A podcast based on the winning principle that entrepreneurs need only know the laws of economics plus the minds of customers. After that, apply your imagination.

192. Mark McGrath on Orientation and the Adaptive Entrepreneurial Method

When firms apply the principles of Austrian economics to business management, we call the result the Adaptive Entrepreneurial Method. It’s adaptive in that it is a continuous learning process, and it’s entrepreneurial in elevating customer value realization as the most important business purpose.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights.

The Adaptive Entrepreneurial Business Method

Businesses that follow the adaptive entrepreneurial method put customer value first.

Value in Austrian economics is customer value: contributing to customers’ feelings of being better off as a result of the interaction with an entrepreneurial business or service provider. A useful way to think about value is in terms of alignment and order. A value exchange is a harmonious alignment between customer and entrepreneur, in which both parties benefit and both parties’ interests are served. Order is represented by the customer’s decision, a point of clarity in a world of multiple choices, overlapping preferences and broad-based uncertainty.

Entrepreneurial businesses make value their purpose and identify it in alignment and harmony with customers. Everything else — cash flow, profits, growth — follows.

Entrepreneurial orientation enables the right interpretation of data and information for customer value realization.

Mark McGrath emphasizes the powerful role of entrepreneurial orientation in business success. Orientation is a mindset — a kind of internal operating system — that guides firms to translate information from customers, partners, competitors and the market into an effective, winning vision and mission.

The essence of orientation is learning. Uncertainty is assumed, and orientation is the unique set of filters through which entrepreneurs and management teams process the quantitative and qualitative data that customers and markets present. Mises called it economic calculation: the entrepreneurial capacity for combining a constantly changing stream of information into a business decision. The decisions are always reviewable and revisable; a learning mindset makes entrepreneurs comfortable with frequent decision changes in response to changing information and feedback. Principles — such as the primacy of customer value — remain the same; it’s actions that are adjusted.

Businesses that don’t learn can get locked into models that no longer reflect the realities of the marketplace, and lose their effectiveness.

People, ideas, and things.

Learning, adapting, and changing are difficult capabilities to master. Continuous change can feel disorienting absent the right mindset. How do companies achieve this mastery? Mark McGrath quotes Joh Boyd on the eternal verity of people, ideas, and things — always in that order.

The first critical component are the people engaged in and operating the business. They must be good at change, comfortable with constant flux. They must accept VUCA — volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity — as the normal condition. At the same time, management must be conscious of how each new change or wave of change impacts people, and anticipates the effect it will have on them.

In this change-accepting environment, unlimited new ideas can emerge via the creative process. They can be tested, and marketplace results become the yardstick. When new ideas look promising in terms of the results they potentially enable, then things can be changed: capital can be redeployed in new combinations, marketing campaigns can be revised. When people are pre-prepared, smooth transitions are achievable.

Continuous Reorientation And Entrepreneurial Intent.

While entrepreneurial orientation is the firm’s operating system for processing information, it is not fixed. Adaptive firms are continuously reorienting, Active reorientation supports learning, recognizing that all perceptual models are only as good as the moment they were developed. They must be renewed to stay relevant. Challenging assumptions and reframing problems must be continuous in order for firms to thrive and use change to advantage. Effective orientation looks to the future rather than the present, emphasizing agility and avoiding clinging to outdated models.

Reorientation precedes intent and reshapes it. Entrepreneurial intent can be equated to what systems thinkers call vision. A vision is shared and provides a North Star for everyone in the firm, but that doesn’t preclude adjustment in continuous alignment with customers. The vision is to serve customers, and customers are also changing and adjusting. Thinking in terms of intent (rather than, say, implementing a rigid plan) permits greater flexibility in pursuit of the vision.

Entrepreneurial judgment is decision and action.

The theory of entrepreneurship emphasizes judgment — that mysterious-sounding capability of entrepreneurs to make economic calculations from a mix of data and intuition. That can sound like a kind of mulling over of options. But it’s much more active than that. The entrepreneurial method emphasizes deciding and acting. Decisions are recognized as hypotheses; it’s impossible to know exactly what to do, so action-oriented develop hypotheses about what actions could have the effect they desire. The hypotheses are carefully aligned with their intent in order to double-check the logic as far as possible. But the purpose is not to be “right” but to generate feedback information so that alignment can be better informed by reality.

Action — the implementation of decisions — is an experiment, a test of the hypothesis. Action produces interaction (with customers, with retailers, with competitors, with the changing market environment) and thereby provides new information in the form of feedback, which might indicate the need to change actions next time.

