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.

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.

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 ( 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.

What Is This Wonderful Institution We Call Entrepreneurship? It’s A Force For Social Good.

What exactly do we mean when we use the term entrepreneurship? The theoretical definition is the intentional pursuit of new economic value. Intentional means people – entrepreneurs – do it, either as individuals or teams or in an institutional setting like a firm, or a business or a corporation. Value means that there are other people who benefit as recipients, and become better off. Pursuit means that the people who conduct the process are not guaranteed a successful outcome every time, and may take a while to establish the right recipe and the best practice. New means continuous innovation and improvement for those recipients of value. And economic means it’s an ever more efficient use of the resources available to us, free from politics, that mean and vicious fight over dividing the pie that the entrepreneurs have so generously baked. 

Yet, beyond this definition that comes from economics, there is something even greater and more expansive. Entrepreneurship is a social force for good – the greatest such force that has emerged from the long and checkered history of civilization. And if we employ the entrepreneurial method that makes it a force for good, we can achieve greater and greater levels of community, collaboration and societal advance.

Innovation and improvement

To continuously improve people’s lives, we need new things. We need people to invent things that haven’t been thought of before. And we need innovators, people who improve those things and find new purposes for them or new ways of producing and distributing them. And we need entrepreneurship, the marshalling of resources to produce these better things faster and more efficiently and get them into more people’s hands.

Entrepreneurs are those unique people who organize the marshalling of resources, and who risk their own capital and their investors’ capital in this pursuit of a better future for all.

Cascading Development

When entrepreneurs undertake this act of discovery, and especially when they succeed, they trigger cascading development. One innovation and entrepreneurial initiative leads to another. They are all aimed at making people’s lives better – easier, more convenient, more affordable, more efficient. And, eventually, knowledge spreads, and people’s lives are transformed, so that Indian peasant farmers can check produce prices on their smartphone and get the best offer from the market. Development cascades from individual to individual, firm to firm, market to market and country to country. It’s never-ending improvement.

Long termism and ethical behavior

The outcome is long term uplift and benefit for all. Entrepreneurs are long term thinkers. They are focused on the lifetime of their company and their products, and perhaps to passing them on to the next generation. (Politicians are the opposite – they can only think in election cycles.)

Entrepreneurs don’t want to just make a short term profit and then leave the market. They want long term revenues and long term profits. That means creating reliable, returning customers who love the entrepreneur’s product. That requires delighting those customers, serving them impeccably, never letting them down or breaking a promise. There are few, if any, institutions that are constituted in this way.

This long termism is ethical. Entrepreneurship is ethically driven.


A small firm can trade on a global stage, and if they can, they will. It’s easier than ever before in the digital era. New and better ideas quickly spread around the world. But it has always been the case, since the earliest of times. Politicians establish borders to divide people, and then violate them in invasions and wars. Entrepreneurs see no borders between people. Political borders can’t divide markets. 

Social good

Entrepreneurship achieves more for social good than any other institution. Entrepreneurial innovation in goods and services enhances life and opens up new possibilities. Customers flock to entrepreneurs because of the tremendous service they deliver. The constant improvement delivered by entrepreneurs constitutes civilizational progress. The competitive pressure to improve quality and utilize resources more efficiently generates more and more value for the world. 

It’s an error to see business as extractive – extracting and using up resources. Business is generative, putting life-changing inventions at the disposal of the global population. What’s seen is the dirt and smoke left over from mining or manufacturing. What’s not seen, and often unappreciated, is the huge amount of good that comes into the world via entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is the application property rights at every scale

It’s another error to think of entrepreneurship as small business or young and immature business. Ray Kroc of McDonald’s was a great example of an entrepreneur who worked out how to operate a hamburger restaurant at global scale with continuous improvement. Entrepreneurship requires property rights; people need to have control over their property in order to transform it into marketable innovations and services. But that does not limit the scale of entrepreneurship. Property rights are a principle that supports global scaling.

The entrepreneurial method

Probably the best way to define entrepreneurship is as a process or a method. It’s akin to – and as important to civilization as – the scientific method, but different. They both involve trial-and-success, coming up with ideas and testing them. The scientist tests against reality, looking for a law, a repeatable outcome that will never vary. The entrepreneur tests against consumer approval, looking for acceptance that might be repeatable until conditions change, such as new competition arriving. Entrepreneurs can’t predict the future as scientist can, and they can’t exert control in the form of unchanging laboratory conditions. Yet they still are challenged to build  a business that lasts.

Can we nurture this institution?

Yes. In school, via literacy and entrepreneurially-oriented education, teaching young people about profit, and uncertainty and the requirement for supportive environmental elements such as property rights and flexible labor laws, and the value of trying multiple different initiatives before discovering a winning proposition. We might not be able to teach successful entrepreneurship, but we can create the conditions for learning. 

These Are The Keywords Of Austrian Economics.

An SEO keyword search for Austrian Economics can yield a lot of results like “Austrian Airlines” and “Vacations in Austria” and not much about economics.

A Google search might take the searcher back to 1871 and Carl Menger, the founder of Austrian economics.

