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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

186. Jared Wall: How a Courageous Entrepreneur Enters a Formative Market

How do new markets form? When consumers change their tastes and preferences and behaviors, how are the markets to serve them activated? The markets don’t yet exist — entrepreneurial action is required to create them. The answer to the question, of course, is that entrepreneurs — real people taking the real business risk to initiate new business experiments — provide the new energy and new initiative to create markets where previously they didn’t exist.

Jared Wall is one of these creative entrepreneurs, and thchempspot.com is his creation.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights.

Courageous entrepreneurs lead the way into new markets as they are still forming.

Entrepreneurs bring the energy that opens new markets and new pathways to economic value. New markets can emerge as the result of changing consumer tastes and preferences, new channels or platforms, new forms of delivery, new technologies or a combination of several catalysts — but the energy, initiative and drive of the entrepreneur is always the necessary ingredient for the ultimate emergence of new value and new market arrangements.

New discoveries and new innovations often provide the entrepreneur with market-opening mechanisms.

Serving customers in new and different ways doesn’t always require new products and services, but it is often the case that the discovery or invention of novel combinations can lead to innovation — that is, new and better experiences for customers that were previously unknown or unavailable or narrowly distributed. In the market for consumable cannabis products, there emerged a new THC variant called Delta 8 THC, a cannabinoid that offered both different product performance and different accessibility. The emergent new ingredient provided the pathway to a whole new market opportunity.

Legislation and regulation are complications and barriers in formative markets, but often their ambiguity provides an opening for innovative entry.

The courageous entrepreneurs who lead the way into formative markets often encounter legislative and regulatory barriers, since these are static drags on progress and innovation and never keep up with the changes in markets. At the same time, the regulatory thicket can sometimes be useful to the entrepreneur who can cut a new opening others can’t imagine.

In the market for consumable cannabis products, Delta 8 THC became such a new opening, which was cut when some content in a comprehensive congressional Farm Bill encouraged the commercialization of certain kinds of hemp, of which Delta 8 THC was one of the by-products. Legislators and policy authors can’t think about the future the way entrepreneurs can, and they did not envision the future world of innovation they were unlocking.

The regulatory maze is an aspect of legislation and regulation — but every maze has an exit path.

Innovation in formative markets combines and compounds.

Jared Wall launched thchempspot.com to offer Delta 8 THC experiences to consumers. Those who shop at the site find a lot more innovation than just this ingredient. There are multiple new consumable forms for varied experience delivery — gummies, chocolate bars, chewing gum, soft gels, and peanut brittle, among others.

Where do these innovations come from? Not from the R&D labs of major corporations, that’s for certain. They originate in the creative minds of imaginative entrepreneurs, and they take shape in their experiments and prototypes and willingness to try new things. Will they all be big successes? Of course not. But they will all generate feedback loops of acceptance or non-acceptance, reviews and ratings and experience sharing; they’ll contribute to innovation as an ongoing cycle of learning. Society enjoys better choices because entrepreneurs unleash their creativity and don’t hold back from experimental designs.

Market infrastructure and market institutions can’t always keep up with entrepreneurial change, but new supportive services quickly appear to lubricate frictions and provide institutional arbitrage.

All commerce needs infrastructure such as payment systems and institutions such as banks, and market formation can sometimes move faster than infrastructure and institutions can adapt. Jared Wall had this experience — PayPal and major banks cut off services because thchempsot.com, while serving legitimate customers with legal products, was deemed a “high risk” business, outside their terms and conditions.

Yet, in a quite inspirational way, business services emerge in these situations to navigate around the barriers of poorly adapted institutions. Jared found consultants who offer the service of connecting so-called “high risk” businesses with value-network partners willing to collaborate with them. Jared was quickly able to replace his payment system and banking infrastructure. There was a service interruption, but it was temporary. A new network of mediating services quickly formed to bypass institutional barriers.

The creation and sharing of new information is a big part of the innovation equation.

Jesus Huerta De Soto1 identifies the creation and sharing of new information as the central activity of entrepreneurs – informing customers of new products and services and new offerings and prices. Entrepreneurs are constantly creating, updating, and improving the information resources they make available to customers. High quality information enhances value.

