The Burslem Model
Not just business model innovation
This blog is hot on the heels of yesterday’s, which really was a thank-you to a bunch of people who are helping ‘land’ a new business model in Burslem & North Staffs.
It’s a lot more business-ey and technical and its audience is ultra-limited, but as anyone who knows me will understand, it’s my opportunity to commit to writing my musings, thoughts and ideas and put them together in a way that helps me — yes me — make sense of them.
So don’t expect any lightbulb moments. Here goes….
Let’s begin at the top. What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?
The problem that we’re trying to solve — in Burslem — is manifold. This list isn’t exhaustive but it goes someway to evidencing the fact that we understand the problem — and as anyone who’s ever raised finance will tell you, you can’t properly focus on the fix to a problem unless you can evidence a comprehensive understanding of what that problem actually is. So, our problems:
- There’s not enough money — in people’s pockets, in business’s tills and in the local economy.
- There’s not enough care — about how people are coping in their lives; about the environmental issues caused by our culture of mindless consumerism; about how people are treated as “customers”, or as “citizens” or as “constituents” (don’t get me started on the curse that is politics).
- Our heritage and heritage buildings that are undervalued, disrespected even.
- Ditto for our communities and for our families.
To summarise, I would argue that the socio-economic and above all ‘cultural’ model, has run out of gas.
Capitalism as a socio-economic culture has run its course.
We have ideas for an alternative model that we’re road-testing in Burslem. Up until very recently, it’s been hard going. Why?
Because nobody wants to invest in a business idea that doesn’t throw off big financial returns. And to be honest, I’ve got used to that. What I don’t want to do is work with investors who are solely focused on the financial return an investment will produce. Been there, done that, burned the t-shirt (and the IVA).
Instead, what’s becoming more and more obvious is the fact that we are propelling our model further and further forward by means of social capital. Slowly but surely through word of mouth, people are beginning to see how we are galvanising a group of people around the idea that money isn’t the only fuel.
Our fuel is time volunteered. And we proudly keep a record of it. It serves as a kind of feedback loop that helps us chart our progress. A bit like dead-reckoning at sea. We need to know we’re a) moving forwards and b) in the right direction. Because we’re not fuelled by money, there’s a lack of equipment that helps us navigate. There’s also a lack of measurement tools and so we have to make it up as we go along. Not really a problem as far as we’re concerned because we know we’re always going forwards towards a better place — The Mother Land.
And so the reason for measuring our time volunteered, is to measure the investment we are making as a collective. This kind of investment is categorised as an ‘intangible’. McKinsey the management consultants:
Investment in intangible assets that underpin the knowledge or learning economy, such as intellectual property (IP), research, technology and software, and human capital, has risen inexorably over the past quarter century, and the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have accelerated this shift toward a dematerialized economy.
We don’t own any physical assets that a bank could value and secure as collateral for a loan. What we do own is the IP for a complementary (to fiat) community currency, an emerging marketplace that trades it and the registered trademark rights to #bekind® as a branded retailer of sustainably produced goods and services.
Now it simply isn’t possible for me on my own to bring into the world such a combination of innovations, and this is why its essential for me to be able to work with the people I work with on the ground in Burslem. It HAS to be a partnership. That’s the only way this thing gets off the ground.
But getting off the ground it is. Slowly, but surely. And there’s not much money that’s been involved. About £1m of hard cash over the past 15 years or so, but the main investment has been of time. Not just yours truly but all the other people that have given and continue to give their time to the common cause of fixing our own problems — the problems listed above.
And the thing about fixing your own problems is that it helps you focus on what gets results. The benefit is that if we can fix it for us, we can fix it for others.
Burslem & North Staffs isn’t the only left-behind or post-industrial town/city/region in the country/world, meaning that eating our own dog food will have economic benefits down the line -once we’re able to evidence that the needle has actually been moved by us working together on the ground in partnership.
A ‘mission with a business’ is how we see ourselves. We’re not Occupy. We’re not XR. We’re #bekind®.
The business of being kind, is just like any other business.
We need to develop a sustainable competitive advantage, meaning we have to do something distinctive. Living in an uncaring and inhumane world such as we do makes being kind a relatively easy way to be distinctive. Why are so many people going hungry and suffering from mental health problems? (Don’t talk to me about inflation. Apparently the Bank of England consider that whilst inflation might peak at around 10%, prices will still remain high. 10% higher than as at a few months ago (caused by the increased costs of imported energy, gas and food) This basically means that our purchasing power is going to be permanently hobbled by ANOTHER 10%, for ever and ever and ever. Inflation simply devalues our purchasing power — hence my crusade for an alternative and complementary currency that does the reverse — improves our purchase power.)
Why haven’t we been focusing on our energy and food independence? And our currency independence (yes, I can hear the cynics “we have the £pound”, but that’s still “money”, as in fiat, and as for the Bitcoin maximalists — go f**k your crypto ponzi).
So whatever we do socially and economically needs to be DISTINCTIVE.
Our asset is our ability to work together and turn that into an operating system that helps to make local economies more sustainable and regenerative. Developing the standards, rules, the norms and the processes that make us more resourceful, more self-reliant and more cooperative, is an asset in the making.
And we need to develop that asset further. Asset based community development is what Cormac Russell has been banging on about for years but beyond waxing lyrical has done nothing concrete about making it a commercial reality for our communities. And there’s our opportunity. To set the standards, rules, norms and processes that turn ABCD into a marketplace where investors can make an impact by helping the community work together for their mutual and collective interests.
And here’s another observation — ‘community’ is a panacea. No matter what the problem, the solution is simple: MORE COMMUNITY. Think about it. What other thing do you know that’s a silver or magic bullet. There’s not, is there? We all value ‘community’, but hitherto nobody has given any thought to how we might go about producing it.
If our distinctive asset is our ability to work together and form community and social capital, then what we have on our hands is what management and business literature would term an ability to create a ‘strategic resource’.
Strategic resources have three characteristics. They are (a) valuable (e.g. a patent), (b) rare (e.g., a landing slot at a busy airport), and (c) hard to imitate (e.g. Swiss Watch reputation).
Well (a) we have our own system that values and tokenises contribution to community, (b) the ownership & trademark rights to the #bekind® marketplace, and (c) we’re fuelled by social not financial capital.
My sense is that our hyper local focus on the town of Burslem rather than the region of North Staffs will pay off. Each of the actors involved has their own passion for the Mother Town and their own role and responsibility in helping to shape the business model so that it serves their own community of interest as much as that of the wider of community. A community of community requires a whole host of diverse actors to be involved in the delivery of an experience that can’t be found on- or off-line anywhere else in the world.
What we’re developing in Burslem is a cultural and socio-economic business model that unlocks the stored value of our collective imaginations. #bekind® is our collective chance to do more, get more and be more.
This ISN’T JUST a dream coming true. It’s a dream coming through.
Remember that it costs nothing to bekind. Just like ‘Northern Soul’, it’s a way of life and state of mind.