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Twice The Well-Being, Twice the Production, Twice The Love.

The purpose of an economy is to facilitate the feeling of well-being for its participants. That’s different than the official version, of course, which is to grow GDP, a combination of government spending and consumer spending on produced goods and services. 

GDP is reported as an agglomeration of all kinds of constructed numbers. We’ll-being is not measurable but its qualitative dimensions can be drawn by gauging the sentiment of citizens. The sentiment gauges are currently registering some weakness.

Well-being is produced by the private sector of the economy. There’s a well-established, time-tested proven system for doing so. It starts with the evidence of negative well-being. People exhibit an unease, a vague feeling that things could be better than they are. This vague feeling is the genius of the consumer. The human drive for betterment, to trade current circumstances for a new set that might feel more pleasant or more satisfying, is the energy of innovation, technological progress, economic growth, and civilizational advance. It’s an amazing feat of imagination, being able to see, in the mind, a future that doesn’t already exist. A counterfactual, as the scientists sometimes put it. The consumer’s imagined counterfactuals create new possibilities. 

On the production side of the private sector, there exists the function of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is an act of individuals, either solely or in groups and teams, often in the form of firms and business corporations. Firms sniff out consumer unease. It’s what they do. It’s their purpose. Informed by this discovery of unease, entrepreneurs get to work to relieve it. They do so via innovation, designing a new proposition they can share with the consumer: will this work for you? will this make you feel better? have you considered this? If they get any feedback (“Yes, I’ll buy it.” “No, that’s not good enough.”) it informs a continuous change and improvement process until the offering is right for the consumer. 

In economics, the experience the consumer feels is called value. We can call it well-being. The feeling that things are getting better, that there are new options and new choices, that someone is listening and responding. This feeling is produced by the entrepreneurship of the private sector.

The other part of the economy is government and what government subsidizes. Government does not produce anything. That’s not its purpose. It extracts from the production of the private economy, via taxation, via debt creation, via regulation (limiting choices for both entrepreneurial producers and their consumers), via the diversion of resources (employing people as bureaucrats who could be much more usefully productive in the private sector), and using technology and capital that could also be deployed usefully for private purposes. Government spending as a percentage of GDP is a proxy for the ratio of government extraction to total production, and that number in 2020 was 44%

Making things worse, the government monetizes its debt via the Federal Reserve, thereby increasing the money supply in the economy. This money is depreciating at a constant and rapid rate. Saifedean Ammous in The Fiat Standard smooths out his estimate of monetary inflation at 7% per annum, which is enough to halve the value of anyone’s dollar holdings in 10 years. So the value of savings in the private sector that could be re-invested in innovation and creating new capital – which is what produces more well-being for people – is halved every 10 years.

We can safely say, as an approximation, that the activities of government mean that production in the US economy is at half the level of its potential. Consequently, entrepreneurship is at half the level of its potential. This implies that the well-being achievable by people as a result of entrepreneurial production is at half the level it could be. We could see twice the level of well-being from twice the level of production were it not for government crowding out entrepreneurship. 

And since entrepreneurship is love in action, the level of love in society is halved. Entrepreneurs work on empathy – they’re like angels, understanding what people want, and what dissatisfactions are burdening them, and then working hard to help people shed those burdens. They love their customers, and seek to earn customers’ love in return. It might be called customer service, or customer loyalty, or customer satisfaction, but in reality, it’s love. The greater the level of entrepreneurship, the greater the love. 

So there is potential for twice the well-being, twice the production, and twice the love compared to what we experience today. If we can attract more people to entrepreneurship, and point more consumers to the enjoyment of entrepreneurial output, we’ll go a long way towards achieving the kind of society we’d all love.

152. Laura and Derek Cabrera: Building An Entrepreneurial Business Culture With Systems Thinking

Why do entrepreneurs start businesses in the first place? They have a vision for the future and seek to work with other people to bring it about. Those other people may be colleagues and employees, directors and investors, suppliers, and customers. Organizing this multivalent work is hard. Thinking of your organization as a complex adaptive system yields new understanding and a new approach to organizing that results in improved goal achievement.

