Primal Enterprise, a group of entrepreneurial students from Northumbria University, with big dreams; we want to change the world, one pair of socks at a time.
Make their entrepreneurial dreams come true!
Primal Enterprise, a group of entrepreneurial students from Northumbria University, with big dreams; we want to change the world, one pair of socks at a time.
Make their entrepreneurial dreams come true!
Most entrepreneurs thrive in chaos; I know I do, especially as I’ve got older. There is something about the urgency and the pressure that gives an excitement. I thrive in my own self-imposed order and organisation, which I can make sense out of the chaos; my pragmatic view of chaos. I like to break the chaos down into pragmatic steps, to move forward, I rarely feel overwhelmed.
How I make sense of the chaos comes simply down to how as an individual I process information, how I reflect on the information and how I utilise the reflection and put it into practice. When I look at a mess or a disaster, I don’t see a hopeless disaster or a lost cause, I see issues, I see the problems, both of which I’m able to organise methodically and most importantly, I see solutions. The key to my learning is my ability to make sense of things and my strategy behind learning. Consequently, it comes as no surprise to learn, that I’m a deep learner. I like to challenge, research, investigate and explore. I’m really active in the learning process and I take forward knowledge to utilise in the future. I can only do this by making sense of what I’ve learnt and what I’m learning in this process. I can’t just take a fact and accept it on face value, I like to understand where it came from, the factors effecting it, how it might change etc.
However, surface learners, although they don’t learn as deeply as I do, they do complete tasks more quickly and often more efficiently. I can get bogged down in researching and end up reading about things that aren’t directly relevant. I always give myself more time within the drafting and research stage of an assignment, than I do the actual writing stage, as I know I have a “process”, I have to go through. This can mean, I end up with A LOT of information and with difficulty knowing what to cut out and which bits are the most important. Seeking to understand something fully often means lengthy time researching without a purpose.
This is also true when I read and listen to information. I cling to details for understanding. When I started to read academic journals, firstly I’d never actually question a lot of what I was reading and I’d take it on board as fact, secondly, I’d read it from cover to cover and almost want to highlight everything as it seemed equally as important. I’ve become much more disciplined at skim reading, seeking out relevance and utilising surface learning strategies. However, this is still an area I’d like to improve on. This is exactly, how I view my learning strategy, it is a discipline. A compromise between how I prefer to learn and tools that will enable me to be a more effective learner; a more effective entrepreneur.
This is often where the chaos comes in; I work best under deadlines, pressure and often during a crisis, as this stops my natural instinct to research and read around the subject, seeking complete understanding. Under pressure, I’m forced to skim and seek out the important; I research and learn with a purpose. Without the pressure, I struggle to be disciplined, hence I can end up reading lots of articles unable to decide, enough is enough.
Whilst my deeper learning, enables a deeper understanding and wider knowledge bank in the long term and remains a method, I use day to day. I will endeavour to incorporate more surface learning methods, within assignments and focused research. The way I intend to make this into a reality, is by giving time limits when I approach tasks and research. After all time is money and I’m not making any money reading a textbook cover to cover.
Our business team meeting was as ever fruitful, filled with the unspoken and overflowing with frustration. However, this time, it felt positive at the end. It finally felt like a step forward. Through-out our discussion we weaved our way through points that we have been avoiding as a group (although as an individual, I’ve been perfectly aware of these from day one and communicated these many times – but this comes onto communication, the theme of this post) and pragmatically discussed through them. What was the most interesting for me, as I tried to take a neutral, challenging and objective stand point, was that many of the things the team initially rejected in the beginning, especially things I put to the team, in terms of lack of quality in the end product, the team seemed to come full circle in the end and agree that these were lacking.
Points covered within our post-Motorola discussion of the sustainability project were;
This was a huge step forward in regards of the team identifying problems and developing productively. ; Especially in regards to the issue of communication. We don’t communicate within the group, we don’t communicate ideas, difficulties, we don’t hand over effectively from one section of the project to the end and any forms of communication we do have, are ineffective and inefficient. , Consequently, each section Research, report and presentation, ends up completely disjointed. We need to consider a productive way to diffuse the knowledge into each, so that understanding isn’t lost. Also, we simply focus on the quality of the visuals of the presentation. As the visuals for our presentation, as always were good, as a team we deem this as good quality. But in fact, I think our presentation was quite poor. We didn’t manage to summarise the report or present our implementation plan; it wasn’t a pitch. As our presenter wasn’t involved in any other area of the project, you could tell when he was presenting the whole, he didn’t really understand a lot of it or was re-interpreting bits, which became misleading to the audience. Once again, effective communication is here, not just within the team but to our wider audience; both are lack. The final delivery of a pitch should be a collective effort and the script should be presented back to the team beforehand for review or even to an outside for feedback.
