Value Mapping: New Thinking About Business Model Innovation.

Only recently have business thinkers come to identify business models as a locus of innovation. In past eras, a business model was synonymous with monetization: how businesses generated revenue from customers. The concept of a business model came from the logic of goods and services: design and sell what the customer wants to buy.

Today, such a direct route to revenue is less assured. Famously, Google offers the world a search engine which is much used and generates no direct revenue. Revenue comes from advertising, which is an indirect property of search, and wasn’t even included in Google’s original proposition..

Today, as entirely new fields of business begin to open up, such as the unprecedented scope of service systems enabled by the connected devices and information streams of the Internet Of Things, a new breed of business models is about to emerge. How will businesses think about designing them?

The breakthrough paper by Professors Per Bylund and Mark Packard, Subjective Value In Entrepreneurship, gives the answer: business models will be designed through a subjectivist lens.

What exactly is entailed in subjectivist design? First comes the understanding and deep internalization of the concept of subjective value. Value is a feeling that comes from experience. For the consumer or customer, value is a learning process with clearly identifiable stages. Customers first encounter a value proposition from a potential provider of service, and must decide whether or not the proposition suggests a possibility of a valuable experience. If not, they’ll ignore it. If yes, they’ll go on to make a relative assessment of the potential value compared to available alternatives. Those alternatives may be similar services with a different mix of attributes, including price. Or the alternative might be an offering in an entirely different commercial space, in the case where the customer feels that, from a total expenditure perspective, they can only make one purchase and not two. Or the alternative might be doing nothing, and keeping money in the wallet for some future buying occasion.

If the purchase does take place, the value process is still nowhere near complete. It continues for several more stages. The buyer consumes the product or service (perhaps once or perhaps on several occasions or over time), noticing a usage experience as they do so. After the fact, they evaluate the experience, compared to what they anticipated and compared to what they perceive may be an alternative future or replacement experience. The customer now has new experiential knowledge to use the next time a value proposition is made to them.

The important mindset change for business model designers is to fully understand that all value is subjective. They are designing an experience for another mind, that of the customer. The method to use is Value Mapping.

Value mapping is the route to sound business models because it reflects the customer’s value learning process. There are 4 phases of value mapping for business model innovation, and together they compose the design of a desirable experience for the customer.

Value Conceptualization

Value Facilitation

Value Experience Monitoring

Value Agility and Adaptiveness

Value Conceptualization

What new experiences are possible for the customer? Which of them are more desirable? How can we know, given that customers have never experienced them before? Value conceptualization is the empathic phase of business model design. The customer, at every point in time, is in a mindset that can be described in the phrase, “Things could be better if…..” They are not necessarily precise in this expression of dissatisfaction. And they can’t tell the business model designer exactly what new and better experience they are seeking. They’ll know it when they feel it. Therefore, the first lines drawn on the value map are imaginary lines. The business model designer uses imagination – tries to imagine what positive emotions of satisfaction the customer might feel in the future if their wishful thinking for things to be better were fulfilled. Designers must place themselves inside the mental model of the customer, see things and feel experiences as customers might see and feel them, and then run a new experience “script” through that mental model, and project what the resultant feeling might be. That takes a lot of imagination.

The imagination may even be expanded further, to begin framing new experiences for employees who might work on the new initiative, and for partners who might join a future value network. Perhaps there is potential new value for the community in which a new venture is to be embedded, and perhaps also for the environment. The aim at this first stage is to map as big a value pool as possible.

Since it’s unlikely that the designer will get it exactly right, it’s necessary to develop many imagined experiences and find ways for customers to give input as to whether the design is going in the right direction and nearing some kind of level of evaluation where the customer gives a “Yes” to the question of whether they perceive any value potential at all. At this point, the designer has made it to the first threshold.