Laura and Derek Cabrera of Cabrera Research Lab are dedicated to sharing research findings that enhance the capability of any organization to reach business goals. They join the Economics For Business podcast to do some sharing with the E4B community.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Systems Thinking resolves the mismatch between the way the real world works and the way firms think it works.

World hunger is a wicked problem, yet there is enough food to feed the world. We don’t have the right mental model to account for all the social, economic, political, motivational, and cultural issues that shape the problem.

In the same vein, systems thinking in business is about building mental models that better align with the real world. Laura and Derek Cabrera provide an introduction in Systems Thinking Made Simple, and they mentioned some of the important changes in thinking that businesses must embrace to enter the new world of possibilities that systems thinking opens up. The first step is to recognize that LAMO thinking is inappropriate for a VUCA world.

The real world is agnostic about human endeavors

VUCA WorldLAMO Thinking
The real world is non-linearbut we think in linear ways.
yet we tend to look sat things through a human-centered (anthropocentric) lens.yet we tend to look sat things through a human-centered (anthropocentric) lens.
The real world is adaptive and organicyet we tend to think mechanistically and the metaphors we use reference machines (e.g., a universe like clockwork; mind is a computer).
The real world is networked and complex with a sprinkling of randomnessyet we think of things in ordered categories and hierarchies.

All businesses are complex adaptive systems. We have no choice in the matter. An organization is a living, breathing thing, organic — lots of individuals dynamically making decisions that roll up into the complex system. It’s not a machine.

An implication is that business executives and managers can’t operate on outcomes directly (e.g., via business “planning” or business “strategy”). Outcomes are emergent from the system and can be worked on only indirectly.

The traditional mental model for business organization is flawed.

Laura and Derek capture the traditional mental model for organizational management in the acronym PCCU: Plan, Command, Control, Utilize.

Plan: Businesses create plans for the future, often in great detail, with rigorous discipline, and lots of numbers and projections. But the real world is changing too fast, and outlining detailed steps to reach a goal amidst rapid change introduces biases that can occlude opportunities for rapid and profitable adaptation to change.

Command: Hierarchical organization designs assume a military metaphor of command. Organizations are much more organic in the real world, tempered by social influence, compliance, resistance, and rebellion. Better to think of then organization as a network and a culture.

Control: Management likes to feel like it is in control, but the control paradigm is both unrealistic and unresponsive to organic change.

Utilize: The most detrimental organizational construct is the Human Resources department. Treating people like resources to be utilized is unsustainable. People are independent agents in the system who wish to co-evolve to a place where their individual goals and those of the organization are well-aligned.

The mental model for how complex adaptive systems work is Simple Rules.

The great insight from complex adaptive systems thinking is that organizational behavior isn’t directed by leaders, but driven by followers. What are they following? Simple rules.

We can think of an organization as a superorganism. It self-organizes by following simple rules that guide the actions of individual agents in variable contexts. Autonomous agents follow simple rules based on what’s happening locally (that is, around them), the collective dynamics of which lead to the emergence of the complex, system-level behavior we observe: adaptiveness and robustness.

The simple rules for successful adaptive organizations are summed up as V-M-C-L.

Vision: A seeing thing. Something we all see in the future, where we are headed. Not a tagline, not a statement on a website, not a corporate word salad. A vision is a shared mental model that everyone in the organization can see and articulate and align with. It’s in their hearts and minds. It gets employees excited and connected.

Mission: A doing thing. A mission is something that you do repeatedly over and over again to bring about the vision. It directs the work in the organization, with clarity about who does what. It’s clear, concise, easily understood and measurable.

Capacity: The organization must have the capacity to do the mission: the energy, the resources, the skills. Capacity is a system of systems all connected and working together, focused on, and directed towards doing the mission.

Learning: Learning is critical to expand capacity, reinforce mission and refine vision. It is the adaptive function. Organizations must love learning – seeking unvarnished feedback from the outside world as input into making the changes that are needed for improvement. This means loving reality and being brutally honest about the current state. Learning means improving mental models, and embracing the possibility that your current model is wrong.

In their book Flock Not Clock (see Mises.org/E4B_152_Book), where there is a detailed exposition and explanation of V-M-C-L, Laura and Derek cite the example of the app My Fitness Pal.