Waber (2013) considers that the crutch of any successful team and business is the act of meeting face to face, something we try to do once week but we are yet to have a full meeting with every member there. He considers “physical touch promotes closeness which leads to better co-operation and higher performance”. The point of his simple, but insightful article is that whilst when we are greeted with failure and a failing team, we often opt for drastic, physical solutions; in fact small changes can make the difference. He puts forwards two crucial elements that can unite a business towards performance; increased interaction and dressing the uniting part.
In terms of reflecting and applying this, the most successful teams I’ve been a part of have worked together, met a lot both professionally and socially and viewed themselves as one unit. This bonding came from simply spending time together and instead of looking at a problem, from the view point of a group of individuals; they viewed it as a unit. We also had a leader, me, who really pushed forward communication. I held weekly, often more, meetings to check in and discuss. I relied on these meetings to communicate information and I had a secretary within the group. Someone impartial, who ensured the meeting, went ahead productively. But when assessing the failures of the team, I immediately considered that poor communication was at fault and the team, which was huge and sprawling, relied on tech communication.
A similar situation is happening here, we are too focussed on Facebook, which you can chose to read or not and forget that communication, isn’t just about communicating information and putting forward your ideas and views. It is about developing an effective communication strategy, one that engages all team members and offers the opportunity for feedback and discussion. It is also about feeding off the team in front of you; you can gauge interest levels, motivation and whether the team is actually backing the direction of the project.
Within most forming teams, constant meetings can seem like a bind and unproductive; meeting for meetings sake, especially if the meetings don’t work in terms of engagement. But initially in the beginning formation of a team, I think face to face meeting is crucial. Utilising that time together might be more time consuming in the short term, but in the long term it actually saves time. In Enactus and Gateshead Council for example, the teams are now so established and work together in such a manner, that the amount of meetings needed is reduced and communication over Facebook can occur effectively in the interim. But each team still has regular meetings, whether there are things of importance to discuss or not. Sometimes, meetings are just airing frustrations and updating on our individual work load, with no real sense of urgency; a check in.
Waber’s (2013) other assertion is about dressing the part. Enactus was very focussed on this. In our informal meetings, we dressed down and like ourselves. But in our proper meetings, we dressed smart casual, in business attire and we held our meetings within formal surroundings. We felt professional and business like; consequently, we were more productive and professional in our conduct. As our team progressed, we eventually opted to wear the colour blue as a uniting uniform. We owned matching tailored shirts and when we went to events, business competitions and meetings, we wore these items to not only set us apart and make us identifiable, but to unite us as a team. There was something very team like and professional about walking into an environment, with a visible uniform. We noticed the change from the fact in uniform we rarely said, “I’m part of Enactus Newcastle”; in fact the response became “we are Enactus Newcastle”. Even as individuals, we referred to ourselves as a “we” and not a distinct unit of the team.
Whilst I don’t believe our team would go for the uniform idea. I do think increasing the amount meetings we hold face to face and we could utilise a uniting factor, by creating a team name with an identity. Instead of approaching the task “what do we have to do”, instead with an identity the question should become “what does Team…. Want to achieve within this?”
Amy Anderson (2013) puts forward other relatively small ideas that could enhance our communication within our team. She puts forward the age old truth that “success in business is greatly impacted for better or worse by the way in which we communicate”. Consequently, assessing our current communication as a team and individuals, it isn’t difficult to see why our productivity and success is limited. In short, our team will not improve, unless we really look deeply at the ways we are communicating and their effectiveness.
Within her article she makes some startling assertions backed by research from Dr Lund, that 8% of communication is based on what you say and 55% on your facial expressions and 37% is based on the tone of their voice. As someone, who takes a lot of time to reflect, before they speak, so usually my words are very considered, I was shocked by this result. Moreover, my body language is very telling and I’m an extremely expressive person. Sometimes I find myself, turning away, crossing arms and becoming completely disengaged if I am approached in an aggressive manner or instantly shot down, when I think something I’ve said deserves a bit more value. I’m not an angry person or aggressive, but what I’ve come to realise about myself, is that I’m very passive aggressive. I can be this way even within the workplace. I clench my jaw, I twist my hair, I pout and I become visibly un-cooperative, I’m no longer listening out of principle. This sounds completely childish, but I know myself and I know when to snap out of it.
