133. Ulrich Möller: The Video Game Industry Points to the Future of Organization Design

Austrian economics has a lot to say about how to organize firms for maximum value generation. Austrian principles point to the delegation of entrepreneurial judgement to the front-line employees who interact directly with those who actually create value: users.

The military organization models of the twentieth century, involving command-and-control in hierarchical structures, are slow to change, and the management literature evidences an unwillingness to abandon the hierarchy. But there is a fast-growing industry that’s the locus of prodigious value generation where the hierarchy has already been abandoned and flat networks of distributed judgement are taking its place. Ulrich Möller is one of several Austrian economists who are studying the firms in the video game industry and demonstrating how their findings can bring positive organizational change to the rest of the business world.

Download The Episode Resource “The Future of Organization Design” (PDF) – Download

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Organizational innovation has a long and successful track record in the video game industry.

A lot of value has been generated in the video game industry in a short period of time. Video games surpass movies and music in revenue. Without a long history of corporate hierarchies and bureaucracy to shed, firms in the industry embraced the organizational innovations of open source software, including anonymous collaboration among highly distributed self-organized teams, peer review systems, and agile processes.

In addition, the industry created its own laboratory for testing revolutionary organizational theories in virtual economies set in virtual worlds.

Valve is a company in the video game industry that took organizational innovation to its logical conclusion: the end of hierarchy.

Valve — a very successful, industry-leading company — pursued a value-generation logic to frame its approach to organization:

  • Creativity is our core resource — the most important skill in game development.
  • Creative employees are key to our capabilities.
  • Creative people are most productive when left to express their own creativity in their own way.
  • Hierarchy blocks creativity, as do planning and routine.
  • How do we design a company to attract and retain the sort of people who are able to take the boldest creative steps?

The answer? Let employees decide what to work on. Let them exercise entrepreneurial judgement. Let them, in effect, do both strategy and implementation. Give them all the decision rights. Let them identify customer preferences — since they know the customer best; let them decide how best to address those preferences; let them decide how to achieve competitive differentiation; let them allocate resources, choose costs, and manage profitability; let them control quality and decide when software is ready to ship.

Employees work in self-organizing teams, and are free to migrate from team to team, and free to change their roles. There are no fixed job descriptions.

In place of command-and-control, a few simple rules or constraints have emerged for the exercise of governance.

F.A. Hayek wrote about norms that emerge in social groups to shape behavior. These are not legislation, i.e., written formal restrictions. They are what he called rules, constraints that everyone accepts in the shared commitment to collaboration and the pursuit of the most favorable outcomes.

The most significant of these rules at Valve is the “Rule Of Three”, a simple agreement that at least three individuals must agree on the initiation of a new project, or on other major decision points. The emergent standard was that this is just enough to prevent maverick behavior, and a low enough number to facilitate agile action that’s not bureaucratically constrained.

Another rule or constraint goes by the name of Social Proof. This is a broader and looser peer review standard. If the original team wishes to recruit more members, they must persuade others of the value generating potential of the project (in competition with other projects in the firm); successfully doing so constitutes “social proof” of value.

Rules-based peer review process replaces management structure.

Conventional approaches to organizational design focus on structure. This might be command-and-control hierarchy, or structured networks, or strategic business units or functional departments. Valve abandoned structural thinking and replaced it with flow analysis. How can we attract the most creative people to our venture? How can we encourage the most productive flows of bold creative thinking? How can teams best assemble and collaborate for the most productive output? How can we integrate with the user community in the best way? How can the most value-generative projects attract the best resources?

These are all questions about flow. Austrian economists are distinctive in viewing capital as a flow rather than a structure, and this view holds true for human capital just as much as physical capital. Emergent rules for self-organizing human systems can perform all the managerial functions that were historically left to control structures.

Actionable Insight Summary

  • Design your organization for flow not structure.
  • Design to attract the most entrepreneurial people in the most entrepreneurial roles (self-selection).
  • Let them self-organize.
  • Let rules and value codes emerge.
  • Teams as business units.
  • Eliminate the boundaries between the firm and customers and other partners.

