Senior Design Partner

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgI am pleased to announce that after nearly six years as a Senior Consultant with Design Group International, I have now become a Partner in the company. 

I am grateful for the invitation from the other Senior Design Partners to join them in their work, and excited for the opportunity. I am grateful to my clients, past and current, for the trust and the ongoing learning I have enjoyed with you. 

For now, my practice is remaining largely as it has been:

  • working at the connection points between vision and implementation;
  • working to help organizations and their leaders get, understand, and act upon good data - whether financial or qualitative;
  • helping leaders analyze, strategize, and model their businesses for healthy decision-making;
  • working from a heart for doing good while doing well - with businesses, non-profits, and religious institutions;
  • and strengthening the overall capacity of our company network. 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!Design Group International continues to be a firm committed to helping organizations and their leaders transform for a vibrant future. I am glad to be a part of that work!

If you are curious about the work we do, and how we do it, I would be happy to speak with you - via e-mail, phone, or in person. Feel free to e-mail me or call 1.877.771.3330 x20. For more about the work I do regularly, including the software certifications I hold, check out my Consultant Page. 

Here's to the transformative power of new beginnings!

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International

Values Reflections Show a Variety of Opportunities

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2.jpgOver the past few weeks, I have been having a lot of conversations with people about a wide variety of business and organizational opportunities. Today, as I thought about those conversations, I am amazed at how our values drive us to so many opportunities and possibilities.

A few examples:

  • I spent much of this past weekend in the company of the alumni of my high school alma mater, many of whom have gone on to do some pretty amazing things. Many of them explicitly express the desire to "make the world a better place." This has led some into journalism, medicine, engineering, and economics; others into humanities and social advocacy. Over the past year, this same desire blossomed into creating an alumni association for the school, for the first time in its nearly 100-year history.Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!
  • I discussed succession planning with a business owner, and saw his passion for his field coming out as we discussed how best to hand off his business so that it could still impact the community positively after he has stepped out of it.
  • I heard from several people seeking to fulfill their vocation, and wondering whether process consulting was the way to go about that. 
  • A higher education institution has a vision for its community - not just people in its degree programs. This vision is poised for significant impact!

Our values might all sound similar on the surface - for instance, community impact. Nevertheless, our organizational and leadership context sends us down diverse paths. Refining and focusing our vision, mission, values and principles is an essential part of organizational and leadership health. 

(Related: Leadership - Doing Good while Doing Well)

But it doesn't stop there: that refinement of vision, mission, values and principles translates into strategic themes, specific initiative projects and the metrics of success. When we can do that successfully, the opportunities are incredibly varied. When we do that, we can transform our organizations (and ourselves as leaders) for a vibrant future.

 


 

 

The TAD software from AdaQuest provides a software framework to assess current organizational state, support strategic planning, and then implement the plan through high-level initiatives and specific projects. TAD strengthens the consultative process by giving the organization the means to carry projects forward without having to embed consultants quite so deeply in day-to-day operations.

How can I find out more?

As a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me . If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

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Topics: core values, leadership, Matthew Thomas, Act, TAD, Think, Deliver

Multiple Variables and Business Analysis

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgWorking in a system with multiple variables and specific limiting constraints is something most of us do every day without even thinking about it. Or if we think about these variables and constraints, we don't think of them as such. Two examples:

  1. As my toddler son is experiencing these days, it takes somewhere around 200 muscles to be coordinated, timed, and balanced just right just to walk. Keeping balance and coordination while moving forward is quite a feat, when you think about it.
  2. Driving a car. Just think about how many distinct actions a driver must take to back a car out of a driveway. Pretty overwhelming, huh? The actuaries at your auto insurance company think so, too.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!Organizational systems are typically bound by constraints on three variables when doing anything from strategic planning to value delivery. These three variables are Time, Personnel, and Money. Other variables include raw materials, the size of market, geography, and scope of operations. In order to assist enterprises as they plan and grow, we find it is helpful to measure the variables under which they are operating.