As I’m aware of this tendency, I work very hard to try and look at things from the other person’s point of view and attempt to control my body language. To take emotions out of it and to constantly recite the mantra “it’s not personal, it is business”. Gradually, I’m becoming much better at this but I still have my moments, one of which was yesterday within an interaction with a member of our group, where I could simply disengage completely. Instead, I managed to rationalise her comments and realise that the key to the problem was miscommunication within the team; it was not a personal attack. We are both looking at the same issue but from two stand points with two separate insights. In terms of something personal to take forward, I need to consider my body language and the way I communicate in a group and less focus on what I’m saying.
Anderson (2013) develops other communication advice that could be invaluable if applied within our team. Our meetings are often disorganised and people are itching to leave. As Anderson (2013) suggests, within communication (and within meetings), you should set expectations of what you wish to gain out of the communication, which is stated at the beginning and clarify if you have met them at the end. Applying this to our meetings, this involves setting goals and objectives at the beginning of the meeting, not only to guide but to communicate what we need to do with in the time so everyone’s expectations are realistic. We also need to clarify at the end, if we met the goals and objectives, to ensure that our meeting time was efficiently used.
Another point from the article, was the idea that interaction is a two way street. It is not just about letting everyone speak and communicate their points, whilst they all fall into a vacuum. It should be about listening and digesting people’s points. As a team, we are very good at talking and expressing ourselves, which is of course a good thing. But we don’t listen to each other; hence a lot of valuable information, potential ideas and team decisions are lost. We spend a lot of time as a group being confused, lost and not moving forward. Within our team, I spend a great deal of time asking questions and listening to others, especially within our team meetings. I prefer to take a back seat role instead of being so dominant. There are a lot of dominant personalities within the group, so another strong female will only make our meetings more unproductive.
This leads me onto, Anderson’s (2013) final bit of advice; adapt communication style varying to situations. As a team and individuals, we need to adapt to others, within our communication strategy. This comes down to even within our presentations, we don’t communicate effectively or efficiently what we are proposing and pitching. We don’t step it up professionally, as we are simply presenting to our coaches. If we considered our style and our audience more, our communication could be more effective. Moreover, we could take steps in assessing what our key messages are and structuring our communication around them.
The session enabled the team to not only review our past performance, current communication within the group and to reflect on this progress so far, we were also able to strip down Anderson and Waber’s articles and apply key learning from their key points to our future activity as a group. Therefore, as a team we made several positive steps forward for the future, in terms of pragmatic plans;
These really pragmatic solutions are a step forward to try and ensure the project development becomes more efficient and effective. These solutions are not major changes, they are utilising things we already do inefficiently within the time and giving them more structure and thought.
On an ending note, we were given the feedback as already mentioned that a lot of what we are doing focuses on ensuring the delivery of the project and not on the quality of the project. Firstly, I don’t think we have any controls there to monitor the quality but also I don’t think we can run before we can walk. I think our first priority has to be delivering on the project, as we are yet to fulfil a project brief completely, although last time was an attempt. Secondly, once we start actively completing the projects and delivering, we can then start to look at how to improve. Delivering a project and fulfilling the brief as a team, is surely the first objective here. Consequently, improving our communication, which has repeatedly been labelled as a huge weakness and was responsible for the failure of the last task, is the first step in delivering a project successfully. Once this has been achieved, we can plan how to deliver a successful project.
Online article references
Profile of an Entrepreneur
Brigitte West – aged 23 – Newcastle University Student (third year) and co-founder of Beauty by the Geeks.
1. What is Beauty by the Geeks mission statement?
To demystify all the science behind the cosmetic industry so EVERYONE can understand it, regardless of from science back ground or not.
2. What is your personal mission within that?
To get more women to feel engaged and empowered within business and to also encourage more women into STEM subjects.
3. How would you define your product/service?
Current – We put cosmetic science into layman’s terms so that everyone can understand it. We explain the products on the market via our unbiased reviews and teach people how to make their own cosmetics and what’s behind them.
Our product and service is always evolving. Our long term aim is have our own cosmetic beauty products. However, our business has recently taken an unexpected turn with increased media interested, we are in talks to develop a programme with channel four and we’re also developing a few seminars, so we can go into schools and Universities.