Additional Resources

“The Future of Organizational Design” — our E4B Knowledge Graphic (PDF): Download PDF

“Levels without Bosses? Entrepreneurship and Valve’s Organizational Design” by Ulrich Möller and Matthew McCaffrey: View Paper

“Entrepreneurship and Firm Strategy: Integrating Resources, Capabilities, and Judgment through an Austrian Framework” by Ulrich Möller and Matthew McCaffrey: View Paper

The US Is Compounding Its Shortfalls In Innovation. Make Sure That In Your Business – And In Your Life – You Are Compounding Positively.

Curt Carlson, the world’s leading authority on innovation and how to implement it, worries that the US is under-performing on this front – badly. 

On LinkedIn, he writes:

Almost all measures of innovative performance today are wanting.  Only 3% of patents recoup their investment; the rest are mostly waste that costs many tens of billions of dollars a year just in maintenance fees.  Only one in ten new venture-backed companies has any real success.  Most venture capitalists lose money, and 5% make 95% of the gains.  Only 20% of university tech-transfer programs break even, and those few are often the result of a new drug.  In our workshops with almost a thousand global teams from leading companies, universities, and government agencies, typically, only 25% of the projects under development would provide any meaningful new customer value if completed.  

This issue profoundly affects civilizational progress and quality of life. Innovation is value-creation and value-creation improves society for all.

Through innovation we address society’s grand challenges, create prosperity and jobs, and provide resources for social responsibility.  Consequently, one of society’s most critical opportunities is to improve our value-creation capabilities.  Improvements in value creation are exponential amplifiers of innovative performance.

He applies the term exponential in a carefully considered way. There is the opportunity for rapid, accelerated advance from where we are today to where we could be tomorrow. Problems can be solved quickly. Conditions we experience as disappointing or even dismal can become uplifting and exciting in a short period of time.

That is, if we are innovating and generating new value.

The opposite is also true, however. Compounding works in reverse. If we fall behind, the distance we have to go to recover becomes exponentially longer. If this year, we realize only 50% of our value creation potential, then next year or in the next relevant period, we’ll have 50% of the resources we would otherwise have had, and we’ll drop to 25% of potential, and so on and so on. The shortfall compounds and our level of performance declines exponentially.

Professor Per Bylund of Oklahoma State University has the same concern about our country’s economic under-performance. He gives a name to the gap between the value that’s actually created by entrepreneurial businesses and what could have been created: The Unrealized. In his book The Seen, The Unseen, And The Unrealized, he describes this value generation shortfall in economic terms, and attributes it to government regulation. Whether in the form of legislation or bureaucratic rule-making, regulation distorts the market, redirecting entrepreneurial creativity into channels favored by politicians and government departments, or curtailing it with enforcement rules, or prohibiting it entirely in some cases. The regulated economy simply can’t evolve and grow in the same way it would if unhampered.

The Unrealized is, similarly, a compounding problem. The number of regulations increases each year, so The Unrealized expands and grows each year. If the economy grew at only 50% of its potential in a base year, then the next year is constrained in the base from which it grows, and this negative compounding extends annually into the future, forever. Since regulation has been with us for a couple of centuries, the compounding of The Unrealized is incalculably high. We simply can’t imagine the dimensions of what could have been. 

Einstein famously said about compound interest that it “is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it…..he who doesn’t….pays it”.

Unsurprisingly, given the source, this is a very important observation. Compounding can work for us or against us. Saving and investing and re-investing can compound in our favor. Interacting more and more with smarter and smarter people can compound in our favor. Iterating a creative idea in critical forums can compound its innovativeness and applicability until it breaks into the market. Exercising and healthy eating every day can compound for us as we age, making us relatively more and more healthy than our age cohort and standard norms. 

The same is true on the negative side. As Einstein said, if we don’t earn compound interest, we pay it. If we get into debt, interest is working against us, especially if we borrow more and more. If we are not continuously engaged with other smart people and iterating our ideas with them, we are less and less likely to make a creative breakthrough. And if we permit ourselves to avoid fitness activities and if we eat an unhealthy diet every day, we are making things worse for ourselves at compounding rates. Every day we are a little less healthy and fit than we could have been – every daily sugar intake, or alcohol intake or cigarette smoke intake compounds, so that, every day, the impact of unfitness and bad diet is a little more harmful on our less-fit body than it would otherwise have been.