Vision: Healthy living is the new normal

Mission: Facilitate and motivate healthy behavior choices

Capacity: Build mission-critical systems: design, engineering, R&D, sales, and marketing, etc.

Learning: Feedback on whether living healthy is getting easier, whether more people are making healthy choices, whether more people are feeling joyful and powerful as a result.

Think of the elements of V-M-C-L as a pyramid you can construct from first principles: Thinking drives Learning, which drives Capacity, which drives Mission, which brings about Vision.

The emergent result of V-M-C-L is culture.

Laura and Derek talk about training people to think in order to be able to learn. The first step is often unlearning the misleading mental models we’ve been taught to believe. When people start to think about mental models, they can recognize their own and those of others, and make comparisons, make changes, and find common ground.

If your mental model about your current situation is real — “brutally honest,” as Derek put it — then the chance of changing that situation for the better is good. You’ll be able to identify a path out.

Culture can be built around the simple rules of vision, mission, capacity, and learning, by purposely constructing the four mental models of V-M-C-L. There is enormous organizational and economic power in the new understanding of complex adaptive systems and how they work in getting a group of disparate people to work together towards a goal as if they are a single unified organism.

Additional Resources

Sign up for Laura and Derek’s Vision-Mission Bootcamp:  Go.CabreraResearch.org/VMBootcamp

Visit Cabrera Research Lab online at CabreraResearch.org and on LinkedIn (Mises.org/E4B_152_LinkedIn).

“20-Point V-M-C-L Checklist” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_152_PDF1

“Constructing the VMCL System” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_152_PDF2

Flock Not Clock: Align People, Processes and Systems to Achieve Your Vision by Derek and Laura Cabrera: Mises.org/E4B_152_Book

151. Mark Packard On Entrepreneurial Imagination: You Can’t Do Business Without It

Imagination is the first stage of any value generation journey — starting a development project, enhancing the customer experience, embarking on innovation, or building a business for the next year or the next decade. Imagination might sound like a fuzzy concept, but it’s a robust business tool, the engine of the entrepreneurial design process. Mark Packard joins the E4B podcast to put imagination into a business context and describe the possibilities it opens up.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Imagination is central to entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship, and to innovation and advance in all aspects of business.

We see business through mental models, as a kind of a movie our minds play for us. In this movie, we remember result and experiences from the past (which requires imagination) and we create images of what might have been, or, in the future, what might be. We know these images are not real, but they play through our mental model of business reality. They inform our plans and projects. We imagine cause-and-effect relationships between imagined concepts and ideas, and between actions and outcomes.

From new product development to efficient administrative processes, every aspect of business involves — and requires — imagination.

We can use imagination in simulating possible results.

Not only do we employ imagination in our regular business activity, we also use it for advanced complex modeling. We add new inputs to what we have constructed in our imagination — in the form of “what if” queries – to create a new mental model that’s different from the current one: a prospective reality that we can plan for and try to achieve.

As we try to achieve that prospective reality, we receive feedback in various forms, which we use adaptively to further adjust and improve the mental model we hold in our imagination. Imagination is dynamic, always changing.

Customers are also imagining, and entrepreneurs must imagine what they are imagining.

We’ve highlighted in earlier episodes, the Value Learning Cycle that customers complete in the process of learning what to want and what to value (see Mises.org/E4E_44). The cycle begins with predictive valuation — consumers predicting to themselves how much value they’ll experience from the product or service a business is pitching to them. That’s imagination at work. If they buy and consume, value is an experience that results — and experience is a mental representation that includes imagination. Then in their post-experience valuation, customers adjust their mental model based on their new value knowledge. Future predictive valuations will be imagined with this updated knowledge.

Imagination is central to customer expectations of value and to customers’ decision-making.

Businesses use three kinds of imagination to make a value proposition.

Businesses develop value propositions for customers, utilizing 3 kinds of imagination: creative imagination (imagining the design of a future product or service that will deliver a valued customer experience); empathic imagination (imagining how the customer will feel as a result of the experience); and predictive simulation (imagining what the world will be like after pursuing the contemplated action).

Creative imagination is a combination of needs knowledge (what customers want) and technical knowledge (what can be produced with available resources). In both cases, more knowledge is an aid to the imaginative process.