4. How did the idea for Beauty by the Geeks come about?
Me and my co-founder Rose Brown were walking into university and chatting about all our favourite products and the claimed science behind them. You know the adverts on television, when they quote all these science terms, percentages and ingredients!? We soon realised that as scientists we didn’t understand our products, so how were people without a science background going to? That’s why we started the blog and it’s grown from there.
The branding came from networking within the north east business community. Firstly, it struck us that with the science side, there aren’t many girls doing what we do. Most science girls hide away in labs. Secondly, within business, there aren’t as many girls doing what we do. So we decided to exploit that. We are business women, we are self-confessed science geeks and we are women who love make up!
5. How long did it take to realise?
Before we launched the blog we spent 6 months planning the content and making sure we had legalities covered. After we launched it snowballed so quickly, much more quickly than anticipated! A lot of our careful planning was out the window and it was weeks later we made it a Limited Company.
6. Did it organically come into being or was there a structured process to get from A to B?
It did mostly organically happen – lots of people were interested from the start but we did work really hard to get the idea out there. Obviously there was planning before the launch and research to see if it could work. But once the idea got out, it grew like a monster.
7. When was the moment you actually thought “hang on, there could be a business here!?”
After we had 10,000 hits in 10 days and lots of people asking to meet/ interview us. Our business plan was developed en route really. I know you’re not supposed to say that! It is only now that we have a firm idea of what we would like to do in the long term and have lots of plans. Before, we thought, we’d have time to develop the blog and market it over the course of University and then make a go of it, but it did it on its own really. Then we had the moment where we were like “oh…right….what on earth do we do now!? This could be huge!” It was scary, but we scrapped our plan and just thought, there is no point waiting until after University, let’s make it happen now!
8. Why do you think Beauty by the Geek has been such a success so far?
When we did our research, we realised that there is nothing like it on the market. There are plenty of beauty blogs on the market but nothing that focuses just on science. Our courses are pretty unique as well. We are not just focused on selling you beauty products or promoting a particular product, we’ve been sent (even though we are sent lots of freebies!), and our commitment is to education.
We have been a little bit stuck over whether we should even launch our cosmetic range, because it might lessen our objectivity. It was a long term goal of ours and is still in the business plan but with the education side being the focus at the moment and developing that, we’ve put it on the back burner.
Do you do any market research before setting up the blog to suss out your audience?
Yes! We thought it would be a brilliant idea, but we are geeks and well…it might not appeal. We both read lots of blogs and magazines so we knew our audience well. We searched the market to see if there was anything else like it. We did lots of focus groups about the lay out. We also got out there at events and asked about.
But to be honest, when we started we didn’t have a clue about what you are “supposed” to do…we just did what we thought we needed to. I wouldn’t say we did brilliant market research because it worked for us.
9. Who is your audience?
Beauty fans and science enthusiasts. We considered at the beginning it would actually appeal to our age up to mid-thirties and mostly women. But that was an assumption completely. We have a huge older audience; hence we do a lot about anti-aging products and the like. Also, we have quite a draw with men! Now that was a surprise.
10. What are your expectations of the company within the next 18months?
To establish the foundations more so it’s ready to run with when I graduate. What I’ve learnt is that whilst somethings happen so quickly, others take a lot longer. So last April, when we got the channel four call, I thought…oh gosh, we’re going to be on TV, within a couple of months. But this programme is in development and we are still attending meetings. They are aware we are young, have commitments and when they contacted us, we had only been running a month! On their side, they wanted a programme with us, but they weren’t sure how exactly….if we’d front it, if we’d just be a part of a larger programme?
We’ve done lots of TV in general now though. Getting better at it.
11. What would you do within Beauty by the Geek with unlimited resources?
Develop our own product range!!
12. What are the short term plans? What are the long term plans?
Short term plans are to expand the beauty by the geeks team, we can no longer do it alone and to build up the brand. Long term develop a product and run the courses nationally. (We’ve had international interest too)
13. Do you have an exit strategy?
Not really!!! This is my baby. But we’ve come to a funny point; we always wanted to do this but we had contingency plans in terms of, for us career wise. We both had placements set up over the summer and things like that. The intention was to pursue both, but now (whilst I will get my degree); I’m not focusing on a career doing anything else.
