Customers Are Your Firm’s Capital. Invest In Them.

In a book titled “Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become?”, Michael Schrage identifies customers as a firm’s human capital. The purpose of a firm, in his construct, is to design future customers: to anticipate how they will behave and think and feel when they adopt and use the firm’s new product or service.

This view has a lot of merits. It’s future-oriented as all entrepreneurial perspectives must be: what sort of future can I imagine and how can I bring it about? It’s based on customer primacy, recognizing that it is future users of the firm’s innovation who will be decisive in success or failure. It recognizes that value lies in customer experience and that there is a lot of uncertainty in predicting future value because the customer doesn’t know what that experience is going to feel like.

Can a firm design this future experience, as Michael Schrage suggests they do? It’s unlikely. Why? Because the experience is entirely subjective. The evaluation of it is in the consumer’s mind. And since it’s a future experience, and hasn’t yet occurred, then the feeling of it is impossible to frame.

However, there is a wonderful nugget of new understanding in the concept of customers as capital. In traditional economics, businesses invest in their own capital base in order to generate a future revenue stream. Investment in manufacturing capital enables the production of goods to sell and thereby generate sales revenue. Investment in people and their skills and technology to support them enables the delivery of services that generate customer revenue. Capital generates revenue flows. Interestingly, the revenue flows back to the capital owner from the customer. Do we have the picture the right way round? This kind of capital isn’t generating revenue flows, it’s attracting them from customers. Should customers think about investing in customers rather than in their own capital?

Capital increases capacity to produce and perform. When Apple puts an iPhone in the possession of a customer, it is enabling that customer to become more productive – to send e-mails more easily and frequently, to gather information faster, to make or view videos conveniently, to listen to music, to buy and sell through e-commerce, and a whole host of capabilities. Many of these new and enhanced capabilities will directly benefit Apple of course – using paid services, buying accessories, using the Apple Pay system, and generally expanding Apple’s ecosystem and network. Google search technology makes customers into better searchers, using the system more frequently, making it more intelligent, providing feedback.

Amazon Web Services rents or leases its own capital to customers in the form of cloud storage and cloud-based computing and additional digital services. The customers control that capital for the duration of the lease period. They are capitalized by AWS. They are more capable than they were before – they can produce more, and contribute more to both the amazon ecosystem and the economy as a whole. AWS is investing in making its customers better users of AWS by providing them with capital. When the capital is in the customer’s domain, the revenue flows back to AWS.

In the second sense of capital, Apple, Google and Amazon are investing in enhancing their customers’ human capital value. They become more skillful, have access to more knowledge, can make network connections more fluidly, and can work faster and with more convenience and remotely. At this new higher level of human capital value, they are more valuable customers. Customer loyalty is an old-fashioned way to think. Customer enablement is closer to the case. And every time Apple sends a software update over the network, or Google adds some code or some new links to its search algorithm, or AWS adds a new service to its suite, they add even more to the capitalization of their customers. More enabled equals more valuable.

How can your business invest in making its customers more capable by putting capital in their hands or putting it under their control? If you are a supplier of products to the building trade, can you provide them with ordering software or search software or payment systems software to make them more capable and more efficient? If you are a direct primary care physician, can you provide your patients with more access to knowledge or more connections on their network or some other knowledge capital that will make them smarter and better patients? If you are a trucking company can you provide warehouses with better tracking data so that the bay is more likely to be open when you arrive, saving both you and the customer precious turnaround time? These are not investments in your own capital, they’re investments in customer capital – in customers as capital.

The other side of the coin is that customer dissatisfaction that results from poor service or unkept promises is a wasting of your capital. Destroying your own capital is no recipe for success. Customer churn is like burning down your office building or your factory. Do everything you can to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

Considering your customers as capital will change the way you think of investing and allocating resources.

154. Henrik Berglund: Entrepreneurship As Design

For entrepreneurs, design is not just lines and shapes and colors and decoration, and it’s not just the look and functioning of a website or a building or another object. It’s a process of advancing from an idea or concept to marketplace realization as a customer-desired new service PR product. In fact, according to Professor Henrik Berglund, entrepreneurship is design.

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Entrepreneurs advance from idea to implementation via a process of design.

How do entrepreneurs exercise judgment? How do they advance from an imagined idea or business concept or anticipated value to implementing their project in the marketplace and making sales to customers?

It’s a creative process. Some call the domain design science, although we Austrians would think of it in a more subjective framework as human design. In general terms, design provides the bridge from the internal environment of the firm (its capital, its capacity, its skills, its resources, etc.) to the external world of customers and the marketplace. Design facilitates the fit between the two. It’s a goal-driven process of getting to the right design: a value proposition design that attracts customers, an effective value network design for assembling all the components, a business model designed to deliver the value, and pricing and cost choices that result in profit.