Similarly, empathic imagination can benefit from more knowledge about the customer’s mental model, developed through relationships and conversations.

Predictive simulation is aided by rapid learning from testing and prototyping and developing design artifacts (like landing pages and A/B tests) that enable interim simulations of customer responses.

Imagination can’t be shared but visions can.

When we work on a team or in a firm, it’s productive to be aligned on the imagined future at which the group is aiming and is working towards. Strictly speaking, we can’t share imagination. Everyone’s imagination is subjective and individual. You can’t imagine what I’m imagining.

What can be shared is a vision, because it can be described in words developed from a shared language. Of course, every individual may interpret the meaning of the words differently, but with repetition, explanation and persuasive presentation, the group can get closer and closer to shared meaning. The vision becomes a cultural artifact — how we think in this firm, what we aim for in this firm, how we see the future in (and of) this firm.

Similarly, in selling value propositions to customers, businesses are trying to get those customers to share a vision. We persuade them with storytelling, whether it’s in the form of advertising, or PR or social media or the words printed on a package.

Rhetorical skills — being able to communicate in a way that enable other people to see and share a vision, and to adapt it to their own vision — are key to successful entrepreneurship.

Some people are better at imagination than others — but you can work on the skill set.

Many business icons are or have been symbols of great imagination at work, such as Steve Jobs in the past and Elon Musk today. They’re better at seeing the future than others.

But everyone who understands imagination at the foundational level, as Mark Packard explained it in the podcast, can get better at it, and train others to get better at it, too.

Imagination is a simulation run through our mental model based on knowledge we possess. One important step is to improve the knowledge set available for the simulation — better quality knowledge, more accurate knowledge, more detailed or intimate knowledge.

More needs knowledge and more technical knowledge will improve creative imagination. Keep up with new technologies and with consumer trends and marketplace developments.

More customer knowledge will enhance empathic imagination. Spend more time with customers. Use qualitative research (such as the E4B contextual in-depth interview: Mises.org/E4B_151_PDF) to understand their mental model better, so that the empathic simulations you run through that mental model will improve.

Predictive simulation is an act of imagination that improves with learning about what works and what doesn’t. Run more tests and new kinds of explorations. Explore, explore, and explore more. Don’t take your own predictions too seriously; rather, expect to be wrong in ways you never imagined. Be humble, be adaptive, be agile, and recognize that you do have to predict in order to act. Triangulate with what others are doing because they’re imagining too, and they may have more and better knowledge than you. Try to reconstruct their mental models and assess whether they’d be helpful for you.

Additional Resources

Elon Musk’s Imagination (Video): Mises.org/E4B_151_Video

“Subjective Value in Entrepreneurship” by Mark Packard and Per Bylund (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_151_Paper

“Empathy for Entrepreneurs: How to Understand and Identify Customer Needs and Wants from Their Perspective” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_151_PDF

“Mark Packard on The Value Learning Process” (Episode): Mises.org/E4E_44

150. Six Powerful Business Insights From Austrian Economics

We’re highlighting six of our 2021 podcasts that have special value for value creators. We invite you to listen to the special year-end podcast, and to sample each of those we’ve highlighted here, review the Key Takeaways we provide as a summary for each one, and download the free tools that accompany each podcast.

Per Bylund explains that all successful entrepreneurs are Austrians.
Episode #143: Listen to the Episode
Resource: “Explore and Realize (and Keep Exploring): How Austrian Entrepreneurs Generate Value on the Path to Business Success” (PowerPoint): Mises.org/E4B_143_PPT

Mark Packard joins Per Bylund to explain how Austrian Value theory enables entrepreneurs to radically re-shape business thinking for greater value generation.
Episode #108: Listen to the Episode
Resource: “The Value Generation Business Model” (Video: Watch Video

Matt McCaffrey outlines the Austrian approach to business strategy: emergent not planned.
Episode #127: Listen to the Episode
Resource: “Emergent Strategy Process Map” (PDF): Download PDF

Mark McGrath orients entrepreneurs to purposeful adaptation to emergence via the OODA loop.
Episode #138: Listen to the Episode
Resource: John Boyd’s “OODA Loop Graphic” (PPT): Download the PPT

