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The MAIR Model – A Non-Linear Approach to Business Start Up

The MAIR Model – A Non-Linear Approach to Business Start Up

As an entrepreneur and someone whose business involves working with entrepreneurs, I’m always interested in different models of business start up, and an article I read recently reminded me of The MAIR Model. I first came across this when doing and MSc in Entrepreneurship at Stirling University in 1995, and have used it quite a lot since for training both advisors and entrepreneurs, both in my work with support organisations and my consultancy with Eriskay Associates. Since then, it seems to have come in and out of fashion a bit, but I like it for its logical simplicity and the fact that it is not linear (i.e. step one, step two, step 3… )

The basic idea is that you explore four ‘interactive variables’: Motivation, Abilities, Ideas and Resources. Clearly, each has a critical role to play in its own right:

Motivation: I guess that’s what separates thinkers and dreamers for actors and doers… The willingness to really go out and work hard, often under conditions of little short term reward and lots of uncertainty, seems to be one of the hallmarks of successful entrepreneurs.

Abilities: We could start a whole separate thread on this – what are the key abilities that make a successful entrepreneur – no doubt a mix of both hard and soft skills.

Ideas: Arguably, these need to be clearly rooted in a market need to be valid, although, there are some business that seem to be product-led rather than market-led… fashion, any Apple product, the Rubik’s cube…

Resources: Entrepreneurs are kind of hamstrung until they get resources behind them. I guess we automatically think of cash here, but skills, knowledge and contacts can make a lot of difference to.

… but you also need to think about how these factors interact – a good idea is of limited value, without the motivation and resources to turn it into a business and this is where the final components of the MAIR model come into play: Planning and Organisation! Arguably, this is the real job of the entrepreneur. Bringing all the factors together to create something that didn’t exist before, and may just change the world!

As far as I know, the academic origins of this model lie with Gibb and Ritchie (1982), but I have seen references to it dating back to the 1970s, where it was apparently in use at Durham University Business School. It has appeared in a number of articles since, but I am surprised that it has not gained more traction.

By comparison, think about SWOT analysis – it provides a simple mnemonic and a recognised structure for analysing a situation. And, despite it’s many deficiencies (the subject of a future article!), it has gained widespread usage. So, why has the MAIR model not achieved the same? Incidentally, one of the other advantages is it’s adaptability. In a very interesting article by Pat Richardson et al (The challenges of growing small businesses: insights from women entrepreneurs in Africa, 2004), the authors integrate MAIR with the Sustainable Livelihoods model to create a framework for growth for female entrepreneurs in Africa.

An important point about this model is that provides the ingredients, but not the recipe for success. That may sound like a limitation, but my view is that there is no universal recipe for business success – that is the job of the individual entrepreneur!

I hope you find this model interesting or useful. I’d be glad to hear other views and perspectives on this. I know some people think entrepreneurs are a little like anarchists and not inclined to follow the rules… I guess I can see that too!

Best wishes,

Mark Taylor
Eriskay Associates.