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.

158. Mark Romera’s Globally Orchestrated Entrepreneurial Design Journey

Entrepreneurship-as-design is brought to life in a wonderful conversation with Mark Romera, who conceived, designed and brought to market a values-driven vision of kids having fun playing in their backyards, via an impeccably crafted brand named Spimbey.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights.

Entrepreneurs can identify innovation opportunities even in the most established fundamental routines of everyday family life.

What’s more basic than kids playing with physical toys in the family back yard, running round, having fun, connecting with others? It’s fundamental to family life in the neighborhood. Yet, kids don’t get that experience so much these days. How to bring it back? That’s an entrepreneurial question that Mark Romera answered with Spimbey, a brand new playset product he designed and launched though his company, Spimba.

First, choose your customer.

Mark chose Mom. Kids are users, but Mom’s the customer. She’s part of a family with target-age kids and some backyard space. She wants her kids to have fun, play safely outside, play with others, and develop themselves physically and mentally. She worries about how much time kids spend on their digital screens, and how that affects their development.

How does an entrepreneur develop the requisite deep knowledge about Mom? Talk to her; engage her in conversation. Go where the play takes place — the back yard.

Distill a complex need into a simple solution.

Already, there’s a lot of complexity. Mom, kids, families, playthings and the materials they’re made with. This brings in safety considerations and regulations, as well as design and manufacturing needs and marketing and distribution needs. The best way to get started is work backwards from the simple solution — the concept of a finished playset, easily assembled by Mom or Dad in a suburban backyard. It needs to be simple for Mom to understand and picture in her mind, and all her questions (like safety and ease of assembly and sustainability) must have simple answers.

From this simple vision, entrepreneurs work backwards in a disassembly process to identify everything they’ll need and the network design to bring it all together.

Design and assemble a flexibly networked internal and external team.

Mark was a sole founder. First, he assembled his team in answer to the questions, who can help me with this journey? He also had flexibility for when and where he needed team members. For the “internal” team (not necessarily employees but performing functional management roles) he looked for process development, product development, brand development and web development. He made careful decisions about types of people, level of experience and the ability to take responsibility in an agile process. Most important was brand alignment — a premium, high quality, high integrity brand presentation requires team members of an appropriate caliber who understand reputation building and high consumer trust.

Next, he focused on assembling the external support team: design, safety experts, materials experts, testing labs and safety certifiers aligned with the appropriate regulatory regimes, manufacturing partners, external sales and customer service experts, logistics, freight and delivery partners. The entire value network must be linked, and scheduled for the right inputs at the right time, all working backwards in the calendar from the critical date, which is the high season for retail sales of playsets. Co-ordination of value network nodes and information flows with process inputs, sequences and handoffs is a complex exercise which must be programmed before any work commences.

The design process is a combination of creativity, rigor, networking and collaborative integration.

As we’ve learned, much of entrepreneurship is a design process, to get from a concept that’s generated internally to a completed product or project that can meet the rigorous demands of the external world, including Mom and the safety regulators, and the guardians of the distribution channels.

The design concept must take a form that everyone involved in the design process can see and understand in an appropriate way, without contradictions or misunderstandings. Then the appropriate design parameters must be assigned: safety, durability, ease of assembly and ease of use, manufacturability, regulatory compliance, freight and packaging constraints. Many of these design inputs must be outsourced — to computer design shops, materials specialists, manufacturers who can impose their own restrictions, warehousers and freight carriers who have specific requirements.

There is a lot of iteration, adjustment, change management and process orchestration to be managed as the design concept advances towards the market and becomes more and more solid, complete and comprehensively detailed. Mark emphasizes meticulous planning, and a calm demeanor with clear communications to keep the network aligned and on the same page.

Branding is a critical element.

The product is physical, but the benefits are psychological. This includes the sense of fun and easiness for the kids, and the feeling of satisfaction and safety for parents. These psychic benefits must be captured in the brand presentation, both online and in physical elements like design and color and packaging. For Mark, his brand is his philosophy, captured in communication, presentation, design, production and delivery.

Mark Romera’s personal entrepreneurial journey passed through various business roles and experiences before branching into entrepreneurship.