(Related: Managing Multi-Thread Strategic Complexity)

The TAD software we have available can help leaders plan according to the major variables of Time, Personnel, and Money to determine efficiency for strategic themes and initiatives. This can help with prioritization and phasing so that the beat use of resources is achieved. Time, Personnel, and Money often represent the other variables, or can be derived from the other variables, so that is one of the reasons they are at the core of most operations.

In the screenshot below, a company has measured its various projects against its budget, and is showing that its work still lines up with its most efficient approach to operations. 

TAD-CostAnalysis.png

The other variables, with their constraints, can be integrated into the overall strategic process, from thinking through action and on into delivery. The logistics of getting materials to the right place, in the right market, at the right price are all related to the core variables - and determine whether a business will succeed or fail.

We often hear that "you get what you measure." That is very true. Measuring the right things, and measuring the right things relative to the other right things - now that takes effort. We can help with that effort - through the TAD process and through our overall business analysis services.

How can I find out more?

As a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me to find out more about TAD or our Business Analysis services. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 
 
 
 
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Topics: business plan, Matthew Thomas, business model, Act, TAD, business analysis, Think, Deliver

Integrating Change Management

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgOur customers tomorrow aren't probably going to be the ones we have today; the ones we have today aren't a whole lot like the ones we had yesterday. A disruptive technology enters the market. Social attitudes about one issue or another shift suddenly. A presidential election plays the ends off against the middle. A new regulation comes in to force. Shifts in markets cause the price of materials to skyrocket. Drought hits a major ethanol producing state and drives the cost of gasoline sky high.

 Plato and other ancient philosophers reflected their societies' view of change: that what was old was valuable, what is new is less so. These days, we have a tendency toward the opposite attitude: that the new and innovative is the best.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!The strongest organizations build environmental analysis into their change management strategy. Change might be something we complain about - especially when we benefit from the status quo. But change is no longer something we can avoid in any one of the six major environmental areas of interest.

As part of the TAD process, we have the opportunity to gather PESTLE Data (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental Data). This can come is as part of the overall preparation for strategy-making in the THINK phase of TAD, typically, although it can happen in any phase. This sort of information helps tremendously to get us out of our assumptions and our "organizational bubble" and back to data from which we can make clear(er)-headed decisions. As we do, change management becomes more integrated with our overall organizational dynamic. So instead of change management itself being a disruptive force, it becomes part of the core operations to drive the overall enterprise.

How can I find out more?

As a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Change Management, Act, TAD, Think, Deliver

Where Do I Start to Strategically Attack a Problem?

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2.jpgAccording to my wife, I do jigsaw puzzles differently than most other people. Evidently many people start by working around the edges; I typically start with the brightest color or the most-defined object in the puzzle and work from there. This often means that I have several disconnected or only tenuously-connected larger chunks for a while until the rest of the puzzle fills in.

The truth is that either point of entry - the edge pieces or my color/definition approach - will get us there. And my problem-solving mind sees this as a point of entry to approaches to organizational design.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!Organizations call in outside consultants for a wide variety of reasons. As Mark Vincent, et al., note in The Tao of Action-Reflection, a good proportion of these are looking for guidance, but are working with solid fundamentals. Others seek intervention - not only to work on a task at hand, but also to develop organizational health where it is lacking, and the lack is causing organizational distress.

Moreover, this guidance or intervention can make entry at any one of the major points of an organization's vision- and strategy-development cycle. The TAD process, which we have been describing recently, speaks to this in its model, represented by the graphic below:

TAD-CycleBack.png

Wherever the problem - whatever it is - seems most acute, or most clear, that's where we enter the process. Like my jigsaw puzzle method, an organization doesn't just have to start at an end or an edge. Sometimes it's best to start where things might be the best defined, and work outward. And, frankly, sometimes the edges are better defined than anything else. To try a different analogy, an organization doesn't have to start on page 1, upper left, to get it right.