The number of hypotheses and tests can be narrowed; what’s important is that they reflect as wide a range of perspectives as possible — from those at the front line interacting with customers, whether in person or at the call center or online, from engineers and operatives, from finance and HR, and from all relevant points of view. The more diverse the range of perspectives, the more likely it is that different angles of view will provide new insights and illuminate blind spots. Make sure that internal communications are organized so as to make it possible for all perspectives — including dissenting Cassandras – to be recognized and acknowledged.

Candid self-assessment of people in business leadership roles is a good place to start the adaptive entrepreneurial journey.

Some elements of the adaptive entrepreneurial model require the discarding of standard ways of managing. For example, many businesses spend considerable time and effort developing plans that lock in budgets and resource allocations, and don’t make allowance for constant adjustment and change. It’s useful to take inventory of these practices and question whether they can be abandoned or reformed in pursuit of agility.

Additional Resources

The “Adaptive Entrepreneurial Method” Graphic (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_192_PDF1

“Destruction and Creation” by John Boyd (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_192_PDF2

Mark J. McGrath on LinkedIn: Mises.org/E4B_192_LinkedIn

“Orientation: Bridging The Gap In The Austrian Theory of Entrepreneurship” (AERC 2022) by Mark J. McGrath and Hunter Hastings (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_192_PDF3

191. Allen Mendenhall: Putting Humanness and Ethics Back Into Business Economics

We are living through a particularly bad moment in history for free markets and capitalism. Government, not business, is promoted as the solution to all problems. Young people have never known any other environment, and one of the consequences is the skepticism about capitalism that they learn in school, college, and university. One solution to this problem lies in better business education — shaping how young minds think about business by shedding light on the social and individual benefits of capitalism that might otherwise be deliberately shadowed by misinformation and misdirection.

Allen Mendenhall is leading the way with a new business curriculum at Troy University.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

There are unmerited concerns among young people today about the ethics of capitalism and business.

Business is too often cast as the “bad guy” in the movie of life. Business is portrayed as exploitative and greedy, and businesspeople as self-serving. Historical scandals like Enron and WorldCom are cited as case studies. But this presentation is a caricature; there’s no evidence to support it. Business is the essential component of the capitalist system that has raised standards of living and quality of life all over the globe and especially in the West, where markets are somewhat freer.

Business didn’t have the same bad rap in the past. In the nineteenth century, there was a great celebration of the civilization-advancing commercial republic powered by the protestant work ethic. The image of the businessperson was a positive trope — it was a good role to be a businessperson creating value for others. Businesspeople were the good guys. They innovated, collaborated and served. We’ve lost that imagery.

A lot of the unmerited concern emanates from educational institutions, especially universities.

Who is teaching young Americans to be skeptical about capitalism and business? A large portion of the blame goes to educational institutions, and especially universities. There’s an anti-business and anti-capitalism bias among the teaching profession in higher education that is communicated to students.

In this academic anti-business campaign, there’s a special role for economists, who have dehumanized economics by trying to make it a mathematical science. All their equations and computer models have the effect of taking humanness — the role of subjectivism, individual preference, and individualized emotion — out of economics. They try to reduce human behavior to a predictive data-driven algorithm.

The heritage of economics is humanizing.

The mathematical approach to economics is not the tradition of the Austrian school approach, which embraces a humanizing perspective. Commerce cultivates virtue; the pursuit of honorable profit leads businesses to act with good faith and integrity in joining with partners to produce products and services that are valued and welcomed by customers because they serve their ends in their search for betterment in their lives.

The concept of honorable profit is often alien to students, and requires new learning: that profit is an emergent result of all the detailed interactions of individuals in a market, sending price signals to producers to indicate what society wants them to produce. Profit is a result of these signals indicating that society wants the producers to continue offering their goods and services.

Understanding value is central to understanding the ethics of capitalism.

The emergence of profit is an outcome of the generation of value for customers. Value is central to the ethics of business, and Professor Mendenhall’s new course at Troy University places it squarely in the center. Value is subjectively determined by the customer, and the purpose of business is to help them realize the value they seek with the right products and services responsive to their wants, preferences and goals.

But here’s where the plot twists. The big corporate business community — representing less than 1% of businesses by count but the biggest proportion of GDP by dollar revenues – has been incentivized by Wall Street to pursue shareholder value (goosing stock prices) and stakeholder value (the diversion of value away from customers in favor of non-customer interest groups). Value for customers and even profit now takes a back seat to supposedly serving constituencies such as climate activists, victim groups, and, of course, government. Stakeholder value can act as cover for the CEO who fails to generate profit: they can claim to be focused on socially more important things.