Curt Carlson and Per Bylund teach us to concern ourselves with the compounding of The Unrealized in value generation activities. We should bear this in mind – and, at the same time, make sure that compounding is working for us in our personal and family life.

132. Saifedean Ammous on Knowledge Entrepreneurship

Saifedean Ammous is a knowledge entrepreneur. He creates new knowledge that’s valued by his customers, because it helps them to think better and better informs their actions. He carefully appraises the knowledge provided by great thinkers of the past, and re-presents in a newly compelling fashion. He develops effective memes and ideas. He innovates in channels and distribution. He demonstrates how knowledge entrepreneurship can work in the 21st Century’s globally-connected and digitally-connected economy. He joins the Economics For Business podcast to share some of his learnings and experiences

Download The Episode Resource “Knowledge Entrepreneurship” (PDF) – Download

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights.

Collect available knowledge then develop a new perspective.

Saifedean took degrees in economics and engineering, at bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. levels. His accumulated knowledge was valid for the university professor track. Then his spontaneous knowledge accumulation efforts took him to Austrian economics and a new perspective: that the economics he had learned to date didn’t make any sense, and that regime higher education was best understood as just another malinvestment. Most importantly, regime higher education was customer-less: it did not provide value for customers, because that was not its purpose. From that point on, Saifedean followed the path of customer sovereignty and of exploring what customers identified as valuable.

Teaching is value generation.

Saifedean’s first customers were students in his university classes. He was able to generate value for his students by teaching them the economics they wanted to learn, along with giving them the optionality of seeing the knowledge through his distinctive perspective. When students engage and say thank you, it’s a signal of value.

A transformative event precipitated a shift into independent knowledge entrepreneurship.

In Saifedean’s case, the transformative event was Bitcoin, the study of which opened up a deeper understanding of hard money and low time preference. He “upgraded” to the Bitcoin Standard by exiting academic teaching and switching to entrepreneurial knowledge sharing. The first step was writing and publishing a book called the Bitcoin Standard (conventionally published by Wiley) and then leaving academia for the joys of hard money.

He switched his platform for teaching from the university to the internet, and now is able to reach many more customers — citizens of the world who want to learn more about Austrian economics and to understand Bitcoin and hard money. How did he know they were out there? They self-selected via Saifedean’s twitter feed.

The “factory” for knowledge production and distribution is a website.

A fairly basic website (i.e., not requiring any technological expertise or gear that is not available to everyone) is the platform for the new level of knowledge entrepreneurship. At saifedean.com, customers have been able to:

  • Receive and read book chapters as they are written;
  • Access video and audio online courses in Austrian economics;
  • Buy books;
  • Subscribe to podcasts (which he runs like a seminar);
  • Find a “complete central bank replacement pack”.

Saifedean told us he is just getting started, and there are more knowledge innovations in the pipeline.

The Entrepreneurial Method.

This unfolding timeline is an excellent example of the entrepreneurial method at work.

  • Start with what you know.
  • Find motivation in what you are passionate about.
  • Utilize available resources.
  • Let collaborators and customers self-select in.
  • Use networking and influencers rather than conventional advertising and marketing to drive expansion.
  • Let spontaneous order unfold.

In addition, Saifedean associates the Austrian concept of lowering time preference with entrepreneurial success. Low time preference — willingness to save/sacrifice in the short terms for benefit in the longer term — is an essential part of the entrepreneurial method. One of the entrepreneur’s “bird-in-the-hand” resources is their individual utilization and allocation of their personal time and effort.

A new age of entrepreneurship is emerging and surging.

In The Bitcoin Standard, Saifedean looks back to the nineteenth and early twentieth century as a period of technological innovation by entrepreneurs under the gold standard, bringing us indoor plumbing, electricity, the internal combustion engine, airplanes and elevators, among many more. Entrepreneurs were able to accumulate capital in the form of wealth stored in hard money to finance their innovations.

He believes that the emerging Bitcoin Standard era will precipitate a new entrepreneurial flourishing, further accelerated by free software, network access, blockchain and hard money savings.