You see, we're not really losing anything to start where the stuck point or the strategy point happens to be at the moment - even if it is well into the Deliver phase. As the arrow added to the screenshot indicates, this process cycles around as the fruit of delivering on strategy helps the organization evolve forward. That means that an organization can build from wherever it is now toward its goals, and modify them as they evolve. Moreover, an organization does not necessarily need intervention of a consultant through the whole cycle, if one comes in for one part. It all really depends on organizational capacity and goals.

(Related: Strategic Flexibility)

We have been using the TAD process to illustrate how organizations can implement organizational design using a specific tool. In truth, the TAD process outlines the broad reach of organizational design in ways that people can get their hands on. I find the TAD software helpful to create the understanding needed for good organizational development and support organizational process.

How can I find out more?

As a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, action-reflection, action and reflection, Act, TAD, Think, Deliver

Managing Multi-Thread Strategic Complexity

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgThe inventor of the microscope, Anton Van Leeuwenhoek, was amazed at the complexity of organisms he discovered upon a closer look at pond water. What looked more or less clear to the naked eye displayed high complexity once subjected to even the most basic magnification. 

A strategy's complexity increases as the process moves from high-level vision, mission, values, and principles through strategic themes and into the overall strategic map of what goes where, when, and by whom. The same questions we ask when we first enter in to a strategic process (why, who, what, how, when, where) now move deeper into the organization as the core leadership hands off the strategy to the leaders and teams who support them. This pivot from the Thinking phase of a strategy to the Act phase of a strategy often trips us up.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!We often perceive strategic planning to be somehow linear - "ever onward and upward." We all know it to be more complex than that. Tying projects to strategic themes, getting the right teams assembled, making sure timing is correct - all of these things add complexity that itself has to be managed.

A strategic mapping process helps to visualize multiple themes, threads, projects, teams, and so on as they all move through the strategy. This map helps keep the whole project moving as a whole.

Some strategic plans build timing into their plans at a granular level - much like a football timing play: "Get to the 20 yard line, count 5-Mississippi, and then cut left, and the ball will be in your hands." Some organizations have both the data (to know how long something takes) and the leadership (to keep everyone moving together) to be able to set up projects with timing like that. Others look a bit more like a Rube Goldberg machine - it gets the job done, but my, oh, my, did it need to go like that? Still others look like a spider's web - and not one of those symmetrical orb weaver jobs, mind you, but more like arachnid trip-wires running every which-way.

(Related: Strategic Flexibility)

Whatever an organization's preferred mode of operating, keeping the timing right is often the biggest challenge to project success at this stage of the strategy process. TAD is a tool that can increase an organization's capacity to manage the complexities of the timing of the different themes and initiatives in a strategic plan. For instance, the 1-Year Road Map shows initiatives (projects) grouped by theme, with the planned schedule, the current date, and the current progress for each initiative. For each, it's possible to drill down in and see what is actually going on for each initiative and manage it from there.

Tad1YearRoadMap.png

Adjusting to the changes brought about by pieces of a strategy moving at different speeds, some with different success or failure rates often causes strategic plans to get thrown out or shelved. Things evolve differently than planned more often than not. Keeping the timing right helps to increase the success rate - and visualizing the process helps when the inevitable adjustments must be made to keep the overall strategy on track.

How can I find out more?

As a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, strategic planning, strategy, organizational strategy, Act, TAD, Think, Deliver

Strategic Flexibility

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgIn my part of the world, wind gusts are the stuff of legend - and reality. Fully loaded semitrailers have been known to blow off the highway onto their sides from them. Tall buildings are designed to sway or flex with the wind. We have mile after mile of ghostly gray-white windmills silently generating electricity. These winds are known to break rigid structures, while flexible ones survive the buffeting.

One of the reasons strategic plans get shelved before their time boils down to the plan's ability to flex with changing conditions - internal successes and failures, of course, but more often changes in the organization's external environment. Plans with incredible precision but without flexibility are often the first casualty of early success.

Photo Credit: News-Gazette. Highway sign on I-74 in East Central IllinoisOn-the-fly adjustments will always be necessary. Nevertheless, many organizations find building those adjustments into plans to be a considerable challenge. As is human tendency, we end up in a polarity of excessively detailed, layered, branched flowcharts; or making it up as we go, knowing it will all work out in the end.

