Progressing Pedagogy for a Post-Industrial Era of Entrereneurship

Academic Paper, 2012

29 Pages, Grade: Post Doctoral


Table of Contents



Expansion in university attendance: Generating or stifling opportunity?

Background: The IDI in context

Shortfalls in UK Higher Education


The Findings: Phase one
The development of sound business skills
Money and time
Creative and personal development

The Findings: Phase two
Organisational structure: Replacing the vertical hierarchy with a horizontal network

Discussion and Conclusion



The previous decade has seen a mushrooming of academic commentary on the pedagogic underpinnings of entrepreneurship education within universities and colleges, a prevailing theme being the embeddedness of organisational and teaching practices that are hopelessly out of date, and which do little to equip students with the skills they will need to operate in a commercial environment which demands creativity, innovation, flexibility and entrepreneurial competencies.

This paper therefore looks to ‘The Institute of Digital Innovation’ (IDI), based in the North East of England. Being a recently conceived establishment the IDI has developed a forward-thinking pedagogy that supports and equips budding entrepreneurs with the necessary skills for commercial success, and is thus in keeping with current policy rhetoric that future economic growth will depend on private enterprise. But perhaps more importantly, these authors argue, the IDI embodies a broader vision than the health of the economy alone; it both reflects and projects a changing culture in which the signature of success lies less in ‘quantity’ (wealth and conspicuous consumption) but in ‘quality’, which Inglehart defines as “belonging, self-expression, and the quality of life” (1990, p.11).

Drawing on qualitative primary data provided by both IDI staff and Fellows, we conclude that a more culturally relevant approach to education is called for: Innovative and progressive pedagogical thinking will provide an educational model better equipped to accommodate both a sustainable economy, and the cultural shifts that are reshaping the desires and preferences of younger generations.

Key words: creativity; digital innovation; entrepreneurship; knowledge economy; pedagogy; post-industrial.


Because ‘the city’ has represented the hub of economic, political and cultural life for approximately two hundred years, it is easy to forget that, throughout the rest of human history, the majority of the population produced their own means of subsistence and, largely, lived lives of self-sufficiency. New technologies brought about the industrial revolution and, with it, formal education systems to furnish people with the skills needed for a modern economy, their training largely being determined by whatever social class to which they belonged. As industrialisation progressed, and certainly by today’s standards, British jobs (and pensions) were relatively secure throughout most of the twentieth century. Today it can be argued that the combination of declining manufacturing industries and a growth in digital technologies are driving yet another economic revolution, which demands a radical review of education and economic policy.

In just a few short decades, sweeping social, cultural and economic change, alongside technological advancement on an unprecedented scale, has rendered the 1960s and 1970s imaginable only to those old enough to have experienced them, thus creating a perceptual rift between the generations. This process continues and, as Bauman (1992, 1997, 2001) argues, whereas, historically, institutions and belief systems tended to enjoy longer ‘biographies’ than the individuals who experienced them, the reverse is now more likely. For those born in the mid-twentieth century, these rapid cultural shifts may be unnerving. In contrast, however, young people in their twenties and thirties are accepting of, and therefore more adaptable, to change, and to future uncertainty and unpredictability (van Deth & Scarbrough, 1998; Wilkinson, 1994). Our research strongly supports this assertion, the commentaries of our contributors revealing a tacit acceptance – embracing even – of uncertainty as a taken-for-granted fact of life: Like a mountainous landscape, their vision of the future involves twists and turns that are obscured from view but which hold the promise of opportunity, unanticipated experiences, creativity and innovation.

Although the context is significantly different, it could be argued that the mindset of those living in today’s economic climate is much as it was before the industrial revolution: namely, self-reliance. As Kirby (2004) states, While globalisation and the interdependence of markets have been increasingly recognised in recent years, it has also become apparent that world citizenry can no longer rely on “they”. Whether “they” are the wealthy nations of the world, the state or large firms, they cannot be relied on to provide wealth, jobs, home, healthcare, etc. increasingly, society has to rely on itself … Thus, within individuals, communities, organisations and societies there needs to develop a greater sense of enterprise and self-help (p.514).

We assert that, in spite of the ‘need for change’ rhetoric within political and academic circles encouraging greater entrepreneurial thinking, entrepreneurship and what constitutes an ‘entrepreneur’ are fundamentally misunderstood. Simply tacking these concepts onto an existing business model that was designed for now largely defunct practices of production, distribution and consumption (Sarri et al, 2010, p.271; Xavier & Ramachander, 2000, p.481) not only lacks vision, but fails younger generations who will inherit the legacies of decisions made by today’s policy makers.