Mark worked in growth marketing, business intelligence, new business development and as an independent consultant solving strategic problems for business clients. As his responsibilities increased, he often felt like an entrepreneur inside the corporation. In growth marketing, he learned the power of testing supported by data. Test everything, without waiting for too much discussion about the pros and cons of an idea or concept. If it works, scale it up, if it doesn’t, try to understand why based on the data you’ve collected. Testing and experimentation produce data, and data reduces uncertainty. The data cycle requires speed for success, and not conventional structures or decision-making processes that slow things down.

Entrepreneurship brings unique psychic rewards.

With his growth hacking and exploit-and-expand experience, Mark felt ready and eager to step into entrepreneurship. He told us he wanted something more, because something was missing. He wanted the freedom to develop his own ideas from scratch and to create something new and cool. The psychic reward from entrepreneurship is special. It combines the challenge of immediate implementation and a successful sales season with the long term vision of building a global brand, extending a product line, and gaining acceptance in markets worldwide.

The entrepreneurial journey for Mark is immediately highly rewarding with the long term prospect of increasing achievement and success.

Additional Resources

Mark Romera’s “Entrepreneurial Journey as a Design Process” (PDF): Download Now

See the completion of the journey: Spimbey.com

157. Luca Dellanna on the Power of Adaptation: Managing Complexity Every Day

The terminology of complex adaptive systems sounds academic and abstruse, but the subject is not: it’s about the real-life, in-your-face problems and challenges that face a business every day. The secret to solving the challenges of complexity is adaptation. Luca Dellanna, a business expert on the subject, joined Economics For Business to explain how any firm and all management teams can harness the power of adaptation.

Key Takeaways And Actionable Insights

Complex systems are a business’s everyday environment, and every business behavior is an adaptation.

Every action a manager or leader takes should be aimed not just at its direct outcome but also for the adaptations triggered in your team, i.e. the longer term, second order future behaviors that are made more likely as a consequence of the immediate action. Take motivation as an example. Motivation results less from direct efforts (such as a “motivational speech”) but rather from the establishment of an environment in which good effort is recognized and rewarded. Your system action could be as simple as checking back with employees regarding assignments very quicky and providing feedback. This shows that their behavior is observed, appreciated and valued – a motivational environment to which they will adapt positively. A different environment can be demotivating, with negative long term consequences.

Fast, tight feedback loops are the engines of adaptive systems.

Feedback is the energy of adaptive systems, and Luca urges that the feedback loops must be fast and tight. After-action feedback should be as close to immediate as possible, so that there is no uncertainty about whether action is praiseworthy or not. Dashboards and end-of-period bonuses are too delayed for motivational purposes. Similarly, feedback should be highly specific to the action in question, as opposed to a general – and, even worse, vague or unclear – evaluation. These “motivational moments” or “mission moments” can contribute to the sense of a shared mission and vision.

The opposite case can generate “motivational losses”.

When a team member or colleague shifts from motivated and engaged to unmotivated and disengaged – ready to quit perhaps – it’s a motivational loss. These can be avoided. Treat these occasions as incidents, to be investigated and addressed. Usually, the best solution is productive clarity, because motivational losses usually occur in the event of unclear objectives or unclear directions. The solution to lack of clarity is to make it impossible to be misunderstood, and to do so from the very outset, so that there is never a need to be remedial.

People have mental contracts, and it’s important to understand and empathize with them.

We all have two contracts, the one we sign, and the one in our mind which includes a host of intangibles that are unexpressed in the written contract. We might expect to receive promotion after an appropriate period of hard work, even though there’s nothing in the written contract to that effect, nor has anyone made us that promise. It’s an implicit contract. It’s important to identify and understand these mental contracts, and to end, through clear communications that can’t be misunderstood, all misconceptions that can lead to unfulfilled expectations.

Signaling must be clear and costly.