Two approaches, working in tandem, help to keep plans clear and on track, even while navigating through windy conditions.

  1. Clear Communication plans. This sounds like a no-brainer. It is, but. Communication plans often struggle when purpose isn't clear, when lack of trust is (or even appears to be) the driver, and when plans don't display mutual benefit to all parties involved. Those things quickly change communication plans into dreaded paperwork. Clear communication plans keep information flowing where it needs to in ways that improve everyone's capacity to complete their work.Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!
  2. Strategic Triggers. These are aspects of solid strategic plans developed by leadership teams that posit a variety of situations across major sectors of the organizational environment to which the leaders will need to respond. Perhaps the stock market rises (or drops) 40% in a month. Perhaps new regulations that affect core business come into effect, or old ones expire. Most industries have specific things they watch. This just puts them in place and creates a series of "first thoughts" about what might be done under those new circumstances: whether the plan has to be reworked from first principles, or whether minor adjustments can be made, or more typically, somewhere in between.

(Related: Prioritization and Strategy Implemenatation)

The TAD process we have described over the last two weeks brings both of those approaches together in the Think phase. As a leadership team strategizes and prioritizes strategic themes, communication plans and strategic triggers get baked right in to the overall plan. This allows for the flexibility needed to adjust - so all the time, energy, money, and frustration of planning is not wasted the first time something unexpected blows in. In most cases, this starts from the first actual meeting to begin the TAD process.

How can I find out more?

As a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me  at matthewmthomas [at] designgroupintl [dot] com. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, strategic planning, strategy, organizational strategy, Act, TAD, Think, Deliver

Prioritization and Strategy Implementation

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgPrioritization often is the greatest struggle for organizations with a vision and a lot of organizational inertia. There is so much we have been doing, and now, with a new vision, we will likely have to change what we are used to doing so we can start to do what we want to do. And often, despite our best efforts, our old habits creep back in.

Organizational inertia doesn't have to be a particularly bad thing - it can be the startup looking to pivot from development to a new sales market; it can be a longstanding business with a strong business model facing a new challenge; it can be a profitable product line which is being diversified. Nevertheless, in all these cases, transformation of priorities must take place, often to keep the business from getting mired by its current course or even its own success.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!Prioritization is often a struggle because there is so much good that can be done, and so many good ideas that could bear fruit. It's important, then, to tie each level of what is being done to what is most important. This will mean that some good will likely be set aside in favor of another.

Last week, we introduced the TAD software from adaQuest, and why the organizations and leaders we work with would find it helpful. One of the ways in which TAD can be immediately helpful is to organizations looking to prioritize their projects and resources strategically.

Using a pairwise process, leaders can determine which major drivers of their strategy are more important than others. That way, the projects tied to them can gain their proper place. TAD can help measure the consistency of the prioritized themes that have come to the surface - to make sure the plan makes sense.

From there, based in budget, resources, or schedule, leaders can then choose which specific projects they will engage in, with TAD providing visual cues to what falls above and below a prioritization line.

 Prioritization does not have to be a task that derails strategy or gets everyone down in the weeds. Instead, it can truly drive the right kinds of transformations that will allow organizations and leaders to be at their best. 

How can I find out more?

TAD-color-cert-badge-2_18_16_.pngAs a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me  at matthewmthomas [at] designgroupintl [dot] com. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, adaQuest, Act, TAD, Think, Deliver

Introducing TAD: Software-supported strategy and implementation

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgI spent a good chunk of last week in Washington State training on software that helps organizations move smoothly from strategic planning through to specific projects that support strategic initiatives. It's called TAD, and produced by a company called adaQuest. TAD stands for Think, Act, Deliver. This is representative of a process orientation to planning and management.

 

Why use TAD?

 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!Let's face it: it's hard to work from a pre-planning, strategic development position all the way through to the specific projects the strategy requires, and be able to flexibly adjust and iterate the plan along the way. Many strategic plans end up shelved for a lack of ability to adjust to changing conditions, or a lack of process orientation through the plan's creation.

