Global Grammars Of Enterprise in the COVID-19 Crisis (Part 3)

Authors: Peter Kelly & Diego Carbajo.

From Grammars to Vocabularies of Enterprise:

As we discussed in previous posts (part 1 and part 2), we have proposed the metaphor of grammar of enterprise (Carbajo and Kelly 2019) to better understand the usage rules, the norms and regulations that are behind the contemporary imperative (aimed not only at young people) to be entrepreneurial. This principle, that was identified by Foucault in the late 1970s and developed further by many other authors, claims that to achieve a certain type of “success” individuals need to imagine themselves as enterprises-businesses and to act with market driven rationales. But as the different actants involved in translate it, make use of it and embody it, this grammar is subject to changes of meaning and direction which makes it more a flexible rule than a vertical structure external to individuals. Such an approach seeks to include in the analysis the capacity of action of non-human and humans as the co-producers of renewed, contingent and ambivalent practices and meanings that evolve around ideas of enterprise.

In this third blog post of the series about the Global Grammars of Enterprise, drawing on our descriptions in the previous sections on the FYA and the EU, we will go more in depth on our hypothesis by identifying and analysing significant manifestations of the vocabularies that emerge from and give shape to the analytical tool of Global Grammar of Enterprise we are developing. Our intention is to illustrate a limited number of expressions of this grammar in order to describe elements of the vocabularies that a global grammar of enterprise permits and normalises.

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Tom Peters and the “Spirit” of 21st Century Capitalism



Sure, “design” means DHL spending Gazillion$$$$ on … YELLOW. IT’S THE NEW BROWN.

But that’s not all.

Design means … me obsessing on line breaks and “…”s in the presentation of this Blog.

Design means … me … at age 61 and somewhat successful … going through more than 25 drafts of a mere update of my Official Bio … that will be circulated to Clients for the next several months.

Design means … that every action I take is Consciously Mediated by my implicit-explicit “design filter”: That is … HOW DOES THIS COME ACROSS? COULD IT BE CLEARER? CRISPER? MORE EXCITING?

I “am” design!

It’s near the Heart of the Matter in a BrandYou World.

(Hint: We live in a BrandYou World … like it or not.)

You = Desire to Survive = BrandYou = Branding Fanatic = LoveMark Fanatic = Design Fanatic.

Q.E.D. (Tom Peters, (2005) pp. 41-42) 100 ways to help you succeed/make money

The well known American management guru Tom Peters allows us to set a prolific point of entry to the vocabularies of this grammar. We want to suggest that in Peters’ books (including, In Search of Excellence [1982 with Bob Waterman], A Passion for Excellence [1985, with Nancy Austin], Thriving on Chaos [1987], Liberation Management [1992], The Brand You50, The Project50 and The Professional Service Firm50 [1999 a, b &c], Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age [2003]), his www site, his weblog, his free stuff ( we can identify a voice that speaks to, and of, the ‘spirit’ of 21st century, neo-Liberal capitalism. His agents, The Washington Speakers Bureau, in seeking to commodify and market the ‘figure’ of Tom Peters, include the following in his biography: ‘In no small part, what American corporations have become is what Peters has encouraged them to be’ (The New Yorker); ‘Peters is…the father of the post-modern corporation.’ (Los Angeles Times); ‘We live in a Tom Peters world.’ (Fortune); ‘Fortune called Tom Peters the “Ur-guru” of management, and compares him to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and H.L. Mencken. The Economist tagged him the “Uber-guru”’ (Washington Speakers Bureau 2007).

Peter Kelly-The Self As Enterprise_ Foucault and the Spirit of 21st Century Capitalism-Gower Publishing (2013) (arrastrado)

As Peter suggested in The Self as Enterprise, Max Weber’s (The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism), allows us to argue that the extracts we reproduce below – from Peters’ 100 ways to help you succeed/make money – assume the character of ethically slanted maxims for the conduct of life in 21st century, neo-Liberal capitalism. At the same time, we acknowledge that Peters’ voice is illustrative, not necessarily representative of this spirit and its grammar. His (homespun) philosophies on wealth, work and success represent fragments of reality in which we can identify characteristics that tie them to other fragments of reality; that when these fragments are grouped together they say something notable about the ‘spirit’ that we want to identify.



