Sunday, March 09, 2008

New Zealand, enterprise and academia

Written last monday - posted sat

Well back from what felt like a flying visit to see my brother over in Auckland (NZ). Having woken up at 3a.m for the last couple of nights and having my morning 'smoko' (I don't know it's what my brother calls elevensies - he is totally gone Kiwi and lost is sarf London twang) by 8.45 in the morning, I thought I might as well put the time to reasonable use and report back on thoughts and observations from a city that appears to be extremely enterprising.

Observation one: Owning your job and intra-preneurship

I bought a wedding present for my brother and his new wife - it was a steam iron. Now on the face of things this is not the most exciting story, or gift for that matter, but here's the thing I came out of the store having bought the top of the range, most expensive iron that the store had. This was not my intention when I went in. But Thomas explained to me, in great detail, the differences between each of the irons, he really new his stuff and shared his knowledge with great enthusiasm - who knew that irons get dirty inside? he'd even come across a woman who'd had 'ants living inside her iron'- but not this beauty with special clean inside device, self-turning off switch and stainless steal face - well the coated ones peel apparently. Safe in the knowledge that I'd selected an iron that would last a lifetime, Thomas then offered me a 20% discount - just like that!

The thing that struck me about the whole thing was that Thomas was at most 17 years old, he refferred to the irons as 'his section' he knew everything about the irons, he was enthusiastic about irons, he SOLD me an iron, he sold me the most expensive iron on his section without me realising or begrudging parting with over 100 dollars (discount included) for the privilege. The store was a big old ware house style B an Q type place but the experience was very personal and professional. when I mentioned this all to my brother he explained this was common phenomena in NZ because individuals were really encouraged to 'own their jobs'. Now from an enterprise perespecitve and when, in my work, I have been thinking and discussing enterprising organisations and developing enterprising characteristics it struck me that giving ones staff the autonmomy to make descisions (e.g. give discounts), to have that level of responsibility and ownership makes such a difference to the consumer, customer and service users experience. It presumably empowers the staff member and makes them have more of a sense of loyalty to the company. Anyway I'll think more about this and its fit with enterprise but it occurred to me that Thomas had more scope to use his initiative and be enterprising than, perhaps his UK counterpart, he had the knowledge and power to offer me the discount when he recognised I was at the crucial 'tipping point'.

Observation two: is everyone in NZ self-employed?
Okay fast froward to the wedding day, a beautiful ceromony, at home, followed by a sit down lunch for the 20 or so guests prior to the big party. Around the table every person was or had been self-employed (apart from the kids). All of whom within the creative industries. In fact I was tempted to do a quick survey while at the table. I'd half planned to do a comparative (with Birmingham) study of female run creative industries run companies and do the interviews while out there but decided to have a holiday instead. But here, at the wedding breakfast, i had a t least five of the thirteen sub-sectors covered. On closer inspection it would seem that self-employment in NZ is rife and with their film industry growing rapidly it would seem the creative industries are also a major growth area.

Observation three: Academia is international - nah
Talking of the NZ film industry the monday after the wedding (wow not even a week ago) I had the great pleasure in zooming over to Massey university (the Auckalnd campus) where I met with an esteemed colleague, who has written extensively on entrepreneruship within New Zealand and specifically about its creative industries.

I was struck by how academia offers you this great framework with which to speak with colleagues from across the globe, in fact at the wedding I'd spoken to a lecturer/researcher from AUT University he and I are both struggling with balancing the whole PhD/life/job/when to publish/conflicting advice thing - all very bonding!

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