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An imaginitive approach for entrepreneurs

As the nanny state is scaled back, it will leave a vacuum for businesses to fill

The coming months and years will be hard, and the battle to bring down the deficit will change all our lives. Most people assume this is a change for the worse, but it may not necessarily be so. The Government’s aim to scale back the state could produce business opportunities, especially for firms operating locally and in highly focused ways. But, for the parts of Britain that have been blighted by unemployment and deprivation for years, the opportunities appear less promising. Yet when things are this bad, it could be worth taking a different approach.

Piero Morosini, an Italian-Peruvian who has been selected as one of the next generation of management thought leaders, offers some encouragement. His book Seven Keys to Imagination (Marshall Cavendish, £12.99) uses examples as diverse as the rise of the Zara fashion chain and the triumphs of an Italian community for rehabilitating drug addicts to show what can be done when individuals combine a vision with the determination to make it a reality.

Take the story of Amancio Ortega, a tailor in Galicia, Spain, who created the notion of “instant fashion” by pursuing his vision of enabling ordinary people to enjoy the latest fashionable clothes. Together with computer expert Jose Maria Castellano, he developed a distribution model that enabled Zara to quickly respond to consumer trends and deliver new “cheap-chic” items each week, instead of the fashion norm of once a season. It did so on such a scale that Zara outlets soon sprang up worldwide, and it did it so cheaply it generated far more profits than its more traditional rivals.

Vincenzo Muccioli, an Italian insurance broker, has built a modern marvel in his San Patrignano community. Starting with an attempt to understand the plight of young drug users he came

across in his native Rimini, Muccioli concluded they lacked families, so he set about creating one for them. Thirty years later, San Patrignano has 2,000 hardened drug users involved in its programme, the largest such establishment in the world. But what makes it remarkable is not its size, but its achievements, which include producing world-class wines and world-class showjumping horses, as well as the world’s highest drug rehabilitation rate – 72 per cent.

The community works through “guests” completing an education that typically lasts three years. They choose to learn a range of skills, from wine-making and gourmet cooking to photography and horse-breeding. But whatever they do they are expected to achieve world-class results. Moreover, guests do not use therapists or drug replacements, such as methadone. The programme costs about €10,000 a year per guest, compared with more than €20,000 for typical methadone-based courses, and is free to guests. It is financed by the sale of the community’s products and services, as well as more conventional fund-raising activities.

What links these stories and the other tales in the book, is each has a determined individual with a dream. Although that describes most entrepreneurs, Morosini says his examples are linked by seven essential elements he calls the “seven keys to the imagination”, because “they can be recognised, developed and applied by all individuals, teams and organisations who have the courage and determination to unlock their power to imagine and create successful futures for themselves.”

The first two involve trading on mindset and customer obsession, with the aim of enabling individuals to imagine “radically new, unimaginable futures” by seeing around them important things that others keep missing. The next four – Wiraqocha leaders and tinkunacuy, Peruvian concepts that loosely mean inspirational leaders and co-operation based on respect, as well as gentlemen’s promises and common glue – all allow imaginative individuals and teams to make the challenging mental pictures they originally conceived a reality. The remaining key, purposeful mission, turns these imaginary thoughts into a results-oriented process.

With Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered a microfinance programme for the poor in Bangladesh, reportedly planning to bring the concept to Britain, the time could be right for enterprises to take off in unpromising situations. Some of the ventures might be not-for-profit social enterprises, others might be more conventional, but all have at stake the prize of – as Morosini might put it – improving the futures of ordinary people.