Components Of The New Management Paradigm.

The traditional methods and ways of thinking of strategic management are no longer viable.

They assume that exogenous causes and causal interrelationships can be shaped and utilized to produce objective factors of business performance. Superior management can result in superior performance through identifiable combinations of observable causal factors.

The modern science of complex evolving systems, represented by Austrian economics in social sciences, compels recognition that business outcomes are emergent rather than resulting from identifiable causal factors. Human action, by both customers and employees, occurs in complex interactions of dynamic interpersonal coordination, the results of which are unforseeable. It is the beliefs, perceptions, expectations, imagination and intentions of individuals that combine and interact unpredictably in business reality. Strategic business success is highly uncertain in this context and impossible to sustain.

A new strategic management paradigm is called for.  The components are:

The philosophy of subjective value. Human beings seek value, defined as an improvement in self-perceived well-being. They constantly seek a desired state to replace a current state that is deemed less than perfectly satisfactory. Businesses thrive when they are able to facilitate customers’ feelings and experiences of value. The performance of a firm, and any structure or methods it adopts, are 100% determined by the perceptions of its target customers. Any change in these perceptions will result in changes in firm performance. Dynamic business energy emanates from customers, not from strategy. 

Converting knowledge into value. It follows that customer knowledge and understanding are the vital, scarce resource of the business firm. There are no structural competitive advantages, but it can be the case that the combination of people in one firm share knowledge and understanding that is more functional for the task of conversion into value via innovation, service and relationship. The law of increasing functional information guides the market systems selection of the best value-facilitating firms.

Entrepreneurship (rather than management) is the business function for conversion of knowledge into new value. It is a non-linear, non-processual act of co-ordinated and creative imagination. It can be advanced and accelerated by identifying and continuously renewing insights into customers’ motivations, purposes and values, and composing and recomposing new value propositions for them to choose from. Entrepreneurial capacity consists of skill in designing business propositions and in stimulating customers’ choice of those propositions. During the act of designing the value proposition, the customer’s choice lies in the future, and so is unknown and unknowable. Entrepreneurial imagination is the cognitive connection of the present offerings and future choices. It does not result from traditional strategic management or planning.

Innovation is a necessary condition for business persistence. In the dynamic swirl of rapid change and inscrutable complexity, continuous innovation is required to stay relevant to customers and to stay coherent with the environment. This is continuous improvement in a value proposition to match continuously increasing knowledge on the customer’s part of what they can want and demand. There are opportunities beyond persistence – adaptive innovators can respond to the changing environment with new value propositions that exceed the expectations of customers, i.e. incorporate new knowledge before it’s widespread. And the truly evolutionary businesses can make leaps of innovation that introduce true novelty to the market. The market may select the novelty or reject it; successful new businesses and new products are those that qualify for selection. The market is always evaluating and always selecting.

Nothing in this process can be predicted or projected. Strategic planning is powerless. Discovery, not planning, is the dynamic of innovation in business.  Discovery requires the humility of relinquishing certainty and control, and the creativity of generating new ideas and combinations for testing and experimentation. There is joy in discovery, and we must learn to love feedback loops, the conduits from the customer and the marketplace that tell us how our experiments perform in evaluation. Humility and empathy are not the central focus of traditional strategic management. We hear much more about heroic business leadership and the intellectual superiority of planners and strategists. But discovery is not driven by intellectualism but by action – run lots of experiments, gather fast feedback, determine what works, and incorporate it into the next epxeriment, until a new value prososition emerges that is robust enough to commercialize.

Complexity is the overarching organizational metaphor. Complexity can’t be tamed or managed. Simple imagery fails to convey any meaning. For example, when there is discusion of market share, or growth rates, or 5-year total stock market returns, or even quarterly revenue, it’s meaningless in the context of complexity. Complexity is a swirl of ongoing interactions between people and their contexts, constrained by rules, norms, institutions, events and things, with emergent and unpreditable outcomes triggering new emergent responses which further accelerate change and make it even more chaotic. Businesses can’t snapshot the swirl of complexity, or choose just a few developments to respond to. They must act intuitively to find islands of order in the raging sea of chaos.

The new form of organization for complexity is autonomy. In the new paradigm, firms gradually learn how to auto-organize, eschewing structure and hierarchy and management authority in favor of self-management by employees and team members. Teams self-assemble around functions like marketing and branding or operations and delivery or finance, and role map the collaboration that will optimize the combination of specialist talents in pursuit of a shared purpose. Purpose is the binding force, rather than position in a hierarchy or on an org chart or the authoritarian directives of management. 