Stand in front of the mirror … Smiling. Saying … “Thank you.” Doing … Jumping Jacks…

Smiling begets a warmer (work, home) environment.

Thanking begets an environment of mutual appreciation.

Enthusiasm (those Jumping Jacks) begets enthusiasm.

Love begets love

How do you “motivate others”? Take a B-school course on Leadership?

No! (You were joking, right?)

Answer: Motivate yourself first.

By hook or by crook.

Call it: Leadership By Unilateral Attitude Adjustment.

Are there things that can be labeled “circumstances”?

Of course.

Do bad things happen to good people?


Is there such a thing as “powerlessness”?

No! No! No!

Take charge now!

Task one: Work on ourselves.


….Smile! Enthuse! Thank! Wow! Win! Now! (Peters, 2005, pp.8-10)

In the frame of the global grammars of enterprise, the self here is something to be worked on, enthusiastically, relentlessly, with the purpose of producing a self that is capable of acting on and in the world, to transform the relations that the self has with others, with the environments it acts in. Tip number 10 in this series takes up these themes and frames the work to be done on the self as being necessary to establish and maintain a competitive advantage in relations with others. To secure this advantage we must GET UP EARLIER THAN THE NEXT GUY.



Flying to Boston from London on Saturday morning. 7 hours. Professional woman sitting in

front of me. I duly swear, she did not look up for 7 hours. She produced more on her laptop than I do in … a week … a month.

I’m not touting workaholism here.

I am stating the obvious.

She or he who works the hardest has one hell of an advantage.

She or he who is best prepared has one hell of an advantage.

She or he who is always “overprepared” has one hell of an advantage.

He or she who does the most research has one hell of an advantage.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have wanted to challenge “the women in the row in front” in whatever presentation venue she was approaching. (Peters, 2005, p.16)

This work on the self, while it might be something that is carried out for much of the time in private, in preparation, has a very entrepreneurial purpose. The self that is prepared in this way is a self that is to be packaged, marketed, sold. And the means for selling the self is the story that one is able to craft and tell about oneself. In this sense, it pays to WORK ON YOUR STORY!



He/she who has the best story wins!

In life!

In business!

The White House!

Consider the following:

“A key—perhaps the key—to leadership is the effective communication of a story.” Howard Gardner, Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership

Your task—TODAY—is a short story.

Your current project is … a story.

Your career is … a story.




What we see here, and in the other 90 plus tips, are encouragements and incitements for self-help, self-motivation, self-management and self-transformation. When the self is understood as an enterprise then the ongoing conduct of this enterprise, as an individualised imperative and responsibility, as a ‘moral’ obligation (you should do this, and be and become like this!), is something that must be managed, resourced and supported. These resources and supports are things that are increasingly and readily commodified and consumed. Tom Peters may be a ‘guru’ in this space, but his is not a lone voice in a small market.

From the Spirit of capitalism to the Self as Project

A number of commentators have identified the ways in which the concept of a biographical, D-I-Y ‘project’ has, over the last 4 decades, emerged as a particular, and powerful, way of thinking and producing contemporary subjectivities as a reflexive enterprise (Beck, 1992; Rose, 1999; Kelly, 2013; Bröckling 2016). In this sense, the ‘project’ is a way of organizing reality through certain objectives, relatively bounded time periods, various checkpoints, and continuous feedbacks. It is a rationalization process, a technology through which we relate to ourselves and to others (Bröckling, 2016: 172). In the exhortations and proselytizing of Tom Peters and others, we are all encouraged, even compelled, to have a life-project composed of several on-going projects:

Take charge now!