Value Facilitation

To reach the next threshold, the business model designer must identify all the resources, functions and capabilities necessary to bring the potential value experience to the point at which the customer can purchase. This is a reverse design process. The designer imagines the experience the customer will have in great detail, then works backward to identify every detail of what it will take to deliver it. This requires systems thinking. What is the system, in all its detail, that is required for perfect experience delivery? Not just the final product or final service, but the assembly of all components and elements, a supply chain, a network of partners, a back room, a service capability, a sales and marketing capacity. Every item at every stage must be designed and assembled so that the value proposition can be delivered without fault on every occasion.

It’s a kind of value engineering. All the necessary parts must be in place, connected in the right way, all fully functioning and enabling all other parts, sub-systems and the system as a whole to function perfectly to bring potential value to the customer without any barriers or undue work required on their part.

Value Exchange

At this point, the customer buys or does not buy. The act of exchange – the customer exchanging money and other resources such as time – is often seen as the moment of value creation. If the revenue flows, it’s an indication of value realized. But this is wrong. Think back to the Google search service example. The exchange takes place when the customer types into the search bar, expressing the belief that a knowledge gap they feel can be filled by the service. When they receive a response and feel that their expectation was fulfilled, that is when value is created. No money changes hands. Nor is it merely a time-shifting of a revenue commitment, such as when a customer visits a doctor for a health consultation, knowing that there will be a bill for somebody to pay in the future as part of the health care payment system.

The exchange, whether accompanied by payment or not, is the pivot from the first half of the value map, conceptualization and facilitation, to the second half of the map.

Value Experience and Value Monitoring

The customer now has ownership or control of the value proposition – the product, service or relationship from which they feel they will gain a valuable experience. The actual value comes in consumption, but it’s not value-in-use but value-in-experience. It’s a 2-step process on the customer’s part: consume then evaluate. Use the product or service, note the real-time experience and then stand back and appraise that experience. Did it feel as satisfying as expected, or as desired? How did it measure up to other comparable experiences? How does it stack up against future experiences promised by competitors?

The service provider’s role at this stage is monitoring, and, if possible, measuring. In the value facilitation phase, the provider did everything possible to get to the point of exchange, and put the service in the customer’s hands. Now it is time to observe. In some cases, there might be the opportunity to interact, if the customer calls a service center or uses a service chatbot, but these interactions are more accurately part of the customer’s consumption than their value experience. They become part of the experience later.

The provider’s business model design should include the capacity for experience monitoring. This could be ethnographic observation. It could be real-time analysis of web usage patterns from which judgments of experiential feelings can be made (an abandoned shopping cart, for example, might be indicative of frustration with the checkout process). We are promised sentiment analysis in the future: real-time measurement of how the customer feels during consumption, via mood sensors or other devices. This will be a great development for business model designers, making the value monitoring phase speedier and better informed.

And if the Phase 1 value map identified potential new value for employers, partners, communities and the environment, the business model must also build-in monitoring and measurement for these value holders, so that the keeping of any value promises made to them can be ratified.

Value Agility

The complete value cycle takes time to unfold, and the world is changing as it does. The customer is acquiring new knowledge, both from the current exchange and experience, and from multiple other experiences occurring in the same time frame, both of their own and those of others whom they can observe. Prices are changing, the competition is changing, and service options and possibilities are changing. The service system is in continuous flux and change.

That’s why this phase of the business model is referred to as value agility. The service provider is receiving feedback from customers, new information from the marketplace and competitors, suggestions from employees, and new environmental data. In response, they are developing new ideas for improved value propositions, and news of these improvements needs to reach customers before they defect or identify better alternatives. The business model designer must build in this agility and flexibility. Nothing in the capital stack or the corporate procedures or systems or in business model execution can be so fixed as to prevent agility or even slow it down.

How does a business model designer build-in agility? It requires an appreciation of capital flexibility, of capital as a process rather than as a balance sheet entry. It requires organizational empowerment, so that the first receivers of input from customers are empowered to put it to work in those parts of the organizational structure that can make most use of it. It requires an embrace of change as the operating norm rather than as a complication to be resisted.