14. If you were starting again, would you do anything differently? If so, what?
Yes but you always learn best from mistakes! I would do my accounts religiously from day 1. Doesn’t every business person say that?!
15. How much time do you spend working on the business in an average week?
Every free hour I have! This summer I have been working 12 hr days pretty much 7 days a week but the flexibility with being your own boss really works well for me. I’m starting to work much less now I’m back at uni but still about 4/5 hrs a day.
16. Have you sacrificed anything for its success?
My social life. I didn’t do much but work on the business this summer but now it’s much more founded, I’m getting it back….slowly. Even when I am trying to be social, I’m thinking about the business in my head. Labour of love.
17. Have you acquired investment to expand or what is your funding strategy?
We’ve got a contract with Newcastle University to run the outreach programmes in schools in North East and we’ve won a few competitions for website development and legal costs. We get sponsorship to do our events.
We’ve got lots of things in the pipe line and we get paid for the courses/seminars we do.
We spent a lot of time in London with different organisations and people which they covered our costs for. Which was nice.
We try to go to lots of the big networking events and science events to get ourselves out there….our family have been good at contributing to helping us go and we’ve managed to get funding from our University too.
We’ve had a lot of cosmetic companies approach us with sponsorship with some hefty figures. But, that is not within the ethos of our business. We’d simply end up promoting their products which is NOT what we are about.
18. Your business is in a start up phase online, were you ever dwarfed by the tech side?
Completely! We have a really good web/ graphic designer though. That is my biggest piece of advice, make friends with a graphic designer. Make it work for you! He is looking for something special to put on his portfolio and you’re looking for his skill set!
19. How do you feel about the power of the internet? What did you do to get noticed?
Social media is so powerful and it’s how we grew awareness of the blog. Before launch, we’d already developed our networks and done a lot of the research. We’d been to the science events, chatted to people about what we were doing and been in touch with local press and University press. So when it came out, some people were looking for us…..but we couldn’t have predicted how quickly it exploded.
20. What is a typical day for you? Where does Beauty by the Geeks fit in?
It depends if I have uni or not! If I have University I usually fit in meeting and emails around my lectures, if not I ram as many different things in the day as possible! What is sleep again?
21. What is an entrepreneur? How would you describe one?
An entrepreneur is someone that’s driven and can see an opportunity where a lot of other people can’t.
Actually no, an entrepreneur is someone who can see the opportunity and makes it happen. Where a lot of other people think it is a good idea and just don’t have the will and drive to make it happen.
22. Would you define yourself as an entrepreneur? Or how would you define yourself?
I would define myself as very driven and dedicated. I like to work within a team to spot the opportunities and make the most of them though; different people see different things. I also like to bounce my ideas off other people as I don’t have the longest attention span.
Working in a duo is perfect for me. We are the perfect partnership. She is head down and planning and doing….I’m all over the place, representing and thinking of ideas. Rose keeps me grounded and focused.
No I wouldn’t describe myself as an entrepreneur, I’d say Rose and me combined are entrepreneurs. I had the idea and the dream…..Rose saw the long term business.
23. Which entrepreneurs/business people do you most admire?
People like Bill Gates – fantastic business man but also does some really inspiring charity work. I also admire the likes of Tara Banks. Haha! She has built an empire, but she has tried lots of different business things along the way and had loads of failures. But some of the things she has done have been super successful. She realises that SHE is the product.
24. Do you think anyone can start up a business?
No, not everyone is passionate and motivated enough. I think anyone with the right drive can start up a business. You have to be focused because you learn quickly by doing and that it is not all fun making your idea materialise. I think being a successful business really depends on the team/ people around you. We have some fantastic mentors that guided us through the process and helped us get over any hurdles.
But millions of times, I was sat in my bedroom thinking, I’m sick of this. I think the difference is, some people just don’t give up.
The thing that annoys me the most is sometimes people think we just stumbled onto a good idea and it happened for us. Like “you’re so lucky” sort of thing. But every single business person will tell you, it takes blood, sweat and tears to make it happen.
25. Do you think some people are just born natural business people? Or do you think it can be learnt from experience/education?
I think it’s a bit of both! The kids in the playground selling sweets for a profit at 7 are a good example of born business people but you learn a lot as you go along though and asking questions is always the best way I’ve found.
Before Beauty by the Geeks, I’d have never said I was a business person, but now I am in business I realise it plays to my strengths. But the areas I have been lacking in, I’ve gone out and learnt along the way.
