Echoing the words of Dermot Finch, Justice doesn’t sit on the fence here- “Birmingham doesn’t sing enough” “Give Back” “Get Creative” “Take Risks” “Less talk- More action” … you’ll see what she means just by clicking the Play button.
Walk into a bank or go see a business adviser, ask them for support, tell them that your business plan involves being a pirate, and I wonder what their reaction will be. Perhaps you will be welcomed as a ruthless profit-hungry captain of industry, or maybe your costume will lead to security guards removing you from the premises.
Marxist and Hippy “lets all share stuff and be creative friends” working practices may work well on communes, where there is no money exchanged, and vegetables flourish. This principal may work well for deploying a successful social media strategy, but the focus of the recent “Big Debate” event was about financial gain for the UK, not how well Birmingham can pat itself on the back and chat amongst each other. The strap line brief behind the event (hosted by Birmingham City University and supported by the Birmingham Post) was “Can the Midlands’ creative industries revolutionise the UK economy?”
Familiar faces from the digital industries attended, and an audience research exercise was completed during the day by the university. Charles Leadbeater gave a speech at the start of the day that seemed to inspire the attendees, the audio of which you can listen to here:
Interestingly, Mr. Leadbeater’s book, We Think, employed a wiki style writing and development process, involving 257 contributors, none of whom appear to have received any financial gain from their creative input to the book. At first glance, it seems that the financial winners from this have been the book publishers and Mr. Leadbeater himself. The volunteer contributors are perhaps happy with the gratification and knowledge that their creative work has been published and recognised, thus following the context of the book itself, and the wiki philosophy. However, gratification and pride do not put bread on the table, or a roof over one’s head. If We Think were to make significant profits for Mr Leadbeater, it would be an interesting exercise to see what the volunteer contributor’s reactions would be. Is Mr. Leadbeater following a business model based on principles historically employed by Bartholomew Roberts (1)?
At the event, there seemed to be an over-population of local professionals involved with the digital industries in attendance, as was expected. However, there appeared to be a distinct lack of business leaders, strategists, venture capitalists, manufacturers (of physical goods as opposed to online publishers and designers) and representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and the financial sector. This in itself was a significant realisation for me. Yet again, the focus appeared to be inwards; one of internal self congratulation and mutual support, as opposed to external market dominance and global sales success.
Revolutionise – a strong word indeed. The word revolution brings me thoughts of complete change, an extreme opposite direction, led by a strong figurehead, and ruthless practices, employing winning tactics where power is seized and used for maximum gain. This is what a pirate was throughout history- not some sort of cavalier, romantic character from a Hollywood block buster movie.
The historical success of a pirate involved entrepreneurial planning, direction, navigation, stealth, and above all, strong leadership that employed the ruthless practices of plunder, murder, theft and total destruction of the opposition. This was competition at its most extreme, where survival of the fittest was the ultimate goal. Pirates did not need a design committee, steering or focus group.
Translate this into business practice, and appear alongside a competitor with the fluffy communal sharing values as described above, deploy your cutlass, and victory will be yours.
Business is not a meal around a table where everybody makes a nice dish and shares amongst friends. It is a battle for market share and dominance- where shareholders are king, demanding more bounty for further greed and expansion, and failure to deliver the treasure leads to someone walking the plank, for sure.
Business success directly translates to profit. To achieve this, good case studies (of which there are many), have proven that planning and focus on the task in hand are of paramount importance. This means that a business model follows good leadership that is supported by a strong financial model for profit and gain. This does not involve a creative process- it is a simple rule of good business practice. Whatever creative process is involved in developing the product, there comes a time when profit must be gained to ensure continued sustainability and growth. This means manufacturing a product for one price, and selling this for a profit- a simple, straightforward and proven strategy. To deliver profit requires successful planning, definition, leadership and direction, not a creative experiment. The product can be developed via a creative process, but there comes a time in any business that the focus must switch to the importance of actually making profit.
“Can the Midlands’ creative industries revolutionise the UK economy?” If the Midlands continue to deploy the values discussed at The Big Debate, the real pirates will win the battle for sure.