The Value Cycle

The four stages of the value cycle – conceptualizing, facilitating, monitoring experience and agility in response to feedback – are brought together in contemporary business model design. Revenue and profit emerge for the participants and partners in the value network, but they are not measures of business model effectiveness. That role belongs to value.

Now Is A Good Time To Discard The Concepts Of Strategy, Planning And Strategic Planning.

Business schools have been peddling strategic planning for 60 years or more. (Harvard Business School was founded in 1908, so the concept may even go back to that time.) A good deal of the conceptual ideas are said to have been borrowed from military planning. This origin story is illustrated in terminology such as “the battle for dominance” in markets or industries, or “defending market share”, or in language concerning “missions”, and ideas about a company’s strategic weapons or strategic arsenal.

More significantly, the concepts of strategic planning reflect the old-fashioned economics of equilibrium, of market structure and industry boundaries. It’s an approach based on statics and balance. Firms are advised to position themselves within a market map or industry map, often depicted as a box, and to mark out territory for which to fight over with similarly equipped rivals. They are advised how to fend off attacking forces.

It’s all sounds very World War One: massed armies facing off across a flat battlefield, guns drawn and cannons loaded and at the ready. Generals at the apex of the pyramidal hierarchy of command issuing orders to the lower-level officers and the troops.

Business is nothing like this, of course. Economists, led by those of the Austrian school, now recognize that the economy and the economic environment in which businesses operate is ever-changing, roiling and swirling in dynamic re-orientation and re-adjustment. The economy is an ecosystem of entrepreneurial projects, and, as a result of the trillions upon trillions of exchanges and interactions, adaptations and adjustments that take place at increasing speed across an expanding geographic playing field, there is no predictability to the outcomes and no possibility of control of the ongoing processes.

Strategy and planning are misguided attempts at prediction and control. There is great hubris involved: that accomplished strategists deploying advanced mathematics and sophisticated intellectual tools can overcome the uncertainties that baffle and defy lesser minds. Business schools that promise to coach managers in this alchemy can charge very high fees for the chimera of certainty. But their promise is empty. It can’t be kept.

What’s the alternative to strategic planning?

What’s the alternative? As always, there is a combination answer from the identification of the applicable theory, and its implementation in practice.

First, business practitioners must clear their minds of the memes of prediction and control over future outcomes. To do so, they can study and master complexity theory. This body of analysis has established that the outcomes of economic systems are emergent – unpredictable, even random. Or, as the mathematicians and computational modelers put it, non-linear. They are not the result of the interplay of variables in an equation. The key to understanding complex systems is to analyze them at the level of the individual – such as a single consumer – and their interactions with other individuals. The smallest geographies, most local neighborhoods and individual units provide the relevant measurements and data. This is the opposite approach to the grand sweep of global or market strategies and resource planning.

The second step in the escape from the tyranny of planning is to adopt the mindset of ignorance: to be open to the reality of not knowing and not being able to predict. The management method to employ is “explore and expand”. Because the most successful initiatives can not be identified in advance in the ever-changing marketplace, businesses act to ensure they have a sufficient number of exploratory initiatives to search for routes to growth and customer satisfaction. Those explorations that demonstrate promise can be expanded via more investment to more geography, wider reach, and greater impact. Agile businesses keep a continuously updated portfolio of initiatives that are exploratory and capable of expansion, and the composition of the portfolio represents the business’s health. A business is an ecosystem of experiments and initiatives and projects, all at different stages of maturity and development. The capacity to add new projects while growing or maintaining those that have proven their worth in the marketplace is the indicator of a vibrant business model.

Jeff Bezos calls it “wandering”:

 wandering in business is not efficient … but it’s also not random. It’s guided — by hunch, gut, intuition, curiosity, and powered by a deep conviction that the prize for customers is big enough that it’s worth being a little messy and tangential to find our way there. Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency. You need to employ both. The outsized discoveries — the “non-linear” ones — are highly likely to require wandering.

Historically, strategy has been a time-consuming act of comparative statics based on data, trying to identify a future state of a business and how to attain it from a starting point in the past or present. Planning has been a static act of resource allocation, in which business units and divisions compete for budgets and then defend them aggressively against change.