Subjective value, knowledge conversion, entrepreneurship, innovation, discovery, complexity and orgnizational autonomy – these are the components of the new management paradigm. 

Customers don’t have problems to solve. They have imagined futures that are better than today.

One view of how businesses succeed is that they solve the problems that people need solving. That’s the “jobs to be done” school of thought, popularized by Clayton Christensen and embraced by many others. This school of thought pictures people’s lives as being full of problems, and the role of entrepreneurship and innovation as fixing them.

Do consumers buy a subscription to Netflix because they have the problem of being bored or repulsed by alternative content? Do startup companies buy cloud services from AWS because they have a computing problem to solve? Does Mom buy frozen dinners to solve the problem of what to feed the kids?

No. It’s the wrong mental model – the wrong way to think about the demand side of economics and the role of businesses in our lives. The energy of economic growth derives not from the negativity of thinking about problems but the positivity of thinking about opportunities for betterment. The capitalist business system is powered by customers’ imaginations. They see the possibility of a better future, a set of circumstances that is different from and preferred to the current state. They imagine this desired state, not so much as a set of features, but as to how they will feel in it. Today’s circumstances may be fine, but there’s always that inner voice that thinks, “Things could be better.” When it’s really important, “Things that matter to me could be better.”

It’s purely an act of creativity. It’s what social scientists call “counterfactual”. People are imagining a future that doesn’t yet exist, yet they can conjure up the future feeling in their mind. There might not even be the possibility of it existing today, because it requires an innovation to bring it about. How brilliant is that? It’s the same level of imagination that Einstein employed to think about relativity and  Niels Bohr used to think through quantum physics, when relativity and quantum theory didn’t yet exist.

It is cognitive acts of counterfactual imagination that drive civilizational advance, the unrelenting seeking of human progress. And the same counterfactual imagination drives commercial innovation, from the iPhone to new flavors of breakfast cereal. Things could be better. Our phones could cease to be tethered so that we can talk on them while walking. They could cease to be clunky so that we can enjoy the elegance of design. They could help us do multiple tasks so that we can carry one device instead of many. Users didn’t invent these functions. Users made them possible by imagining the world as a better place – more convenient, more amenable to our preferences for convenience and speed and aesthetics. By being open to new value propositions, users bring new value into being. 

The other face of the customer’s imagination of future value that’s better than today’s is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is the business function that turns the customer’s imagined future into commercial new reality. Entrepreneurship is the second stage of innovative genius, the stage that responds to the customer’s initiation. Entrepreneurship is the imagination of not just the future feeling of satisfaction that the customer feels, but also of the product or service or proposition that delivers the satisfaction. Entrepreneurial imagination becomes more and more substantive over time. It starts with an idea – “what if we were able to….” – that’s framed in an incentive: there could be a significant economic reward from the customer if we are successful in realizing the idea as a deliverable product or service. The process moves from idea to concept to some kind of early-stage artifact (the sketch on the back of a napkin) to prototype and MVP and test market. At every stage there’s a check-in with the customer who is imagining a better future: is this idea / concept / artifact / prototype / MVP aligned with your imagination? Is this what you were thinking? (Because, of course, they don’t “know” what they were thinking. What they had in mind was an abstract desired state. But when prompted with an artifact, they can respond – yes, that sorta/kinda points in the right direction. Such encouragement is sufficient to fuel the entrepreneurial development process.)

There’s an ultimate test of the alignment of the new value proposition with the imagined future state. It’s willingness to pay. If the customer is willing to make an exchange of something valuable to them – usually money or some derivative of money like a credit card payment, but also their time and effort – in return for the new product or service, it must, by definition, feel to them like it will bring about their imagined future state, or at least part of it, or, at the very least, provide a useful test of the viability of reaching that desired state through commerce.

People buy Tesla EV’s. Businesses buy AWS cloud computing services and harness Microsoft’s AI tools to help them succeed. These are all innovations that stimulate the customer’s imagination of a better world – an emissions-free transportation system that counters the trend towards climate change; a world of easy access for all businesses to the most advanced and robust computing power; a world of new learning and experimentation. These are all imagined first by customers – “these things that matter to me could be better” – and then by entrepreneurs in response. It’s not a linear progression, of course. Perhaps the first act of imagination that ultimately led to EV’s was the thought that air pollution from tailpipe emissions is unpleasant. That meme becomes a vector in a complex system where EV’s emerge from an unfathomable number of interactions and consequences and further interactions and new experiments and news cycles and conferences and scientific advances. We can’t untangle it. Reductionism no longer applies. There’s no cause and effect. But EV’s wouldn’t happen without customers imagining a better world in the future.

