How We Live Our Work Lives
I spent last week in Elsinore, Denmark with Candy Brush at the USE (Understanding Small Enterprises) conference and would like to follow up on Candy’s latest blog as well. Three main things stood out for me: 1) LO Skollen (pronounced L O Skōllen) as a place and what it stands for, 2) the emphasis conference attendees place upon the personal experience as well as the worker’s experience inside small businesses. And third, the experience of being the only two conference attendees from the U.S. Overall, I have a lot to think about.
LO Skollen, as Candy mentioned, is an educational center owned by the collaboration of Danish trade unions. As Candy also mentioned, the art is amazing. It is a large collection and it continues to grow. The art is not in a separate museum area, but fills the community spaces. The building itself is part of the art, with changing shapes, lighting perspectives, and textures throughout the complex, inside and outside. Much of the infrastructure of the main building is part of that art, the bricks, ceilings, electrical systems, etc. The overall idea is that the members of the trade unions taking courses at LO Skollen can see their work and be proud of it. They also see and experience the art of mostly Danish artists and can discuss, debate, and just enjoy the creative atmosphere.
During my University of Missouri – Kansas City years I partnered with Sanjay Mishra of KU, Tom Lyons of Rockhurst University and Barnett Helzberg of the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program to design and deliver a course called Personal Entrepreneurial Strategy. We were funded by the Kauffman Foundation and taught the course as a team to a combined class of students from each of our schools. My interest then and now is on how we live our work lives. This conference helped hammer home the point that it should be about how we also design and support the work lives of those we bring into our organizations. The paper Candy and I presented was on how to create that kind of culture within your business. In his opening speech, Palle Oerbaek, Director of the National Research Centre for the Working Environment (Denmark) reminded us that most of what we’ve learned about management (and for our purposes – organizational culture) we’ve learned from the big business arena and perhaps we need still more of a different approach. It’s a helpful thing to think about for entrepreneurship education.
And finally, the experience of being the lone folks from the U.S. was entirely positive. It included everything from the tricky nature of using the term “Americans,” since our Canadian colleagues are just as much from North America, to providing the space to really listen and think about what is unique about the U.S. small business culture. It was completely clear that few people recognize the U.S. for the small business economy that it actually is. We used our economic numbers every time we could to remind folks that of the 25.4 million businesses in the U.S., 77 percent have no employees, another 17 percent have between 1 and 19 employees, and barely over 1 percent are the big businesses of more than 500 employees. Add that to the fact that just slightly over half of our work force is in small and medium size businesses, and it is a different picture than people are used to seeing.
On Thursday night we finished off the Gala Dinner event by joining many of the conference folks at the LO Skollen bar, along with many trade association members who were there for their classes as well. We also joined in the Thursday night at 11:00 tradition of going outside the bar into the hallway to sing together. The hall way is underground, so there are no windows. The walls and ceiling are formed from white bricks and the ceiling actually arches up over our heads. It reminds me of our castle tour earlier in the week. We did our best to join in the singing, although my Danish pronunciation made those around me smile and sometimes laugh out loud. Then one of our Australian colleagues suggested that we should also sing songs to represent the other countries present. But we had to stick to songs that were in the songbook. We first sang Waltzing Matilda for her team, then an Irish song that happened to be in the songbook as well. For the “American” song, those around us picked This Land is Your Land and Candy and I ended up leading that particular song. It was an unusual experience, one I won’t forget, one that was extremely personal, and one that felt really good.
Patricia G. Greene, Professor of Entrepreneurship