Both of these activities are detrimental to business success, which requires adaptiveness to continually changing market feedback and changing circumstances. Adopting the explore-and-expand mindset can be both freeing in the creation of more options for business action, and accelerating in bringing new growth pathways to the fore.

Loss Of Jobs? No, It’s The Splendid Rise Of Entrepreneurship.

There is a bit of a wall of worry that advancing technology will eliminate a lot of jobs in the future economy. As usual with conventional wisdom, it’s the wrong way to think. What if jobs are just a bad idea, or at least one whose time has passed? What if we are on the cusp of figuring out a better way for everyone who works to be appropriately rewarded?

Let’s start with corporations, since they represent the source of most jobs. They hire workers, they offer jobs. Jobs are designed for corporate purposes. That has been a good system for a couple of hundred years, because it was the only way workers could access the capital they require to be their most productive. Specialized skills plus specialized capital combinations equals high productivity. Workers are paid in relation to their marginal variable product, and so some of them could be well remunerated if they found the right job.

But the arrangement has a little bit of a whiff of dependency. Some call it wage slavery, although that seems like a step too far. But workers are clearly dependent for access to capital. The corporation has provided that access.

Have you noticed, however, that the respect that society grants to big corporations is eroding? We can see it in the repudiation of Big Energy, Big Tech, Big Pharma, and even Big Food. The withdrawal of respect is critical, as a Big Energy CEO Bernard Looney of BP observed:

Looney said there’s no question that oil — his company’s main commodity — is becoming increasingly “socially challenged.” Even people working within BP started to have doubts about their line of work, Looney said. The company was in danger of losing staff, he said, and job candidates were reluctant to join. “There’s a view that this is a bad industry, and I understand that,” he told the Times.

Looney makes a far-reaching point. People are not going to work in a job where they get no respect, whether from their employer or form their peers or from society (represented, these days, by Twitter and Facebook). Respect is a fundamental. It’s why we work.

Lack of respect is one reason people will migrate away from Big Corporations. But economics provides another. More are realizing that the cost-benefit analysis of the career ladder / work-life value proposition is worsening. According to Bernhard Schroeder at, young people can do the math in a very sophisticated manner.

A significant portion of the Gen Z demographic is having second thoughts about whether college, and its debt/cost, is necessary to accomplish their goals.

Gen Z is becoming more open to doing college differently or not going at all, according to a new study by TD Ameritrade. The study surveyed over 3,000 U.S. teens and adults, including approximately 1,000 Gen Z (ages 15 to 21), 1,000 young Millennials (ages 22 to 28), and 1,000 parents (ages 30 to 60). About one in five Gen Z and young Millennials say they may choose not to go to college. Many others see a less conventional path through education as a good idea.

As Jared Lindzon writes at Fast Company,

the traditional pathway to career success—namely higher education and climbing the corporate ladder—has never felt more out of reach or less certain. 

What’s the alternative? Don’t take a job, make a job. Become an entrepreneur. While the PR machine for Big Corporations continues to tar entrepreneurial business with the brush of high risk and fear of failure, and as an entitlement desert without corporate benefits or the warm embrace of the corporate PR department, young people are migrating to entrepreneurship and smaller, more nimble entrepreneurial companies where they can enjoy more creative empowerment. They are calculating the cost-benefit equation in a different way.

The calculus is not just financial. There are many psychic benefits from entrepreneurship, and they’re superior to the corporate ladder option.

Earlier start

In the corporate world, it’s required that you start at the bottom of the pyramid. With sacrifice (usually of work-life balance), it’s possible to climb upwards, but the pyramid narrows quickly after you and your fellow climbers, get beyond the base, and it’s easy to get jettisoned. On the job site, you start as apprentice or assistant and do the menial tasks until you are trusted with the tools. In the restaurant, you start as waiter or dishwasher and hope there is a pathway upwards.