(Related: Business Modeling and Sales Development)

 

TAD provides a software framework to assess current organizational state, support strategic planning, and then implement the plan through high-level initiatives and specific projects. TAD strengthens the consultative process by giving the organization the means to carry projects forward without having to embed consultants quite so deeply in day-to-day operations.

 

How can I find out more?

 

As a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me at matthewmthomas [at] designgroupintl [dot] com. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 

I'm really excited about this new tool! Check it out!

 

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, strategic planning, strategy, adaQuest, TAD

Benefits of Entrepreneurship for Organizational Leaders

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgLast week, I had the opportunity to go back to my old high school (after, well, we won't mention how many years) and teach a class for four days. Each February, The University of Illinois Laboratory High School holds a week-long  "Agora Days" where students, teachers, alumni and other friends of the school teach classes on subjects not in the usual curriculum. My class was entitled, "How to Start Your Own Business."

It was a great opportunity to reconnect with my high school Alma Mater. Entrepreneurship is not a class they currently offer, and it seemed to generate genuine interest for this four-day session. We used some of the materials from Strategyzer to frame value proposition development and overall business model design.

In offering this class, I have discovered myself an advocate for offering entrepreneurship in secondary education. Like we say with many other parts of high school student life, entrepreneurship classes create the business leaders of tomorrow. Beyond that, thought, entrepreneurship classes at the high school level have several significant benefits, including the following four:

 

  1. Entrepreneurship is a great interdisciplinary opportunity in secondary education. It is intensely integrative of social sciences, STEM, the arts, English, and even foreign languages.Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!
  2. Entrepreneurship is a great opportunity to motivate students to look beyond the immediate or the next-to-immediate, and develop a vision for making the world a better place. This could be particularly effective in economically depressed or disadvantaged areas: students could become motivated to learn by the need to gain skills for a project that might actually become their own business. The vision of seeing a problem and applying ways to find solutions could help to overcome the poverty tunneling that reduces neighborhoods' transformational capacity. Vision can raise students' eyes above just completing school, or just getting to college, or just getting by day-to-day. It can motivate in ways that are often measurable, albeit often indirectly.
  3. Integrative subject matter, with Entrepreneurship as the example, could transform the student metrics conversation. Instead of teaching to more and more tests, students could demonstrate mastery by book-ended integrative projects - say at the beginning and ending of high school. Mastery will be much more than just facts and figures; it could be application, and we could see new technologies emerging along the way.

Related: Working from a business model perspective

  1. Entrepreneurship classes can make for a stronger democracy: students engaged in entrepreneurship will have a deeper understanding of economics, government, finances, foreign policy (tariffs vs. free trade; geopolitics and natural resources), and the motivations of people in different contexts and situations. This will likely lead them to greater engagement and participation in the democratic process.
  2. Entrepreneurship, when done well, is almost always done in teams. Helping students learn how to work together well, with different motivations and personalities, could strengthen students' soft skills as well as raise their emotional intelligence.

In truth, I have already received some small degree of pushback that curriculums are already crowded, that this is a luxury for students already proficient in the basics, and that it would be hard to do group work with individualized education plans involved.

To those challenges, I would suggest that if standardized testing days could be reduced and swapped for integrative project days, there's still a lot of room - even without new courses. Second, I suggest that integrative projects like entrepreneurship could motivate students to greater proficiency and mastery of the basics, since they will have something they really want to engage with and accomplish. Third, I suggest that projects like these might help students with individualized plans because they (and their instructors) could discover approaches to learning that could work around learning difficulties.

 Related: Conversations and Learning

What say you? As an organizational leader, what kinds of classes and approaches did you find most helpful? What were the least helpful? e-mail me and we can talk about it.

 

In the meantime, check out this article about the balance of action and reflection.

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

 
 
 
 
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Topics: business plan, Matthew Thomas, entrepreneurship, business model, secondary education, politics