Additional Resources

“Knowledge Entrepreneurship” — our E4B Process Map (PDF): Download PDF


The Bitcoin Standard (in over 20 language translations) 

The Principles Of Economics 

The Fiat Standard 

“Austrian School vs. Neoclassical School” (PDF): Download PDF

Twitter for Saifedean.com: @Saifedean

Twitter for Saifedean Ammous: @SaifedeanAmmou6

Entrepreneurship is Real. Business Is Real. GDP Is a Fiction. The Government Is The Enemy Of Real.

When politicians and journalists talk about “the economy”, they generally have an artificial computation in mind, typically either GDP, a computation of the amount of consumption spending in the country, or the percentage rate of change of that computation from one quarter or year to the next.

If there is such an abstraction as “the economy”, it is more properly thought of as all the businesses in the country that are producing goods and services for other businesses or for end-consumers to buy and use and enjoy. Economists refer to this assembly of businesses as the production function, but that, too, is theoretical. These are real businesses using real resources and employing real people to produce real goods and services.

With every act of production, whether a consumer good or a business or capital good, a business utilizes resources, adds value, and sells to a buyer who appreciates that value. Every productive resource has alternative uses and alternative forms of goods and services to which they could be applied, and so the most valuable use is selected. Value comes from the long progression of production and supply. The steel that is produced is dependent on the cost and effort of mining coal and iron ore, building and maintaining a steel plant, the trucks and ships that transport it, and the wages paid to steel mill workers and coal and iron ore miners. The production of everything requires an entrepreneur, natural or produced resources, work, and capital goods. It is these value-facilitating activities that make an “economy” grow and allow individuals to increase their incomes and wealth over time.

And time itself is an important contributor to production. What we produce today builds on production capacity, processes, and experiential learning of years, decades and sometimes centuries. 

This real activity and historical accumulation of capital is almost invariably ignored in the conceptual thinking about GDP, which is a measure of current consumption. 

Individual businesses are run in such a way as to produce more value than was present in the resources used in the production process. And the only way that can occur is if these businesses are operated by entrepreneurs who personally care about whether their businesses are adding value, because each individual entrepreneur’s own income will depend on whether their business earns a profit.

Actual entrepreneurs with their own personal incomes on the line worry about revenues, costs and profits. This can’t be said of government bureaucrats, regulators, and politicians. Their personal incomes are not on the line.

The real “economy” is driven from the supply side, that is, by businesses and the entrepreneurs who operate them, according to their judgment about whether or not a particular form of good or service that they produce will earn a profit. 

And this “economy” can only exist in a moral and political order in which individuals are permitted to start, run and manage businesses that make a profit, and in a reality where profit-making is not envied or resented or criticized by governments and their partisan voters. 

The “economy” can only thrive where governments do not confiscate profits and incomes through excessive taxes, don’t plunder value-adding businesses, and don’t constrain them via over-regulation, and don’t try to replace them by producing their own goods and services. The “economy” advances when it is widely recognized that everyone’s prosperity depends on allowing businesses to function as freely as they can to earn profits, in a market where the price mechanism operates without government interference and tariffs and trade taxes do not limit global competition to provide optionality and competition.

Businesses and production are real, using real resources to produce real goods and services for real buyers. Politicians and regulators don’t operate in this real world. They operate in their own conceptual world. The best illustration of this truth is their idea that the “economy” is consumption and can be measured as consumption, in the form of GDP. The computation of GDP includes government spending as a major contributor to total consumption. This false logic leads to the conclusion that increased government spending can lead to increased GDP and can therefore boost the “economy”. It has come to the point that the politicians will claim that any and all government spending, from welfare to nuclear bombs, drives economic growth.

This is, today, the state of government economics. It goes by the name of Keynesian economics. What that means is that the “economy’ is treated as an abstraction, a computation of consumption, and a numerical target at which unlimited government expenditures can be aimed without any thought of production, investment, or value.

In this sense, government is the enemy of reality. When the economy is understood as production, with real businesses producing real goods and services for real customers under conditions of real competition, then government spending and regulation is the opposite of production. It is extraction. It undermines production. It diverts and destroys. 

Politicians and regulators have no sense and no appreciation of the real-life entrepreneurs and real-world businesses sourcing and assessing real resources to run real enterprises at a real profit.

