Entrepreneurial learning – South Wales event hosted by Regional Learning Partnership

 

When I was asked by the Regional Learning Partnership locally to help with an event for business owners I was worried about the type of event it would be, but I

never should have.

Events that promise opportunities to learn and develop as an entrepreneur can often be somewhat, well let’s be honest, similar to all the other events you have been to. Lots of people willing to give advice to business people but probably haven’t ever run their own business. People giving boring talks about the latest scheme or idea which has received some funding. The highlight often being the freebies or a chance to catch up with some contacts.

This is often followed by some business owners telling you their story of success which either leaves you feeling confused as to where you’re going wrong or wondering if they just got a lucky break and you are the most unlucky business person in the world. Can you tell I’ve been to a fair few events aimed at business owners?

As a speaker at such events I always aim to share the real stories. Those that encourage others to seek to understand the reality and reflect on their own experiences rather than focus on what may seem like my success. Earlier this month I was involved in an event which really wasn’t the same. For a start when I was asked to present at the event I was asked will you give your warts and all talk about being a business owner and what you have learnt. Then I was asked would you be willing to work with us to co-create the event you feel business owners want? Was I willing? You bet I was.

First off let’s be clear this was an event which had been funded and needed to achieve some clear outcomes. We needed to share what had been learnt during their research into entrepreneurial learning. Which not surprisingly had been that business owners wanted to learn from other business owners, not the good bits but the real stuff. Business owners had stated they were fed up of being told by people who hadn’t really done it themselves (think ex bank managers and accountants in grey suits) and wanted to be involved in peer to peer learning.

Co-creation of an event leads to entrepreneurial involvement

So the team from the South West and Central Wales team of the Regional Learning Partnership set about co-creating an event with three other entrepreneurs. This means everyone has equal ability to say how they would like the event to pan out. What they feel would work and how they would like it to be developed. I actually found this process much easier than you would think. Everyone seemed on the same page and we soon had a plan for the day.

It’s safe to say the day itself was inspiring and encouraging. Business owners, learning providers and business support people all together learning from each other, sharing experiences and supporting each other provided a huge buzz. If you don’t believe me then take a look at just some of the tweets from the day

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Entrepreneurial business owners want to learn from their peers

What did I learn from the event? Not surprisingly really, I learnt how willing business owners are to be open and honest about their successes and failures. They openly shared the areas of learning they needed to move their businesses to the next level, including what they need to learn for themselves as leaders as well as their staff members. Much of what they asked for was not structured or qualification based learning but more peer to peer learning and learning through trying and reflective practice.

This led on to discussions about mastermind groups and how they can be used to support and learn as well as reflect. If you want to know more about mastermind groups check out my article on them here. The gap comes when we look at what business owners and leaders really want and what support organisations and training providers offer. Let’s hope this event has helped to shed some light on this difference and some things will change.

My warts and all fireside chats

The afternoon session was mainly taken up with what was advertised as fireside chats. These seemingly natural and unstructured chats with the entrepreneurs were so powerful. I had in my mind the questions I should ask and notes about the business owners and leaders after spending time chatting to them in advance. Rather than the usual success stories I wanted to focus on their own learning. What had and hadn’t worked for them. What they still needed to do to develop themselves as leaders and how they envisaged making that happen.


They also let us in to the less pleasant side of life, telling us about a period of depression, struggling through disadvantage and difficulties at school. All helping to demonstrate life is not always easy. We also discussed is it possibly true that those who have overcome adversity are more likely to be successful in business? Does it indeed give them an edge?

These chats, followed by a lively Q&A panel discussion, all led to some fantastic responses from the delegates. They had found the honesty refreshing and engaging.

My thoughts after the event

Following on from the event I had many thoughts about the parts of the event which didn’t work so well and the parts that did. But my overall feeling is how important it is to help people feel comfortable in sharing and listening to the truth. That it is only by being honest can we feel the connection and true understanding of what entrepreneurs really need support with.

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