Ulrich Moeller provides the organization design model for the adaptive entrepreneurial firm: it’s boss-less.
Episode #133: Listen to the Episode
Resource: “The Future Of Organization Design” (PDF) Download PDF

Saras Sarasvathy pulls it all together in the form of The Entrepreneurial Method.
Episode #131: Listen to the Episode
Resource: “Better Lives and a Better Society” (PDF) Download PDF

149: Victor Chor: The Journey From Flipping to Global High-Tech Brand Building

Entrepreneurship is fulfilling and exciting and inspiring. It’s fun. It’s learning. It’s a sense of achievement. It’s a journey. Economics For Business loves to spotlight individual journeys to illustrate what’s possible, provide learning about how to create and grow opportunities, and to inspire new entrepreneurship. This week, we are joined by Victor Chor, who leads us on a journey from a hobby of flipping on eBay to creating a brand and orchestrating a high-energy global value generation community.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

The journey starts with action — develop your “doing skills”.

Victor Chor started his journey via “flipping” on eBay: sourcing items to offer for sale, and using sales feedback (what sells, what doesn’t) to determine future offerings. He developed the “doing skill” (as opposed to a “knowing skill” that comes from formal business education) as he made more and more sales. Flipping was a hobby that became a business.

What’s the benefit? Well, it’s fun. There’s money profit. There’s a sense of achievement. And there’s learning.

Experimentation is at the heart of entrepreneurial success.

How do you find out what works? You experiment. Try this, try that. Learning results. Victor learned the products that sell best. He learned scaling, as a repeatable process yielding increasing returns. He learned the best feedback loops for adaptiveness — in his case inventory management and how to keep it low through accelerated sales.

Experimentation is a learning loop: experiment, gather feedback, learn, improve, run more experiments.

Adopting customer centricity is a further advance on the journey.

To a large extent, Amazon, with its “customer obsession”, led the way in making customer centricity the norm for e-commerce and internet selling. They not only continuously raise the bar for customer service excellence in terms of quality, speed, convenience, availability, and range of choice, they also introduced wide ranging competition between 3rd party sellers on their platform. Competition is a virtuous circle for customer satisfaction: if one firm establishes an advantage or a superior offering to which customers flock, then competitors must improve their offering even more to re-qualify for customer acceptability.

In this environment, entrepreneurs learn about continuous improvement and the need to create a unique customer experience that can establish some sustainable advantage. The ability to grow in sales revenues morphs into the design of unique customer experiences.

A further advance in the mastery of customer centricity is to engage customers in product and service development — what we’ve been calling co-creation of value. Through surveys and e-mail marketing and just hanging out and talking with customers, Victor’s team has developed an acute understanding of customer wants, needs and preferences.

And the technology field lets us all think like customers. Victor points out that he and his team are all customers for the products they take to market. They’re all looking for quality and convenience and technological excellence, all experiencing what inconveniences customers, and therefore even better able to serve their market.

The next level of advance on the journey is brand building — imagining, designing, assembling, and marketing a differentiated branded offering.

There is a transition point where a project can become a brand. A project to develop and deliver a high-function technology product can cross into the branded perception and branded experience area. Branding is the ultimate power in delivering uniqueness. A brand can establish a sustainable and unassailable perception.

Victor Chor advanced into brand building through building his community. The people he hired into his growing business has ideas for establishing and growing a brand. Wholesaling and distribution and manufacturing partners contributed both ideas and capacity. Victor developed a very original concept of a brand as a representation of all the people involved together in the venture. His image for a brand is that “it’s a ballroom”: set it up and throw a party in which many can participate and all are welcome to help shape new products and the future of the brand.

Infinacore is the brand name around which Victor and his team have assembled their community. It’s focused on wireless charging and related high-tech convenience: the brand mission refers to “making the wonderful world we live in as simple as plug and play”. This is a brand platform with unlimited future potential, based on how customers define simplicity and plug-and-play in the future, and how they judge what they find to be wonderful.

Reaching out more and more widely expands opportunity and opens up new avenues.

Early in his journey, Victor utilized the services offered via Alibaba. He made contacts, built up a buddy list, engaged in chat on the platform, and used the network to source products. Many of his contacts in manufacturing and trading companies stayed in touch over time. Some of them started their own venture and their own factories. Long term relationships developed, and links to capability and capacity multiplied and grew stronger.