The steps in the design process take the form of design artifacts.

Design is not abstract. It’s action. The action takes the form of constructing design artifacts: things like sketches and flow chart diagrams and network maps and templated value propositions and business model designs and business plan spreadsheets, prototypes, landing pages and A/B tests.

There is a design pathway from more abstract and conceptual to more substantial and closer and closer to a marketable product, service, or business. The artifacts are not arranged in any specific order, but they are characterized by the progress from abstract to functional and detailed.

Most importantly, the design artifacts are measurable and testable, so that entrepreneurs can get more and more information about how well the design fits with the real world — customer assessments and feedback, simulations, beta tests and other feedback loops serve to make the design more substantial and the entrepreneur’s level of confidence higher.

Experimentation is one kind of design pathway.

Professor Berglund described experimentation as a design interaction with an existing real-world situation, where the testing process is to assess how well the entrepreneurial vision works in that world. Is there demand? Will customers find the proposition useful, and will they buy? Through repeated and experimental testing, entrepreneurs measure their way to the best-fit adaptation of their concept to the market.

He used as an example of experimentation an early step in the development of Dropbox, in the form of a video that carefully described its function and benefits, and sought feedback from the market in the form of requests to join a beta test. The video was successful in attracting a beta test audience, reassuring the designers of the potential use case.

Transformation requires a different kind of design approach.

Transformative ideas do not have an existing market — a “real world” — in which to experiment. There is no identifiable demand at the outset. The process is co-creation, with potential users and customers, of a new world or a transformed world. The design path is not the use of carefully constructed measurable artifacts, but of another kind, which Prof Berglund describes as mutable and transformable.

He used the example of the iPhone, transforming from the functionality of a phone — with a use case of intermittent 2-way communication events – to the concept of a handheld device with continuous use for a multiplicity of purposes aided by integration with software apps and internet connectivity. The vision was never precise, as it can be with experimentation. Apple outlined a more vague vision of possibilities and soft boundaries, and invited individuals and communities of software developers to join, collaborate, make specialized local contributions, and synthesize a new, emergent system over time.

Firms will typically employ a mixture of experimentation and transformation in a portfolio of projects.

Experimentation and transformation are “ideal types” of design, not always as clearly differentiated in the real world as they are in theory. Nevertheless, it’s important for entrepreneurs to differentiate between them, and to maintain a portfolio of projects that instantiates both types.

Professor Berglund and Chalmers are engaged in a new synthesis of entrepreneurial theory and practice.

Prof Berglund observes in a book chapter called “The Artifacts of Entrepreneurial Practice,” that entrepreneurship scholarship has not always been very useful or helpful to practicing entrepreneurs. Now this is changing as researchers move closer to “the real-time doings and sayings of practitioners involved in entrepreneurship”. In the spirit of transformation, there’s a new synthesis of theory and practice that is being co-created. That synthesis is one of our guides at Economics For Business; we hope to gather from business entrepreneurs their evaluations about which elements of theory and research are of most use in practice.

Additional Resources

“Opportunities as Artifacts and Entrepreneurship as Design” by Henrik Berglund, Marouane Bousfiha, and Yashar Mansoori (PDF):

“The Artifacts of Entrepreneurial Practice” by Henrik Berglund and Vern L. Glaser (PDF):

Do We Need The Contra-Capitalist Big Corporations?

Big tech. Big pharma. Big food. Big banks. Big oil. We’ve got questions about all of them. Big tech is surveilling us and stealing our privacy. Big pharma is exploiting us and poisoning us. Big food is compromising our health and fitness. Big banks are destabilizing boom-and-bust machines. Big oil is destroying the planet.

Do we need them? In the past, they were necessary to tackle problems of scale – the accumulation and control of sufficient capital to undertake massive industrial-era projects like building railroads or oil fields or pipelines or energy grids or fleets of ocean-going ships, or airplanes, or supplying every household in America with 1.88 vehicles.

These achievements – and many, many more – have delivered tremendous benefits and improvements in productivity and in the quality of life. They’ve opened up the globe to trade and eliminated most poverty. They were part of what Professor Deirdre McCloskey calls The Great Enrichment, the flowering of opportunity and economic growth since the 19th century that is unparalleled in human history.