This paper therefore looks to a relatively new institution – the Institute of Digital Innovation (IDI) – which, it is argued, provides not merely an educational alternative to the traditional systems that operate within most universities, but also represents, in microcosmic form, a non-hierarchical cultural and political model that is better equipped to accommodate both a sustainable economy, and the cultural shifts that are reshaping the desires, preferences and expectations of younger generations.

Expansion in university attendance: Generating or stifling opportunity?

As she drove past a middle-class Californian suburb in the early 1960s, Malvina Reynolds was inspired to write a song about what she saw. Her lyrics somewhat disdainfully allude to an era when life trajectories appeared to follow a predictable and uniform path.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same.

(Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds, 1962. Part of verse two).

At the time of her writing, a university education was the preserve of a privileged minority and usually guaranteed its graduates secure employment for life. It is interesting to note that many more people now go “to the university”. The UK’s HE student population rose from a mere 100,000 in the 1960s to just under two million in 1997 (BIS, undated), climbing to close to two-and-a-half million by 2009/10 (HESA, undated). Today’s graduates, however, do not “c[o]me out all the same”. The government’s drive to increase student numbers has meant that for every graduate job there are 45 applicants, and “20 per cent of ex-students were without work in the third quarter of 2010” (Paton, 2011a). Furthermore, research by the Association of Graduate Recruiters reveals that bright students are bypassing higher education, while employers are recruiting promising young people directly from school (AGR, cited by Paton, 2011b). It would therefore appear that the time is ripe for a reconsideration of how young people can most effectively make the transition from school[1] into a fulfilling and rewarding adulthood. This should not necessarily mark the obsolescence of universities as sites of learning. It will require, however, a potentially painful relinquishing of cherished and long-held traditions in favour of a new model that will bear little resemblance to what we currently understand as ‘higher education’. We argue here that, since its inception in 2003, the IDI has pioneered an innovative, forward thinking pedagogy that is more in keeping with a post-industrial, knowledge economy and, as such, provides food for thought as to the future of our higher educational establishments.

Background: The IDI in context

Decades of industrial restructuring have severely impacted the Teesside area with the closure of its core industries: coal mining, ship building and steelmaking. As a result, Middlesbrough – the main town in Teesside and home to the IDI – has the second highest rate of unemployment in England, which at its peak in August 1993 witnessed unemployment of 12.4%. Thus Teesside, like many similar post-industrial areas, needed to develop new industries to replace those lost, and it was recognised that the University of Teesside’s expertise in digital technology; digital media and their applications could make a significant contribution to local and regional regeneration.

From a concept developed in 2003, DigitalCity has become integral to the regeneration of the Tees Valley and North East Region. Initially a pilot project at Teesside University, it now includes two key interlocking operational centres: the Institute of Digital Innovation at Teesside University and DigitalCity Business, located on a separate site in Middlesbrough. Whilst these two purpose built locations are the flagships of the DigitalCity project, work is also carried out across the North East region. It addresses the need to develop new industry and harnesses the expertise of the University of Teesside with the aim of attracting, keeping and developing high-value skills, creativity and R&D in digital technologies.

The IDI is based within the €14m Phoenix building at Teesside University, Middlesbrough. It is designed as a centre of excellence to support graduates and academics from Teesside and the wider North East in establishing businesses through the provision of specialist facilities, mentoring support, skills development and access to finance. IDI has four core activities: fellowships; industrial engagement; digital inclusion, and cluster promotion.

The IDI has been purposefully designed to support budding entrepreneurs as they navigate their personal journeys into self-employment: Though situated on the campus of, and working in partnership with (amongst others), Teesside University, the IDI’s philosophy for entrepreneurial learning is almost diametrically opposed to that operating within the university itself. Being a recently conceived establishment, and thus free from the shackles of tradition, the IDI has developed a forward-thinking pedagogy that supports and equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the necessary skills for commercial success, and is thus in keeping with the current policy rhetoric that future economic growth will depend on private enterprise. But perhaps more importantly, these authors argue, the IDI embodies a broader vision than the health of the economy alone; it both reflects and projects a changing culture in which the signature of success lies less in ‘quantity’ (wealth and conspicuous consumption) but in ‘quality’, which Inglehart defines as “belonging, self-expression, and the quality of life” (1990, p.11). In the wake of public anger at the current recession, which a majority believe (rightly or wrongly) was triggered by corruption and greed, it may be timely to consider a more collaborative and culturally relevant alternative to the current system of teaching and learning entrepreneurship. The innovative and progressive pedagogical thinking that operates within and around the Institute of Digital Innovation (IDI) provides the foundation upon which such consideration is given here.