The generation of value for customers, guided by the confirmation signal of profit, is no longer primary — except in Professor Mendenhall’s Troy University curriculum.

The perspective of entrepreneurship can help students appreciate ethical business.

While young people express disdain and distrust for capitalism, they often have a more positive attitude about the concept of entrepreneurship. They realize that entrepreneurs are problem solvers, and that they add value to people’s lives. People benefit from the risks entrepreneurs take and the personal sacrifice they make. Entrepreneurial innovation makes lives better.

Students appreciate this, and can even identify some corporate CEO’s to whom they are willing to grant ethical approval — individuals such as John Mackey or Richard Branson. And many young people see entrepreneurship as aspirational — they want to start their own businesses and make a lot of money (i.e., profit!). Looking at business from an entrepreneurial perspective generates more positive attitudes, and we can show that all businesses started entrepreneurially, and are sustained by their continuing entrepreneurial performance, i.e., profitably delivering value for customers. If there are questions about corporate ethics, they relate to their non-entrepreneurial functions — such as HR (whence a lot of corporate wokeness emanates), legal (the people who write the opaque and deceptive terms and conditions that justify surveillance), finance (directing activities like stock buybacks that divert value from customers), and compliance (keeping corporations closer to government and more distant from markets).

Part of Allen’s approach to his students is to teach the entrepreneurial mindset — not just for business, but for life in general. He calls it “unleashing the inner entrepreneur” and includes what he calls “the economics of your dreams”, the secret of win-win, the creativity of the market, the entrepreneurial principles of career building, starting a profitable business, and character and leadership.

He also covers personal finance skills — developing knowledge of stocks and bonds and mutual funds and other financial instruments, insurance, retirement planning (even at age 18!), investing, spending, and, of course, personal management of student loans. It’s the entrepreneurial approach to life.

We should develop a new value proposition for business schools as humanness schools.

Business schools today are part of the problem. They don’t focus enough on how business can be the catalyst for positive change. They should be committed to solving problems affecting not just business, but humanity as a whole. But reading business school leaders’ and graduates’ speeches and their books demonstrates that they’re not trying to help humanity as a whole but a few selected businesses and a few particular industries. They’re not dedicated to helping ordinary people, as they should be.

Allen’s new curriculum aims to redress that imbalance.

Additional Resources

AllenMendenhall.com

“Corporate Wokeness Hurts The Groups It Purports To Help” (AEIR) by Allen Mendhall: Mises.org/E4B_191_Article1

“Troy professor: Students ‘very enthusiastic’ over anti-woke business scholars program” (Yellowhammer News) by Dylan Smith: Mises.org/E4B_191_Article2

Allen Mendenhall on Fox Business—”Ending Wokeism in the Corporate World”: Mises.org/E4B_191_TV

190. Peter Klein: Why Managers Still Matter:

Entrepreneurial businesses embrace adaptiveness and change, and continuous innovation enabled by flexible and responsive organizations, empowered at every level. That doesn’t mean there’s no role for managers. Inside the corporation, entrepreneurial management co-ordinates the business flow of responding to changing customer wants and preferences, so that resources are allocated and reallocated to the production activities that customers value the most. In fact, management is becoming more important, not less. Professors Peter Klein and Nicolai Foss explain entrepreneurial management in their latest book, Why Managers Matter: The Perils of the Bossless Company (Mises.org/E4B_190_Book), and Peter Klein visits Economics For Business to highlight the key points.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Management co-ordinates the constant flux of entrepreneurial business.

The essence of the adaptive entrepreneurial organization model is responsive change. Entrepreneurial businesses don’t lock themselves in to 5-year strategies and annual plans. They recognize that markets are in constant flux as a result of changing customer preferences, changing competitive activity, changing technologies, and changing conditions in business channels and in the economy. Change is the normal condition. It’s what Ludwig von Mises termed constant flux.

Management is required inside the firm to adapt and respond to change outside the firm. It’s not possible to manage the change in markets, but it is a necessity to manage resource allocation and productive activities inside the firm.

Management is co-ordination and orchestration, not authority and hierarchy.

We might think of the concept of management in its industrial age guise of authority and hierarchy: some people “higher up” in the organization telling others “lower down” what to do. This kind of hierarchical authority can’t work in the digital network age; it’s too slow to process incoming data from the marketplace and too rigid to quickly or effectively implement newly imagined responses to those incoming data.

