Business advisers must nurture people

Business advisers must nurture peopleWhilst my work involves frequent presentations to people within education, it’s rare for me to be in a primary school.

But this last week, one audience was a class of enthusiastic Year 6 pupils from the Yorkshire town of Selby.

Being enterprising (and specifically making and selling biscuits) is to be a key part of the pupils’ forthcoming school fayre and was thus the topic in the presentation spotlight. It was my job to inspire and advise. We had a ball, and the hour passed far too quickly.

Advising Start-ups

Being a short drive from the office, I was back at my desk later that afternoon in time to take a Skype call from 2 Chester University graduates. They had recently started out in business. Like their Year 6 counterparts, their energy was infectious although some of the thinking needed refinement and polish.

As the 3 of us chatted I reflected on Alex Osterwalder’s and Steve Blank’s work with the Business Model Canvas. I could see how both the 2 young entrepreneurs as well as Year 6 kids were working through the early stages of their venture to test out ideas and discover what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully, the collective experience would prove to be invaluable research, from which the business that ultimately performed would flourish.

Critical empathy

My early days in my first start-up were full of mistakes, naive thinking and flawed assumptions. It took me over 3 years to find a business model that really worked. In that time I received support from a number of advisers, but unlike many people I knew back then, no one rubbished my half-baked ideas and skewed dreams . It’s probably a key reason why I stayed self-employed.

For me, business advisers must nurture people first rather than simply focus on the business idea and levels of acumen. Whilst untruths help no-one, being blunt is typically inappropriate – unless of course disaster is imminent. Alongside guidance, we have to show empathy, kindness and care in order to be able to influence thinking and ultimately gain a position of trust where advice can be offered and received with appropriate effect.

In his now famous¬† ‘Bring on the Learning Revolution’ TED presentation at Long Beach California, Sir Ken Robinson reads one of Yeats’ famous poems. Robinson does so to make the point that we need to tread softly when helping young children to learn. The poem in question ‘Cloths of Heaven’ should also in my opinion be part of any training for business advisers seeking to support entrepreneurs.

Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

Key Learning Points: Opportunities to work with people who possess energy, enthusiasm and an appetite for work should be treasured. Whether acting as teacher or business adviser, this is the time to shape thinking and forge influential and lasting relationships.


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Whilst it wasn’t rocket science, I always thought carefully in advance about my appearance as well as how and where I stood. And I looked at the driver as the vehicle approached. By thinking about how I should present to influence the audience, I was doing my best to sell the idea of being offered a lift… [Read more…]