Everyone in this network is on their own journey, feeling what Victor called the “shared vibe” of connection and collaboration.

Alibaba proved to be a catalyst for learning — for example, learning a shared language, learning to negotiate, learning to communicate, and learning working practices like minimum order quantities — and an opening of new avenues, such as contacts with factories that could provide white labeling opportunities and technology improvements for original products.

Ultimately, Victor was able to develop a leadership skill in entrepreneurial orchestration: pulling together and integrating resources, people and processes in a value network dedicated to the shared pursuit of high-tech brand building.

The journey is arriving at a new peak, but never ends.

There’s a new product / wireless charging system launch coming up for Infinacore. It represents a new peak in both technology and brand, a unique original design with new benefits. The Infinacore community has advanced to a new higher level.

The company has refined its vision and mission, not simply as communication, but as a picture of the future around which everyone in the community can gather and in which all can invest their effort and emotional energy. It’s ingrained. There‘s shared passion and shared emotion.

This is the step that removes the anxiety of uncertainty. When the vision is shared and the mission — what the community does repeatedly every day to make progress towards the vision — is clear, then the future is not a scary unknown, but a goal towards which there is continuous advance. There’s no fear.

Additional Resources

“The Evolution Of A Global High-Tech Brand” (PDF): Download PDF

Visit Infinacore.com

Follow Infinacore on Instagram: @Infinacore

Why The Entrepreneurial Solution Is Always Better.

On the Economics For Business podcast over the recent weeks, we’ve explored entrepreneurial solutions to wicked problems in comparison to the corporatist and/or statist solutions that customers and consumers often have to deal with. For example, Murray Sabrin and Christopher Habig both talked about entrepreneurial solutions to the current medical care crisis, and Joe Matarese specifically compared his private sector solutions in the same field to the bureaucratic reflexes of CMS (the Centers For Medicare and Medicare Services, i.e. the statist solution). We’ve covered entrepreneurial solutions in money (bitcoin and cryptocurrency), privacy (blockchain), and corporate organization (Valve and the boss-less approach to organization).

Why are entrepreneurial solutions always superior? Here are 4 reasons.

Entrepreneurial solutions are the most human.

Entrepreneurs design experiences that people seek and enjoy. They put the individual human experience first. Amazon, to its credit, calls this “working backwards”: in designing solutions, start from the desired customer experience. This is the essence of the entrepreneurial solution, which is the design and delivery of desired customer experiences. To get there, entrepreneurs understand the current customer experience, and what they find missing or dissatisfying or not quite right. Customers probably can’t design the new solution for you, but they provide all the experiential assessment data to inform the design of something better. And, to continue with the Amazon approach, the design process of working backwards is fueled by customer obsession – the undiluted commitment to put the customer first, understand their needs and wants, and make their lives better by delivering the experience they seek, and to do so with higher quality, greater speed, superior convenience, and, when applicable and available, lower prices.

Amazon demonstrates that entrepreneurial solutions can emerge from large companies if their internal teams and resources are appropriately arranged and motivated.

Contrast this with a statist or corporatist solution, where the customer is not placed first. Take home energy consumption as an example. A customer may wish for the experience of being able to switch providers whenever they feel like it, just as they can with online e-commerce providers. They may wish to switch between electricity and gas, or, within electricity sources, between solar and wind and natural gas and coal, based on price and availability, and preference. They may want a price and monthly cost optimization tool they can use to manage home energy consumption and expenditures, perhaps to allocate more dollars this week to entertainment and fewer to home heating (or cooling) and lighting. Could a regulated utility design or provide this experience? No. Could an entrepreneur design it and, in a free market, deliver it. Probably. Think Elon Musk.

In a wonderful book called Marketing Rebellion, Mark Schaefer tells us that the most human solution wins. The entrepreneurial solution is the most human.

Entrepreneurs are best at understanding and generating value.

The goal of the customer-first solution design process is for the customer to experience value. What is that? The answer isn’t all that straightforward, and entrepreneurs think about it deeply in striving to get it right. There are two elements of value that entrepreneurs understand that many big businesses don’t, and certainly that bureaucrats can’t.

