Necessary Weirdness

It’s late, down an alley at the Woodford Folk Festival, in a tent. A small audience watches a potter at her wheel, working carefully and intently as a group of musicians improvise and images are thrown onto her and the tent walls. Her name is Kari (just Kari) and she loves this. She also dances, and sings, and as a professional celebrant she marries and buries people. Her ceremonies are warm, personal, authentic, customised and redolent with the folksy energy she brings to such things as her improvised musical festival ceramics event.


When Kari did Edgeware’s Build Your Business course she was entangled in the profusion of possibilities thrown by herby diverse repertoire of aptitudes and passions, though none promised to make much money. And she wanted to make money, to make a living from what she loved. In the Edgeware course, and afterwards, she brought focus to just one of per passions, her work as a celebrant of births and deaths, and she designed small, achievable goals to make that occupation modestly profitable.


Achieving these goals, she applied the same approach to her many other passions, and step by step achieved a balance among them, which in total made up (makes up) a creative, satisfying personal business enterprise. Kari designed mastery experiences which, together, inspired confidence that, step by step, she could reach the goal of professional practice which brought together her many and varied skillsets and passions.


Kari is also weird.


Edgeware is a business training company focusing on the generic value of creativity in ethical enterprise creation, which includes, but isn’t restricted to, the creative industries. My friend Ian Plowman once told me that ‘Edgeware exists to validate weirdness.’ What does ‘weirdness’ mean?


It’s not a demographic, it’s a psychographic. Weirdos are not content with the status quo, they’re more comfortable on the edge than in the centre, they often have problems with authority figures and formal systems, they have SOS (Shiny Object Syndrome), they are bullied (or they’re bullies) at school, they have a varied, uneven career history, they’re more likely to be creative than most, they’re more likely to suffer mental illness than most, they’re idiosyncratic, they’re not a good ‘fit’ in  prestructured roles. They’re often represented in groups of creative artists, creative scientists, creative entrepreneurs, creative activists, and criminals (sometimes more than one of these). Weirdos embrace change, and they make change.


How do such nonconformists find a market for what they produce? How do they find consumers so captivated by their nonconforming take on a product or service that they are willing to exchange something (usually money) to experience it, participate in it, own it?


They can grow their entrepreneurial gaze. We can say there’s a ‘male gaze’, a ‘female gaze’, a ‘gay gaze’, and so on – ways of seeing the world, seeing into the world, seeing things in the world that may be invisible or at least obscure to most. The entrepreneurial gaze is a habit of mind, a way of consistently asking the question, ‘where is the opportunity here?’ In the same way as a photographer sees the world as framed light, and a composer hears a world of sound, and a writer extracts language from the noise, a successful entrepreneur is alive to the commercial potentials surrounding her. She can grow and enhance her capacity to connect her skills, aspirations and passions to the reality of a market place, the proposition that there is value in there for someone, somewhere, sometime.


We like to work on three key strategies for growing this entrepreneurial gaze. The first is mastery experiences, of the kind Kari defined for herself. An experience of mastery is an experience where we set goals that are realisable and yet stretch us just a little, then achieve those goals. And then, very importantly, we reward ourselves. The reward doesn’t have to be grand and exciting; the most important thing is just to see it (whatever it is) as a reward, a marker of achievement. If we experience these mastery events regularly, we create a virtuous circle, a loop of experience which confirms to us that if we make an effort, we will achieve our goal, and we will enjoy a reward. In our business practice we begin to seek out the opportunity for such experiences, we sharpen our entrepreneurial gaze.


The second key strategy is to identify and reflect on role models, on people who have achieved or are achieving things we admire. We can map our practice and our selves into these people and their experiences. We don’t want to ‘become’ them, but admire their achievements, which suggest to us that such achievements might be within our capacity as well.


Role models are important for our Indigenous customers. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are collectivist and intricately socialised, and enterprise development is often characterised by successful relationships, by conversation and interaction, by mutuality and very personal values. This is very clear in the trajectories of three of our Indigenous Edgies (‘Edgies’ is the term given to themselves by our customers).


Jandamarra Cadd is a painter who completed one of our courses at the same time as Terri Waller, an educator and producer. The exposure of each to the other’s aspirations and achievements was critical to their definition of their own success. Similarly, publisher and author Leesa Watego comes packaged with a keen sensitivity to the inclusion and engagement of her people, and this commitment reinforces, and is reinforced, by the mutual support which always seems to flow. We now partner with Terri in a new brand, Edgeware Indigenous, which builds on shared cultural values to create a sense of belonging, meaning and cohesion which is often difficult for non-Indigenous people to understand. The importance of role models is strengthened by the inclusion in Edgeware Indigenous courses of a Hero File, a collection of Indigenous success stories which demonstrate resilience, commitment and clear evidence of the benefit of an entrepreneurial gaze. And it turns out that this has real value for non-Indigenous Edgies as well; both Terri and Leesa have become valued members of the ‘mainstream’ Edgeware team.


A third strategy for building the entrepreneurial gaze is all about social pressure, that is, surrounding yourself with like-minded people who tacitly or explicitly support your vision (or alternatively, to avoid or jettison relationships which don’t do this). This builds momentum, confidence, okayness, and it creates business as a social activity, something to have fun with. (The Edgeware DNA is ‘Make money, have fun, change the world.’)


Ben Johnstone has just turned 30, and his company, Josephmark Creative, has grown from a couple of guys with a couple of computers in a garage to a substantial design and web development house, currently helping Myspace rebrand itself. From its base in Brisbane, the company now moves globally, initially through a conscious youth focus and latterly through sheer talent and innovation. From the beginning, corporate togetherness and an almost pastoral care of the group has been critical for JM, and the fledgeling enterprise has found ways to combine friendship and professional discipline. In one way or another, the JM kids have found a sense of belonging. The value of the entrepreneurial gaze is inspired in the group, validated by the group, and in this way perpetuates itself.


Creative entrepreneurs are necessarily weird. The majority of our customers, Edgies, proudly identify as weird, and usually affirm that this is not a matter of choice, but just the way things are. Edgeware’s job, in this context, is to validate that weirdness by example, and through the contact we create between and among Edgies themselves. We do this by providing mastery experiences (and the capacity to plan these independently), positive role models and a social context which supports a given vision and pathway. In this way, Edgies identify and grow their entrepreneurial gaze. We very often hear reports like ‘My business really took off, the minute I finished your course!’ and this is what is happening, I think. When someone reports this kind of outcome, it’s happened because they have become alive to opportunities that were previously invisible. They have changed the way they look at and process the world, gazing at the world as creative entrepreneurs.


This article, by Michael Doneman, first appeared in 2013 in NHTV’s magazine Insight. A short interview with Michael was recorded at NHTV (in Breda, Netherlands), in 2012.

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