Shortfalls in UK Higher Education

The transitional journey from the twentieth into the twenty-first century has been slower for some institutions than others, and some practices and traditions remain deeply entrenched in the previous century, including much of our higher education system. Consequently, many UK universities have failed to keep up with the realities of the modern economy (Binks et al, 2006, p.6) or to furnish its graduates with many of the skills they will need beyond their student careers, in spite of the introduction of courses “related to enterprise and entrepreneurship” in most UK HEIs (Flew, 2002, p.2; Hannon, 2006, p.296; Lloyd-Reason et al, 2010; Penalula & Penalula, 2009a, p.209; Simpson et al., 2004, pp. 496-7).

The previous decade has seen a mushrooming of academic commentary on the pedagogic underpinnings of entrepreneurship education within universities, colleges and even schools (Binks, 2006; Fillis, 2002; Hannon, 2006; Kirby, 2004; Lloyd-Reason et al; Penalula & Penalula, 2009a; Penalula & Penalula, 2009b; Rae, 2007; Simpson et al). Government policy also reflects recognition of a need for change in the way educational institutions prepare young people for a future that is being shaped by the dynamic and rapid changes that have taken place in the dawning years of the 21st century (ADM-HEA, 2007; Allman et al., 2011; CIHE, NCGE & NESTA, 2008; Cox Review, 2005; Livingstone & Hope, 2011; Miiler & Bound, 2011; NCGE, 2010; Qa Research & Kate Beresford Associates 2010; Rolfe, 2010; Skillset, 2010, 2011), and which look set to accelerate in the decades yet to come.

A prevailing theme in much of the academic literature is the embeddedness of organisational and teaching practices that are hopelessly out of date, and do little to equip students with the skills they will need to operate in a commercial environment which demands creativity, innovation, flexibility and entrepreneurial competencies (Bergland & Wennberg, 2006, p.368; Binks et al, 2006, p.2; Hannon, 2006, p.298; Lloyd-Reason et al, 2010; Penanula & Penanula, 2009a, p.213). Furthermore, shifts in the pedagogic traditions and long-standing culture of universities are unlikely to keep pace with the rapidly changing world of commerce. Indeed, some argue that current methods are effectively counter-productive. Binks, for example, argues that “[t]here is a growing concern that many of the skills and qualities associated with entrepreneurs are suppressed by the traditional formal education system” (2003, p.3). Kirby echoes this view, adding that “considerable changes are required in both the content and process of learning … so as to encourage and stimulate the entrepreneurial imagination” (2004, p.510). The need for change has also been recognised by government, who commissioned a review, at the time of the 2005 Budget Statement, to explore how Britain’s creative talent could be more fully exploited. The outcome of this – the Cox Review of Creativity in Business – is damning of the UK education system, asserting that it …channels students into ‘arts’ or ‘science’ at a relatively young age, so reinforcing the perception that ‘creativity’ is the province of a few, when it should pervade every aspect of modern life, including business. Creativity needs to be part of technological and scientific learning, and also of management or business studies. On the other hand, those who go on to study the creative arts need to appreciate the context in which their skills will be applied (p.29).

A number of issues can be identified that help to explain the disinclination of universities to adapt and develop pedagogical thinking that is more in tune with the needs of a postmodern economy. First, HEIs tend to be inward looking and exclusive, heavily reliant on “academic networks” and “scholarly publication” as a measure of prestige, value and credibility (Binks et al, 2006, p.5). Second, and as a direct consequence of this process, the potential for intellectual property to be exploited as currency in a commercial context is rarely explored (p.2). Third, a majority of courses offered within business schools emphasise traditional management training (Sarri et al, 2010, p.271) and thus fail to develop many of the skills required for successful entrepreneurship (p.9; Collins et al., 2004, p.455, Cox Review, 2005, p.29; Fillis, 2002, p.390; Galloway et al., 2009; Hannon, 2006, p.297). Similarly, education within the arts tends to focus primarily on developing technique and artistic ability, but neglects to consider how various crafts might be transferred into viable commercial ‘products’ (Cox Review, 2005, p.29). Fourth, there continues to be insufficient engagement with industry, or collaboration between HEIs and the commercial sector, which would offer students the possibility of developing ‘know how’ through experience, as opposed to mere ‘knowledge’ via top-down instruction (Crossley, 2001, p.128; Galloway et al, 2009, p.2). This latter point reflects the strong bias towards an objectivist approach which favours the teaching of economic theory, as opposed to a constructivist perspective, which is concerned with “the socio-behavioural aspects of learning” (Binks, 2006; Rae, 2005; 2007). As Rae argues,

There is a tension in entrepreneurship theory between positivist thinking, which aims to define ‘objective’ generalisations and truths about entrepreneurship, and interpretive approaches, which seek to understand the human dynamics of entrepreneurship in their social context … We need to understand better the dynamic conditions of change and uncertainty in which entrepreneurs operate as ‘change-makers’, by exploring specific cases in their context, and developing insight and theory without losing the value and meaning of the human experience which is the essence of entrepreneurship (2007, pp. 23-4).

