Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Creator. Disruptor. Doer. Bullshitter

A few days ago, I posted a piece called Entering The Bullshit Zone, satirising my university for paying an unqualified therapist and author of That Bitch for 'facilitating' a conference promoting Entrepreneurship in Education. Briefly: serious scholars of management and business have long since laid to rest the notion of the Great Entrepreneur who'll reshape the world. For a short dismissal delivered by somebody rather more impressive than me, try Barack Obama's 'you didn't make that' speech, which reminds everybody that social advances require a society rather than a solitary genius. 

I worry that this discourse of capitalist individualism is socially destructive, not supported by any evidence at all, and promotes a model which is simply not that of the economy at large. Most of us work for medium to large businesses, who have acquired all the advantages. Promoting dubious and unscientific therapeutic or pyschological development models is merely the latest version of the dodgy ads found in the Reader's Digest, and before that, at fairgrounds. These people are snake-oil salesmen. Universities should be critiquing these discourses, not inviting the salesmen in, giving them lots of money (especially when the library and staff numbers are being cut) and leaving our students at their mercy. Instead, my university and I suspect other places are queuing up to fund these secular scientologists. Even more worryingly, our pedagogical specialists are up to their flaky necks in the therapeutic education discourse, in which it's how you feel about things that matters, rather than what you know and how keen your critical faculties are. I think it's dangerous. My colleague is writing papers on this at the moment: I watch him tear his hair out as he traces these academics' references back to nothing more substantial than airport-bookshop management texts, Deepak Chopra-style vaguely spiritual woo and the occasional motivational speech. 

And yet we're still at it. We run a competition/course for students, the Unipreneur Challenge. It's run by a guy we'll call Barry Paul McCartney for legal reasons (the chap in question doesn't believe in joining the debate, he'd rather complain about me to my boss), who rents an office on campus. What does Barry do?

Entrepreneur with a portfolio of projects and businesses
Tell me more, Barry. 
  • I dream, create and do, inspired by and inspiring others
  • I help develop entrepreneurship in entrepreneurs, educators and employees
  • I wish for my children to reach out and touch the vibrancy of life and all it has to offer.
I'd quite like to get into dreaming, creating, doing and inspiring. What's the money like? What do you do every day? What are the core attributes required?
Creator, disruptor, doer 
Wow. A creator! Like God? What have you created, Barry? What have you disrupted? Because as far as I can see, capitalism seems to be bumbling along from crisis to crisis without any serious creating or disrupting on your part. What have you challenged, Barry?
Co-Founder, 2012 - present
Create, deliver and engage colleges, universities and businesses with challenges to simulate [yes, you read that right] and focus entrepreneurial skills towards a given goal 
BizBritain Finance Ltd
Director, 2013 - present
Support young startup entrepreneurs with finance, mentoring and training. Delivery partner to Start Up Loans Company having access to £1.6 million in loans in 2013 
Wist Ltd
Entrepreneur, 2012 - present
Building a suite of tools to acquire information, decide strategy and perform actions. All online and able to be integrated into start-up and development activities for business support, enterprise education and financial brokerage 
i2R Entrepreneur Services
Entrepreneur, 2010 - 2011
Mentor and consultant to micro business owners to help develop more robust entrepreneurship and sustainable business models 
Parker Hannifin, Chomerics Division
European Sales Manager, 2000 - 2003
Led a direct and indirect sales force to build relationships, grow value and profit into the electronics industry 
Ideas 2 Reality
Director, 2006 - 2010
Developed ideas with business owners to increase readiness for finance, access routes to market and speed up operations
Um. This doesn't look very creative, disruptive or inspiring to me, Barry. It looks like you sold components for a while, and ran a lot of very short-lived companies specialising in selling rather flaky pseudo-scientific self-help strategies to people. You don't seem to employ many (any?) people and mainly sell your skills to one organisation: my university, which also provides you with office space in which you operate these various companies. 

In a sense, Barry is a classic entrepreneur. He's parlayed basically no skills or qualifications into a rather successful career selling platitudes to suckers. There's something very circular about entrepreneurs whose only activity is to promote the idea of entrepreneurship. It looks rather like pyramid sales. 
We provide an inclusive ecosystem of empowerment and holistic support.
I believe that passion, humour and purpose are all that's needed to make great things happen. 
Really? All you need is some positive emotion and determination? Not substantial skills? Knowledge? Capital? Contacts? Ideas? Infrastructure? 

As the proverb goes, 'Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me'. I am ashamed of my university for fostering this rubbish. We have a higher calling and a social duty to explore this stuff, not to propagate and promote it. As it is, we're subverting our educational and cultural duty to the local community by uncritically allowing our students to believe that this kind of discourse is legitimate. We know better: we have a School of Business (partly) devoted to critical examination of business structures, and yet we spend students' and taxpayers' money on Barry and his friends. We should be ashamed of ourselves. 


M-H said...

Yes. And thank you.

Anonymous said...

I think the blog label bullshit is rather accurate. Is this the same Gary who was employed as a visiting lecturer by said business school? He was obviously good enough then.

The Plashing Vole said...

I think it probably is. Tell me more…

Anonymous said...

It is the very same Gary who was a visiting lecturer. It says so on his linkedin

I'm afraid I cannot reveal more of my identity because I occasionally deal with Gary and I am at the UoW daily (except most Saturdays and Sundays, which would be silly, and some weekdays when I have better things to do)>

Lee Mills said...

Someone who describes their "skills" as "creator, disruptor, doer" shouldn't be allowed anywhere near higher education. What hope is there for the future with these kind of schemes in place?

Anonymous said...

have to agree with you on this one as I had a chance to deal with him in the past at UoW... I wouldn't say that he 'damaged' me or my business idea in any way, but he didn't help much either. luckily I'm able to think with my own head and I can tell when someone whats to sell me some bullshit in a nice packaging - most of business school students should know that - after all, we all learn how to do this ourselves, don't we? ;) if it makes you feel any better - I had access to some non-bullshiters business advisors at Uni as well, so maybe it's not that bad after all ;)

Anonymous said...

Education has always been full of bullshit, get over it.. And you are rather underestimating university staff and students' ability to see through it. The problem is not so much this type of bullshit but the rather rigid and undemocratic structure of the education system, so I'd suggest you use your excellent critical skills to dwell on what allows the bullshit to misguide us of its importance

Hell said...

A new low in Tory-driven educational spin. Probably signed off by Gove himself in a deal between Ofsted and the DFSS. Sickening.