But in Professor Klein and Professor Foss’s analysis, management no longer equates to old-fashioned authority and hierarchy. Management is co-ordination: assembling the right resources — both human capital and complementary capital assets such as supportive technologies — in the right combinations (often referred to as “teams” in today’s management language) for the right shared task with the right shared goals. Professor Klein likened this to orchestration — there’s a conductor who guides the orchestra in playing the same symphony together, without telling the individual players how to play their instrument, and leaving the details of implementation to the individuals and their specialized skills.

Some orchestras may have better results than others because their teams have been well-recruited and well assembled and they respond better to management co-ordination. All firms and teams are complex adaptive systems, with emergent outcomes influenced by internal forces, one of which is management.

Management is culture more than authority.

How do managers achieve a better outcome as a result of managing their teams? Professor Klein believes that they institute a successful culture, as opposed to designing an organizational structure. He defines culture in terms of norms, customs and practices — the accepted way (or simple rules) of “how we do things around here”. More specifically, in the customer-centric entrepreneurial firm, “here’s how we plan to facilitate value for our customers around here”. Skilled managers paint the pictures — the “vision”, if you will — in the minds of employees of the customer value standards the firm will achieve, and the customer experiences that the firm will facilitate.

Modern managers are comfortable with and quite expert at adaptation.

The modern managerial culture is a far cry from traditional hierarchical managerial authority. It has the built-in flexibility for adaptiveness to the rapid rate of change in today’s digital business world. A well-functioning management process in a loosely structured organization can change internal production processes, teams and resource allocations in response to external changes in customer demand and marketplace conditions.

In fact, Professor Klein points out, through relevant case studies, such a management structure can be better at adaptation than, for example, a network of independent contractors and suppliers that would be challenged to orchestrate responsive changes to an external change, since each would have a different experience and process it through a different cultural orientation. They wouldn’t co-ordinate as well or as quickly as internally managed teams.

In certain cases, management authority can sometimes be a relevant organizational tool, so long as it is applied in a contingent fashion.

The relevance and usefulness of authority varies by circumstance and business situations. Its usefulness is contingent, and managers must be sensitive as to when to apply authority and in what style.

Why Managers Matter identifies two distinct styles of managerial authority, Mark 1 authority and Mark 2 authority. Mark 1 authority is traditional command-and-control, exerted top down — superiors telling subordinates what to do.

Mark 2 authority is exercised through design rather than command: finding the right person for the task, combining the best-qualified people in teams, and giving them a goal with a wide latitude in their process and implementation in achieving the goal.

An important element of the contingent approach is to empathically identify the subjective preferences of employees. Some will respond well to flexible, open-ended direction that enables them to exercise their own initiative. Others might prefer the certainty of clear direction. One type of salesperson might be highly motivated by a 100% commission remuneration plan, another might feel more secure with a base salary with the potential for an achievement bonus upon exceeding quota.

Professor Klein identifies two broad sets of conditions for the exercise of Mark 1 and Mark 2 authority. When there is a high degree of interdependence between people, teams and tasks, such that it is critical that tasks are highly coordinated, completed at the same time and combined in a highly specific fashion, then management intervention is required and it will include Mark 1 elements. When production is more modular, when tasks and projects can be completed interdependently, then Mark 2 management can be exercised through a decentralized, flat and culturally aligned organization. (Professor Klein cited the example of the type of higher education institution where he works; all the professors can design and teach their classes, do their research, and publish their papers and books with a high degree of autonomy.)

Management is becoming more important, not less.

In a rapidly changing world, where employee attitudes and experiences are very different than in the pre-digital world, and where global markets and their interconnected structures are more uncertain and cyclically unreliable, and where the pace of disruptive technological innovation is accelerating, good management is more important than ever for the success of our economy and our society. Smart managers are needed to find the right balance between operational excellence through established processes and adaptive change through adjustment and experimentation, a balance that business scholars call the ambidextrous organization. It can’t happen without management, and without managers.

Additional Resources

Peter Klein’s book page: Mises.org/E4B_190_Klein

Why Managers Matter: The Perils of the Bossless Company by Peter Klein and Nicolai Foss: Mises.org/E4B_190_Book

Public Affairs book page: Mises.org/E4B_190_PA

189. James Kent: Carving A Differentiated Growth Space In A Well-Established Market

Entrepreneurs always generate new value for customers; that’s what they get paid for. It’s not always necessary to create a new market; there are many creative ways to expand the value potential of established markets and carve out a territory in the new expanded space.