Leadership behaviors act as signals to the rest of the organization. The signals must be clear and unambiguous. Words can be misunderstood or can be perceived as self-contradicting when there is inconsistency. Behaviors can be more clear and more consistent. Luca gave a safety example: instead of instructing individuals to wear helmets in unsafe areas, managers should go to wear the work is being done, and demonstrate the behavior. The more “costly” the signaling behavior to the manager, the more clear the signal. Luca gave the example of the founder of the Dupont explosives businesses living with his family at the factory where explosives were made. He put “skin in the game” to demonstrate the importance of safety in a notoriously unsafe industry – a costly signal, and one that had the desired effect.

How to become a systems thinker: practice adaptive thinking and apply it to yourself.

Adaptive thinking can be practiced. It can become an expertise. Think through every reality to determine how other individuals are adapting to behaviors of others that concern them or affect their work. How do people adapt to the words that are spoken to them, or the instructions that are given to them? What are the likely second and third order effects? Always ask yourself, how is the system adapting?

Then apply adaptive principles to yourself. Fashion tight and specific feedback loops for yourself so that your actions generate immediate feedback. How are people adapting to your actions? Make sure you are using the right mental models. Check your assumptions.

Additional Resources

Luca’s website: https://www.luca-dellanna.com

Managing Adaptive Systems – Our E4B Knowledge Graphic

The Power Of Adaptation by Luca Dellana

Teams Are Adaptive Systems by Luca Dellanna

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

156. Yousif Almoayyed: How Austrian Economics Helps Me Make Best Use of All My Business Knowledge

Business success is a function of knowledge — the right knowledge at the right time applied in the right way. But knowledge is always scarce and incomplete and sometimes wrong. It is best to regard knowledge as a process: continually gathering changing knowledge from a wide range of sources to integrate into decision-making and action. Austrian economics can provide that integration, helping businesspeople with sense-making in a complex, ever-changing world of knowledge. Yousif Almoayyed joins Economics For Business to share his knowledge journey and the ways in which Austrian Economics provided him with the required integrating theory.

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Business knowledge is gathered from multiple sources and multiple disciplines.

Gathering knowledge that’s relevant for business success is a process, a journey, and an exploration. It’s not limited to business subjects. A rounded businessperson studies economics, of course, but also history, psychology, languages, culture, computer science, political science. Why are these all relevant? Because business is a social science, concerned with how people think and perceive and interact, and how they adapt to new knowledge and changes in context and changes in choices. All the knowledge disciplines impact business.

There’s an exploratory phase in every knowledge journey, where we cast our knowledge net wide.

Yousif Almoayyed describes how his early years of schooling included multiple schools both in his native Bahrain and in the US and other countries. He started to gather comparative knowledge of different countries and cultures. He decided to continue the process by traveling to and studying in China. He developed an elevated capacity for the critical business skill of empathy: seeing things as others see them, through others’ eyes, or rather, through others’ mental models. People who grow up with a different cultural and philosophical and religious and linguistic and institutional background develop different mental models. The facility to discern, analyze and understand those mental models helps businesspeople in their interactions with customers, competitors, employees, partners, and suppliers.

The exploratory phase of knowledge gathering doesn’t require us to think about applying that knowledge in business at the time of gathering. It’s building up a knowledge inventory.

Different fields of knowledge can yield different business skills.

Yousif told us how he studied computer science and developed a deeper understanding of the clarifying explanatory power of logic. Via the discipline of computer programming, which requires efficient navigation to an answer that is both right and elegant, he was able to gather principles of logical reasoning that are highly applicable across disciplines.

He studied history and — by combining these studies with empirical observations in China and Cambodia and Africa as well as the Middle East — he was able to develop his skills in causal reasoning. What causes can be credibly and realistically and logically linked to what outcomes? What he observed on the ground did not always comport with what is taught in history books, since historians may use flawed or biased logic or incomplete knowledge. Best to construct your own reasoning chain and your own web of causality. This skill is highly applicable in business.

Linguistics helps with understanding the meaning that people intend when they speak. It helps with nuance and idiom, and with assessing people through their spoken words — another critical business skill.

Austrian economics is the system of thought and logic and insight that can integrate all this knowledge into a cogent way of understanding and explaining the business world.