26. You’re from a science background, what extent was your knowledge of business and entrepreneurship before Beauty by the Geeks?
I didn’t really have that much knowledge of entrepreneurship but had worked in a variety of different businesses. I did a lot of work with corporate sponsorship of the social sector so learnt a lot about how businesses interact through that.
When I was about 17, I knew I liked science and I knew I liked business. I never thought I’d want to necessarily own or run a business, but outside of school, I always seeked out work experience within business sector and loved it.
27. What area of business do you struggle with the most?
The bits I find boring like accounts and finance. Also, I hate the things you have to do! This is where Rose comes in! I know our ideas but putting them into a business plan was the absolute pits!
Also, initially I struggled with criticism. We’d work so hard on it and then someone would make a comment and I’d want to punch them! But now, I see it as they are only trying to help. If it wasn’t for all the feedback and criticism we had, we wouldn’t be where we are now.
28. What inspires you? Motivates you?
The people around me – when they’re excited about something you’re doing it always rubs off. Also seeing through our mission, to educate and demystify and staying true to that.
29. Describe yourself in three words?
Outgoing, bubbly and motivated.
30. What is success? (Personal and Beauty by the Geeks?)
Achieving whatever you set out to achieve.
31. What has your highlight of the past 12months been?
This summers events, especially the British Science Festival at the end. Brilliant to be a part of it all.
32. Low point?
Rose decided to take a step back for 3rd year to concentrate on her studies as she’s looking to do a PhD. That was hard because we became a bit of a double act and it was nerve racking going alone. However, we’ve now recruited a big team of support around us and it’s working out really well. Rose can now balance her studies and do BBTG and doesn’t mean I’m just alone!
I’ve learnt so much from Rose in terms of planning and things. She is my voice of motivation and the person I call when I feel like throwing my accounts away. A lot of people go it alone from the beginning; I was blessed to have a support step from the beginning from her.
But her passion is the science side and not the business. Which is sad but I know my passion is this business. Getting that out on the table made it easier. It isn’t a parting of ways or anything, it is just…….adjusting to different roles and having more control over things.
33. What excites you?
New opportunities and the future! I’m doing what I want to do. Not many people can say that. Beauty by the geeks is evolutionary. I’m excited to see where it all goes…..with how much things changed and happened in a year, in two years, my service could be different. It is all about refining and redesigning; learning as I go.
34. What are you most nervous about for the future?
Third year – I’m nervous about not getting the work/ life balance right and failing my degree. I speak to lots of entrepreneurs who have dropped out and failed in order to run the business. I promised my parents that I wouldn’t do that.
I’m a little sad, that my mentality is just about getting Uni over with and done, so I can do this full time. If it goes wrong, I’ll have shot myself in the foot. But it is a risk I’m going to take.
35. You work with a business partner….Do you have different roles? Symbiotic relationship?
We have a very symbiotic relationship. I love going out and getting new opportunities and Rose loves to concentrate on the details to make sure it actually works. We work really well together and that’s probably because we’re very different with a shared passion.
When we go to events, I’m the voice of Beauty by the Geeks and working the room. She gives me pleading looks across the room to leave as soon as possible. Haha! But once you get her talking about the business and the science, she can chat away for hours.
36. As a business person, what would you say your ideals are?
To achieve everything I set out to achieve but to do it fairly. Idealistic maybe?! I want to be a nice person, a nice business woman. Is that possible?
37. Do you think there is a successful pattern to becoming an entrepreneur?
No, I think hard work always pays off. If you’ve got a good idea and the motivation to do it then hopefully you learn how to be a good entrepreneur as you go along.
Being an entrepreneur is like, when everything clicks and comes together at once. You’ve got all these skills, ideas, people around you, personality traits and suddenly they all come together!
Also, being an entrepreneur isn’t about being successful. We’ve learnt that many times. Being an entrepreneur is about all the meetings you were unprepared for, being asked that awkward question on stage at a pitch, not being able to justify something and making silly mistakes……it is about how you recover from them.
38. Before Beauty by the Geeks, what were your career aspirations? In the long term, what are they now?
I used to think I would either study post grad medicine or get a PhD. Now I will definitely do something with business and science but I’m unsure what yet. I’ll run BBTG after I graduate and take it from there – who knows if it’ll be successful (hope it will be!). It is successful now in its infancy and there are lots of plans…..