James Kent, founder of the innovative apparel brand Rogue, White and Blue, talks to E4B about the entrepreneurial value creation method he pursues in growing a distinctive and differentiated brand in what might look to outsiders like a crowded market, but which to him looks like unbounded opportunity.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Entrepreneurs start with what they love — it’s the first source of differentiation.

James is a lover of open-air experiences — of walking and hiking and exploring trails and off-road lands, of snowboarding in the mountains, and enjoying all the freedoms of exploration and everything to do with the great American outdoors. “What do I love?” is one of the first questions an entrepreneur asks of themselves, and James is certain of his answer.

Adding knowledge and experience fortifies the entrepreneurial recipe.

All experience and most knowledge are individual. What we pay attention to, and how we learn is always unique to us personally. James picked up some valuable experience by working in sporting goods retail stores, both interacting with customers in stores and working his way up the corporate ladder into management positions. This commercial experience in sporting goods was highly complementary to his love of the outdoors, and the two became a productive combination in James’ entrepreneurial approach.

James was able to gain some even more fine-tuned experience by working as the first employee of a start-up, running an office in a location removed from the head office. This provided exposure to the entrepreneurial experiences of risk-taking, autonomy, maximizing the use of limited resources and using business development tools like Google AdWords — all directly useful for a future business journey.

A third layer of relevant experience came from joining the National Guard in a patriotic spirit of service. The service ethic is fundamental to all entrepreneurial endeavors.

The stage is set: what kind of business to launch?

James asked the entrepreneurial questions. What do I love? The outdoors and outdoor recreation. What do I know? Apparel and apparel retail. What are my resources? Passion, the genuineness and clarity of commitment, design ideas, and a small amount of savings. Who are my customers? People who share the same passions.

Where will differentiation come from? It came from a reservoir of genuine feeling and the combination of two streams of thought: recreational love of the outdoors and patriotic love of country. The combination became the brand Rogue, White and Blue, described by customers as “the patriotic version of Patagonia”. It’s wild and unexpected like the American landscape, and it embodies patriotic design ideas, both in visual look-and-feel and in functional attributes such as Made In America.

The commitment to a differentiated brand platform creates a differentiated supply chain, differentiated production, and differentiated presentation.
Entrepreneurs design their production infrastructure and supply network backwards, starting with the brand and then identifying the system components that will bring it to life.

James had design ideas in his mind. He self-taught himself Adobe Illustrator to get them from his mind into digital documentation, occasionally hiring outside designers on Fiverr at low variable cost for some specific refinement tasks. Modern technologies ranging from design software (and the training videos and additional user content available online for new adopters) to digital printing to internet-enabled collaboration sites like Fiverr can be combined to create a complete value network with limited fixed cost investment.

The next step down the supply chain was to find screen printers and James tested alternatives until he identified the best craftspeople in that specialized profession. He made them his business partners, which enabled him to benefit from their expertise in identifying the right Made-In-America apparel manufacturers and the right high-quality fabrics. By ordering garments through the printers, he was able to give the printers a more profitable business model while offloading some risk (e.g., of misprinting) onto them. The shared value space was big enough for everyone in the network.

The integrated platform of a differentiated brand and a differentiated supply chain is the result of entrepreneurial commitment: to brand integrity, quality, style, and consistency.

Finding customers through entrepreneurial action.

At the outset, there wasn’t any marketing budget for Rogue, White and Blue. How does a brand get customers in those circumstances? Not by advertising but by entrepreneurial action: by meeting customers personally. James had a good instinct for who his customers would be based on input from like-minded friends and family. So, he went out to meet similar people by setting up a sales table at selected events where they might congregate. The first one was a gun show, and then more broadly outdoors-themed events. James vividly remembers the excitement of show attendees stopping by his booth, immediately bonding with the “patriotic version of Patagonia” brand feel — they didn’t need to be told, they understood it without prompting — and paying cash for the products. Rogue, White and Blue started with a batch of 96 T-shirts which quickly sold out.

Growth is funded by cash flow and there is no shortage of growth drivers and growth ideas.

Cash flow is the most important financial indicator of business performance and it’s the most important source of growth capital. Profit is an accounting notion, and debt-financed development has its own set of risks. Cash flow is a pure indication of customer approval and customer value. Therefore, it provides the best funding source for both working capital and investment capital — turning the value experienced by consumers into the funds that enable expanded and enhanced value experiences in the future.