The confusion of the country designation and the predominance of history is unfortunate in the sense that anyone in business today, and indeed anyone in life today, can learn a lot from the principles of Austrian economics.

It’s true that the founders of the stream of economic thought that’s called the Austrian school did their breakthrough thinking in Vienna. But it’s not very helpful for the understanding of the benefits their thought brings to mankind. The term Austrian economics describes a feature and not a benefit, and all of us who work in marketing know that to do so is a serious communications error.

If we were to think about Austrian economics in terms of the benefits it brings – its brand promise, if you will – what kinds of keywords might we generate?


Mainstream economics is purposely unrealistic. It’s about writing equations and constructing mathematical models to attempt to predict the unpredictable. Austrian economics, on the other hand, is about understanding individual people’s preferences and choices, and how they interact with the choices of others in economic systems of various sizes, from the family to the nation. 

As a result, Austrian economics is helpful to businesses and anyone trying to understand human economic behavior.

Keywords: Real economics, economic realism, business economics, Economics for business.

Human values

Because it focuses on human economic behavior, Austrian economics concerns itself with human values – the values that motivate choice and interaction, and the search for betterment for all.

Keywords: Human economics, humanist economics, humanomics 

Value generation

The purpose of economic behavior is the generation of value, firstly for others, and them for oneself. Value is an experience – recipients of value are pleased, satisfied, happy, sometimes delighted. Value generation is doing nice things for people, or giving them nice things, and enjoying their response. 

Austrian economics is totally focused on value – how to spot the potential for it, how to make it possible, and how to understand how and why some people find some things more valuable than others do. With this information, Austrian economics studies ways to generate even more value.

Keywords: Value economics, value logic, experiential economics


There’s a special individual or grouping of individuals in the world of Austrian economics: entrepreneurs. These are the individuals or teams who are alert to customers’ desire for improvement in their product or service experiences, and responsive enough to create and offer something new and better to solve the satisfaction problem. 

Entrepreneurs are the ones to thank for all the innovation and improvement that ever hits the market, and all the value generation that results. They are economic heroes, the drivers of higher living standards and happier experiences. They make the world a better place.

Entrepreneurship is central to Austrian economic thought. Mainstream economics doesn’t even deal in the topic, because it doesn’t fit neatly into an equation. Yet it’s the engine of economy

Keywords: Entrepreneurial economics, entrepreneurship, economic heroes, economics of betterment


Austrian economics concerns itself with the generation of value in the future. What decisions do entrepreneurs make today, and what resources do they need to deploy over time, in order to deliver value to others in the future, and realize a future gain for themselves? All this is wrapped up in the concept of opportunity – customers have the opportunity of better future experiences, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to make a gain by delivering those future improvements. It’s uncertain, and someone must take action to make it come to fruition, so it’s a positive incentive and a happy outcome if it occurs. It’s optimistic. Everybody wins when opportunity is identified and then realized. There’s proactive creativity in bringing this about.

Keywords: Opportunity economics, optimism, excitement

Individual economic freedom

For entrepreneurship to be effective in serving customers as people, and for every customer to experience value as they subjectively and individually determine it, there is a requirement for the recognition of individualism on both the supply side and the demand side. Individual customers must be free to seek what they prefer (we often call this personalization or personal service) and individual entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial businesses must be free to craft and offer uniquely tailored products and services. Such an environment is made possible only by individual economic freedom. Austrian economics is the economics of individualism and individual freedom.

Keywords: Individualism, economic freedom, economics of liberty


Austrian economics subsumes contemporary theories of complexity and adaptive systems. One of the characteristics of complex systems thinking is emergence – that system properties result in greater output capacity than is explained by the combination of inputs. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” is the popular expression that captures this feature of complexity science. In economics, this form of analysis can explain economic growth, rising productivity, and the improved performance of some firms that utilize the same technologies and resources as others. It’s not subject to mathematical equations, which can’t cope with the non-linearity of emergence, although it can be computer-simulated in some respects. The understanding of emergence is still emerging, but Austrian economists have described it for decades. For example, F.A. Hayek identified what he called spontaneous order – today’s complexity theorists would say “self-organizing systems” – in the 1940’s.

Emergence brings the excitement of unpredictability to economics, and changes it from a dismal to a thrilling science.

Keywords: Emergence, anti-routine, breakthrough, innovation, creativity, abundance, high performance, radical, thrilling

Let’s substitute these keywords of those of travel to Austria and historic references.

Firms Thrive When They Ditch Strategic Planning And Adopt Exploration And Discovery.

Strategic planning enjoys a prestigious image in the business world. It’s taught at the top business schools, and then practiced in an elite corporate department headed by a C-Suite officer. It uses high technology to collect and analyze data, and sophisticated models to determine its recommendations, which ultimately guide the most important business decisions about allocation of capital and resources, which markets to enter and compete in, whom to hire and how to organize, and all the most critical choices a company faces. It is to strategy that winning CEO’s attribute their success, and to which business books and magazines devote their thousands and millions of words.

Strategy is bunkum. At least as it is taught in business schools.

Strategy tries to be objective in a subjective world.