Entrepreneurs are starting out at a younger and younger age. Even teenage. There’s no need to climb someone else’s pyramid if you can start out as the boss.

Easy access to capital

For today’s entrepreneurs, capital is something you download from the internet. will provide all the infrastructure needed to operate a digital retail business. Alibaba will hook you up to a supply chain. Mohammed Keyhani will connect you to dozens of generative tools for business design and business building, many of them free. There’s a whole fintech world of distributed capital on offer for those who want financial backing. The cost of entry for entrepreneurship has never been lower.


Young people want to respect themselves. They’d rather be creative and resourceful and trust in their own self-confidence than to work in a corporation where they are told what to do, perhaps by people for whom they have no respect or in pursuit of hopeless strategies. The old “loyalty for security” trade (do as you are told and keep your job) is no longer as attractive as it once was. The market rather than the corporate HR department is Gen Z’s preferred mechanism for evaluating human worth and allocating human resources.


The market is uncertain. Entrepreneurship is risky. Competition is unforgiving, red in tooth and claw.

Gen Z is not buying this corporate and government propaganda either. The uncertainty in the market is human: how do people choose, what do they prefer, what do they believe constitutes good service, what makes them loyal? These questions are fascinating and engaging. Gen Z loves to swim in these waters. Empathy is a business tool they can cultivate. They know how to run the A/B tests on offers and content through which they can implement the explore-and-expand methodologies that harness the complexity of adaptive systems. Entrepreneurs embrace and welcome market uncertainty, and get an emotional reward from mastering it.

Meaning And Purpose

Active participation in the capitalist system as entrepreneurs competing to best serve customers in the economic marketplace is a source of meaning. Clay Routledge, a social psychologist at the Challey Institute contextualizes it this way:

Meaning is defined as people’s perception of the coherence, significance and purpose of their lives. We are all trying to find a place in the world where we function, and we have a desire to be significant, to play a role in society, and to have a purposeful existence.

And people understand this about themselves. They have a good subjective sense of what it means to have a meaningful and purposeful life.

Clay’s research reveals the importance of existential agency – the extent to which people believe they have the ability to pursue and maintain meaning in their lives. And people’s beliefs about meaning and existential agency influence a range of economic beliefs and views towards capitalism and entrepreneurship. People who have more existential agency were more likely to have positive views towards capitalism, about entrepreneurship, and more likely to be motivated to start or run their own business.

Clay also emphasized how much meaning in life and existential agency are associated with pro-social beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. For these people, motivation is not focused solely on their own wellbeing and their own life outcomes. Part of the motivation is to serve a community and serve society. Entrepreneurs are motivated to solve problems for others: entrepreneurship is pro-social. It can solve the major challenges of society, including macro problems like climate change or poverty.

A better choice

For Gen Z and Young Millennials, the realization is dawning that entrepreneurship is a better choice – for them as individuals, for the customers they will serve, for society and for the economy – than entry into the corporate hierarchy or wage labor in a system controlled by employers.

Entrepreneurs Do Not Fail, They Effectuate Funds Of Knowledge For Human Flourishing

Failure is a misnomer if we are referring to the human action involved in an entrepreneurial pursuit. A commonly held, although misleading notion, is that entrepreneurs often fail within the first few years in the marketplace. Often, I wonder why and how it happens that entrepreneurs fail only after a few years in the market if they envisioned a profitable opportunity where none had existed beforehand and was visually unapparent to others. In a non-metaphorical sense, let us think about this: Entrepreneurs discover and invest in producing and distributing goods for those who demand them the most, thereby creating downward pressures on consumer prices via their purposive action. With that said, why is it that at one point, the entrepreneur discovers effectual ways to satisfy consumer demands, and only within a few years is the entrepreneurial reported to have failed? I do not buy this one bit, and I believe this belief is all wrong. Here is why: Firms measure “success” or “failure” via profit and loss. How do we measure the entrepreneur’s contributions? One way we might measure the entrepreneurial function is by their compounding effect on future developments for human flourishing.