To contact your nearest business-focused pirate, their headquarters are not located at a dock at the Gas Street Basin. To find them, I suggest you head to London. Some have already set sail.
(1) Charles Johnson (1724), A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, p. 250.
Described on the opening page as an “attractive but elusive” concept, throughout the document and references contained within, it appears that common influencing factors appear be the natural influences of social and family cohesion, respect, mutual learning and understanding of community values, and acceptance of like-minded culture, with culture being defined here as that of historic society, not artistic, sports or similar.
Investigating, defining and delivering improvement of social capital programmes and initiatives have been my professional role for many years, and my personal experiences of social capital have been both positive and negative.
To show appropriate recognised practice however, within local government programmes, the term social capital is broadly focussed mainly on community cohesion, as an integrated part of Local Area Agreements and Strategies, which are delivered through urban regeneration activities and programmes, administrated via community action teams and evaluated by local scrutiny boards. Supporting all of these processes is the value placed on social capital; with the focus and drive being towards accurate assessment, improved community capacity and social gain; engagement, mutual understanding and support mechanisms for the elderly, parents, families and children.
The reading set has afforded me the opportunity to learn some of the theories and conceptual underpinnings for the recognised approaches to social policy. In daily life in the UK today, the systematic failure of effective social capital is having a profound effect on our society, drawing attention to ever-familiar terms, such as: exclusion, health inequalities, self confidence and esteem, self worth, entitlement, drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic instability, antisocial behaviour, and educational underachievement to mention but a few.
In the documents definition of social capital, as quoted “little more than a new term for an old idea” appears to ring true. Historical, institutionalised relationships, mutual acquaintance, recognition, expectations of conformity, normal structures are indeed relevant to productive social capital for individuals an groups, as highlighted by both Bourdieu and Coleman. One word that is continually repeated throughout the document is ‘trust’, and this is used in many contexts quoted within.
As highlighted in the recent lecture session (week 4, Interactive Cultures), the guanxi principle appears to be one possible ideal to be attained, in both individual and community relationships. If this can be successfully attained in society, perhaps social capital would be operating at a successful level, facilitating mutual exchange of acts and favours, born from mutual understanding, respect, honourable practice and trust in one’s fellow citizen. This approach and ideal is very similar to that of Putnam (1993): “those features of social organisations, such as networks, norms and trust, that facilitate action and cooperation for mutual benefit”.
Putnam also argues that effective family ties are an important source of social capital. I would like to suggest that this could be expanded upon, to incorporate the mutually understandable and accepted relationships with peers, colleagues and neighbours, drawing upon similar historical evidence, as witnessed during the Blitz and the community cohesion experienced by the British populous during World War II.
The origin and reason behind this beneficial human characteristic, which suggests the biological root of social capital has been offered by Fukuyama (1997) when he says that “reciprocity is “hard wired” into the genetic code of human beings”. This suggests perhaps that when the maternal and paternal bond between parents and child are broken (either by parental separation, or the child being placed in state care or similar) that this can lead to a depletion in social capital. There is evidence in the UK today, such as the increase in reported crime, antisocial behaviour reporting, lowering in educational attainment, the increase in reported adolescents not in education, employment or training (NEET) and the increased requirements by Primary Care Trust mental health services that a combination of the above written works and theories are a significant factor to the decline in perceived social capital today.
In the summary section of the reading, the statement: “social capital in the form of strong forms and informal networks, contributes to shared norms and trusting social relationships” can draw a direct comparison to social media practices, communications and physical gatherings. The use of social media technology provides a cohesive format of communication where links, friendships and mutual exchanges of discussion material, ideals and opinions take place. The increase in social capital then becomes real and effective when those taking part meet face-to-face, which leads to further reciprocal bonding, increased cohesion and mutual understanding, bringing a real and true human trust element to the developing relationship. “Such relationships improve the quality of life for communities and the life-chances of individuals” (page 329), ergo, enhancing inclusion, self worth, mutual understanding of acceptable norms and thus improving social capacity.
One significant section of note is the concluding final sentence, where it is stated “such an enterprise is likely to require a re-engagement with historical context…” This suggests that there are lessons to be learned that have already been experienced, lived and practiced by our earlier generations.