On thchempspot.com, Jared provides information in Q&A form, pull-down menus, and product descriptions. He’s self-published an informative e-book that’s free on the site, and he publishes an informative newsletter. We can sometimes feel unclear about the value of information, but in formative markets its importance is primary not secondary.

185. Jessica Fialkovich On The Business Of Selling Businesses

Every business should have an exit plan in mind from Day 1. Why? Because it’s impossible to control the timing of an exit or the changes in circumstances that might precipitate it. Venture capitalists know this, and build in their exit formulas at the time of their initial funding. Entrepreneurs should think the same way. And, like any business process, selling a business is a knowledge-based process that repays an investment in learning its techniques and critical success factors. Economics For Business talked to Jessica Fialkovich, a successful business builder in her own right, who founded Exit Factor, an advisory firm that helps entrepreneurs get the most from selling their businesses.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Entrepreneurship provides better career control and security than corporate life.

Jessica climbed the corporate ladder, investing effort and skill into being a great employee. But she was just a name on a list when the GFC came along – a list of those to be let go when Lehman Brothers (her employer’s funder) collapsed.

She realized that entrepreneurship provided her with great security. There’s uncertainty, but the entrepreneur decides what their future is, takes responsibility for those decisions, and accepts the accountability.

She built a successful business through hard work and the discovery process of identifying target customers and finding new and better ways to bring them value. Her chosen business was in wine sales to wine-loving customers, many of whom were connoisseurs. She developed many specialized services including finding rare wines for collectors, and her clientele spanned the globe. She incorporated the latest technologies and innovated in marketing techniques. She worked long hours, talking to customers across 16 time zones from Japan to California.

Then she decided to sell.

Entrepreneurs experience a lot less support when selling a business than when building it.

When you’re successfully growing a business, everyone wants to help, providing you with business services and supplies, and advice and ideas. What Jessica found when she came to sell was that she was on her own. It was hard to find expert help, or the requisite resources, or pretty much any kind of support infrastructure for a transaction of the size she was planning. For big business, there’s investment banking. For the 99.9% of businesses outside the Fortune 500, there was nothing similar. There were some so-called business brokers, but they were not dedicated specialists, not professionals in the specific process of selling, unreliable and poor at client service.

As an alert entrepreneur, Jessica understood that this finding signaled a market need.

The first step to design for an under-served market is to draw on relevant experience from parallel markets.

Business development always starts with first principles: is there a market to be served, in that some potential customers feel an unmet need or have a meaningful problem to be solved? Jessica had first-hand knowledge of the problem, and talking to entrepreneurs in similar situations reinforced her confidence in the market’s potential.

The comparison market Jessica chose was investment banking, which can be thought of as selling businesses of a larger scale. There’s an established investment banking process and a timeline of steps and milestones from preparing an evaluation, to developing the pitch deck, to the identification of the best buyers and the tailoring of a marketing plan for them. Jessica’s husband had some relevant investment banking experience which enhanced the knowledge transfer from one field to another, and provided a reality check for the process design.

Business-to-business services development and execution has its own set of rules; the most important one is the nurturing of relationships.

A business brokerage is a high-intensity B2B service bundle requiring a lot of in-person customized relationship management. There’s pitching the potential customers in the first place, customizing the service tom their particular business and to meet their specific needs, with a big need for staff training to deliver these specialized services. B2B service providers must be both sales experts and process experts. That requires a lot of human capital.

Jessica’s answer was to design and build a system-based model that, once in place, could be repeated and reproduced via well-trained staff with the right IT support.

She has found B2B services to be even more demanding than sourcing rare wines for connoisseurs. Selling a business is somehow more personal and individual. A client’s perception of what their business is worth may be quite different than the market’s perception. It’s the nurturing of relationships that smooths out the potential jagged edges in these transactions.

Some insights for entrepreneurs selling their business.

