Have yourself a merry indie Christmas

December 5, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Enterprise, Uncategorized 

It’s Small Business Saturday tomorrow, and small business owners will be hoping for a repeat of last year’s £468 million of sales at special events across the country. It’s a good week to be one of them – as well as the Saturday boost, George Osborne’s Autumn statement extended small business rate relief again and promised a review of business rates for 2016.

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From @LolaHoadDesign

Since the turn of the century there’s been a 40% increase in the number of firms with less than 10 employees. At the RSA we argue that this growth in self-employment and microbusiness is a good thing, and a trend that should be supported by policy. The RSA’s Power of Small project has found that despite lower incomes and fewer perks, the self-employed are more satisfied and happier overall than most other groups in the wider workforce. It’s an area for high potential growth, although our latest report, Everyday Employers, highlights the need for smarter policy to encourage the self-employed to take on employees. Microbusinesses are also at the forefront of the move to a circular economy. Makerspaces such as FabLab London are providing individuals and businesses with access to sustainable design tools – makers are becoming fixers and simultaneously reducing waste.

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Big Idea: EyeFocus Accelerator

Disrupting Eye CareEyeCare

Start-up accelerators are going through an evolution, generally becoming more focused on verticals, such as digital health or fintech. I have taken this one step further, establishing an accelerator focused on eye care.

I am testing the idea that a very focused accelerator can offer better support for the start-ups, but also that it can act as a catalyst to build out an ecosystem. In this instance we are building the eye-care innovation ecosystem.

The accelerator is a 12 week program, and therefore a short, focused period of activity around which to cluster people. It is not labour intensive for partners and mentors, yet due to its intensity is very content rich and has high returns for those involved.

The returns are more than just supporting the start-ups. Mentoring is a great way to learn about new innovations, to challenge your own ideas, and to meet other mentors. Equally, our partners and sponsors are getting involved in a very focused networking opportunity. We hope to create value for the whole ecosystem, whilst at the same time offering intense support for our start-ups. Read more

PRISINNOVATION: Thinking Out of the Cell

Practivate, led by Fellow Leslie Alfin, provides a gateway for former gang members and ex-prisoners to work in social enterprises. Abilities that have been fostered in destructive patterns of deprivation and loss are rewritten as valuable business skills that can create a positive, sustainable future in society. RSA Catalyst is supporting Practivate’s Indigogo crowdfunding campaign ‘Keepin’ It R.E.A.L. Homeware for Life’, live until November 18th; support their campaign here.

picThe current rate of prison recidivism in the UK is approximately 30% at a cost to UK taxpayers of more than £10 billion annually. The cost of addressing street crime perpetrated by gang activity is over £40 billion annually. The human costs paid by individuals and society can’t be measured. This pattern is repeated around the globe.

As a global society we currently spend more time and money re-purposing plastic bottles than we do re-claiming the vast intellectual and creative human resources that can be found sitting behind bars “spending all day in their cells rather than being engaged in training and rehabilitation.—BBC News” .

Government or institutional “solutions” tend toward manual, low paying labour. This undervalues the potential of individuals who have, from a very early age, collected impressive business experience and skills, a portfolio of innovation ‘know-how’ and tools that could rival (and perhaps trump) the best from business schools.

The assumption that certain “disadvantaged” individuals or communities are less capable of meaningful and valuable contribution may be short sighted at best and stereotypical at worst. Read more

How to… Research and Innovate?

November 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Design and Society, Uncategorized 

How do you know how to approach a brief? How do you do design research? And how do you turn that research into innovation? These are the pressing questions the RSA Student Design Awards tackled with approximately 100 students from across the country as part of our workshop programme over the last few weeks.

As a global curriculum and competition, the RSA Student Design Awards are working to provide increased opportunities for participants to develop new insights and skills to complement their design education. In addition to workshops this year on design innovation (described here), we’ve run workshops on commercial awareness and designing behavior change and our workshop programme is growing.

