disappointments with random spikes of unheralded, unfounded optimism that it could be our year. From this, coupled with the typical fan’s insistence on returning for the same treatment, season in, season out, arises the rueful humour that it doesn’t matter what they serve up to the customer, we’ll be back.

So the ten lessons for business from City’s victory, let’s hope there are more insights next year. Tell that to City fans though and chances are they don’t care, it’s all about being the Kings of Manchester – at any price – and next stop Europe, out spending the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid with Sheikh Mansour’s dirhams.

Good luck to them, but it’s not for me. For us folks at Burnley, it’s more than 90 minutes. In today’s super-saturated, Sky Super Sunday climate in which football seems inescapably, blaringly dominated by money, for us it’s still putting on that claret shirt with pride. This is Burnley, not Barcelona, When Saturday Comes.

All we are saying, is give youth a chance

A country or a society that does not recognise, nurture and harness the potential of its young people has no future, it is a fact that youth bring hope and change, shaping what can be, looking forward. The idea of the youth being the energy and a regenerative force in society cannot be ignored as there are certain perceptions and views expressed by society about its youth, where they are seen as a metaphor of optimism, revolution and rejuvenation. A contradictory image of youth which is commonly expressed, is one filled with problems and instability.

Whatever these views and perceptions are, it is at a young age that the foundation for taking society to a higher level of development is laid. My daughter Katie, 17, and son James, 21, give me hope and inspiration for the future with their attitude and exuberance everyday – whilst their appetite and hunger for everything in the App Store (i-this, i-that, i-another) gives me hope and inspiration for my future when they’re off my payroll (only joking J&K).

Unfortunately, despite rhetoric from Cameron & Osborne, our public institutions and structures seem not to create a conducive atmosphere for young people to unleash their hidden potential. Opportunities are not created for young people who are creative and forceful and if opportunities are available, they based on the politics of short-termism with public funded programmes seemingly designed to cleanse the conscience of those in power. I see no vision or strategy with innovative, disruptive thinking, nor genuine desire with well thought through investment plans, to change culture and create genuine opportunity. Where are the inventive solutions signposting youths’ long-term direction?

A practical example is when a young person with a business idea or plan approaches a financial institution for support. Demands are made for huge personal collateral security before granting the request, but the financial institutions are aware that the collateral will not be provided due to a lack of resources. This is a serious form of ostracism.

An even greater problem is when an outlet or audience for youth expression is not created. Those who do not want to grant the youth an audience to express their ideas confound the problem.  The truth is that there is a clear difference between performance and potential. You can judge someone by his or her performance, but you cannot judge his potential. It is hidden until an avenue is created for the person to unleash their talent.

I believe it’s time for those in a position of power and responsibility to create a platform for young people to reach their maximum potential. Let’s develop the habit of motivating our young folks and create infrastructures to support their initiatives – but bring a 20-year horizon to the thinking, not a short-term tick-box mentality. This Government have deflected their lack of sincere moral commitment with short-term financial pledges failing to recognise that in many ways, the future of our country rests with young people, like James and Katie. Their ability, vision, commitment, enthusiasm, skills and ambition to manage, change and grasp opportunities must be encouraged, not discouraged.

But we now know their focus is more on secretive political fund-raising dinners than wanting to make a difference for our young generation. If our leaders, policy makers, and society at large believe that the youth are our future, then it’s time to invest in them for the long-term. As Nick Clegg said recently, being Neet is a tragedy for the young people involved and a ticking time bomb for the economy and our society, when he announced a £126m funding package which will offer for the first time individual, tailored support to 16 & 17 year-olds who are not in education, employment or training (‘Neets’).

This problem isn’t new, but in the current economic climate we urgently need to step up efforts to ensure our most troubled teenagers have the skills, confidence and opportunities to succeed. Clegg’s move forms part of the £1bn Youth Contract launched last November, which aims to lift young people out of unemployment – the rate is now 20%+ – with more than one million 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK currently unemployed.

Work experience and training for young people at a cost of £1bn. Sounds familiar? Well, it is, that was the description of the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) launched back in 1983, but that £1bn was in 1983 prices. Leap forward to 2011 and the coalition Governments scheme has some similarities, but its £1bn will clearly not go as far as the YTS money nearly 20 years ago.