  • Identify your exit options from Day 1 of your business. Since it’s impossible to control exit timing – which may be due to unforeseen changes in circumstances – it’s best to lay the runway from the start. Plan to run a salable business, as well as one that’s profitable and growing. Don’t have a fire sale or panic sale or be unprepared.
  • Tailoring your selling process to the size and type of your business is important. There are different influences on what moves valuations up or down depending on business size, but, in all cases, it’s a process with a beginning, a middle and an end to be planned for in advance. You’ve got to know how to find buyers, how to source offers, and how to keep your business in good shape for due diligence.
  • Conduct regular health checks for evaluation. Always know what your business is worth. Find out how businesses are valued in your industry or sector. Make sure your business shows well on the criteria that are applied in your field.
  • EBITDA multiples are the dominant valuation metric. You may read in the Wall Street Journal about businesses being acquired for brand value, or for technology integration, or for other reasons of corporate M&A strategy. For small and medium size businesses, EBITDA multiples remain the dominant metric. There’s some art regarding what the precise multiple may turn out to be, but it’d within a range and is not going to vary wildly.
  • There is some room for qualitative factors and subjective valuation. Jessica listed subjective factors ranging from the degree of business involvement of the owner (and the worry that their future absence might be detrimental) to the perceived quality of the brand and its imagery and reputation.
  • The ultimate asset is a proven and scalable business model. If you can demonstrate that your business model returns increases in revenue and profit growth for additional investments in capital or people or marketing, then you are most likely to find an eager buyer. Make sure you can model your business in this way and that the data are clean and credible.

Additional Resources

Getting The Most For Selling Your Business by Jessica Fialkovich: Mises.org/E4B_185_Book

ExitFactor.com

Jessica on LinkedIn: Mises.org/E4B_185_LinkedIn

161. Connie Whitman: Turning Experience Into An Intellectual Property Business

Your individual experience is a business asset. Life is teaching us more than we sometimes realize. An insightful analysis of what we’ve experienced, combined with purposeful translation, can generate unique intellectual property on which to base a unique approach to business. Connie Whitman joins Economics For Business to share her experience and her development of a thriving, resilient, and adaptive coaching and training service.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Experience is an asset that reveals our business superpowers.

Life teaches us whether we fully realize it or not. While climbing the job ladder at a firm may seem like the pursuit of credentials and titles, it’s better understood as an accumulation of knowledge and learning that can be applied in the future in entrepreneurship.

Connie Whitman enjoyed a 20-year career in financial services up to the SVP level. It was her customers who pointed out to her what “superpowers” she was developing — a distinctive capacity to assist all parties in a complex collaborative contract to fully understand the benefits accruing to each one of them individually and all of them collectively.

We all can have these superpowers, but we don’t always realize them until a third party points them out, through asking for input or advice or seeking us out or praising us. It’s important to learn the right kind of self-assessment — and to learn to listen to others’ assessment of us — so as to be able to understand our own superpowers.

We can translate our experience into intellectual property that forms the basis for an entrepreneurial business.

Connie Whitman transformed her experience into both a brand philosophy and a scalable methodology.

Connie knew from her experience in business that the function entitled “sales” is often viewed negatively: sales activities and salespeople might be accused of rapaciousness and avarice, however unjustified such accusations may be. She intended to develop a service in coaching and training in the sales field, and so it was important to distance herself from these misperceptions. Her counter was selling from a place of love: relationship selling based on love, respect, and integrity. Selling is the construction of an “everybody wins” proposition. It’s an honorable implementation of the entrepreneur’s ethic of service. Anyone using Connie’s techniques would evoke for themselves a feeling of pride and self-respect that the critics of the sales function try to deny.

She crafted a methodology for selling from a place of love in the form of a seven-step selling process. It is replete with Austrian principles of subjectiveness, empathy, and customer sovereignty.

Preparedness: Planning in advance to assemble all the knowledge and understanding available to make you informed and ready; anticipating what the customer will want to know and is likely to ask.

Connecting: Using empathy to connect on the basis of what’s important to the customer in order to establish credibility.

Exploring: Asking questions to learn as much as possible about the customer’s needs and preferences in the context of their current circumstances.

Active Listening: Connie’s phrase is “be present” — listen intently and indicate that you have heard accurately by asking follow up questions to further explore customer needs.

Presenting Solutions: Framing all value propositions as a solution — reliving customer unease.