One of the biggest challenges for designers is not second-guessing the solution before they’ve carried out the research because they want to design a particular product or service or already have an idea in mind.

Our 2014 design innovation workshops, facilitated by Professor Simon Bolton FRSA (an internationally acclaimed designer, innovation consultant and global thought leader for Procter and Gamble as well as Associate Dean for Applied Research and Enterprise at the Faculty of the Arts, Design & Media, Birmingham City University) gave RSA Student Design Awards participants a set of practical tools to help understand a design brief, conduct impactful design research and translate insights into innovative ideas.

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The next generation of internet technology could kill the big, hierarchical, unequal organisation

November 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Adam Lent, Uncategorized 

I have just read Bitcoin: The Future of Money by Dominic Frisby published by Unbound. I read it in one sitting. It is a fantastic read and fascinating book.

Dominic makes a compelling case that Bitcoin, or more likely one of its cryptocurrency cousins, spells the end for big government.

He makes the point that the huge expansion of the state in the last century was funded through taxation, borrowing or printing of money. All of these things are much harder to do if a government does not issue and control its own currency. This is why cryptocurrencies are such a threat to the big state. They are issued not by governments or central banks but by computer code and the activities of a decentralised network of individuals and organisations.

But what made me really sit up was the discussion towards the end of the book about an initiative called Ethereum. It is slightly mind-boggling but, in essence, Ethereum is taking the highly secure, highly private and highly decentralised technology of Bitcoin and using it to enable a wide range of other activities on the web not just the production and use of currency. This could include the establishment of business partnerships, social networks, new apps and various other web platforms.

Bitcoin has proved that so-called Distributed Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) can work and work very well using a technology called ‘block chain transactions‘. A DAO is simply a body or network with a certain goal that is driven by mutually agreed partnerships between the individuals in that organisation rather than by the plans of a select group of owners or managers at the top of the body.

This suggests that Bitcoin, or at least the technology behind it, could challenge not just the role of big government but also the hold that the large corporation has over the economy including the new internet behemoths such as Facebook, YouTube and Google.

We may genuinely be entering a new era in which our top down, big, rigid organisations built around high concentrations of power and wealth are challenged by a whole new species of flatter, smaller, fluid organisations in which power and wealth are distributed more evenly or, at least, in which established distributions are more ephemeral and easily challenged.

As Dominic says in the book, the Bitcoin phenomenon is about much, much more than Bitcoin. It seems to me it may also be an acceleration of the shift to smaller, flatter organisations that release mass creativity.

 

These themes amongst others will be explored in my book, Small is Powerful: Why the era of big government, big business and big culture is over (and why it’s a good thing). I’m crowd-funding for the book, so you can pre-order and help make sure it gets published here.

I’m on Twitter here.

I don’t believe in climate change…

November 3, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Social Brain, Uncategorized 

…but to clarify, I don’t “believe” in anthropogenic climate change, because it is not a religion.

I do, however, accept that there is considerable scientific evidence that man-made climate change is happening, and that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would help to mitigate against its effects. And yesterday’s 100-page “synthesis report”  from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) backs this up no uncertain terms, stating that:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity between 2000 and 2010 were the highest in history.
  • Since 1970, total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and cement production have tripled.
  • It’s extremely likely humans are responsible for more than half of the warming since the 1950s. Scientists’ best guess is that greenhouse gases explain all the warming.

But while the evidence presented by the IPCC suggests that it is imperative that “action” is taken now, as my colleague Jonathan Rowson has said: generic calls for ‘action’ on climate change actually stifle our ability to act. While the IPCC outlines some clear measures that countries could take to deal with emissions, it offers the broad caveat: “Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself. Effective implementation depends on policies and cooperation.”  Policies and cooperation, eh? Now that’s the tricky bit.