But capital accumulation is not needed in the same way in the digital age as in the Industrial age. To a large degree, scale can be downloaded from the internet and capital can be controlled by renting it by the minute. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the epitome of capital rental. Companies don’t need their own server farms and specialized software to run their digital operations – they rent from AWS. Their storefronts and fulfillment and customer service run on AWS. According to Wikipedia, as of 2021, AWS comprises over 200 products and services including computing, storage, networking, database, analytics, application services, deployment, management, machine learning, mobile, developer tools, RobOps and tools for the Internet of Things

As an even more specific example of distributed control over capital, consider AWS Ground Station.

Do you need satellite capability to collect data? Check the website:

AWS Ground Station is a fully managed service that lets you control satellite communications, process data, and scale your operations without having to worry about building or managing your own ground station infrastructure. 

… can use Amazon S3 to store the downloaded data, Amazon Kinesis Data Streams for managing data ingestion from satellites, and Amazon SageMaker for building custom machine learning applications that apply to your data sets. You can save up to 80% on the cost of your ground station operations by paying only for the actual antenna time used, and relying on the global footprint of ground stations to download data when and where you need it. There are no long-term commitments, and you gain the ability to rapidly scale your satellite communications on-demand when your business needs it.

This is the new age: capital on demand. Who needs big corporations?

This realization frees some brain capacity to think about some of the bad things that come with big corporations. There are plenty.


We want our corporations to create value, and to improve people’s lives through innovation and service. Parts of them do. But those parts are surrounded by, and sometimes suffocated by, bureaucracy. Bureaucracy was developed by corporations not for purposes of innovation, but for the opposite. It’s an engine of control, to limit the autonomy and creativity of people who work in the corporation, and to impose rules, guidelines, methods, and processes. Compliance is a big word for corporate bureaucracies. 

Loss of speed

Big corporations are structured. They have hierarchies and layers, divisions, functional departments, regions, and subsidiaries. Structure is the enemy of speed. When any individual or team has to seek approval, ask for funding, submit for compliance and check for authority before acting, time is used and wasted. Speed of action and speed of responsiveness to marketplace and competitive changes are imperative in the digital era. Losing speed is losing productivity. It’s a loss imposed on the firm and the economy. 


Big corporations attract regulation, and in many cases initiate it. It’s called crony capitalism. By agreeing with government how to regulate their industry, they achieve three things: (1) a known environment in which to operate (the opposite of systems innovation); (2) employment for an expanding bureaucracy (big banks, for example, have huge compliance bureaucracies); and, consequently, (3) competitive insulation, since smaller entities can’t afford to divert resources into their own compliance bureaucracies. 

Regulation, of course, is a huge drain on productivity and a huge barrier to innovation. It’s one of the major ways government undermines the economy, and big corporations are complicit.

Financial engineering

The creation, maintenance, and profitability of big corporations often have more to do with financial engineering than serving customers and innovating. This term includes all activities that appear to strengthen financial reporting on paper without improving customer value. Stock buybacks are a perfect example. There is no customer purpose in stock buybacks. The activity is purely for changing proforma “per share” ratios. The same is often true for M&A – most acquisitions do not improve customer value because they are not executed with customers in mind.

Generally, the financial engineering mentality of today’s big corporation is not customer-favorable.


Once corporations get big, they have something to defend: their size (investors insist they must grow), their revenues (the topline, as it is called, must slope upwards), their market share (they must not “lose” share), and their influence (more lobbyists). Their focus is diverted from innovation and improved customer service to maintenance and “sustainability”. Defensiveness does not generate growth.


Big corporations are not anti-capitalist. But they often get capitalism a bad name. Robert Bradley Jr. created the term contra-capitalist when describing the corporate behavior of Enron (for whom he once worked). This company abandoned and subverted capitalist practices, often with the support of institutions like the Ex-Im Bank, and mostly stayed within the law. Freewheeling accounting practices, contorted debt structures, hyped projections, and hubristic imprudence all contributed to Bradley’s realization that his former employer practiced contra-capitalism. 

Do we need big corporations in the interconnected digital era of distributed control over capital? Not really. We should certainly never use big corporations as good examples of capitalism and free markets; they are far too often contra-capitalist.

153. Brett Lindell: Designing and Assembling a Breakthrough Business in Construction

Design & Assembly is the second pin (after Imagination) in the Economics For Business GPS system — the toolset to help entrepreneurs navigate their business environment. We talk to Brett Lindell, CEO of Pantheon Holdings (which includes Aegis Exteriors and Fortress Roofing) about his Design & Assembly approach that has helped him build a fast-growing business from scratch in the crowded, competitive, and demanding field of regional house construction. His advice: there are plenty of resources available; if you assemble the right resources to fit a system of assuring and delivering the best customer service, there’s a lot of growth to be harvested, whatever the industry.