Rogue, White and Blue has expanded into more designs, new apparel items, a strong website to drive sales, and a reinforced brand presence.

Customer feedback loops ensure continuous improvement and progress.

Meeting customers face-to-face or getting their feedback via the internet — these are feedback loops that help entrepreneurs refine their offering. The feedback may concern product quality, design, or brand imagery; it’s all positive input for an entrepreneurial business that is open and not defensive whenever there is criticism.

The entrepreneurial life is exciting.

How are we all going to share in the productivity of the economy? The old way was to take a job and participate as an employee, hopefully ascending the hierarchical ladder of a firm or translating increased experience and skill in a profession for higher wages.

As the digital economy unfolds, and more of the work is being performed through algorithms and A.I. and machine learning that’s translated into process automation, the traditional ways of sharing in economic production will be blocked.

The better alternative is economic participation and reward through entrepreneurship. James Kent describes the entrepreneurial life as exciting and fulfilling. It requires a thorough commitment and it’s hard work — he described the long nights he’s devoted to the Rogue, White and Blue brand — which he finds energizing and motivating. There’s a commitment and a service ethic, and a consequent freedom.

Additional Resource

Check out James Kent’s website: Rogue, White and Blue.

188. Jordan Lams on Finding and Patiently Developing Your Entrepreneurial Focus

We define entrepreneurship in terms of people working creatively to make others’ lives better. That’s a very broad statement, of course, so it’s instructive to observe how individual entrepreneurs choose to make some customers’ lives better in some specific ways by applying special skills and knowledge. Let’s call it finding an entrepreneurial focus.

Economics For Business talks to Jordan Lams, founder and CEO of Moxie, an industry pioneer in manufacturing, branding, and distributing cannabis products.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights.

Entrepreneurs find their focus — or, sometimes, it finds them.

Bruce Lee is reported to have said that the successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus. Entrepreneurs develop focus on particular customers, in order to understand them better, empathize with their wants, and deliver them the experiences that they value. Developing this focus may take time, or it may come early in the journey, but empathy always provides the pathway.

Jordan Lams observed the pain of a family member during a time of illness, and how cannabis products could bring some relief and comfort. From that time, he became focused on the health and medical benefits of cannabis in a broad range of personal circumstances.

From a position of focus, entrepreneurs develop the deep knowledge that becomes their marketplace advantage.

Entrepreneurial focus directs research and knowledge gathering. In Jordan’s case, he gathered academic research, medical literature, and clinical studies, and he talked with medical practitioners about cannabinoid therapies. Networking brought him into contact with researchers and doctors and clinicians and product developers. He established a uniquely robust knowledge platform.

Focus plus knowledge leads to opportunity tension.

Some entrepreneurial theorists have coined the term opportunity tension — that period when an entrepreneur’s focus and knowledge point to a market opportunity, but there remains unresolved risk in the process of seizing it. The entrepreneurial solution, of course, is to take the risk. Jordan executed his commitment by taking a job in the retail sector of his chosen industry — a place to meet customers one-on-one, and look backwards at the supply chain.

Customer orientation is refined by direct contact, conversation, and experience.

Working in retail enabled direct customer contact and unfiltered conversations about customers’ preferences and wants, the benefits they sought compared to the benefits they experienced, and a general deepening of customer knowledge.

In addition, Jordan was able to observe the supply chain, including the interruptions and inconsistencies that detracted from customers’ experiences. Product quality was inconsistent and supply was unreliable. To an entrepreneur, this looks like opportunity.

Knowledge, experience, and customer contact provided the ingredient for a new firm and a new value proposition.

Jordan sums up the firm he founded, Moxie, as knowledge + infrastructure. A status quo of incomplete knowledge, inferior and inconsistent products in unreliable supply chains can be replaced by a new market of shared and distilled knowledge delivered via consistent and trustworthy quality. Customers are able to develop trust and confidence in a brand based on knowledge (“we know what we are doing”) that brings new maturity in the form of scale and process control and quality assurance to an emerging market category.

The company’s knowledge base enables vertical integration because the knowledge is broad and not narrow, the recruitment of strong partners because shared knowledge makes for robust collaboration, and new standards of quality, adherence to which strengthens customer expectations.

The firm’s foundation supports both R&D and open innovation.