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Three baby steps to direct democracy

October 23, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Social Economy, Uncategorized 

In his blog last week, Adam Lent talked about a crisis of representative democracy, referencing a YouGov survey in which 72% agreed with the statement: ‘politics is dominated by self-seeking politicians protecting the interests of the already rich and powerful in our society’. He eloquently made the case for political parties to  “shift away from the current highly representative approach to democracy based on strong party discipline, to one with a larger element of direct democracy”.

While I agree with the sentiment – indeed it is my team’s raison d’être to support a “shift in power to people and communities so that they can better meet their economic and social needs and aspirations” – I think there are a number of steps between where we are now and “direct democracy”. So rather than take on the problem as a whole, perhaps we should look at it in smaller chunks – baby steps, like the following:

 

1. Put down the PR tools

Think back to last month’s party conferences: the speakers were all careful to show their empathy for the common man, liberally referencing real people and situations, but by trying to curb support for Ukip with carefully crafted speeches about people’s lives, it reinforced the disconnect between their lives and those of their subjects. Read more

Why the self-employed need to wake up to the threat posed by Universal Credit

September 25, 2014 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: Uncategorized 

In theory Universal Credit is a dream policy. The idea has been to streamline the welfare system, rolling six means-tested benefits into one so that work will always pay. UC is also intended to make the transition in and out of benefits more seamless, and as such accommodate workers whose income fluctuates and who find themselves flitting between jobs. In 2012 DWP estimated that an extra 300,000 more workless households would move into employment as a result of UC, and that it would save £38bn over 12 years from its inception.

Yet as we all know, the hype has not lived up to reality. Universal Credit has proven to be something of a nightmare. Indeed, it is hard to overstate the problems that have beset this flagship welfare scheme. IT failures, civil servant departures and a lack of departmental resources are just a few of the reasons for Universal Credit’s woes. Such are the challenges facing the £2.4bn scheme that the Major Projects Authority in Whitehall decided it needed to be ‘reset’ in 2013, while £34m of new IT assets had to be written off as a result of unexpected difficulties. To top this off, a damning National Audit Office report noted that ‘throughout the programme the Department [DWP] has lacked a detailed view of how Universal Credit is meant to work’.

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The Big Idea – Banbury Literary Live

September 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship, Uncategorized 

This is a guest blog from Liz Holme FRSA who, along with her team of literacy enthusiasts, is trying to reignite Britain’s love of reading.

Banbury Literary LiveAccording to the National Literacy Trust, a fifth of young people say that they rarely or never read outside class.  There is overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship to people’s life chances. A person with poor literacy is more likely to live in a non-working household, live in overcrowded housing and is less likely to vote.  Literacy skills and a love of reading can break this vicious cycle of deprivation and disadvantage.

The aim of our Fellow-led group is to increase reading for pleasure and literacy levels, amongst the young people of Banbury.

It should not be down only to teachers to achieve this.  An enthusiasm for literature can be kindled not just by schools but with the help of whole communities that they serve.

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” Nelson Mandela Read more

If you love Academies, set them free

September 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters, Uncategorized 

It is the first week of the new school year and Academy chains are already back in the news.  Last week Ofsted wrote to AET (Academies Enterprise Trust) expressing concern that too many pupils were not receiving a good enough education, and yesterday the House of Commons Education Committee continued their scrutiny of Academies and Free Schools with an evidence session involving representatives of Academy sponsors and local authorities.

For all the controversy Academies are here to stay, irrespective of the outcome of next year’s General Election.  And good news that is too, given the growing body of evidence that some Academy chains are making a positive difference to outcomes for pupils – see for example the Sutton Trust report Chain Effects on the impact of Academy chains on low income students.  That said, yesterday’s Select Committee reminded us of concerns about the Academy programme as currently conceived that just won’t go away: limited local accountability; too much money being diverted from the classroom through top-slices; and signs that some academy chains are failing to provide sufficient support for school improvement.

A reluctance to address these issues risks damaging the Academies sector as a whole.  Three simple changes could improve the system dramatically. Read more

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