Confirming: The process of closing the sale, actively asking the customer for their business.

Following up: Consistent, persistent, and respectful (CPR) follow up to confirm satisfaction and potentially extend the relationship.

Connie’s method has evolved and improved over the years — nothing is ever fixed, and all businesses adapt and learn. Yet this intellectual property developed from experience has proven to be solid capital generating both revenue flows and client satisfaction, not to mention word-of-mouth recommendations and references.

Business-building is a function of your network — another piece of intellectual property born of experience.

You meet many people in your professional career and you make many connections. Your network is another IP asset. It’s one you should groom and keep fresh and active, turning it into another business asset.

An IP business can be lasting, but you may have to refresh the infrastructure.

Connie’s in-person, face-to-face business model was challenged during the COVID pandemic. When business travel stopped, and a lot of sales training budgets were cut. The IP remained valid. The market signal was for her to digitize the business. She took classes and hired consultants to learn how to achieve domain authority. She educated herself on the technology required for digitization of her individual business model, and the processes for digital engagement that were consistent with her 7-step process and principles. The result has been further growth, and the continued fulfillment of pursuing her business goals, and realizing new ones.

Your entrepreneurial IP business can become your most fulfilling experience.

Connie describes her entrepreneurial experience as immensely fulfilling — the most rewarding thing she has done in her life. It’s the realization of the value accumulated over a career, and the new value shared with clients in providing service to them. It has been tremendously hard work, of course, and has required some challenging resource allocation decisions — of both time and money — but the reward greatly exceeds the sacrifice.

Additional Resources

“Connie Whitman’s Seven-Step Sales Loop” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_161_PDF

ESPEasy Sales Process by Connie Whitman: Mises.org/E4B_161_Book

Connie’s website: WhitmanAssoc.com

Changing The Sales Game podcast: Mises.org/E4B_161_Pod

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

152. Laura and Derek Cabrera: Building An Entrepreneurial Business Culture With Systems Thinking

Why do entrepreneurs start businesses in the first place? They have a vision for the future and seek to work with other people to bring it about. Those other people may be colleagues and employees, directors and investors, suppliers, and customers. Organizing this multivalent work is hard. Thinking of your organization as a complex adaptive system yields new understanding and a new approach to organizing that results in improved goal achievement.

Laura and Derek Cabrera of Cabrera Research Lab are dedicated to sharing research findings that enhance the capability of any organization to reach business goals. They join the Economics For Business podcast to do some sharing with the E4B community.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Systems Thinking resolves the mismatch between the way the real world works and the way firms think it works.

World hunger is a wicked problem, yet there is enough food to feed the world. We don’t have the right mental model to account for all the social, economic, political, motivational, and cultural issues that shape the problem.

In the same vein, systems thinking in business is about building mental models that better align with the real world. Laura and Derek Cabrera provide an introduction in Systems Thinking Made Simple, and they mentioned some of the important changes in thinking that businesses must embrace to enter the new world of possibilities that systems thinking opens up. The first step is to recognize that LAMO thinking is inappropriate for a VUCA world.

The real world is agnostic about human endeavors

VUCA WorldLAMO Thinking
The real world is non-linearbut we think in linear ways.
yet we tend to look sat things through a human-centered (anthropocentric) lens.yet we tend to look sat things through a human-centered (anthropocentric) lens.
The real world is adaptive and organicyet we tend to think mechanistically and the metaphors we use reference machines (e.g., a universe like clockwork; mind is a computer).
The real world is networked and complex with a sprinkling of randomnessyet we think of things in ordered categories and hierarchies.

All businesses are complex adaptive systems. We have no choice in the matter. An organization is a living, breathing thing, organic — lots of individuals dynamically making decisions that roll up into the complex system. It’s not a machine.

An implication is that business executives and managers can’t operate on outcomes directly (e.g., via business “planning” or business “strategy”). Outcomes are emergent from the system and can be worked on only indirectly.

The traditional mental model for business organization is flawed.

Laura and Derek capture the traditional mental model for organizational management in the acronym PCCU: Plan, Command, Control, Utilize.