All markets are changing at high rates of speed at all times. That’s why innovation is the essence of entrepreneurship. Standing still is a losing option. Jordan invests I R&D in the form of lab research (in pharmaceutical quality labs) exploring new product forms and new combinations, while also participating in the open innovation of knowledge sharing that goes on throughout the industry. R&D supports both specialization (making current offerings even better) and market expansion (new products, new forms).

Brand building will be the patient route to long term growth.

While business environments change fast, one way to invest with patience in a consistent direction is to build a brand. A brand can reflect customer values — the things that matter to them — in a way that creates lasting bonds. On its website, Moxie positions its brand as a force of character: courage, grit, determination, nerve. It provides an emotional connection to customers who value self-realization and self-actualization.

Patient entrepreneurs can see the regulatory maze as a locus of opportunity, too.

Moxie was the first licensed cannabis brand in California, and sees itself as a pioneer in leading institutional and regulatory progress. Instead of viewing regulators as business obstacles, Jordan employs his empathy skills to understand their position, their role, and their needs. He provides them with resources of information, industry knowledge and collaboration, and contributes where he can and where it’s appropriate to help them arrive at decisions and translate them into subsequent implementations.

As in building a company and building a brand, patience can pay off in future strength.

Additional Resources

EnjoyMoxie.com

Jordan Lams on LinkedIn: Mises.org/E4B_188_LinkedIn

187. Per Bylund: The Austrian School Approach to Business versus the Business School Approach

Business is a form of applied economics. Its purpose is to make people’s lives better. Profit is the signal from society that business is doing a good job in the customer’s estimation. This is a completely human system, a form of human action and interaction. Business schools take the approach of mainstream economics, that mathematics is the tool of choice, expressed in data analytics, accounting, financialization, and numbers-based plans and strategies. The Austrian school approach offers a very different path. Professor Per Bylund joins the Economics For Business podcast to highlight some important differences.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Business logic based on understanding subjective value.

The purpose of business to facilitate customer value. The pursuit of new economic value brings new firms into existence, the continuing realization of new value experiences for customers results in business growth, and recurrent refreshment of value propositions keeps businesses thriving and healthy.

Consequently, value is fundamental to business. Yet it is widely misunderstood. Sometimes it’s misconstrued as shareholder value, a function of stock price performance. Usually, it’s financialized as a set of numbers and indexes.

True value is in the mind of the customer. It’s the experience of feeling better off as result of interacting with a business — making a purchase, taking a subscription, or using a service that makes life feel better, and that feels like a superior choice compared to alternatives.

Customers decide what to value, and therefore what to purchase, and thereby decide the success of a business. All businesses must learn this value logic, and Austrian economics for business provides the understanding that points to the implications for business action.

Thinking in subjective terms.

An understanding of subjective value reverses the flow of business thinking. It’s easy and conventional to think in objective terms about products and prices — what a firm produces and offers and the price the firm charges. It’s harder and somewhat counter-intuitive for businesses to think about how each individual customer feels — what’s important to them, individually and personally, about the unique ecosystem in which they make their choices (e.g., their family profile, what kind of a house they live in, or the subjective resource allocation priorities of each of the individual firm they work for).

The customer decides what is valuable to them, and that’s the basis from which business action must proceed.

Value-guided creativity.

Business is a creative discipline. Because customer preferences and priorities are continuously changing, because competition is continuously aiming at making a superior customer proposition, because technology is continuously making new benefits and new customer experiences possible, and because we can’t possibly know how all this will work out in the future, businesses must always be changing, improving, adding, renewing, becoming somehow better in the future than they are today.

The only way to invent the future in this way is through creativity — new ideas, new combinations, new routes to convenience, new removal of barriers. Creativity can be random and unpredictable — we don’t know what is going to be successful out of all our creative ideas. Therefore, we apply constraints so that creativity operates within productive boundaries, and the generative constraint is customer value. If all our creative ideas are guided by the constraint of “will the customer find this more valuable”, then the opportunity for productive innovation is greater. If we place ourselves in the shoes of customers, and try to simulate what they will feel when they experience a new value proposition, we’re on the track to business success. This is value-guided creativity.

Business as a flow.

Business schools emphasize planning and strategy (and strategies are often just long-term, bigger plans). These are tools of prediction and control — predict the future (we will achieve $10 million in annual revenue this year) and control how we get there (100 salespeople must sell $100,000 each). The numbers can fill a spreadsheet.

Similarly with organization design: the spreadsheet in this case is an org chart, with layers and reporting pathways and divisions and units, another exercise in statics.