131. Saras Sarasvathy On The Entrepreneurial Method

The scientific method has served us well to date. The entrepreneurial method, informed by the principles of Austrian economics, can take society much further. Dr. Saras Sarasvathy joins the Economics For Business podcast to distill the essence of the value-generating and wealth-producing method.

Download our knowledge graphic for the Entrepreneurial Method.

There is an entrepreneurial method — a systematic way to achieve the unpredictable.

The scientific method aims to discover universal laws that make the future predictable. If we have enough scientific understanding we can, for example, build bridges that we can predict will not collapse. We can construct an entire scientific infrastructure in our society.

The entrepreneurial method aims higher, at human flourishing. It aims at discovering how we can all work together to achieve our human purpose, including new purposes that we all agree are worth achieving. We can construct an entrepreneurial structure to build a better human life and a better society.

Entrepreneurs choose a control strategy that’s appropriate to uncertainty.

Some people fear entrepreneurship because its outcomes are uncertain. But this is worrying about the wrong things: outcomes are outside your control. Entrepreneurs are more discerning about what can be controlled: means.

Dr. Sarasvathy lists several control strategies:

The Bird-In-The-Hand Principle: work with what you’ve got and can control, which she sums up in the questions: Who Am I? What Do I Know? Whom Do I Know? What resources do I own or control now? This is the first principle of control.

Affordable Loss Principle: Entrepreneurs can control their downside, making it affordable and limiting uncertainty, by asking “What one value generation project would I undertake even if I risk losing everything I invest In it?”

Crazy Quilt Principle: How do entrepreneurs control the uncertain process of identifying the right partners, including hiring the right people? They don’t try to predict the results of hiring and pitching. Instead, don’t hire, don’t ask. Just talk to people — those who fit best will self-select into your project.

Lemonade Principle: Don’t fear the unexpected. Welcome surprises. All unexpected happenings are opportunities and can become resources. Leverage contingency, and make lemonade out of lemons.

The Pilot Is The Plane Principle: Everyone on the plane is a pilot, co-engaged in shaping history. The plane will reach a destination, the exact nature of which is unclear, and everyone on the plane contributes to getting there.

There are some guidelines that entrepreneurs have established over time.

Non-Predictive Action Is The Driver

Everything in the entrepreneurial method is driven by action. Or, more completely, action, interaction and reaction. Things you care about, things you can actually do, things we can do together, and how we handle surprises. Interacting with the environment with a sense of purpose, and thereby changing it in some way.

Even-If Thinking

Our aspirations and the outcomes we experience may not be symmetrical. Not succeeding is not the same as failing. Even if a new idea does not work out, what is the worst that can happen? We shouldn’t make decisions just because we can’t predict the future. Embrace the unpredictable but make sure the downside is under your control.


The great productivity of entrepreneurship comes from intersubjectivity — two or more people can interact and come up with something neither one had actually thought about or dealt with or considered or contemplated before. Intersubjectivity is more than interpersonal and beyond negotiation. It’s a question: “I am doing this. What do you think?”

The Entrepreneurial Method leads to social good and a new role for business in society.

A side effect of everyone in society learning the scientific method was the emergence of the middle class, defined by income. Science brought productivity which enabled a large swath of society to earn enough money to escape poverty. Everyone was able to harness science.

Let’s teach everyone the entrepreneurial method. Let everyone start companies, grow companies, invest in companies, all with no thought of prediction. A middle class of business will emerge, defined not by income but by venturing. This middle class will produce more jobs and more enduring, more stable companies, embedded in strong communities, with greater well-being and less churn. The fruits of creativity take root in endurance and durability — not in Schumpeterian creative destruction — and contribute to stability and the taking on of bigger challenges. Decade after decade, the middle class of business will generate value and produce wealth, employing lots of people and educating successive generations to take the entrepreneurial method with them into a better future.

Additional Resources

“The Entrepreneurial Method” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_131_PDF 

Among the innovations planned for the Economics For Business platform is a series of encapsulations of important research papers. Here is a sample:

“The World-Making Scope Of The Entrepreneurial Method — An Encapsulation” By Gabriele Marasti (Original paper: “The Middle Class Of Business”): Mises.org/E4B_131_PDF2

Some links:

Effectual Entrepreneurship (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_131_Book

“What Makes Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurial?” (PDF) Mises.org/E4B_131_Paper

“Entrepreneurship As Method: Open Questions for an Entrepreneurial Future” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_131_Article

The Emerging Middle Class Of Business Is Characterized By Entrepreneurial Venturing.