So my aspiration is to give it a real go after University. If not, I’ll regroup and think of something else. Regardless, I know at the heart of BBTG there is the seeds for something fantastic…..it just might turn out to not be in the BBTG format.
39. Whilst running Beauty by the Geeks, you’ve also done fantastically well academically and within working for others; where do you feel most comfortable?
I actually love a mixture. Now I’ve had a taste of working for myself I reckon it’ll be hard to go back to working for someone else fulltime but I’ve worked for some amazing people, learnt a lot. I really like my course too so don’t mind having days mixed between BBTG, working part time and studying. If I’m not busy I don’t do anything so it’s better for me to do all three atm!
I’m sure you’ll agree, that working for someone else successfully, means you need space to have ideas, responsibility and creativity. I HATE bring micro managed.
40. What do attribute all your personal successes to?
Hard work and the supportive group of people around me.
41. What is your background before Beauty by the Geeks?
I left to school and went and worked for a charity in Bolivia for a year and then took another year out after that to travel and work for Santander plc. I then came to university, where I have waitressed and doing lots of corporate fundraising for Disability North.
Through Santander and Disability North, I’ve been on a range of business courses and training. I feel it set me up nicely.
42. What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?
Strengths – My drive and determination to achieve what I set out to achieve
Weakness – Lack of focus sometimes (looking ahead too much instead of focusing on the now).
Reflection on Van Grinsven, M., Visser, M (2011) Empowerment, knowledge conversion and dimensions of organisational learning. The learning organisation, 18 (5), 378-391
Our current group situation and project progression is to put it lightly, frustrating. There is a lack of everything imaginable. But what there is an abundance of is strong personalities. We don’t have a set group identity at the moment, which writers like Steve Covey, would advocate as essential to an effective group. But what we do have is diversity and a common theme of an interest in business and entrepreneurship to unite us. As Hills often proposes in her writings about team based learning, it is an appreciation of these differences that is important and a uniting interest and goal that will propel the team.
So as a group of potential entrepreneurs, who are we? Why are we here? What are we working towards? I’ve only recently started to flirt with the idea that I could add “entrepreneurship” to my list of skills and that is only after I have set out an made many mistakes, taken an active interest in it and had several successes in starting things from scratch. In line with Deakins and Freel’s research and detailed exposition, we do consider entrepreneurs in a certain way, with certain characteristics, whether that is a foolish analysis or not, can be decided at a different point. But we can’t help it, there is an element of idealism. But what I always have assosicated with entrepreneurship, is passion, empowerment, drive and initiative. I do believe entrepreneurs are “special” people, backing up Schumpeter’s analysis of an entrepreneur. But where I differ, with his argument , is that I believe they make themselves special, that have the will and drive to seek out the knowledge and empower themselves. That is what is most striking to me, to find a group of entrepreneurs, without that passion, empowerment, drive and initiative.
Van Grinsven further compounds this, with her article on empowerment and knowledge conversion. Consequently, it isn’t too hard, to reflect on why our team dynamic isn’t working. Van Grinsven (2011) suggests that learning within an organisation or in this case, team needs “structure, delegation and participation in decision making, knowledge transfer and integration, learning climate, managerial leadership and commitment and clarity of vision, mission and purpose”. (397) In summary a healthy learning environment and one that we are all engaged in. The above description is the exact opposite, to what we currently have within our teans. No structure, poor delegation, low participation, no decision making, no group learning, little integration, no leadership, poor commitment, no vision, mission or purpose. I really struggle to work without a vision and without objectives. I’m a pragmatist, I like things to be broken down into practical plans. Regardless of the ethos of who i am working for or the team I am in, that is how I work successfully. Potentially, to address this, I think we should as a group take a step back, why are we hear? What is the point of this group work? I think it is too early to let us go it alone….especially with the lack of above. We simply as Peter Jones puts it frankly, “stagnate”.
Another reflective point from Van Grinsven (2011) is the concept of “learning”. In my head, learning is researching, understanding, practical, experimenting, doing. Van Grinsven describes it as the “detection and correction of error”, which is a very interesting way to describe it and challenges my perception. Learning is not always actively seeking out the new but sometimes it is a natural product of an experience or an experiement. Further more, the definition can be expanded into aspirations of achievements and reality of achievements (Argyris and Schon, 1978). This involves a certain amount of self awareness but also reflection, Hills champions both. We have to be aware of what we want to achieve and we have to then reflect if we achieved. This process within our teams, is sorely missed out hence we are not learning from our mistakes, because we are simply not aware of them. This reflection process, has always been quite difficult, I’ve always been onto the next thing and pushing myself harder, without considering my performance. Moreover, as an introvert, I used to ignore negative feedback and unproductively chew on it. Now, reflection is a crucial part to my day. I’m very stuck in my own thoughts and need to process and reflect before action. Reflection enables me to understand and it enables me to progress. As a group, we need to make time for reflection.