Task one: Work on ourselves.


…Smile! Enthuse! Thank! Wow! Win! Now! (Peters, 2005, pp.8-10)

For contemporary young people, being without any kind of project (or aspiration) is understood as a form of deficit, a personal failure, an indication that the young person might be ‘at-risk’. Shane Duggan (2019), for example, discusses a policy initiative (Learn. Plan. Succeed.) that is being rolled out in Chicago (US) that requires, from 2020, all young people who want to graduate from High School to have a developed a ‘postsecondary plan’ for their initial transitions from the Chicago Public School system. Learn. Plan. Succeed, enthusiastically endorsed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at its launch in 2017, requires young people to have identified and provided evidence of at least one of the following in order to graduate: a college acceptance letter; a military acceptance/enlistment letter; acceptance at a job program (for example, coding bootcamp); acceptance into a trades pre-apprenticeship/apprenticeship; acceptance into a “gap-year” program; or current job/job offer letter (Duggan 2019: 76). Duggan’s analysis highlights, among other things, the racialized, classed and geographic dimensions of this program in the deeply divided and unjust context of contemporary Chicago. In this, and other similar initiatives to facilitate young people’s transitions, we can imagine that the entrepreneurial project and plan is a technique of self-management, and project management is a life-style (Kelly, 2013: 137) that has become the normative way of conducting oneself as a young person in a well-regulated, ‘productive’ way.

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Linked to the notion of authenticity, the idea of ‘self-fulfilment’, that a sense of self-worth can be found in and through the work that you do, is an idea that is powerfully entangled with dominant, contemporary, psychologically based understandings of the person in western societies, and what it is that the person should have as a goal or aspiration (Rose, 1999). There is a fundamental difference here to the Protestant ethic that saw in labour the promise not of self-fulfilment, but of salvation in the next life. By articulating such things as passion, desires, personal will and freedom, this promise of (self) fulfilment plays a crucial role in the legitimation and translation of grammars of enterprise. The ubiquitous slogan that opens this blog, “If you can dream it you can be it”, condenses the promises made to young people by this grammar through a life-time’s participation in, and engagement with, educational institutions and vocational training markets (Morgan & Nelligan, 2018: 149). In these spaces the disciplining and governing of unruly young minds, bodies and souls has developed in ways that encourage young people to see the potential and possibility of a form of self-fulfilment to be secured through the entrepreneurial dispositions and capabilities that they can bring to participating in work and/or forms of enterprising economic activity. A promise that is bound up in their possibilities for self-management and regulation, in their abilities to imagine and aspire to a productive, enterprising future, and in their capacities to be able to develop a passion, and a plan that will deliver on that passion. Linked to the western understanding of the independent individual, and intertwined with the need to escape from the precarious conditions of waged labour, the call for self-fulfillment  leads to an aspiration of being one’s own boss. An aspiration that is captured an reframed by platform based corporations such as UBER:


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And it has to be made clear that the rewards here are not only monetary and material. David Farrugia, Steve Threadgold and Julia Coffey (2018), for example, have demonstrated how many young people, primarily in customer facing, hospitality roles in contemporary, urban based, labour market sectors that are often characterised by part-time, casualised, precarious, ‘gig-work’, mobilise what they call ‘embodied affect’ to produce and perform forms of self-fulfilment in these work settings. Affective labour, in this sense, is ‘embodied, involving aesthetic presentations, styles of bodily comportment, and embodied interactions’. Affective labour produces ‘things’, and ‘value’, that can also be characterised in terms of ‘fun, pleasure, conviviality or “atmosphere”’. As they suggest:

the production of these sensations or atmospheres is the key task of the labour performed. In this context, affective labour describes embodied practices that produce both sensations and subjectivities in the course of the work, and which thereby contribute to the creation of value and profit for employers. (Farrugia et al 2018, p.275)

In a context where working conditions are increasingly precarious, the promises of self-fulfilment and self-determination that are central to the grammar of enterprise, become a powerful means by which conduct is governed (Foucault, 2009: 193).