Strategy utilizes data-fueled top-down planning models. Some of the models are mathematical predictions – aiming to forecast how many units will be sold in Pittsburgh or Portsmouth in 2023. Others are frameworks that purport to increase the potential for success. Corporate planning departments pump information into SWOT models, Five Forces Frameworks, PESTEL worksheets and many more data structures with the promise that the analytical outputs will contribute to enhanced business performance by fixing weaknesses, enhancing strengths, cultivating best practices and focusing best efforts. We can classify this thinking as object-based: the business environment is capable of summation in data and simulation in mathematical models and can be shaped and changed by corporate action.

The opposite is the truth. The role of the firm is to generate value for customers, and customers’ evaluations of corporate offerings is subjective. Value is an emotion, an experience of using or consuming a produced good or service and feeling satisfaction. A value-generation process is equally subjective, based on the feeling or intuition or judgement that a business is able to facilitate that experience for the customer. Whilst this value flow is turned into money via the consumer’s willingness to pay for the experience, the revenue flow (which is objective) results from the interaction of business intent to generate value and a customer’s subjective evaluation of whether the business’s value promise was kept.

Learning versus smart design.

How does a business get this interaction with customers right? The B-school peddlers of strategic planning would say, “By design”. They mean data gathering on the external environment, internal assessment of performance and trends and proven capabilities – essentially, looking backwards in order to project forwards.

The Austrian view is that all progress is a function of learning. Specifically, learning about what works and what doesn’t work, without any attempt to forecast the outcome in advance. Which initiatives produce desirable outcomes and which fail to do so. In order to learn, therefore, it is necessary to act, to do something. Do businesses act without knowing what is going to happen as a result? Of course. Are they guided by corporate strategy? Only if the “strategy” is: Let’s learn. Let’s not pre-judge what we think will be the result. Let’s not make false promises to ourselves. And, of course, those sentiments are anathema to the strategists.

Implementation versus Formulation

The consequence of the “Let’s learn” approach to company performance and progress is that strategy can not be formulated from on high, at the top of the organization, and then handed down. The process operates in reverse. The front line of the company, interfacing and interacting with customers, identifies customer needs, makes changes, tries new things, calls for new ideas, experiments and adapts to changing circumstances. There is continuous implementation, doing, responding and observing.

Some of the new ideas and changes become programs or initiatives, and draw resources from elsewhere in the corporation or from partners in a value creation network. Some of these programs hint at success, others don’t. Some become formalized. Some find customers willing to pay, and become revenue streams. They become reinforced with additional resources and the revenue stream accelerates and expands.

This is implementation. There was no strategy formulation preceding the implementation. There probably were some guidelines, some internal signals to channel the external activities – sometimes called corporate culture. There’s a shared sense of generally how the company generates value in response to customer needs and market development. The shared sense is translated into specific implementations by individuals or local offices or customer teams and the learning – the code of “what works and what doesn’t” – is fed back to the corporation for even wider sharing.

Dispersion versus Centralization.

Centralization is a structural attribute of strategic planning. Data is collected and consolidated centrally, and processed centrally. A group of strategists in the administrative center of the organization works with the data to develop plans and allocate resources to those plans.

In the learning-by-implementation method, centralization is damaging. To enable the freedom to learn and to apply learning, decision making must be dispersed through the organization. A single mind or single planning unit can not centralize all the knowledge and can’t centralize decision making. A strategic plan is not feasible. Organizational design and decision-making processes must be decentralized and dispersed.

Structure versus Strategy

In the strategic planning model, a company is structured or organized to take advantage of the strategy that’s been designed for it by the central planners. It’s divided into what are often called strategic business units (i.e. units structured based on the dictates of the designed strategy), and additionally into sub-units, geographies, functions and other pieces. Structure follows strategy. Strategy must be fully formulated before the business can be organized.

Austrian thinking runs in the opposite direction. Austrians take the opposite approach: the structure of the firm (its organization, processes and interfaces with the external environment) shapes strategy. This is particularly important for existing businesses. Too often, strategists (especially if they are external consultants) recommend “transformations”, which require significant structural change. Austrians understand that this is not realistic because it’s not possible to restructure an existing organization every time a new strategic vision comes along. There’s a high cost to structural change, and strategy must adjust.

Strategy is emergent, based on value exploration and new value discoveries.

What, then, replaces top-down strategic planning?

Strategy is emergent, not planned. Strategy is entrepreneurial. It’s a continuous process of learning through action and discovery. Sometimes, firms discover things they really wish they hadn’t. That’s part of the process through which, eventually, strategy evolves. Over time, a firm can adopt some simple guidelines for its frontline members to utilize in their explorations, and these can seem to bring some order. But adaptation to new circumstances is always required. Profit is the signal that adaptation is successful.

We use the term explore and expand to capture the Austrian approach to strategy. Firms are always exploring, seeking ways to improve performance. When some experiments yield promising results, they can be expanded. Explore and expand is a trade-off: how much of the available resources should be allocated to each type of activity. Entrepreneurs manage the trade-off in order to succeed. There’s no strategic plan from on high to make the trade-off for them.