The principle of paying an employer a wage subsidy is another common theme, so too the number of places available. Gordon Brown’s ‘New Deal’ employment option also involved subsidies for employers. So how successful were these previous schemes? The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion argues that subsidies have tended to have very low take-up.  It also points to research suggesting th. But the Centre says evidence from the United States reveals success in transitional job schemes for those furthest from the labour market.

The Youth Contract is aimed at private sector opportunities. The aim is to match people up with employers who might go on to offer them real jobs. The drawback is that it depends on the willingness of private sector companies to step forward. At a time of economic uncertainty, that may not be as straightforward as ministers hope. And of course, the situation is uneven, with us folks living in the North suffering more than the Beautiful South, so potentially this just widens the demographic trends further.

I’ll step down from my soapbox, but I find it depressing how the national electorate can be hoodwinked by political shenanigans and empty rhetoric from a Government shirking its moral and political leadership responsibilities. It’s not all about budgets and austerity cuts, its about what sort of society you want to live in, but of course, we know the answers to that coming from the Bullingdon Club Old Boys as they fib about their VAT-category pasty eating habits.

It’s really only obliquely related to some of the stuff above, but there’s something heart warming in the success this season of Burnley FC’s Youth Team to openly celebrate and counter the glumness I’ve expressed and feel about Youth opportunity.

Burnley have gone out of the FA Youth Cup at the semi-final stage this week against our bitterest rivals Blackburn Rovers. Having lost the first leg at Ewood 0-1 last week we were beaten again, 1-2 at Turf Moor. A Steven Hewitt penalty a few minutes from the end was our only reward. It was the least we deserved from the two legs, although overall any fair judge would say the better team have gone through. Blackburn scored twice early in the second half on Wednesday to virtually put an end to the tie but you had to admire the way we kept going when all looked lost. They lifted their heads again, very much kept their discipline, and continued to play some decent football.

There were 10,000 home supporters on the Turf, and Shay McCartan’s storming run at the start of the second half gave the crowd something to shout about. Despite the teams’ efforts – with special mention for man-of-the-match Aryn Williams, Cameron Howieson, a Kiwi from Dunedin, and Steven Hewitt, it wasn’t to be.

To put this into context, Blackburn are a Premiership Academy team, fuelled and funded by the rich financial resources this status brings, whilst Burnley are a Centre of Excellence, playing games on picturesque pitches at Gawthorpe, nestling in the countryside outside Burnley near the Gawthorpe National Trust estate.

It was the hunger, determination, enthusiasm and passion of the Burnley youth that made you proud to be a Claret. After the first of the Rovers goals I saw players encouraging each other. When the second went in I feared the heads might drop and we could take a heavy defeat. Not on your life; they kept at it and were finally rewarded with the penalty for a clear handball.

Blackburn were big, strong, pretty quick and very aggressive – and dare I say it – wise to the cynical side of professional football. Judging by the size of their players I think Venky’s genetically modified chicken also had something to do with it. Fortunately, our lads are all proper players, but they’re slight, when one of our subs came on I thought he was a mascot.

It wasn’t just about Aryn, Shay, Cameron or Steven on the night, or all season, it’s about the whole youth squad who have taken us a lot further than any of us hoped. On the night, we were:

Burnley: Josh Cook, Aryn Williams, Alex Coleman, Jack Errington, Luke Conlan, Luke Gallagher (sub: Jason Gilchrist 68), Steven Hewitt, Archie Love (sub: Luke Daly 82), Cameron Howieson, Shay McCartan, Adam Evans. Subs not used: Callum Jakovlevs, Charlie Holt, Alex Mullin.

No one could have envisaged wins against Ipswich, West Brom and Fulham in previous rounds, but that’s what they did. They’ll have their heads down now, no doubt disappointed that the adventure is over. They’ve no need to have heads bowed though, they can stand heads up and proud of what they’ve achieved this season. So its hats off to Terry Pashley and Andy Farrell who lead the Youth coaching set-up, and to the Burnley FC Directors for investing in youth. If only others could follow this example.

At a point in the season when the first team have been struggling for form, they’ve captured the imagination of fans and given us something to shout about. I’ve long since given up predicting which young players will make it, but you derive great satisfaction from watching your youth team and daring to dream about the future.

But back to the bigger picture. Much education today is monumentally ineffective, all too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants. We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future. Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels – if youth only knew, if age only could – but old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young, and all that it entails for the individual, and society.