Yousif felt that, even with his wide range of multidisciplinary knowledge and multicultural experiences, he still did not understand people and their decision making sufficiently for business. Yousif discovered Austrian economics by reading its definitive treatise, Human Action by Ludwig von Mises.

He told us that he found the insights in Human Action, derived from theory, were highly confirmable in the real world via observation. Anyone can make the same discovery. Over time, for example, you will be able to build more and more confidence in your understanding of how people make their decisions, as well as in your own decision-making about the future. By understanding how individuals’ value systems drive economic decision making, you will be able to interpret and anticipate their economic choices. You’ll deduce the theories or mental models through which people see the world, and analyze their actions that way.

Value systems are at work in firms, also. When a firm has a value system of trust and collaboration, there will be an alignment of interests among everyone who works there, and with suppliers and partners. If you take such a firm as a customer, you can apply the same values-based approach to building a strong business relationship.

Running your own business is an original and customized application of principles of Austrian economics.

You can’t read a book about how to run your own business, Yousif told us. Your analysis, using the principles, must be original. He gave the example of applying price theory in his domestic market of Bahrain. It’s an island, so it’s possible to track price fluctuations in inbound commodities — a special economic case. There are unique seasonal business patterns. Trading in oil has a disproportionate effect on economic conditions, and the oil industry is government controlled, so oil prices affect government spending. Boom and bust cycles are very real, and there is observable monetary distortion of firm-level accounts.

Yousif is able to plug these real and highly specialized data into his command of Austrian price theory to arrive at not only price decisions, but a wider range of decisions about when to build inventory and when to deplete it, and when and how to refresh his capital base, replacing older high-maintenance machines with new high-reliability upgrades. Theory is applied in practice in a very real way and in very real decisions. The results have been impressive: a turnaround of a firm to become a growth business and a market leader.

This is our aim at Economics for Business: applying economic principles to help you to improve and accelerate your business.

155. Bart Vanderhaegen on Flow: Transcending Organizational Barriers to Progress

We all seek progress: at the individual level, the team level, and the company level. Flow is the term for the experience that we feel when we are making progress on challenging activities through our own actions. Flow is high productivity and high achievement. It is the sensation you have when making progress is “winning” over being distracted or frustrated. Organizational structure is often a barrier to flow. Bart Vanderhaegen tells Economics For Business how to transcend the barrier.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Learning and change are good for people and organizations, but very hard to implement.

Management books, management gurus and consultants are all for change to established ways of doing things. But the business landscape is littered with failed change and transformation projects. It’s not people who resist change, it’s processes and established practices and organizational structure. In many ways, structure is the biggest barrier to change, and the enemy of learning. Even when change projects re-make a business’s structure, it’s still there, just in a different configuration.

What if it were possible to transcend structure?

The secret lies in motivation.

Austrian economics reveals the secret of motivation: every individual seeks better circumstances for themselves, trading one set of conditions that’s unsatisfactory for another set that they prefer. That’s an intrinsic motivation — it comes from inside the individual.

Most business systems rely on extrinsic motivations, what Bart Vanderhaegen calls carrot and stick. The firm metes out rewards in the form of awards and bonuses and promotions for behavior it wants to encourage, and withholds them when there is unapproved behavior. The firm takes a positivist or behaviorist view of the world: people can be “nudged” into approved behavior patterns.

Rewards have many flaws. They rely on predictions — setting future targets — that can never be reliable. These predictions are often fixed, unresponsive to changes in the environment, and usually set without much discussion with the individual who is to be motivated by the target. If the target is met or not, the individual finds it hard to know exactly how their actions contributed to the result.

There is a third kind of motivation: FLOW.

It is possible to harness a third kind of motivation that is neither carrot nor stick, and relies on neither reward nor punishment. It can provide autonomy and freedom to individuals to pursue what they find valuable. They can see their own activity as a contribution to a greater end or purpose for themselves. This kind of motivation comes from FLOW.

FLOW is your absorption into an activity performed well. It’s the enjoyment of performing an activity to the extent that you are actually experiencing that you are good at it, while you ae doing it. The activity itself creates the motivation for it. FLOW easily wins the internal competition between getting distracted or diverted versus making progress on the activity.