The IDI operates along pedagogic axes that are diametrically opposed to those that predominate within the academic milieu of the university. Whilst there are workshops that the Fellows are required to attend, these operate as sites of co-learning which are coordinated by people who have first hand experience in a commercial context, rather than ‘academics’ per se. Furthermore, the value of these workshops is defined not in scholarly outcome, but in terms of the practical use to which graduates can put the skills acquired. Similarly, the Institute works directly with industry in appointing mentors that can share their expertise and, more importantly, have practical experience in their field. As the key function of the IDI is to support its Fellows in translating an innovative idea into a functioning business, intellectual property and commercial viability are synonymous. The following sections therefore consider these differences in relation to the primary data, and assess the extent to which this model of learning meets with the needs of young entrepreneurs[2] and a twenty-first century knowledge economy.


Primary data from the Fellows were gathered in two phases. The first phase involved the distribution of a questionnaire (via email and Show and Tell[3] events) to all former and current Fellows. The key questions were arranged in five sections: Experience of IDI; Skills; Networks; Personal changes and Perceptions of entrepreneurial characteristics, and were open-ended. In addition to these, the questionnaire included a handful of questions for the purpose of demographic profiling. A second method was to make contact by telephone, which proved to be a more effective means of gathering the rich qualitative data that we were seeking, and carried the added benefit of the respondents being randomly selected as opposed to self-selected. To this extent, the principal focus of the initial stage of the research was the functioning of the IDI and the levels of satisfaction, amongst the Fellows, of the services provided therein. These early findings would also inform our methodological approach to the second phase of the research, outlined below.

Following a preliminary review of the questionnaire data, and having been working in the environment of the IDI for some months, it was becoming apparent that the institute had fostered a unique way of operating in which the Fellows could emerge and grow, developing their ideas and innovations within a milieu of creative ebb and flow between themselves, their creative directors, their mentors and their workshop coordinators. Additionally, in view of the broader cultural changes that are taking place in society as a whole, and a political and economic climate which is strongly promoting the benefits of the entrepreneurial mindset, we thought it would be interesting at this stage to look beyond the boundaries of the ‘Institute’ and to explore the narratives that the Fellows gave of their journey along the path[4] of entrepreneurship. The second phase of our research thus involved face-to-face, unstructured meetings, respondents simply being asked to relay their story[5]. From these narratives emerged significant deviations and departures from the traditional views that are to be found in much of the academic literature, and from the popular imagery of ‘the entrepreneur’ as conveyed in programmes such as Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice.[6]

The Findings: Phase one

The data presented here relates to the earlier stage of the investigation in which Fellows responded to specific questions about the IDI. The section following this (see p.17) will examine the broader data relating to Fellows personal journeys and will provide evidence to show that the way in which the IDI operates not only provides a set of skills and competencies to aid successful entrepreneurship but is underpinned by a philosophy of collaboration, mutual support, skills exchange and cooperative alliances. Collectively, these qualities hold the potential for a more socially, economically and environmentally ethical business model that can be applied across the commercial spectrum and beyond.

The development of sound business skills

The frequent failure of universities to equip their graduates with adequate business skills is apparent from a number of comments made by the Fellows and former Fellows of the IDI, most of whom identified the need to develop their business skills as a reason for their interest in the IDI. Others felt that they had a good idea for a business but lacked the ability to turn their ideas into a commercial success.

“I wanted to open my own creative business and I didn't know where to start.”

“I knew it was a portal to learning the business side of a creative specialism which I studied at university.”

“[To get] an introduction to all of the aspects of business that I was previously unfamiliar with.”

“We didn’t know anything about business either, so it was altogether a very handy idea. If we’d tried to start a business without the help of the IDI it wouldn’t have gone anywhere [near] as well because the concept of the business was poorly thought out.”

A key pedagogic difference between the IDI and the university system is the recognition by the former that the skills their aspiring entrepreneurs need “are less about information processing and analysis and more about creativity and action” (Gibb, cited in Bergland & Wennberg, 2006, p.368). One former-Fellow’s statement, “The work that I did with the mentors … was shaping me into something that I wasn’t when I finished [university]”, implies a highly involved and interactive relationship between him and his mentors, which permitted not merely the acquisition of knowledge or skills but the assimilation of these into his very sense of self. Similarly, a female former-Fellow, aged a relatively mature 31 at the time of completing this questionnaire, commented, “I have learned how to be a business person”. The IDI thus helps its participants to authentically evolve and emerge: It supports them in becoming who they are, rather than simply doing what they have been taught, and encourages independent thinking, having the courage of their convictions and the confidence to follow them through.

