Steele, L. (2000), "Individuals and Enterprise: Creating Entrepreneurs for the New Millenium through Personal Transformation", International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 91-94. https://doi.org/10.1108/ijebr.2000.6.2.91.1
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Individuals and Enterprise can be divided, broadly, into two sections. The first, comprising chapters 1‐7, deals in depth with changing work patterns within the changing UK economy. The second, comprising chapters 8‐14, focuses on directly encouraging entrepreneurial spirit within individuals and is presented as a highly motivational account of the possibilities available to all.
Clearly, Individuals and Enterprise is aimed at individuals who are tempted by entrepreneurship. It also aims to enlighten workers and managers within organisations about the potential benefits of individualism and intrapreneurship. Indeed, throughout the book there are reflective self‐assessment exercises for individuals about themselves and their roles, as well as those of others, within their organisation. In addition, Coulson‐Thomas consistently uses real‐life examples of companies which are operating successfully because of their acknowledgment of the value of individualism. While there is no detail provided regarding research with companies referred to, these examples are both enlightening and encouraging to the potential entrepreneur/intrapreneur. Therefore, in terms of academic credibility, Individuals and Enterprise is limited, since it does not detail related research nor does it give cited referrals to existing theory, but this is not the aim of the book. Instead, the aim is to motivate and inform the reader about the possibilities available to individuals in the present economic climate, and to explain why, until recently, individualism has had little place in the working environment.
Coulson‐Thomas applies a version of chaos theory (see Brown, 1995) to the changing economy. He claims that as natural disasters destroy the existing dominant system, they also allow other, traditionally less successful, systems to flourish, i.e., nature will prevail due to its ability to adapt its structure. The economy mirrors this in that as large, traditionally operated corporations become economically unviable, the smaller trader flourishes and the economy prevails.
Coulson‐Thomas contends that many large organisations are declining exactly because of their size and traditional nature. In order to maintain their dominance, large corporations have taken, in the past, measures to reduce competition from smaller and overseas concerns. This lack of competition has resulted in complacency. When overseas competition can no longer be avoided, consumers act accordingly and large organisations often do not have the flexibility and speed of process necessary to challenge them due to the traditional focus being on maintaining the appearance of a dominant force and the perception that departmentalisation, management issues, bureaucracy etc., are appropriate. In fact, Coulson‐Thomas claims, this leads to unnecessary expense, rigidity within the market and the loss of creativity.
Complacent organisations foster a complacent workforce. Belief in the unchangeable nature of the status quo leads people to stagnate resulting in an undynamic corporation where workers have become “parasites” rather than “contributors” (pp. 48). Coulson‐Thomas exhorts principles similar to those of Maslow (1987) in that he contends that to thrive, or realise “self actualisation”, individuals need to take responsibility for their own lives and development. As employees then, people must be able to see that they are learning and developing their own potential as professional contributors through their endeavours for the organisation. This benefits organisations in that a dynamic and personally invested workforce are what move an organisation forward:
Employees, individually and in groups, often spot opportunities that are missed by their employer (pp. 134).
In the ever‐changing economy flexibility, multi‐skilling, opportunism and assertiveness are necessary to succeed and these can only be gained by addressing the need for partnership between employer and employee.
Some large organisations have resisted the need to focus on “mutually beneficial collaboration” (p. 70), regarding it as threatening in terms of increasing competition in the form of knowledgeable, secure and empowered employees transferring themselves and their value to a more rewarding competitor or, indeed, becoming one. Coulson‐Thomas claims that this is not likely to be the outcome if organisations embrace new work patterns and culture appropriately. He states that as choice is the driving force of consumerism, so it is for employment. He advocates increasing stakeholding for value‐adding employees as well as fostering good relationships with them so that should they eventually leave the organisation they can be re‐employed through contracting to them. This in itself is an important point. Encouraging individualism undoubtedly increases entrepreneurship. On leaving an employer, both entrepreneur and employer should maintain relations as both, ultimately, will benefit. As the author puts it:
Some individuals cut off their noses to spite their faces when dealing with an existing paymaster. The backing and continued commitment of an employer can be invaluable during the early stages of a new course of action. [A larger organisation] … by virtue of its scale and presence, may be more likely to face a flow of new business opportunities. Maintaining contact could enable one to share in these (pp. 123).
Similarly, organisations can benefit from ongoing relations, particularly if in embracing the changing structure of work, rationalisation and dissolution of departmentalisation in favour of outside contracting has been proved cost‐effective and quality enhancing. The value of the ex‐employee can be added again to the organisation through contracting their services. If relations are not maintained, this value will be lost.
It is perverse that in recent years so many corporations have devoted so much time to alienating, de‐skilling and eliminating innumerable business partners (p. 133).
Chapters 8‐14 constitute generally an account of the possibilities and practices of entrepreneurship. This “section” is inspiring to both potential entrepreneurs and individuals within organisations in that it is very positive about the future in terms of the mutuality of personal fulfilment and economic growth. There are several references to technology‐motivated opportunities and developments. The Internet and the potential of e‐commerce has maximised opportunities for all competitors in that it has eliminated geographical restrictions on trade as well as increased alternatives for consumers. It has also increased the profile of small companies within a global market to approach, and in some cases overtake, that of the traditional market leaders: “Internet businesses exist that are run from attics and yet outsell high street stores” (p. 178).
Coulson‐Thomas does not present modern working patterns entirely without criticism. For example, he refers to call‐centres as “the sweatshops of the information age” (p. 191) and acknowledges that too much unfiltered and often irrelevant information (e.g., in the form of staff e‐mails) can waste time and frustrate workers. He also advocates the use of an ancient form of creativity enhancement. Similar to the claims of Chia (1996), Coulson‐Thomas contends that aspiring intrapreneurs/entrepreneurs “must get into the habit of dreaming again” (p. 188) in order to foster idea generation and creativity. Individuals must be allowed time and space away from the workplace in order to develop ideas as this requires objective reflection and “too often, creativity is driven from the workplace by the relentless pace of events” (pp. 197).
Throughout this latter half of Individuals and Enterprise Coulson‐Thomas uses motivational examples of successful entrepreneurs who on first sight may not appear to be archetypal, e.g., Kroc who was in his 50s when he started to franchise McDonald’s Restaurants. This serves to inspire and encourage the potential entrepreneur by exemplifying various non‐typical role‐models. Coulson‐Thomas also calls for a cultural re‐evaluation of failure in business and notes that the tendency to be defeated by it is high in the UK when compared to other capitalist economies such as the USA. Coulson‐Thomas regards failure as “eliminating possibilities … and an intrinsic aspect of developing a better appreciation of a situation” (pp. 211).
Coulson‐Thomas gives an account of the practicalities of starting up a business, ranging from timing of entry into a market, creation and make‐up of “strong, balanced boards” (p. 181), the strategic advantages of non‐executive directors and sources of funding (chapter 13). There is also a discussion on the advantages and potential disadvantages of family businesses (chapters 12 and 13). These topics, in particular, could be of use to business studies or entrepreneurship students but, on the whole, the book is aimed at a different reader and may be difficult for a student to apply to a specific area of study. Overall the book will find a place on library shelves but would not be core reading; however, it will be of interest to many practitioners and professionals.
Brown, C. (1995), Chaos and Catastrophe Theories, Sage, London.
Chia, R. (1996), “Teaching paradigm shifting in management education: university business schools and the entrepreneurial imagination”, Journal of Management Studies, Vol 33, pp. 409‐28.
Maslow, A.H. (1987), Motivation and Personality, (3rd ed.), Harper Row, London.