Instead of, as some might think, that entrepreneurs quit too soon, the reality is that entrepreneurs are often negatively affected by distortions and interventions in the marketplace. Not to mention, entrepreneurs are subject to the ongoing competition between existing and emerging institutions. Institutional competition is a result of what has been and what will be. Nevertheless, Institutional conditions serve to attract the unknown persons with specific knowledge who are incentivized and motived to contribute to the knowledge fund of the marketplace.

Some have said that entrepreneurs do not pick the right people for their team, their purposes are directed toward the wrong endeavor, and somehow, they lack commitment, persistence, and all the rest. I do not buy it. We must look at the effects of various institutional changes, distortions, and interventions, that play such a significant role in the assumed failure of nascent or incumbent entrepreneurs. 

It boggles the mind how failure is attributed in many cases only to entrepreneurs’ characteristics instead of the distortions and interventions placed in their way that obstruct the signals that are widely used to make decisions. Institutions like money and price act as entrepreneurial signals that reflect the known knowledge needed to produce and distribute consumer goods and services, particularly those economic goods valued most by market participants who consume and are satisfied by them.

Even the thought of an entrepreneur’s failure is somehow self-inflicted is udder nonsense. Who would discover a profitable opportunity only to fail at it knowingly? Moreover, the same people who attribute failure to the entrepreneur have the antidote for fixing their failures. Ha! We got entrepreneurial failure all wrong. It is no doubt true that sometimes entrepreneurial projects do not cut the mustard. However, according to Murray Rothbard, no one else knows their market and the workings of their market better than the entrepreneur. Therefore, there must be some external factors creating situations conducive to failure. As you see, commentary about entrepreneurial failures seems to face inward – failure is the entrepreneurs’ fault – of course. I beg to differ. Firms may fail, but entrepreneurs do not. Entrepreneurs shape our future only by adding to the entrepreneurial stock of knowledge. The steamboat, airplane, vehicles, ice manufacturing, light bulbs, umbrellas, pens, food and food processing, digital apps, just technology, in general, are all outcomes of an accumulation of knowledge from previous entrepreneurs that took place over decades and in some cases even centuries. 

Here is a thought experiment: If entrepreneurs functioned under a designated entrepreneurial sector, I presume they would “fail” less often. We know that institutions shape individual’s decision-making and, in the entrepreneurial sector, risk tolerance. An entrepreneurial sector as a “fund of knowledge” creates conditions for entry and learning from previous entrepreneurs’ accumulated experiences. 

Institutions of Entrepreneurship invites the effectual conditions for human flourishing – the spontaneously grown institutions where wealth can be created ex nihilo. You see, the marketplace is not anthropomorphic; it is a means by which individuals can pursue their end. 

You see, “failure,” as implied by those who do not realize it is one of those misleading words concerning the function of entrepreneurship in a market economy. We cannot look at failure as such. Intervention and distortions and institutional shifts have a more significant effect on entrepreneur success than the personal characteristics attributed to their “failure.” 

How Creative SMEs And Their Digital Assistants Will Elevate The Second Economy To First Position.

When we think of “the economy”, we tend to think about actions and interactions directed and organized by people, in a physical world of machines, factories, buildings, roads, airplanes, offices and houses and cars. This physical world is where production takes place, whether those products are goods or services. Phones are manufactured, planes take off, banks make loans, and meetings are held, whether on zoom or in a conference room.

Over the most recent decades, a digital infrastructure has been growing alongside this physical economy. Or perhaps the better analogy is that the digital economy is growing under the physical economy like a root system under a forest, unseen but penetrating ever further. W. Brian Arthur, in an essay in McKinsey Quarterly, characterized this growing digital infrastructure as a “deep and slow and silent” transformation.