Money and time

In spite of requiring relatively little money to start most small enterprises, funding can be difficult to secure (Fleming, 2007, p.111; Hisrich & Peters, 2002, p.19; Skarzynsk & Schaedler, 2010, p.275). The financial support provided by the IDI is thus a key attraction to the IDI Fellowship, without which many of the Fellows would never have been able to launch their own business. Though not a large sum, at £4,000 per Fellow[7], this nevertheless provided some much needed financial security as they honed their ideas prior to and during start-up. In conjunction with this financial incentive was the luxury of time that it permitted for the Fellows to develop their creative ideas.

It seemed like a great opportunity to develop my creative ideas in a digital way among digital practitioners, and the funding would give me time to do this.

My colleague and I had an idea for a business, but no money, and the IDI offered a way of living while we got things going.

We used the IDI Fellowship [funding] to live on while we set up the company. It was funding just to live while we pulled together our resources.

It is worth noting also that creative projects involving digital technology can be expensive because the tools needed to bring them to fruition are amongst the most technologically advanced and complex. It is unsurprising, then, that the high standard of facilities which are made available by the IDI are mentioned by a number of the Fellows.


The value of good mentoring cannot be underestimated (Kirby, 2004, p.516; Shanmugalingam et al, 2010, p.31; Penalula & Penalula, 2009b, p.721; Rolfe, 2010, p.12, p.21), and the benefits of having the opportunity to speak with experts in their field were frequently referred to by the Fellows. A number of comments were made with regard to the level at which the teaching is pitched in the seminars and workshops provided by the IDI. In this digital age, it is unsurprising that digital innovation comes in many forms and can be applied to an almost infinite range of commercial enterprises. This diversity is reflected in the broad range of professional interests held by the Fellows on the scheme[8]. Teaching aimed at groups of Fellows is thus necessarily designed to enable a broad understanding of the world of business, rather than to impart specialist knowledge. For some, particularly those with previous business experience, this general knowledge was surplus to requirements and they gained considerably more from their one-to-one mentoring by experts within their professional field. Accessibility to mentors, who are able to give more specialist support and advice than can be provided in the context of seminars or workshops, is clearly of enormous value to many of the Fellows.

Having a mentor you can speak to who’s keeping an eye on progress making suggestions, that’s been really helpful.

The notion that I’d be getting mentoring sealed the deal, really.

The access to mentors has been a great help.

The mentoring has been brilliant too.

The mentoring support from my chosen mentors was fantastic, particularly on the business side of things.

A small minority of comments do suggest, however, that communication between Fellows and IDI support staff could be improved to ensure that Mentors and Fellows are appropriately matched. For example:

I had already worked in the business world for a number of years and so was very experienced in the sorts of things needed to set up a business. However, what I wanted was a mentor in web-site matters and didn’t get it. I didn’t need a professional photographer mentor, such as myself.

Mentors are not the only source of support to be found within the IDI, however, and it is also apparent from Fellows’ responses that the opportunity to network with peers and creatives in other fields helped to further enhance their own creative development. As noted in much of the literature, the cultural industries tend to gravitate into self-contained geographical areas (Bagwell, 2008; Rae, 2007, p.56), the North East not (as yet) being one of them. As Fig.1, shown below, illustrates, it is in the South of England that these clusters predominate. Consequently, specialist mentors are not always readily available, and the logistics and expense of organising face-to-face meetings can be problematic.

Because I went into the animation industry, I quickly found out that, in the NE, it’s not very well supported because it’s a small industry up here, so I had to start looking for mentors that had a lot of experience and a lot of them were down south. Then it was tricky to get them up for the day to mentor; it cost them a lot of money, so we ended up having to travel down to London to get some solid mentoring.

Fig. 1

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Nesta (Undated)

On balance, however, the larger majority of those in the process of, or having come through, a Fellowship credited the support given by mentors as being invaluable to their professional development. This comment by one respondent: “I guess a lot of what we learned was from the mentors”, can be considered as representative of most.

Creative and personal development

In addition to learning the practicalities of running a business, a number of Fellows reflect on their IDI experiences as positive in more abstract ways. As one respondent stated, her Fellowship provided her with all that she had anticipated, “and more”. She continued:

The IDI and Teesside Uni. is a very inspiring place to be, really buzzing and positive, with a ‘can do’ attitude. The psychological impact of being in this environment has been immense, as well as the expertise and facilities.

In a similar vein, another commented:

The Fellowship provided more than we expected. It was an inspirational experience. It helped us to develop the company and expand our ideas so that we ended up with a bigger concept. We found it to be of enormous importance.

Although by no means a characteristic of all of the Fellows, lack of self-assuredness, in themselves and their ideas, seems to be fairly common amongst ‘creatives’. But several comments suggest that these feelings of self-doubt diminished considerably during the course of their Fellowships, and a growth in self-confidence was mentioned by a number of the Fellows as being a beneficial outcome of their experiences at the IDI.

I became more confident with the business, because it confirmed for me that I was doing the right thing.

Confidence - having to apply and do a presentation really helped ensure that I prepared the company and its ideals. I had to make sure that the business idea was sound and not just pie in the sky.

I can open my mouth I little bit easier and network better. I was very quiet, I’ve always been quiet but as the years have gone I’ve become louder, it’s helped me in that way.

For some, the skills or lessons learned through the course of their Fellowship had contributed towards their personal development. The first statement below reveals this Fellows’ recognition that the skills acquired via the Fellowship were transferable within and between both his professional and his personal life. The second shows personal growth through the acknowledgement and correction of an inherent character flaw that was brought into sharp relief during his time as a Fellow.

I have more structure in all aspects of my life, because I need to sustain the creative business side of my life.

What the course did was bring into focus some of my own characteristics:

I was a procrastinator!

The data provided during this first phase of the research highlights the diversity of professional interests, and the eclectic mix of past experience and future aspirations that Fellows bring to the IDI. Although it would be a step too far to state that all of those who pass through the Fellowship scheme necessarily leave with a fully comprehensive or complete foundation of knowledge, it is evident that they gain sufficient know-how upon which to build the skills and capabilities to carry them through most of their post-Fellowship challenges, both personal and professional.

The Findings: Phase two

In this section we consider the Fellows’ and IDI staff members’ narratives, provided during the second phase of the research. Here we aim to illustrate how the broader values of our entrepreneurs reflect a shifting culture in which guaranteed, long-term stable employment is recognised as unrealistic (Collins et al, 2004, p.454), yet also viewed as opportunistic insofar as life fulfilment must be found in the here and now; in the doing, rather than in some projected future goal or anticipated position of ‘success’. Also apparent in the Fellows’ commentaries is a strong ethos of self-help, as opposed to reliance on employer- or state-provided benefits and pensions, perhaps in recognition that the respective values of these have diminished considerably over the previous few decades, due to organisational restructuring (Bozionelos, 2001; Doherty, 2008) and a weakened welfare state (Pontusson & Clayton, 1998).

The significance of this phase of study draws impetus from the fact that as an educational enterprise the Institute is considered ‘successful’ on many measures, particularly in relation to the business success of its Digital Fellowships. We focus on the dynamic aspects of the creative learning processes where mentors and Fellows consider themselves co-constituted. The entrepreneurial and fluid nature of the IDI as a teaching and learning establishment is given central significance in the study, as is the hybrid quality of Digital Fellows, who occupy the space between traditional educational conceptualizations of the learning agent and a subject positioning as highly creative individual. We use a conceptual framework founded on the principle of enaction. Enaction is based upon situated, embodied agents whose world of significance emerges along with their everyday living and activities as situated within the institutional framework of the IDI. Enaction is based on a dynamic model where the agent is seen to actively embrace his/her educational experiences, and indeed through their actions and perceptions become part of the very processes of world and self-constitution, rather than a passive recipient of such (Crossley, 2001, 2006; Varela et al, 1991) . We are interested in the ways in which these embodied self-organising principles produce a type of emergent individual who can only really be viewed within their network of actions. (For a more comprehensive account of how this theoretical framework informs our understanding of entrepreneurship, see Peake et al. 2011).

Organisational structure: Replacing the vertical hierarchy with a horizontal network

As noted above, the IDI operates on very different organisational principles than the university. Probably the most significant feature of the IDI is its cultivation of a co-learning environment as opposed to an authority-led one. Indeed, the figure who occupies the position of ‘highest authority’, in the traditional meaning of the term[9], is the Institute’s Director, yet he openly admitted to keeping a deliberately low profile because there is a tendency amongst the Fellows to display what he considers (somewhat modestly) to be undue or misguided deference in recognition of what they perceive to be his ‘seniority’. In contrast, his vision for the Fellows is that they make a journey of self-creation and self-discovery, the role of the IDI being to foster an entirely non-hierarchical, collaborative environment in which the various skills of all its constituents are pooled and shared. In spite of the Director’s apparent invisibility, however, the Institute is imbued with his philosophical vision via the careful appointment of a body of staff and mentors that share in the ethos of a co-learning and mutually supportive establishment. In so doing, the values and principles of the IDI become self-perpetuating, the impetus being driven by the ideas and creativity of the networks operating within the Institute, rather than by a leader directing from above. The benefits of this horizontal organisational model is recognised by Xavier and Ramachander, who argue that

In times of drastic change, it is the learners who will inherit the future. Every business in some sense must become a knowledge-based business. This is possible only when the hierarchies are broken down and every employee is seen as a thinker in addition to being a doer (2000, p.481).

These authors further assert that our whole education system and, as a consequence, our entire culture is imbued with a competitiveness that breeds ruthless ambition which we mistakenly believe “brings about progress” (p.483). Competitiveness also dislocates the processes of production from an essential human need for creativity. Xavier and Ramachander are thus right to suggest that a post-industrial era calls for radical change.

Just as we discarded the paradigms of the agrarian society as we entered the industrial age, we need to discard the competitiveness paradigm as we are becoming an inter-connected society with all-pervasive information networks (pp. 481-2).

From its inception, the ‘competitiveness paradigm’ has been anathema to those operating within the IDI. Instead, its counter-philosophy of mutual support and collaboration fuels positivity and communality amongst the Fellows, mentors and IDI staff members. As one mentor commented:

I’ve always got to be careful that there could be two competitors in the room … and they’re working on … not same but similar projects, or have similar ideas. And I always view any competitor.. you can actually turn them into a collaborator and … a partner, you know, especially in this industry because their IT skills or their film making skills or their photographic [skills] … they’re all very unique and …I feel they can always work together and help compliment one another.

The IDI has two ‘Creative Directors’, although the term ‘director’ is again somewhat misleading. It is clear, both from their own commentaries and those of the Fellows with whom they work, that an interactive process of co-learning is being enacted that is mutually beneficial. The following quotation comes from one of the Creative Directors:

I worked very hard alongside some of the Fellowship projects. It was exciting for me because I come from quite … a little niche industry which is like animation for TV and stuff. And suddenly you were being exposed to things like dance projects, things that I’ve never really been exposed to before. So as well as kind of mentoring projects in the areas that I never thought I would, you also equally learn quite a lot from the people that are involved. That’s pretty fascinating.

The second Creative Director highlighted the significance of peer support, which he indeed places higher on the scale of importance than either the financial or mentoring support that Fellows receive through the Digital Fellowship scheme. This reiterates the value of horizontal, non-hierarchical networks to the establishment of an ethical business model based on mutual support and collaboration.

[I]t really is the peer group and it’s the Fellows themselves and it’s the community that they create, and also the broader and wider community of previous Fellows that they are then plugged into, because that’s where the real value is because we find that that’s where all the opportunities for collaboration come from. It’s where people who have been through the process some time ago who are out and established actually sub-contract work out to newer Fellows and it feels like just the kind of beginnings of an eco-system. And its interesting that the commonality of having been a Digital City Fellow makes people immediately receptive to one another and so they are quite happy to enter into discussions with people in quite an open and trusting way and that’s what’s really, really working (emphasis added).

Whilst the IDI is internally organised around an ethos of horizontal, collaborative networks, which, by their very nature, tend to be invisible (Bilton, 2007, pp.46-7) the more readily recognised traditional hierarchies of power cannot be avoided. These are brought to bear through funding bodies that place demands to provide evidence of outcomes, legal systems that impose certain requirements in the procurement of mentors, and conflicts of interest between the university and the IDI (to mention just a few). Many of these constraints are necessary to prevent nepotism, the misuse of monies, and so on. Yet they are also counter-productive for the creative industries.

[I]f policy makers and managers attempt to intervene in the delicate ecology of … the creative industries there is a danger that they end up centralizing and locking down networks which were previously fluid, transient and complex. This ignores the strength of weak ties and results in stable, centralized networks where ‘like-mindedness’ outweighs the peripheral, unexpected connections on which creativity depends (Bilton, 2007, p.48).

We argue that the collaborative ethos of the IDI is also an ethically sound one which recognises that selflessness and self-interest are not necessarily mutually exclusive, or that the former is counter intuitive to business success or economic growth. The necessity of bureaucratic mechanisms designed to prevent the abuse of systems, or the mistreatment or exploitation of employees, arose from a competitive model that originally served as a preventative to these evils. Within this model, however, the seeds of egocentric self-interest were sewn, and the recent economic crisis could be considered as evidence of these seedlings coming to fruition. A key problem with vertical hierarchies, whether they are political, organisational or economic, is that they are vulnerable to collapse precisely because of the self-interest they propagate. In contrast, the “unexpected connections” to which Bilton refers have provided fertile ground upon which innovation and creativity can flourish within the IDI, yet which are apolitical insofar as collaboration between the individuals that constitute the resulting networks is the basis upon which our economy as a whole can thrive. For this to occur, however, it will require fundamental shifts in current political and economic thought.

Building alliances across different policy streams including economic development, social development and cultural development requires that policy makers themselves become ‘networked’ organizations in order to make effective interventions in creative systems. That old political mantra, ‘joined up thinking’, needs to extend horizontally across departments, not just downwards from strategy to implementation (Bilton, 2007, p.60).

Discussion and Conclusion

This study has brought to light a wealth of information about, and valuable insight into, the workings of an organisation that models itself on a political or, more accurately, apolitical system based on mutually supportive, collaborative networks. In this microcosmic form, it appears to operate effectively, thus representing a forward-thinking pedagogic model that works to the benefit of the Fellows (and others) who pass through its doors. It can also be seen to be facilitating the growth of a collective entrepreneurial mindset, amongst its participants, that is lacking within more traditional educational establishments and businesses.

But to what extent could this model be applied to wider political and economic systems? Very few authors have broken out of the conventional understanding of ‘entrepreneurship’, (exceptions include Florida, 2002; Rae, 2005, 2007; Xavier & Ramachander 2000) exemplified by such famous names as Richard Branson and Duncan Bannatyne, and the few that have are largely limited to theoretical contention rather than empirical evidence, since the latter would appear to be in short supply. We suggest, however, that the foundations have already been laid for revolutionary post-industrial change: With large corporations restructuring/downsizing, they are employing fewer people on shorter contracts, generating a growth in intrepreneurship (Hisrich & Peters, 2002) and SMEs (Collins et al, 2004). These shifts in turn foster possibilities of greater fluidity in working practices, including self-management, home working, flexible working hours and “intrinsic forms of motivation” (Florida, 2002, p.13). Furthermore, these conditions re-release the inherent human propensity for innovation and creativity that was largely stymied by the old industrial model.

Florida refers to those fortunate enough to be able to exploit and enjoy their creative tendencies as the “Creative Class”, which he regards as “the single most important source of economic growth” and thus, potentially, politically powerful. He does not elucidate how such a body politic might be organised, only to emphasise that he could not envisage anything resembling a political party or workers union (p.317). Since both of these are based on opposition and conflicts of interest, this is hardly surprising. In stark contrast to these organisational principles, we assert that the IDI represents a micro-political community, of budding and established entrepreneurs, that is representative of cultural and political shifts that are already evident in embryonic form and, with sufficient political will, could and should become the dominant and most fitting model for economic growth in the post industrial era.


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[1] Although this paper is concerned primarily with young adults, it should be noted that schools also have an important role to play in laying sound foundations. Delacruz advocated a constructivist educational context that encourages co-learning, as opposed to authority-led learning, to foster in children a sense of mutual understanding, compassion and “intercultural connections” (2009, p.265). Delacruz concludes, however, that these transformations in the classroom may be slow to materialise as the current education system tends to be informed by commercial interests, standards and league tables. Indeed, we may need to wait for the next generation of teachers – for whom the language of technology and digitisation is as familiar as their native tongue – to reconfigure these old-style teaching methods (p.266).

[2] It should be noted that although the majority of Fellows are in their twenties or early thirties, Fellowships are open to anyone over eighteen years of age.

[3] Show and Tell events are occasions in which IDI Fellows have an opportunity to present their idea to other Fellows or interested parties. They offer a chance to network, share experiences and get advice.

[4] With reference to the geographical analogy used in the introduction of this paper, the reader should be reminded that the ‘”ourney along the path of entrepreneurship” is not unilinear; rather, numerous ‘crossroads’, ‘obstacles’ and ‘diversions’ will need to be considered and negotiated along the way.

[5] This investigation conforms to the ethical standards of good practice outlined by the British Sociological Association and Teesside University Ethics Committee. In keeping with these, interviewees were advised at the start of each interview that their anonymity would be assured and that all information disclosed would be treated in strictest confidence. Permission was also asked, and granted without exception, for some of the telephone calls and all of the face-to-face interviews to be voice recorded.

[6] See The Wealth News (2011) “Poll Indicates That Popular Business TV Shows Can Help Inspire Entrepreneurship”.

[7] Thee month long Junior Fellowships, for the early development of a skill or idea, are also available and attract a grant of £500.

[8] Though by no means comprehensive, the following list of Fellowship subjects is indicative of the diversity of interests that the IDI encounters: Animation; Computing; Digital technologies; Games, Film; Multimedia; Music; Photography; Mobile technologies; Software development; Visualisation; Web.

[9] The ‘traditional sense’ of highest authority refers here to a vertical organisational hierarchy based on a pyramid model, the Director representing the pinnacle.

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Progressing Pedagogy for a Post-Industrial Era of Entrereneurship
University of Teesside  (Teesside University | Business School)
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Rosemary Lucas (Author)Susan Peake (Author)James Terkeurst (Author), 2012, Progressing Pedagogy for a Post-Industrial Era of Entrereneurship, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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