The Austrian recognition of constant change results in re-thinking business as a flow. Thinking in statics is potentially disastrous because the world can change while your firm does not. Thinking dynamically opens the firm to feedback loops from the marketplace, listening to customers and monitoring when their preferences change or competition shifts, and being open to adapting and adjusting.

Organization design gives way to orchestration, the constantly changing arrangements dedicated to the improvement of the customer’s value experience.

Every business can and must act entrepreneurially.

Our term for the orientation towards and capacity for constant change — constant pursuit of new customer value — is entrepreneurship.

In the popular vernacular, the word entrepreneurship has come to be associated with charismatic individuals, like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Reed Hastings. They are identified as the instigators of and catalysts for new value generation. That’s fine — such individuals are important in challenging the status quo. But for effective and commercial and sustainable new value generation, the entire firm must be entrepreneurial — highly sensitive to how a particular configuration of resources and a particular business model and value proposition serves customers, and to changes in the business environment that require adjustment on the firm’s part. The firm must be flexible enough to make these adjustments. Often, the market data comes to the firm from the edge, where front line employees working directly with customers gather the inbound information about change. The entrepreneurial firm ensures that the new information flows freely and is acted upon, and gives those closest to the customer the authority to make responsive changes.

Business schools often teach static and defensive concepts such as economies of scale and competitively insulated market structures. Business for them is production management. Business from the Austrian school perspective is value discovery, value facilitation and responsive change in the form of new products, new services, and new value.

Entrepreneurial empathy as a tool.

When we think of business tools highlighted in business schools, we might think of strategic planning, data analytics, accounting, process management, incentive compensation, and financialization.

The tool of choice for the entrepreneurial firm is empathy. Empathy is customer-first thinking. It focuses on identifying and understanding what customers feel is missing in their life, what they long for and wish for. There’s a gap between customers’ actual experiences and their desired experiences. They can’t articulate solutions, but they’re brilliant at identifying the potential for improvement. If the customer feels that some experiences could be better, or that they’re struggling in some capacity with an experience, that’s a signal for the creative entrepreneurial firm to experiment with new ways to deliver that betterment.

Entrepreneurial firms create better futures for their customers via empathy. They bring customers new things that they can want, that weren’t available to them in the past or of which they were not aware.

It’s not all numbers.

Just as mainstream economics has been rendered irrelevant and meaningless to real people because of its insistence on the use of algebra and mathematical models instead of real world observations, so mainstream business schools have made business into a world of spreadsheets, accounting, data analysis, bar charts and graphs, and structures and formulas.

Austrian school business thinkers understand the role of qualitative assessment — understanding people as humans as opposed to statistics, understanding emergent processes, understanding feelings and subjective value, and that the things that matter to people, both employees and customers, are values not numbers.

That’s why narrative and sense-making stories are taking the place of plans and strategies. Software development provides a good example: user experience design is a narrative about how customers prefer to interact with the software they are using, rather than a focus on lines of code.

Action and feedback loops.

The ultimate replacement for business school concepts of planning and strategy is action. Entrepreneurship is action. Action generates an effect — a feedback loop from the marketplace that signals the result of the action. The customer purchased or did not purchase. The rating improved or worsened. Revenue grew or declined. In the A/B test, B was preferred.

The feedback loop is processed as learning, and new decisions can be made and new actions taken based on that learning, eliminating some possibilities, and opening up others. Innovation is introduced to the market and new learning follows new innovation in a continuous loop.

In the thinking of entrepreneurial action, acting faster and sooner is better, because the effect is generated faster, the feedback loop accelerates, and the resulting new action is fresher and and more responsive to the customer’s needs. When action is bolder and more daring, the feedback loop is more informative and clearer in its signals. The future unfolds as a result of entrepreneurial action.

Entrepreneurs don’t act alone or in isolation. The unfolding of the future is the consequence of many actions on the part of many people and firms. The market, therefore, is a process. Action and reaction keep it moving in unpredictable ways — resulting in what complexity theorists call emergence.

The Austrian School is a complete system for business.

We didn’t have sufficient time with Professor Bylund in the podcast format to cover the complete range of business functions, including marketing and accounting and business model design, but these are all improved and enhanced by what we can call the Austrian approach. The goal of Economics For Business is to deliver this complete system in the form of tools, posts, articles, papers, books, videos, and podcasts like this one.

Additional Resources

Austrian School Versus Business School: A side-by-side comparison (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_187_PDF

How To Think About The Economy: A Primer by Per Bylund: Mises.org/Primer