Plan: Businesses create plans for the future, often in great detail, with rigorous discipline, and lots of numbers and projections. But the real world is changing too fast, and outlining detailed steps to reach a goal amidst rapid change introduces biases that can occlude opportunities for rapid and profitable adaptation to change.

Command: Hierarchical organization designs assume a military metaphor of command. Organizations are much more organic in the real world, tempered by social influence, compliance, resistance, and rebellion. Better to think of then organization as a network and a culture.

Control: Management likes to feel like it is in control, but the control paradigm is both unrealistic and unresponsive to organic change.

Utilize: The most detrimental organizational construct is the Human Resources department. Treating people like resources to be utilized is unsustainable. People are independent agents in the system who wish to co-evolve to a place where their individual goals and those of the organization are well-aligned.

The mental model for how complex adaptive systems work is Simple Rules.

The great insight from complex adaptive systems thinking is that organizational behavior isn’t directed by leaders, but driven by followers. What are they following? Simple rules.

We can think of an organization as a superorganism. It self-organizes by following simple rules that guide the actions of individual agents in variable contexts. Autonomous agents follow simple rules based on what’s happening locally (that is, around them), the collective dynamics of which lead to the emergence of the complex, system-level behavior we observe: adaptiveness and robustness.

The simple rules for successful adaptive organizations are summed up as V-M-C-L.

Vision: A seeing thing. Something we all see in the future, where we are headed. Not a tagline, not a statement on a website, not a corporate word salad. A vision is a shared mental model that everyone in the organization can see and articulate and align with. It’s in their hearts and minds. It gets employees excited and connected.

Mission: A doing thing. A mission is something that you do repeatedly over and over again to bring about the vision. It directs the work in the organization, with clarity about who does what. It’s clear, concise, easily understood and measurable.

Capacity: The organization must have the capacity to do the mission: the energy, the resources, the skills. Capacity is a system of systems all connected and working together, focused on, and directed towards doing the mission.

Learning: Learning is critical to expand capacity, reinforce mission and refine vision. It is the adaptive function. Organizations must love learning – seeking unvarnished feedback from the outside world as input into making the changes that are needed for improvement. This means loving reality and being brutally honest about the current state. Learning means improving mental models, and embracing the possibility that your current model is wrong.

In their book Flock Not Clock (see Mises.org/E4B_152_Book), where there is a detailed exposition and explanation of V-M-C-L, Laura and Derek cite the example of the app My Fitness Pal.

Vision: Healthy living is the new normal

Mission: Facilitate and motivate healthy behavior choices

Capacity: Build mission-critical systems: design, engineering, R&D, sales, and marketing, etc.

Learning: Feedback on whether living healthy is getting easier, whether more people are making healthy choices, whether more people are feeling joyful and powerful as a result.

Think of the elements of V-M-C-L as a pyramid you can construct from first principles: Thinking drives Learning, which drives Capacity, which drives Mission, which brings about Vision.

The emergent result of V-M-C-L is culture.

Laura and Derek talk about training people to think in order to be able to learn. The first step is often unlearning the misleading mental models we’ve been taught to believe. When people start to think about mental models, they can recognize their own and those of others, and make comparisons, make changes, and find common ground.

If your mental model about your current situation is real — “brutally honest,” as Derek put it — then the chance of changing that situation for the better is good. You’ll be able to identify a path out.

Culture can be built around the simple rules of vision, mission, capacity, and learning, by purposely constructing the four mental models of V-M-C-L. There is enormous organizational and economic power in the new understanding of complex adaptive systems and how they work in getting a group of disparate people to work together towards a goal as if they are a single unified organism.

Additional Resources

Sign up for Laura and Derek’s Vision-Mission Bootcamp:  Go.CabreraResearch.org/VMBootcamp

Visit Cabrera Research Lab online at CabreraResearch.org and on LinkedIn (Mises.org/E4B_152_LinkedIn).

“20-Point V-M-C-L Checklist” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_152_PDF1

“Constructing the VMCL System” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_152_PDF2

Flock Not Clock: Align People, Processes and Systems to Achieve Your Vision by Derek and Laura Cabrera: Mises.org/E4B_152_Book