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

The entrepreneurial method uses currently available means to create the possibility of new future outcomes.

The entrepreneurial method is not to try to control outcomes but to put available resources to use to explore possibilities. Brett Lindell used the method for his business launching pad:

Who am I? Experienced as a US Marine, a college student and a corporate executive in learning, planning, doing, and relationship building.

What do I know? A lot. How Marine Corps plan complex missions, and how they train inexperienced young people to implement amidst on-the-ground chaos. How the system of a global corporation puts the highly engineered products of a worldwide manufacturing web in the hands of construction site workers equipped with nothing more than hammers to produce sturdy and beautiful houses. How sandy beaches and a good climate attract residents who want to buy homes.

Whom do I know? There are companies in the construction industry craving nothing more than simple, reliable good service — which is scarce. There are young people graduating college in my region with limited job prospects who are enthusiastic and highly trainable.

Controlled downside: The entrepreneurial method controls downsides, and doesn’t pretend to control outcomes. Brett’s controlled downside was public commitment to starting, with the consequent specter of public shame if he didn’t succeed, knowing he hated the very possibility of shame.

Design is the series of steps from idea to a working system.

Brett Lindell set out to design and assemble a system of systems to achieve his mission.

Geography/Market system: A magnet for homeowners (beaches, ocean, climate, beauty, great place to live) and therefore for developers and builders. Not dominated by cities and so the construction market is highly dispersed.

Labor resource system: Young people graduating college in the area face limited employment opportunities combined with high enthusiasm to stay in the area.

Organizational system: Integrate geography and labor resources via decentralized command that locates tools and decision-making autonomy in the hands of front-line customer-facing employees.

Service system: Basic research (talking to potential customers) revealed that the addressable market is for reliable service: answer the phone when they call, be on time for deliveries and appointments, keep the promises you make. Brett’s system is classic system design of simple rules: employees must (1) tell the truth, (2) pick up the phone when it rings, (3) return all phone calls, (4) customers in all directions — i.e., treat everyone like a customer and serve them as they want to be served whether they’re suppliers, colleagues, or anyone else in the system. (And for Brett, his employees are his most important customers.)

Rich knowledge encoding: Brett believes in handbooks — a belief he learned from the Marines. Handbooks encode all the knowledge of the firm on how to follow every process and implement every task. Every employee can thereby benefit from all the accumulated knowledge and experience in the firm, and the handbooks are continuously updated via new experiences and new knowledge.

Tech systems: In a relatively low-tech industry, Brett’s firm is a high-tech leader because he is always looking for and evaluating the latest technology for automation, work-reduction, and control. The technology can be in the form of apps or software or hardware, and is especially valuable when it can all be integrated together in end-to-end systems or sub-systems such as inquiry-to-order and order-to-cash. Technology integration for these sub-systems speeds up cash flow, reduces labor costs, and increases transparency, thereby enabling quick fixes and improvements. Brett would rather have too much technology than too little.

A plan: While planning can never predict or control the future, it can be an integrating theme for system design. Brett’s plans are a brief and compressed (one page) set of numbers, and those numbers are shorthand for a lot of detail. For example, if Brett’s company is to have the capacity to provide construction components and services for 50 homes in the current year and 500 the next year, then systems of procurement, logistics, sales and marketing, finance and technology must be designed to scale to handle more volume and more complexity without impeding growth. Time, resources, and personnel must be deployed appropriately.

Assembly embraces and harnesses the human element of the business system.

A system combined with the right people, suitably trained, and equipped, and with the right mindset, produces the right results. When individual employees are oriented to independent problem solving and autonomous goal-driven creativity rather than central planning, the firm can cope with — and, in fact, generate — dynamic change.

Brett has injected as much humanity as he possibly can. Seeing his hires get promoted and take leadership and realize personal goals is his greatest reward. He has created a family-friendly firm where people can get home to their kids before they go to bed, and take the family on vacation without worrying about the office or the job site, knowing that the system will manage the absence. He creates jobs and makes people’s lives better. That’s the entrepreneurial society.

Additional Resources

“Designing and Assembling a System for Entrepreneurial Growth” (PDF):

“The Entrepreneurial Method” (PDF):

Reach Brett at

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, 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:

Visit Cabrera Research Lab online at and on LinkedIn (

“20-Point V-M-C-L Checklist” (PDF):

“Constructing the VMCL System” (PDF):

Flock Not Clock: Align People, Processes and Systems to Achieve Your Vision by Derek and Laura Cabrera: