Saying it cannot be done…

I was given a book mark yesterday by one of my colleagues. It carried the following inscription.

Those who say it cannot be done…

Should not interrupt the person doing it.  

(Ancient Chinese Proverb)

There’s no telling how the wisdom of China came to be on the bookmark, or yet still how to test the veracity of its origins in the short time since I read it.

However, I had been thinking about it through a couple of politically bumpy client meetings yesterday. Having a vision, having scoped alternative courses of action and begun the journey to realising your project, then there should come a time when the nay-sayers or constructive critiques about the original concept should fall gently away…I would wish to argue.

If your project has a sound ethical and inclusive focus, then you should remain true to your vision, realising that new enterprises, of whatever type, are difficult to begin, difficult to make happen and difficult to manage when they go live.

You need that period of buoyancy and enthusiasm in the start-up phase, untrammelled by the gloomy onlooker, to enable you to realise your successful outcomes.

My bookmark reflection led me to two conclusions today.

As an accidental serial entrepreneur in my own tiny corner of existence,  I recognise that occasionally projects do fold in on themselves no matter how good your heart or muscular your approach.

I also chided myself for not saying any of the above during the meeting.

(I think there’s another blog entry in that last line too!)

Tim Smith

Partner at SmithMartin

Social change or social stagnation?

This short film, in the masterly RSAnimate series, features the ideas of Renata Salecl, a Slovenian social and legal theoretician.

Her key argument is that choice in current society suppresses social change. That burning with the desire to consume in the capitalist system, we develop a critique of self, rather than of society.



Our need to choose and consume, based on a sense of needing to belong, needing to not upset colleagues, friends or other social contacts, leads us to develop a false sense of being in charge of our own lives, but which drives us to feel a sense of failure at our poor choices or inability to acquire what others have.

Notions of class war or class identity, for Salecl, are replaced by inadequacy.

Freud determined that malaise in civilisation is mirrored by malaise in the individual. However, the issue with these over arching conditional statements about communities in the capitalist world, is that they are based on the perception that everyone has choice, that every economic player has the access to the modes of action that allow the fulfillment of choice.

Is this wrong? Does everyone have the same economic and social functionality to act? We think not. Economic power, social status and educational achievement have still not reached par for everyone. It is a structural deficit that inhibits social change not choice.

To see the cake is to recognise confectionary. To have no income, or insufficient income, means that cake today or tomorrow is merely an ideal for many.

Still, another great film. What do you think?

You can see another RSAnimate film on changing educational paradigms on our blog here

A surfeit of information?

Below is a short film of a recent TED programme talk by a teacher – Diana Laufenberg. It has a number of different messages.

A mapping of the transition from a knowledge poor community to a present day surfeit of information. (We too remember the power of a printed version of The Encyclopedia Britannica).

How using their own voice in learning and the outcomes of it is a powerful tool for student learning itself. Finally, Diana Laufenberg makes a telling case for the power of failure.

The one answer, and only one answer is right – the prescriptive model of going to a single building to be ‘given’ knowledge, these Diana argues are outmoded paradigms.

In a world of web technology, laptops and mobile devices – with the clamour of data and image, how best should we learn, reflect and filter?

We have many clients who use the web to allow the leaners voice to emerge, to post the creative works of students online. Others are less well developed in this area, perhaps missing an opportunity to maiximise learning.

What is interesting in this short talk, is how, even in a community that is highly affluent with clearly pervasive use of technology, that the debate still rages. Inspiring.

You can read more about TED – Ideas Worth Spreading here.

Creating the right zone

We have been doing a lot of work recently on the creation of good governance structures for a variety of charitable and social enterprise organisations.

Policies and process play a large part in this delivery, but so do relationships. How boards or committees relate to one another, how their vision of what it is they think they are doing as individuals all temper the outcome of organisational development exchanges.

The video below from  EQmentor places stress on emotional safety as a facet of healthy organisational development.

A nicely put argument about the wealth of resources that organisations offer to health and safety of the physical kind, but highlighting the meagreness of consideration often given to enotional support.

We are not totally won over on the office as home concept, which is not really a part of the argument, but the illustration of how at home we feel safe because we talk to each other, know each other very well and have permission to fail does ring a chime.

Governance within the board room is also about emotional safety and should operate along these lines too, we would argue, for an organisation in our sector to be fully functioning.

A group who operate on this ‘home’ principal can be more effective and dynamic. Is this what happens in governance development situations?

Do you agree?

Renegotiating Value; Bonus or Pro Bono

mf‘Bonus vs Pro Bono’ is the second in a series of Renegotiating ‘value’ seminars and seeks to explore the value of inspirational leadership in business. The seminar will be held in the St Martin’s Hall at St Martin-in-the-Fields (Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 4JJ) on Thursday 4th November between 4.00 and 6.30pm.

SmithMartin Partnership is pleased to work with Faith in London’s Economy who are delivering this series of seminars concerned with ‘values’ .

Looking at the way our economic system is geared more to the development of wealth for its own sake rather than being socially beneficial and sustainable with a sense of stewardship around our most vulnerable members of the community.

Join us at St Martin’s in the Fields on Thursday 4th November for an interesting and thought provoking afternoon.

The seminar speakers are:

* Peter Hyson (Change Perspectives Ltd) has specialised in leadership development, working with both individuals and strategic teams to boost high performance. He has clients in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. His consultancies have included working with Directors in Professional Services, promoted because of their exceptional technical skills, to adjust to learning people-leadership skills; and a major Organisation Development project with a Government Department to re-assess its work-culture.

He says, “After at least four separate careers, the key theme – and what excites me – is helping people and organisations exceed their expectations, to feel they have power and influence.” These portfolio careers also reflect an eclectic range of business skills and interests, including story-writing, for both business and pleasure and he will shortly be publishing a book about coaching and the “third IQ” – spirituality. His favourite management development insight is “The great coach is the one who brings out the greatness in others” (Nancy Kline)

Baroness Uddin is a Labour Peer and was the first Muslim woman in the House of Lords. Born in Bangladesh and brought up in England, she is an advocate of social reforms and equal rights. A formidable champion for women, Lady Uddin was invited to the House of Lords in 1998 for her contribution to the advancement of women’s and disability rights. She began her professional and political career in the 1970’s, in the East End of London, developing a number of leading edge and well-regarded services and organisations.

Many of these have since come to be accepted as benchmarks for sustainable development and community engagement. Baroness Uddin has served on the Government’s Select Committee on European Affairs and has chaired several Government task forces, under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s office, the Home Office and the FCO. She also chaired the Government’s Task force on Ethnic Minority Women Councilors.

To register for the seminar, which costs £5.00, phone 020 8599 2170 or email

Sue Martin

Time and the social entrepreneur

stress and anxiety imageWe are regular readers of – a great source of inspiration, ideas and shared experience for start-ups.

Although U.S. based, the site does often contain the stories of UK and European organisations and individuals, and is nearly always relevant for new companies in the social sector too.

Recently published was an article on time management. An old skill well worth mastering of course, but the interesting slant given by was around the need to combat ‘time urgency’.

This struck a nerve with me.

Getting things done quickly, when in completely ‘focused’ mode other things begin to distract you – creating stress, physical discomfort and rising feelings of imminent disaster.

This may sound a little strong, but the drivers of small revenue engines, whatever the context of their work, will recognise the symptoms.

Limiting these feelings of time urgency will definitely enable you to work better – the end result is better quality personal output and a more efficient business.

The article refers to research that indicates social entrepreneurs often fall into the ‘Type A‘ personality category, fuelling bad habits and looped behaviour of driving yourself to achieve, yet the very process obstructing the successful completion of your goal.

Some theorists argue that  indicators of this type of behaviour can also have very negative effects on your health too. (Although Type A/B personality assessments are sometimes considered ‘pop’ psychology by some, the analysis can help in self assessment of behaviour or stress, I think).

I recently stopped a piece of work for an organisation, despite being highly worthy of support, because engagement was forcing me to step outside both my natural rhythms and to develop modalities of action outside my lived experience of social business development.

I am not sure whether that makes me an A or a B?

For me, better not to do it and move on to a new project, than to persist with increasing rafts of time urgency – to the benefit of both projects, new and old.