Shifting his analogy from root system to information exchange, he described a “conversation conducted entirely among machines”. His illustration depicts a traveler checking in at an airport. By placing a credit card or a frequent flyer card into a machine, the traveler initiates a process that automatically generates a boarding pass, a receipt and a luggage tag. While this is going on, computers check the status of the traveler, the status of the flight, the traveler’s identity with TSA, the traveler’s seat choice and access to lounges. There may be an automatic check with passport control, and with ongoing flights. Several more “conversations” are automatically informed, such as one about weight distribution of the airplane and another about air traffic control. These conversations take place automatically among servers, switches, routers and other internet and telecommunications devices. They occur in a few seconds for this one traveler, while they are ongoing for all travelers and for the air transportation system, with the conversations becoming smarter and smarter and more and more informed as more data flows.

Professor Arthur sees this digital infrastructure, and the conversations running through it and the automated processes it enables, as “the second economy”. It does not produce anything tangible, but it enables a lot of tangible outcomes. It helps architects design buildings and helps construction companies and contractors to build them. It tracks sales and inventories and supports transportation systems to ship goods from one place to another. It supports banks making loans and doctors conducting surgeries. It’s a kind of neural system. It provides intelligence – a neural layer that can sense and compute information and respond and make appropriate changes. Rapidly, this neural layer will develop more and more intelligence to support what people do in the physical economy.

There’s a worry that he cites – and which is shared with many intellectual commentators: that there is an adverse impact on jobs. The greater productivity enabled by the neural layer of the economy means that overall physical output requires fewer people to produce it. Physical jobs for people will disappear. He calls for the welfare state to compensate for this development via income and wealth redistribution schemes. 

But there is a totally different way to look at, and to welcome and celebrate, the development of the second economy. It is that those disappearing jobs will be replaced with entrepreneurship. The new, digitally-evolved neural layer will empower more creative entrepreneurship and more innovative value generation. Value is a subjective emotional experience of human beings, not of machines. It requires human empathy to understand the search for value, the desire for more satisfactory experiences, and it takes empathy to imagine and design the new solutions and offerings that can deliver this betterment in a human context. That’s the value that comes from entrepreneurship. What’s exciting about the new digital layer is that it helps entrepreneurs to generate more value.

Jim Spohrer, the Director Of Research at IBM’s Almaden Research Lab and head of Cognitive OpenTech, talks about digital assistants for entrepreneurs, and A.I.-based cognitive mediators capable of supplementing entrepreneurial capabilities – making entrepreneurs better at gathering the knowledge that they need to do business, better at negotiating, better at building business models and better at deploying them in new ways to serve customers. In Jim’s imagination, we’ll all have 100 smart digital assistants to help us in the near future. What will we be able to achieve? What will 1,000 entrepreneurs each with 100 digital assistants be able to achieve? How about 1 million or 10 million such augmented entrepreneurs?

One thing we can probably predict with confidence: those entrepreneurs with digital assistants will achieve more than the jobs displaced by automation. In fact, we can expect a new army of entrepreneurs to ride on the neural layer that Brian Arthur describes. They’ll be more empowered and more innovative and better at serving customers than the status quo of performing jobs in a hierarchy.

The best use of the term “Second Economy” is not for the digital automation infrastructure that is developing. We can make better use of the term to describe the entrepreneurial small and medium sized enterprises (SME), newly empowered by digital assistants, and newly expanded in numbers by people transferring from the jobs economy to the entrepreneurial economy. Together, this new service system will unleash new cascades of value-generating innovation for their customers, their communities and their employees. SME’s are already the second economy, in that they account for 50% of GDP and over half of new job creation in the U.S. They are already creating new economic value at a fast rate, yet they are largely forgotten while economic analysts focus on FAANG corporations and the New York Stock Exchange and the S&P 500.

In fact, we can expect that SME’s utilizing the digital assistance of the neural layer of the economy will become the First Economy, leading the way in innovation, job creation, and economic growth. The economy evolves as technology evolves, and the next cycle will raise digitally assisted entrepreneurship in first position.

Entrepreneurship Is Our Highest And Most Productive Technology.

Technology is a means to a better life. Few would dispute the case today. Whether you think of food production or air conditioning or medical services or smartphones and computers and software, our living and working conditions are better as a result of technology. We would not want to back to pre-technology days, and most of us would not want to go back to the earlier technology days of, say, the 1700’s. There was technology back then, but it couldn’t be as useful to us as it is today.