We are progress-seeking creatures, and FLOW gives us the greatest sense of progress.

FLOW is practical, and can be harnessed, practiced, and linked to work and organization.

There are three conditions for being in FLOW, or getting back to FLOW when you fall out of it.

1) A clear and specific goal for the activity.

This is not to be confused with aspirational goals like a corporate vision, or target goals like the year-end sales volume target. This goal is at the level of action. For the specific activity, what represents completion? In what time specific frame? What problem will have been solved when the action is complete?

2) Capture immediate feedback from the activity.

The activity tells you if you are making progress. Measurement is in the activity itself — there is no outside judge. If you’re not making progress, the activity can steer you back to it. Bart Vanderhaegen uses a tennis analogy: if your shots are going in, you’re making progress; if not, you can adjust your action.

3) The activity must have a challenging but solvable level of difficulty.

To make progress requires taking on challenges that can elevate our skills. FLOW requires overcoming difficulties (an insight that is contrary to the old adage of “keep it simple”).

For those who are quantitatively minded, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the founder of FLOW studies, measured the appropriate degree of difficulty as 10-12% harder than one’s current ability — a kind of Goldilocks number of not too hard and not too easy.

This has profound implications for organizations engaged in motivation. They must present ever-increasing levels of difficulty to their employees and teams, as they learn to perform better and better in the flow of taking on challenging tasks.

4) Organizational structure is a barrier to FLOW and to its power to solve complex business problems.

FLOW can solve complex problems. When the overarching problem to solve is how to deliver customer value — which is a problem that cuts across all elements of corporate structure — a FLOWing team can succeed, because value is a clear goal, and learning by taking on difficult challenges provides a pathway to the goal. The customer doesn’t care how the firm is structured.

Internal structures of departments and functions and conflicting goals and rules can present a major barrier to FLOW and to customer value generation. A problem-solving team representing many departments and focused on the goal of customer value can transcend the barrier, and transcend corporate structure.

Therefore, Bart Vanderhaegen recommends not to spend time and effort creating a new structure when the current one is problematic. Create FLOW over structure.

5) How to put FLOW into action.

Like everything that has value, FLOW is a subjective experience. But there are some application actions that can help to generate team FLOW.

  • Organize a problem-solving network on top of the structural layer.It’s an organic network that crosses departments and regions and functions and all other structural boundaries.
  • Give each team in the network a mandate.A mandate is a problem to solve without specific direction on how to solve it. The team figures out what the solution will look like and how to get there.
  • Make the problems as open as possible.The problem may be to define what are the most important problems to solve.
  • Create transparency (via a software platform) on the problems, ideas and progress.Everyone “taking the pen” themselves.
  • Make sure the goals are linked to actions.For the most open problems, goals can be set for a small number of steps: let’s get to the next milestone in 30 days (e.g., generating a first set of preliminary ideas).

Through criticism and testing, teams will be able to FLOW to new levels of comfort in solving the most difficult of problems. They become more and more capable. And the problem-solving network is scalable: it can become bigger and bigger and solve harder and harder problems.

Additional Resources

“The Value-Creating FLOW Process for Business Problem-Solving” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_155_PDF

Bart Vanderhaegen’s TED TalkMises.org/E4B_155_Video

PactifyManagement.com

The Pactify PodcastAnchor.fm/Pactify

FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi: Mises.org/E4B_155_Book1

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi: Mises.org/E4B_155_Book2

154. Henrik Berglund: Entrepreneurship As Design

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

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experimentation is one kind of design pathway.

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

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

Transformation requires a different kind of design approach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources

“Opportunities as Artifacts and Entrepreneurship as Design” by Henrik Berglund, Marouane Bousfiha, and Yashar Mansoori (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_154_Paper1

“The Artifacts of Entrepreneurial Practice” by Henrik Berglund and Vern L. Glaser (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_154_Paper2

HenrikBerglund.com

Chalmers.se

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

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

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources

“Designing and Assembling a System for Entrepreneurial Growth” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_153_PDF1

“The Entrepreneurial Method” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_153_PDF2

Reach Brett at [email protected]