If you recognise yourself in this short piece, to cope with time urgency for the social entrepreneur often requires some very hard thinking and crisp action, but the benefits will be worth it.

You can read the full article here. Lower stress, better business – wherever you are.

If you have a time urgency solution or experience, let us know, and we’ll share it here with others.

(This post was written by Tim Smith).

SMP elementals – an approach

carapacePicStarting a new project? Starting a social business? Trying to get the enterprise element bootstrapped in your social enterprise?

When you are starting energy and enthusiasm are great to get you going. Your drive and commitment to your project will carry you a long way.

Then may come the sleepless nights as you worry about that bid, that meeting or that service delivery that might fail. Does that sound familiar?

Relax, other people feel just like that too. That crisp, curt, been there done that corporate presentation – just an embedded position to mask fear. The doomsayer, ‘wouldn’t do that now’ voice in the crowd – offering you ten reasons why not to do something, just a carapace to protect against hesitancy.

Over the years as our work has developed so has a natural philosophy of project development. They are approaches to our work. We call them SMP elementals

1. Will what we do benefit others more than ourselves? (the general…)

2. Will there be an aggregate direct benefit to more people than on our project team? (the specific…)

3. In the doing, can we freely share some knowledge we already have? (the pro-bono…)

4. We need to invoice to continue the work, but will that paper totem represent our philosophy – did they get it whilst we were in motion? (the business…)

5. Does it feel right? (the personal…)

For me the last elemental is the most important. Early in my life journey I spent much time pursuing goals that always left me conflicted with our elementals. Even today we come across suspicion, clashing philosophies and indifference in reaction to social business ideas.

It is important to recognise this and to still keep going, in order to make your project live.

A recent deprecation of working in our sector overheard recently ‘…the liberal, perhaps Guardian reading, charity do-gooder voice you can hear…’ shows that there are still those out there who don’t get the concept of social entrepreneurship.

If, on reflection, you can vision a business model or a delivery system for your idea that uses business skills and ethical distribution strategies but which still means having fun and being effective, but which ‘feels right’, then your social enterprise concept is perfect by the lights of our SMP elementals.

This reflection, by Tim Smith – a partner at SMP, was spurred by viewing If I would have known just one thing. This eBook was created by Shane Mac and contains a series of thirty articles by business entrepreneurs about what they would have liked to have known on their life journey. Read more…

If you are just starting to get your project off the ground then Mac’s book is a great primer for framing your own resolution and developing clear thinking about your goals and your ability to deliver.

How to lead?

Team work We have been reading our positive psychology manuals this week. We have a number of projects undertaking governance change and developing a positive culture, flat organisations without ego driven collateral damage and still have a leadership presence…never the most straightforward of transitions.

Simplistic  mantras and web lists can be a glib exercise, but from all cliche always emerges a hard nugget of truth.

So, about notions of behaviour and presence when leading and group of people? Do leaders emerge fully formed from the womb? We think not. The best ones learn from their experiences and determine their modes of behaviour from that experience.

Bullies move forward without reflection and their egotism and hard headedness can achieve results, or rather a result emerges, but perhaps not the one that the concensus would deem most appropriate.

In the Third Sector accrued collateral from experiences and developing relationships should be honesty, reflective action in line with the ethos of the organisation and positive outcomes in tune with the social master plan.

Here’s a list…

  1. Be Open
  2. Be Appreciative
  3. Be Curious
  4. Be Kind
  5. Be Real – no false pretenses of positivity

We would add a number 6.

6. Do something unexpected.

That could be anything from buying the doughnuts on a Friday for the whole team, telling people – without asking – what music you’re currently listening to, or being the first up on the stage at karaoke nights.

This is not spilling your ego onto others, its inviting them into your mental landscape. Surprising and effective.

When  you ask the team to do the difficult thing, or undertake the more unexpected project plan…they’re more likely to come with you to storm the barricades. You see!

Our list from 1 to 5 came from a presentation by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson in an article for Positive Psychology News by Elaine O’Brian. Read more here.

Everybody in our organisation can be a better leader, whatever task they undertake.