Americans have associated their concept of the middle class with virtues and positive values. Members of this group were seen as hard-working ethical achievers, succeeding on the terms set by the economic system of entrepreneurial capitalism, where the cultivation of specialized skills enables individuals to make their distinctive contributions to socially shared goals.

The proxy metric for membership of this admired group was family income. Statisticians defined the range that they decided was middle class – not the richest, not the poorest. But the concepts of income and class don’t gel particularly well. Class refers to bounded structural tiers that restrict entry and exit. A member of the peasant class can’t become a member of the aristocracy. The point about the middle class is that it is open to all who are willing to play by the rules of hard work, specialization, and collaboration.

Disastrously, the use of income statistics to define social class has had the unintended effect, in the entitlement society in which we now live, of triggering envy and anger. Income statistics become comparative, and comparisons engender hatred (https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/Comparisons-are-odious.html). Consequently the middle  class – once a realm of admiration for achievement – becomes a war zone of social conflict.

The concept of the middle class as the backbone of an economically dynamic and philosophically vibrant society remains fundamentally important, especially when the twisted and distorted entitlement jealousies of the welfare state threaten to sour all social relationships and to undermine the natural collaboration of free markets. How can we recover the appreciation of the virtue and ethic of the middle class?

Professor Deirdre McCloskey, in her Bourgeois Trilogy, did, in fact, define the middle class by its virtues: prudence, justice, courage, temperance, faith, hope, and love. All of these can be interpreted as including an economic component: the courage to innovate, the prudence to take affordable risk, the justice of honest trading and avoiding extractive and exploitative behavior, and the temperance of meritorious behavior. 

Professor Saras Sarasvathy goes much further, changing the thinking about the middle class and its positive role in society via an entirely new perspective. The middle class, she says, should be a middle class of business – those firms and corporations that are not the biggest, such as the Fortune 500, and not the smallest, such as individual contractors, but ventures between 5 and 300 employees. These ventures are founded, led, managed and staffed by people, bound together by a sense of belonging, both to the collaborative company to which they contribute, and the larger community in which the company is embedded. 

Size is important: there is value in the “middle” in middle class, says Professor Sarasvathy. In society, the middle class follows the impetus to bridge the chasms of unequal opportunity to arrive at a shared level of economic experience, escaping from the distasteful consequences of not producing and not participating. In the realm of business, there are also distasteful consequences at the extremes. When companies grow too large, they tend to become monopolistic and predatory, and they sidle up too close to government in the shared corruption of government lobbying and agency influence. Similarly, economies with the largest number of individual and small-employment ventures tend to be poor communities where entrepreneurship is due to necessity rather than opportunity.

Professor Sarasvathy’s preferred classification is not based on size but on endurance and stability. This embraces growth, but not of the unstable type that aims to produce only unicorns and gazelles. Growth is increase in size over time, but not at breakneck speed. Small firms add vitality through the diversity of innovations they introduce into the economy. Growth need not require the churn of creative destruction, a game of competitive innovation involving large numbers of losers with few winners.

Endurance can deliver a more deliberate and conscious kind of innovation, including the innovation of new ends – reconceptualizing what is worth striving for, and co-creating new possibilities beyond the traditional notions of market and government. 

Ventures can endure without stagnation. They can provide local stability, especially employment stability, but also technological stability and community stability. Individuals and families and communities can thrive while harvesting the productivity gains from deliberate innovation and the social gains from human well-being. The pursuit of well-being involves more than income and prosperity. It involves the freedom to choose what is worth pursuing in the first place. 

The guides on this journey to considered growth, stable communities, and advancing well-being are entrepreneurs. Not all will be founders. Many will be co-founders, team members, managers, employees, or value partners in multiple network roles. The commitment of entrepreneurship is to the generation of value for all, with multiple players in multiple roles of mutual support. The prospect of defining the middle class of business by entrepreneurial venturing promises a future of shared growth and shared well-being in a value generation network rather than an envy-tinged calculation of income levels.