From the industrial system to an entrepreneurial system

Economic growth is about value added. In the industrial economy, adding value was a knowledge-based transformation process from physical raw materials to physical goods. Economic growth in the future will still be about value added. The difference is that the generic raw materials of the industrial era are now unique ideas. The transformation process in the post-industrial, entrepreneurial economy is also very different. The industrial process was a linear, sequential chain of predictable acts. The creative process is one of unpredictable, iterative and complex movement from ideas to value. The most important input is not knowledge but on-demand learning.

The worlds of knowledge-based added value and creativity-based added value require very different thinking, skills, and even science, to explain what is going on. Creative work is not about reductionist job roles and clear, task-related responsibilities. Everybody needs to take part and cooperate in the messy, onward movement of thought. This is independent of what you do, or the organizational unit you belong to. It is combining the theory of complexity with the practice of networks.

For an entrepreneur, economic success is the result of the energy and interest you create, the “cool factor”; to fail is to need to motivate people, to find no one interested in what you try to achieve. Successful ideas and arguments are the ones that capture people’s inspiration, bring people together and bridge different purposes.

Paradoxically you always need people who agree, but equally you need people who don’t think like you. Thinking develops best through friction and argumentation. The transformation from ideas to value is a movement of thought that always builds on working with differences. The requirement for efficient work is not necessarily to have common goals or to reach agreement. The new skill is to move forward fast and at the same time keep the paradoxes alive!

Thinking always clusters. That happens in groups, but more importantly, it happens over time. The movement of thought is sometimes slow and can sometimes even get stuck. A person with an idea worth pursuing will give rise to an interaction chain in time, held together in comparable chains of contributors, lurkers and opponents.

The entrepreneurial task is to understand (1) the speed of movement and learning (2) what is being discussed, (3) the quality and cool factor of the conversation, and (4) how ideas concretely develop towards (customer) value and solving the problem we aim to solve. Thinking does not take place inside independent people but in rich, continuous interaction. The richer the interaction, the more economic value can be created.

Firms are formed and networked links initiated around exciting new ideas. The onward movement of thinking then occupies the most limited and important thing there is: our focus. What we focus on is called our attention space.

The attention space is the metaphor of the creative era industrial process and even for the corporate office. It is a “place of the mind”. It is an expression of the collaborative creativity and the cooperative contributions. For an entrepreneur or a startup, what happens there, is the most important real-time measurement of what is actually going on. Additionally, the driving force behind power and change is competition for room in this space. The role of leadership is to influence the things occupying the attention space, the consciousness of the organization.

Economic growth is more and more a result of the interactive movement of thought expressed as the entrepreneurial capacity for transforming ideas into customer value. We are now in the midst of this huge economic change.

The post-industrial era is about a new kind of entrepreneurship. The good news is that the brightest young people are already joining startups instead of traditional firms.

The entrepreneurial revolution is going to be of the same magnitude as the Industrial Revolution was.