In terms of learning, Van Grinsven (2011) explains that it has two dimensions. Learning intitially within actions, routine, models, norms, policies and then secondly, challenging them, being creative, seeking out new processes. I believe that we need the first, before we can have the second, whether an individual or a group. The first dimension is a building block. But it seems comfortable to me as it is structured. Now why I keep coming back to the structured sense, is not just because i believe we don’t have the dimension within out team, but I believe if we don’t have the igniting factor of the qualities of entrepreneurship, the passion, the drive…..we need (initially) something else. We need guidance and structure. We need to put processes and routines in places, so then we can build on creativity and challenging. At the moment, we try to be creative and without the structure, we get lost in it.
The first crucial factor within entrepreneurship, team work, decision making, learning, is of course empowerment. I was introduced to empowerment within management theory along time ago, through Kanter (1983). What is empowerment to me? Well it is taking control, having the confidence to make decisions, feeling competent, able to step into the unknown……it isn’t “i know how to do this”, it is more “i know I can do this” which then creates a motivation to learn how to do it. Empowerment was so crucial to Enactus Newcastle. The whole concept is based on knowledge transfer, which then can create empowerment. You teach people the skills to do something, you support them to do it and then you let them do it on their own when they feel empowered to. This was a novel concept for me, someone who grew up considering, it was easier in a team, if I just did it. Now, I’m guilty even now of that mind frame, hence in the recent group sustainability project, I drafted the report. It wasn’t until afterwards, I realised….I didn’t explain what I’d done, I didn’t teach them whilst doing it, they haven’t learnt anything (apart from I’m a good team member to come to in a crisis), I didn’t transfer my knowledge into the team. I vow to do this in future. Moreover, I take forgranted that everyone has the same initiative as me. A lot of what I have learnt, I learnt through doing and not having a clue! There are countless times, I’ve sat thinking “gosh…how on earth am I going to do this?!” but as I’ve got older, I’ve felt empowered enough, to know I will do it.
However, whilst I do agree with Van Grinsven (2011) that knowledge can lead to empowerment, I think the individual and team needs to have a drive and motivator. You can hold lots of knowledge and not do anything with it. Empowerment requires ownership not only of the individual’s learning experience but also of the teams. However, Senge (1990) makes a valid triumphant point, everything about what we are currently doing within our team and education is challenging our existing norms and beliefs, which can cause a lose of identity which is key to providing direction. This is completely new, it is hard, challenging and not like anything we have done before. The way I used to be able to interact in my law seminars and lectures, or my work routines and participations, are completely different. I in a sense feel a bit lost too and not sure how we supposed to acting or what to do to put it right. I don’t feel empowered within group work outside of my own realm. I don’t necessarily feel empowered enough to lead the team.
Van Grinsven (2011) goes on to advance knowledge conversion as another key aspect. As we aren’t reflecting, we aren’t converting that knowledge as a group. We aren’t functioning together, interacting, conversing, making time to meet and so we aren’t bouncing off each other. We don’t really know each other and what our strengths are. Levitt and March (1988) argue about the competency trap and I do think that might be a future issue for us. I have the feeling, whatever works for us, we will hold onto for dear life and just repeat. Potentially for ease, lack of motivation and lack of ability to utilise the ability to exploit and explore (Levinthal and March 1993).
Consquently, in review I consider empowerment a crucial factor to our success. We are gradually learning and converting knowledge, whether the whole group is aware of it or not, but as each task goes by, I can see a greater progression of team awareness. I can see how I am interacting within the group, my role and my habits; the awareness we are gaining is crucial to our long term success and will hopefully make us into a better team. So whilst we may be flagging, I consider we are actually learning more in the process, well I certainly am. Each task we have done, I am taking something forward into the next one. So whilst the knowledge conversion will come, I’ m unsure whether the empowerment will. Whilst I feel very empowered in my own learning, I don’t necessarily feel empowered within the entrepreneural team. But I’m still full of motivation and drive, as always.