The concept of ‘creativity’ is another significant element of this grammar that figures prominently in contemporary educational policy making.  The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (MCEETYA 2008), for example, was a significant framing document that evolved out of previous articulations/declarations by Australia’s Ministerial Council of Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) – the Hobart (1989) and Adelaide (1999) declarations were framed by the then Council of Australian Governments (COAG). The Melbourne Declaration has shaped the policy agenda for education and training and youth affairs in Australian States, Territories and at the Federal level in the decade since. Goal 2 of 2 of the Declaration states:

All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens.

The key term here, for our purposes, is the naming of ‘creativity’, and its relationship to other ideas about ‘confidence’, ‘activity’ and ‘informed citizenship’, as being a preferred character attribute of the individual, and a primary Goal of education in the 21st century. Particularly when:

Australia’s capacity to provide a high quality of life for all will depend on the ability to compete in the global economy on knowledge and innovation. Education equips young people with the knowledge, understanding, skills and values to take advantage of opportunity and to face the challenges of this era with confidence. (MCEETYA 2008: 5)

Confident and creative individuals, according to the Declaration:

– have a sense of self-worth, self-awareness and personal identity that enables them to manage their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing

– have a sense of optimism about their lives and the future

– are enterprising, show initiative and use their creative abilities

– develop personal values and attributes such as honesty, resilience, empathy and respect for others

– have the knowledge, skills, understanding and values to establish and maintain healthy, satisfying lives

– have the confidence and capability to pursue university or post-secondary vocational qualifications leading to rewarding and productive employment

– relate well to others and form and maintain healthy relationships

– are well prepared for their potential life roles as family, community and workforce members

– embrace opportunities, make rational and informed decisions about their own lives and accept responsibility for their own actions. (MCEETYA 2008: 9)

While workers’ and citizens’ creativity was little considered in Fordist capitalism, the notion of creativity as a ‘productive energy’ has become one of the most important and elusive elements of new working regimes (Morgan & Nelligan, 2018: 15). This change follows a semantic displacement from an anthropological-romantic understanding of creativity as an instituent force that generates something new or disruptive —not necessarily productive or good in economic and moral terms— to a rationalized set of technics that seek to produce, standardize and make it profitable (Morgan & Nelligan, 2018: 3). In this sense, creativity is reframed as the ability to imagine, identify or even produce a gap (most of times defined as a problem that has to be solved) in the ‘normal order of things’ in order to identify and extract value. Creativity, here, becomes something that can be framed and measured and, as such, commodified and monetised. This is particularly evident when it is joined to ideas of enterprise.

The psychological understandings of creativity, and the knowledge produced about it, have made it measurable and translatable to managerial techniques (Bröckling, 2016: 111) under labels such as ‘innovation’ or ‘intrapreneurship’. The contemporary imperative of ‘being creative’ intersects with the need for acting in an entrepreneurial way, pointing towards a ‘renewed’ economization and marketization of the possibilities of human and non-human actors/materials generating unforeseen combinations and relations.

There is a whole set of terms that could be added to the ones mentioned here. Among them flexibility, resilience, independence, risk-taking or aspiration stand out as a set of clear subjective imperatives to perform entrepreneurially in all aspects of life (and we have referenced a number of these in earlier blogs, including: Disruption and Crisis, Aspiration, and Hope.

During the last decades these calls have been giving shape to all sorts of institutions that deal with young people such as school curricula, universities, vocational education schemes, unemployment programs, or even the United Nations Sustainable Development goals. On the whole, they compose the grammar of entrepreneurship that, as an assemblage, is operating on a global scale. Our aim in the next contribution is to place this grammar in the context that the COVID-19 disruption is giving shape to.

(*) All the references and bibliography will be gathered in the last blog entry of this series

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