Business Is Not A Set Of Practices Or Strategic Methods Or Planning Techniques. It’s A Mindset

In the current business era, there’s a lot that seems mandatory: using quantitative methods of strategy and planning, following documented IT-enabled processes, organizing fixed structures that can be captured in org charts, and complying with government-mandated rules and regulations. Even the acts of creativity that contribute to innovation are specified, documented, and captured in software. There’s a bias towards fixed cause-and-effect thinking: if a business takes action X, it will result in outcome Y. We are told that case studies will reveal this cause-and-effect linkage in hindsight, to be re-applied in future planning.

There appears to be no room for individualism, spontaneity, unpredictable interactions, or rebellion. Those concepts are insufficiently objective for today’s business executives, consultants, professors and executives. The goal in business is primarily stability: to make a plan and achieve it, to set targets and hit them, to predict quarterly earnings with accuracy, to define processes in the knowledge that they will be followed unfailingly. The goal is to turn business into a science, with hard numbers, laws, and data-driven methods.

But in excess, this objective approach does not support the primary goal of business, which is value. 

The purpose of all firms is to generate value for customers and value is not objective or measurable or amenable to design or planning. Value is a feeling – a feeling of well-being or satisfaction experienced by customers. Different customers experience more value or less value than each other even when using the same product. Value occurs when the customer has used the product or service and compare the consumption experience with their going-in expectations. Value is subjective from beginning to end – from the search for potentially satisfying experiences to the realization in use to the evaluation after use. 

In fact, it is not the firm’s job to create value. It’s the customer’s role to find the most effective solution to their wants and needs. They can express some doubt or uncertainty that there’s anything available to them that exactly meets their need, although they might buy something that the best available option, even though their satisfaction is incomplete. They’re always looking for the discovery of something better. This is the role of the customer – the genius role of insisting on something better, thereby stimulating innovative action among producers to respond with new value propositions. Together, the producer and the customer imagine a new future value via a new or improved service or product; the producer can help the process along with product enhancements and advertising and PR and perhaps prototypes to help the customer’s imagination along.

If the customer’s imagination is piqued, the firm must commit resources to assemble the product capacity that will put an actual, purchasable offering into the marketplace for consumption. There’s no guarantee that this will be profitable or successful. The customer has the final decision. There’s no planning, predictive modeling, sales goal targeting or quantification of any kind that can eliminate or overcome this uncertainty. The customer will choose between all the alternatives available, including to buy nothing at all. It’s all contingent, and there are infinite possibilities. Firms choose their path towards facilitating the customer’s value experience, but there are no objective certainties.

So if business is not objective, quantifiable, or plannable, how would we describe it?

The philosophical word is subjectivism. Businesses would be better equipped for marketplace success if they followed subjective methods. They’re dealing with people and their emotions and their interactions with others in a complex social system. There’s no hard science, no spreadsheets, no data set that can predict the outcomes. 

That raises the question, what are the skills for business, if they’re not numeracy and hard science and mathematical economic. The answer is empathy. The skills of empathy – the ability to see inside customers’ minds and simulate a view of the world as they see it, to imagine what they are imagining, to reconstruct their mental model as opposed to imposing your own – are the most important in every business, and for every individual in every position and every function in business. Everyone must display customer empathy. What is the experience they are having? What’s imperfect about it from their point of view? What might result in a better experience for them, a potentially greater satisfaction for which they might be willing to pay. This empathy is best exercised at the level of the individual customer. If a business can get the empathic diagnosis right for one business, then they can investigate how it scales. Every customer is different, but there might be some patterns of response and interaction that spread out among a population of customers. 

Empathic diagnosis can reveal customers’ intent. What ends are they aiming for? What’s the highest value they seek? How can the firm’s proposition stimulate them to believe that it might contribute to that highest value? Uncovering the customer’s intent can indicate what experiments to run to find out whether any of the propositions a firm is able to get customers to imagine a future where new value is a possibility for them. Experiment is a key word: there’s no certainty in advance. Possibility is another key word: there is a wide range of possible outcomes. But by running the experiments and responding to feedback, the number of possibilities, the range of uncertainty, can be narrowed.

Once the results of experiments are in, then the firm can start unleashing its quants to do the economic calculation. How much will the customer pay based on these experimental results? How many customers might there be? How frequently will they buy. How much advertising budget should I spend to make the value proposition more widely known. Quantification is appropriate for these questions, once the empathic diagnosis is authenticated. 

Of course, the quantification can’t be accurate, and circumstances will change. It’s subjective calculation – the right method for an uncertain and subjective world.