W. Brian Arthur has written a useful book called The Nature Of Technology: What It Is And How It Evolves. At the outset, he asks the question: what is technology? How do we define it? He proposes three separate but related definitions:

  1. Technology is a means to fulfill a human purpose, a means to an end as economists phrase it. The means might be a diesel engine to power your car to get to work, or a roller bearing to reduce friction in the work of a machine. Technology is always a means to carry out a human purpose.
  2. Technology is an assembly of parts and practices. Bio-technology, for example, combines many toolboxes of individual technologies and practices such as laboratory research and injections into the human body.
  3. And technology can mean an entire collection of devices and practices available to us as a culture or a society.

Arthur illustrates the three meanings with reference to a F-35 carrier-based fighter aircraft. It’s a means to the end of displaying power and making war. The aircraft itself is an assembly of parts and practices: a jet engine, wings, avionics. Each of these is an assembly of sub-assemblies: the jet engine has an air inlet system, a compressor system, a combustion system, a turbine system, and so on. Each of these sub-assemblies has components. And they all use the practice of engineering. 

And the F-35 is part of a larger collection of devices that constitute the carrier battle group, the Navy, the armed services, and the military-industrial complex.

Then Arthur adds another element to his definition of technology. In all its forms, technology harnesses phenomena. Oil refining harnesses the phenomenon that components of vaporized crude oil condense at different temperatures. A hammer harnesses the phenomenon of transmission of momentum from a moving object to a stationary one. A humble radio receiver harnesses phenomena including induction, electron attraction and repulsion, voltage drop across resistance, frequency resonance and more. Arthur’s point is that phenomena are the indispensable source from which all technologies arise.

What this excellent author and his penetrating analytical description of technology in society misses, it seems to me, is the most productive and beneficial technology of all: entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is technology in every one of Arthur’s definitions. It is, first, a means to fulfill a human purpose. That purpose is a better life – to bring into being a better set of circumstances, a preferable set of conditions, than exist today. Entrepreneurs pursue this end for others now, in order to achieve it (later) for themselves. 

Entrepreneurship is also assembly. In fact, economists use that very word to portray the act of entrepreneurship: assembling resources, capital, processes and people, and organizing them in teams and firms and corporations in order to achieve their human purpose. Entrepreneurship brings about lasting institutions to transmit the achievements of assembly across generations and across geographies.

And entrepreneurship is a collection of actions and practices for the benefit of society and the strengthening of culture. We study entrepreneurial history to understand how the actions of individual entrepreneurs, embracing risk and defying uncertainty, have led to civilizational advance, scientific understanding and commercial discovery. Entrepreneurship drives social evolution and technological evolution. Entrepreneurs experiment and try new approaches and build new devices so that we can all benefit from the learning that comes from both success and failure. The entrepreneurs bear the brunt of the failures and the rest of society benefits from the successes.

And what are the phenomena harnessed by entrepreneurship? The first is the most fundamental of all: the phenomenon of human action: that humans act, take decisions and make choices in order to improve their subjectively-perceived conditions of life, to make things better. And there is a special second phenomenon that is particularly harnessed by entrepreneurs, that of anticipative understanding (as Ludwig von Mises termed it): the reasoned, sensible, intuitive anticipation of that future better life, based on their tacit knowledge, their subjective understanding, their empathy and their experience. Successful entrepreneurs harness this phenomenon better than other people, though it may be available to all.

It is not the technology of the F-35 or the computer or the smartphone or of biotech that makes life better, or that advances civilization. Those are secondary outcomes of the complex human system powered by entrepreneurship. The conditions of life can be continuously improved and our human state can be continuously elevated because we have entrepreneurs who can harness the phenomenon of human action aimed at betterment. Entrepreneurship is the meta-technology, making all sub-assemblies and components possible, continually driving advances in other technologies, society, the economy and civilization.