Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Appeal of Pellereau

Congratulations to Tom Pellereau, winner of this year’s Apprentice and beneficiary of  £250,000 of Alan Sugar’s lolly to get his business idea up and running. On the aftermath programme You’ve been hired, Dara O’Brien joyously summed up Tom’s win as ‘a triumph of the nerd’.  But dyslexic specialists across the country knew it was really a heads up for the right-brained thinker. 

Tom talked openly and proudly about his dyslexia and how if he had an idea he could 'visualise it in my brain and spin it around'.  This kind of thinking goes beyond a strong visual-spatial awareness: dyslexics often have an insight into the way things (and people) relate to each other.  Hierarchies and logical progressions leave them cold. 
So we can add Tom to those other poster boys for dyslexia, Richard Branson and Albert Einstein, big personalities whose ability to think holistically led them to make creative connections in a startlingly original way. But I just wonder, might Tom not be a role model for transition as well?
Transition looks at the bigger picture, visualising a future and backcasting how to get there.  Its philosophy comes from permaculture, a design tool that emphasises whole systems thinking, rather than considering one element at a time.  Permaculture finds its inspiration in the natural world, and seeks to replicate the efficiency of its eco-systems, observing the way they interconnect to produce complex yields.
That’s not to say there isn’t a place in transition for left-brain thinking, that ability to process information in a linear, logical progression, a place for the head as well as the heart.  (How very left –brained to always be categorising things as this and that; heart and soul v head and hands!) Many of us need the step by step approach to feel we achieve, and a small act accomplished makes us feel good. Logical thinking is also the basis of speculation and reflection. We posit possibilities by considering, what if? -  if that? - then what?  We reflect on the success of our ventures by taking the three staged approach – what went well? - what didn’t? -what would I do differently? 

Tom was very good at reflecting on past failures and bad decisions.  Although often accused of being very wise in hindsight, he consistently displayed common sense. He found the laddishness of Venture’s magazine repugnant, saw the potential of the rucksack car seat, and wanted to sell, sell, sell the nodding bulldog. Apart from gaping holes in his knowledge of British History, perhaps too linear a discipline for him, his judgement was sound.

But ultimately his strength was his vision of business. This is not the business of marketing, where words and content are crafted to please the hearer (sorry, Jim – sorry, Helen) and the message is a premise whose only substance is promise. No, this is about product, and passion for product. Many of the Apprentice candidates were passionate, although it was not always clear about what. Tom had ideas, many ideas, some better than others, but he believed in them. His First Class degree fittingly was in Mechanical Engineering and Innovation.

Evan Davis in his most recent BBC programme Made in Britain reminded us of Britain’s reputation as a leader in innovation. There are still instances, as the success of McLaren racing cars, Brompton bicycles, BAE Systems, ARM and Inmarsat (tops for satellite-phone technology) can testify. True innovation is not about tinkering with a defective model. It is about creating elegant design solutions and it takes courage.

We are supposed to be in an economic climate that fosters innovation, the 'Big (whisper it) Society'.  Yet as a recent blog in Guardian Society pointed out, ‘90% of the prime contracts have gone to big corporates, the only organisations with the financial muscle to bid low for contracts and bankroll services under the payment-by-results scheme’.  Despite the promise of greater involvement, charities just do not have the money or staffing to compete. The article concludes, ‘There is a case for innovation and reform, but it is beginning to feel as though this government no longer has the authority to make it.’

If the old system does not work, then here is an opportunity for transitioners to step in. Mark Lynas, an environmental author who has written about climate change, would welcome a new breed of market-friendly environmentalists, part of 'a movement that is happy with capitalism, which goes out there and says yes rather than no and is rigorous about the way it treats science.
Rob Hopkins in his reflections on the Transition Network conference challenges Lynas’ cynical view of the future. But he does endorse a more mature attitude towards social enterprise.  Martin Grimshaw who led a workshop on this subject encourages transition activists to consider, ‘What do I care about? What do I value? How do I align myself and my livelihood towards that?’
Transition is now a world-wide concern but its business model does not have to be global. In Crouch End alone there are many examples of small scale entrepreneurship: pop-up shops selling books and craft, a vintage market that has spread virally across shops, a community stall outside the local supermarket, a buyers’ group for solar panels.  There will be more about these ventures in future blogs.
Let’s go back to Tom, who is probably cooking something up this very moment.  As he conceded, under the old system he would have probably been out of the competition after the third week.  But this is the new order and his creative, innovative, maybe just a little wacky, right-brained, left-field thinking won him the prize.

1 comment:

  1. As a left-handed right brained thinker myself, I couldn't agree more!
    But seriously this peice makes a really important point; that we should be just as interested in business and enterprise as we are in wellbeing. If done well and using the sort of inspiration that comes from permaculture and 'cradle to cradle'thinking we can create prosperous businesses that provide for our needs but also have a benign or even beneficial effect on the planet. It is all down to the power of our imagination.