The Value Creators Podcast Episode #9. Mark Packard on Subjectivism

At the Value Creators, we favor a much different business model than the one that’s traditionally taught in business school. Our model focuses on value, understanding that value is experienced by customers, and that it’s entirely subjective. You can’t put numbers on it, you can’t capture it in a plan, it’s not something that can be distributed to shareholders. It’s not a thing of any kind.

We build the Value Creators system on the firm foundation of economics. In this episode, we’re going to explore the basis of sound economic theory and a sound understanding of value. A key word is subjectivism, which may sound very wonky, but it’s the gateway to understanding value.

To talk about value and subjectivism, our guest today is Professor Mark Packard. He’s the Research Director at the Madden Center for Value Creation, part of the College Of Business Management at Florida Atlantic University. He’s the author  He’s the author of Entrepreneurial Valuation, An Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Into The Minds Of Customers.

Knowledge Capsule:

  1. Subjectivism and Value: The conversation starts with a focus on subjectivism in business, particularly in understanding value. From a subjectivist perspective, value is not intrinsic; it is determined by the consumers’ subjective evaluation of products or services. Businesses must focus on providing things of value that consumers appreciate and are willing to pay for. This understanding shifts the perspective of businesses from being value creators to value facilitators, aiming to deliver a better and more valued experience to their customers.
  1. Empathy and Understanding Customer Needs: To succeed in business, entrepreneurs must have empathy and gain a deep understanding of their customers’ needs and value experiences. This involves spending quality time with customers, observing their lives, and interacting with them to truly grasp their desires and preferences. The goal is to identify what customers would value the most and offer products or services that align with those preferences.
  1. Innovation and Technical Knowledge: Successful businesses combine customer needs knowledge and technical knowledge to innovate and create superior value propositions. Entrepreneurial success comes from finding solutions that customers value more than existing options. It requires constantly learning and refining the understanding of customer needs and leveraging technical knowledge to develop products or services that cater to those needs in novel and effective ways.
  1. Crossing the Chasm: Achieving scale in business involves crossing the chasm between early adopters and the early majority. This requires having a clearly superior value proposition that resonates with a broader audience. To succeed, businesses must focus on customer experience, as early adopters’ satisfaction and positive word-of-mouth play a pivotal role in convincing the broader market to adopt the product or service.
  1. Balancing Uncertainty and Adaptability: Business success is not solely reliant on luck, but rather on a combination of understanding customer needs, technical knowledge, and continuous adaptation. Uncertainty is inherent in entrepreneurial ventures, but businesses can mitigate this by fast-adaptive learning and a willingness to revise and refine their value propositions based on feedback and changing market conditions.
  1. The Role of Knowledge Building: To become better entrepreneurs and business leaders, individuals must focus on knowledge building. This involves running experiments, interacting with customers, and processing feedback rapidly to continually improve the understanding of customer needs and create innovative solutions that provide superior value.

The Value Creators Podcast Episode #8. Peter Lewin on Capital Value

In this episode, Peter Lewin, Professor of Economics in the Naveen Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas, talks about capital, defining it, understanding it, optimizing it, identifying its role in business, and how it becomes valuable.

Show Notes:

0:00 | Introduction to capital value

0:45 | Introducing guest: Peter Lewin

2:46 | Capital and Flow of value

10:52 | Inbound & outbound flow thru time

14:28 | Net Present Value

15:52 | Free cash flow vs. EVA.

22:51 | Value drivers

25:43 | Advertising campaigns

27:20 | Interest elasticity of present value

31:24 | About business advice

33:16 | Connecting EVA. with value drivers

38:15 | Sports analogy

Knowledge Capsule

What is capital? Capital is value. And since all value is subjective, capital can be understood as the value subjectively attributed to any resources available to a business for production. That means it includes capital goods like machines and offices, intangibles like brands and lines of code, and people and their skills and their knowledge, both tacit and explicit, accumulated and evolving.

To put a number on this value (what we might call “market value”) requires an assessment that’s informed by subjective calculation. The business executive assesses the future cash flows attributable to the capital asset, discounted to the present period so that a number can be placed on capital value and it can be captured on the asset side of the balance sheet of the business. These future cash flows are an estimate of the experience value the customer will attribute to the goods and services the capital produces. Expected experience value lies behind the customer’s willingness to pay, which is where cash flow comes from. So capital value is a subjective estimate by the business of the subjective value the customer will experience in the future. It’s a tricky calculation, but one at which an entrepreneurial business must be skilled – and honest. Over-confidence about future cash flows resulting from value creation activities represents the entrepreneur’s greatest uncertainty.