First, value is a feeling. It’s in the customer’s mind. An experience is valuable if they feel it’s valuable after (or sometimes during) consumption of the good or service that produces it. In Austrian economics, this is referred to as subjective value. It emerges for customers from interactions within complex social systems – far more complex than one company or brand serving one customer in one exchange. Customers experience value uncertainty – will they experience the value they desire and expect – and perceptive empathic entrepreneurs continuously monitor, assess, and try to relieve the feelings of uncertainty.

Second, customers experience value within a system. Think of the household for example. It’s a system with the purpose of nurturing and protecting the family, and it includes everything from health and cleanliness, to nutrition, to clothing and fashion, and decor and comfort, and education and entertainment, and much more. The homemaker operates and manages this system and keeps it in balance. The entrepreneur knows that, to contribute to the system, the right stance is to humbly fit in. To be part of a value network that meshes with the home-as-a-system, and helps it to run better. Humble fitting in is a role that the entrepreneur typically plays far better than the global mega-corporation.

Listening, learning, and adapting.

Entrepreneurs understand, and are sympathetic to and supportive of, the customer’s continuously changing preferences. For the entrepreneur, the business environment is in constant flux. Entrepreneurs embrace change, and the speed of change. They are comfortable in a world of C-UVA: complexity as the norm, characterized by uncertainty, volatility and ambiguity. As a result of embracing change, they can be more responsive to customers.

How do adaptive entrepreneurs operate? First, they listen, actively establishing listening posts wherever they can, whether it’s consumer comments and ratings, research, or just random walking about in the same places the customer goes, and asking questions and joining conversations. Rich qualitative data, the kind that comes from one conversation with one customer, is far more valuable than a survey of 1,000 mechanized responses.

Via listening and monitoring changes in customer behavior (e.g. when they buy less, or buy more, or switch to a competitor, or leave the category entirely), the entrepreneur is able to learn. Learning is changing the mental model, the lens through which the entrepreneur sees the relationship with the customer. Changing mental models, recognizing that the existing one is not the best or not right or no longer appropriate and fit for purpose, is emotionally difficult for some. It can feel like defeat or an admission of error. Not for entrepreneurs. Learning and adapting are their best tools for keeping up with and succeeding in a changing market. Entrepreneurs love learning and love to take their adapted and adjusted solution, which proudly exhibits the mark of listening and learning, back to market to regain approval.

Emergence

What’s the best solution for all these interacting customers with continuously changing preferences embedded in swirling systems of change and adaptation? No-one knows and no-one possibly can know. The future in a C-UVA system of constant flux is perfectly unknowable. What will customers want tomorrow or next week or next year? They certainly don’t know, and nor can entrepreneurs, even the most empathic and prescient of them. How do entrepreneurs cope? They let emergence happen. Emergence is that property of complex systems whereby new popular and effective solutions happen without a tight design process to guide them. In emergence, entrepreneurs don’t know what’s going to work or fail, but they launch experiments to see what happens and adaptively respond to the results data, whatever they may be.

There’s an example in the book Working Backwards by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, two ex-Amazon executives who describe the inner workings of that firm. AWS (Amazon Web Services) became a huge and very profitable business, but not by design. The authors tell a story about launching a new feature at the very beginning of AWS’s business life. Instead of providing merchants with a templated display design for their online offerings, AWS offered the display information in XML code. The merchants would have to write some code of their own to use it. How would they react? They might hate the new feature, or not have the resources to utilize it. They might be resentful that Amazon took something away from them. Amazon didn’t know what the response would be, but they ran the experiment anyway. It was a huge success. Customers proudly displayed the new pages they had created with this new web service. The reaction encouraged AWS to roll out more features and a richer customer experience, and they benefited enormously from the creativity and feature suggestions from their enthusiastic customers. AWS emerged and went from success to success.

The salient point regarding emergence of entrepreneurial solutions is the role of the customer. They’ll choose which experimental features they prefer, they’ll find new uses for them, they’ll request better and faster versions, they’ll tell their friends and colleagues, they’ll form user co-operatives and share best practices. Emergence is co-created. Naturally, and automatically, the emergent entrepreneurial solution is loved and valued.