Capital is the value attributed by the valuer at any moment in time to the combination of production goods and labor available for production. Capital is the result obtained by calculating the current value of a business unit or business project that employs resources over time. It is the result of a (subjective) entrepreneurial calculation process that relates the flow of consumptions goods to the value of the productive resources that will produce those consumptions goods. The entrepreneur is a ubiquitous calculating presence. In a review of the development of Austrian capital theory, by Carl Menger, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig Lachmann as well as recent contributions, the Element incorporates the seminal contributions into the new framework in order to provide a more accessible perspective on Austrian capital theory.

In Business, Aim At Benefits Not Goals.

The beauty of Austrian economics is that it can understand the joy of an individual successfully making a sale as well as the computation of GDP, and the despair of losing a job as well as the calculation of the unemployment level in the economy. This is subjectivism: the understanding that the things that matter are subjectively determined by individuals and their interactions with others. The outcomes may be observed and aggregated but that doesn’t change what’s important to people.

Such an understanding should change how we think about the economy. The purpose of the economy is not to produce GDP, but to produce well-being. That’s a feeling, not a number. It can’t be quantified or expressed in dollars. The state of the economy is how people feel about their economic and personal well-being. It’s possible that some kind of a directional indicator could be produced by a survey – asking people how they feel and monitoring the trend (feeling better or feeling worse). The University Of Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment attempts to do exactly that, and may be our best indicator of economic conditions.

There are broad implications of the subjective approach – let’s call it the people-first approach – to economics 

Mathematical economics is all wrong. In the twentieth century, the study of economics was hijacked by mathematics. The route to getting an economics Ph.D. or any kind of a degree, the route to formulating economic policy, and the route to managing businesses were all mathematicized. Mathematical laws of cause-and-effect were conceived as applying to human economic interactions. If an equation could be solved, then we could understand the underlying economic issue and take appropriate economic action. This whole approach omits the human element. There’s no equation for well-being.

Economic policy making is all wrong. Economic policy making aims at economic outcomes to be achieved through top-down planning. It’s government intervention in the economic interactions of individuals. Whether it’s taxation or tariffs on trade, or industrial policy (which industries government favors and those it restricts), or anti-trust, or money supply, or income redistribution, or government spending of any kind, it’s all directed at numerically-defined goals using input equations to predict numerical outcomes. That there is even a category of behavior designated as economic policy is a horrible distortion of the reality of the sources of economic well-being.

Our concepts of business management are all wrong. When commentators and the business media aim to assess companies’ performance, or their quality, or their merit, it’s always couched in mathematical terms, whether that’s stock price trends or revenue growth or profits. When CEO’s and executives and managers talk about their achievements, it’s also demonstrated through numbers. It’s rare to hear a CEO talk about the feelings of their customers. Yet it’s those feelings that should be the drivers of corporate behavior and the logic of corporate decision-making.

All of these errors involve goals. We set goals, we aim at goals, we measure whether we met, exceeded or fell short of goals, and by how much. These are all mathematical calculations, numerically enumerated. There’s no subjectiveness or well-being. This kind of calculation has its place in science, which has the extrinsic perspective of trying to understand and predict the material world we live in. We look for scientific laws to explain what has happened in the past and predict future happenings. But this kind of scientific method is inapplicable to the individual, personal, emotional, illogical interactions of humans in their economic dealings with each other. if a shopper feels that a store has an attractive price for potatoes but refuses to shop there again when the checkout clerk is rude, the outcome can’t be modeled. Will the shopper pay the price for potatoes and tolerate the rudeness? Or pay more for potatoes elsewhere, where the level of friendliness and politeness is higher? Will they tell all their friends about the rude service and aim to persuade many more people to change their shopping habits? Will they change their mind at a later date and return to the first store to shop because they eventually decide that low price overcomes rudeness at the checkout? None of this can be modeled and mathematicized.

The solution is to substitute benefits for goals, and to aim at delivering those benefits rather than numerical outcomes. Value is a subjective experience for users, and the idea of benefits is to facilitate that experience by describing the betterment available from accepting a value proposition – feel more chic in new fashions, enjoy speed and safety and green credentials driving a Tesla, make your business operations more efficient and effective using new software, take new confidence in your organizational design with this sound consulting advice. Businesses are better advised to aim at delivering the right benefits rather than aiming at revenue or unit sales goals or returns on investment. These results will be outcomes, but they shouldn’t be goals.

If businesses were benefit-focused, they’d concentrate on knowing their customers as well as possible, on understanding those customers’ needs and wants and preferences. They’d aim at facilitating well-being in individual lives and therefore in the economy.