I think the power of ideas lies in their application. Ideas are seeds of change, but what brings them to life is their use. What is a theory unless it brings about some improvement in people’s lives? This is where academia and entrepreneurship should overlap: bringing ideas to fruition by letting theory and reality collide through iterative implementation.
Per Bylund is a research professor in the John F. Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship at Baylor University, where he does research in entrepreneurship, management, and economic organization. He previously taught in the management department of the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business and the Division of Applied Social Sciences at the University of Missouri.
He’s also an associate fellow for the Ratio Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, a research fellow at the McQuinn Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, an associated scholar for the Mises Institute, and senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institutet i Sverige.
Per’s research aims to explain the market process of wealth creation and economic development, with a focus on organizations, institutions, strategic management, and entrepreneurship. He has written several papers on the theory of the firm, especially targeting and attempting to illuminate the economic function of the firm — both to the entrepreneur and as a means to explain the evolution of market structure.
His research has been published in several journals, including the Journal of Management Studies, Managerial and Decision Economics, and the Journal of the History of Economic Thought. He also serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Management Studies, the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, and the Molinari Review. Per has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal and The Free Market, among other publications.
Originally from Sweden, Per lives in Texas and mid-Missouri with his wife, Susanne, and their semi-spoiled Plott hound, Georgia.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I wake up every weekday at 4 a.m. to the soothing tunes of Machine Head’s “Locust.” It’s a beautiful song that gets me in the right kind of mood to take on any day. Topping it off with a gallon or so of strong black coffee, my mornings are my most productive time of the day.
I always keep a list with goals to achieve that day, and I use plenty of Gantt charts and checklists. I also try to block out time for all of my to-do list items in my calendar to help me structure the day. While setting goals is important, setting attainable (but not easy) goals is even more important, and reaching them is the most important. A good day always starts the day before; I’m never as productive as when I’ve accomplished what I set out to do the day before.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I think the power of ideas lies in their application. Ideas are seeds of change, but what brings them to life is their use. What is a theory unless it brings about some improvement in people’s lives? This is where academia and entrepreneurship should overlap: bringing ideas to fruition by letting theory and reality collide through iterative implementation. It’s frustrating that academics and entrepreneurs don’t collaborate more; they have so much to learn from each other.
As an academic, I think an idea may be inspiring in itself. But to be of value, it needs to speak to someone’s emotions, fantasies, or imagination, then evolve as it’s taken on by someone who realizes its potential.
Ideas are both dead and alive. They’re dead in the sense that they’re containers without content — they mean nothing unless we fill them. They’re alive because we pursue them, think about them, and make something of them. And that requires entrepreneurship.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m really excited about the great advances being made in communication technology. What’s so intriguing about it is not that we get more gadgets and can play games on the subway, but that these technological innovations constitute a pretty radical push toward individual empowerment through decentralized decision-making globally. Decentralization spurs innovation, growth, and freedom, so it could change everything. It’s a very exciting and promising development, indeed!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an expert in your field?
Questioning premises: the very basis for why things are the way they are and why people think the way they think. Asking “why” isn’t all that important if it addresses symptoms but not the sickness. It must penetrate the fog of habits and implicit presumptions. I suppose it means getting back to first principles and asking if they make sense. It’s far from being a recipe for success all the time, but it’s as rare as it is important in my line of work.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
I don’t think there are any bad jobs, but I’ve had several that were hard work and, at times, the opposite of inspiring, including being a janitor, mailman, and a shelf stocker. What bugged me about these and other jobs like them was not that they were laborious, but that they were structured in such a way that it seemed like they weren’t meant to be improved.
This type of resistance to change wasn’t in the tasks and operations themselves, but rather a cultural and organizational demand. You weren’t supposed to question why things were done a certain way or, even worse, attempt to make things better or easier. Needless to say, things weren’t perfect, and I think there’s always room for improvement.
The problem was organizational hierarchy and a focus on controlling the workflow through micromanagement rather than empowering and trusting those who are closest to the problems and are, therefore, best positioned to find solutions and improvements. It may seem scary, but it’s often a good idea to let go of the leash, take a step back, and trust people to do their best. The opposite suffocates innovation and makes for a terrible culture, while only giving you the illusion of control.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
It depends on what I would have to give up that I have today. That’s really the hard question. I don’t think I would be able to do what I do now in the way I do it had I not taken the winding road I have behind me. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for the experiences I have. Changing what was will change what is, and I’m not sure that it would be for the better.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your reputation?
It’s not so much a strategy as it is a mindset or way of being, I think. It’s important to be genuine and true, not to just appear to be. I go slow and steady; that’s who I am. I’m patient and somewhat stubborn, and I find my goals beyond the horizon. I really think the journey is an end in itself, but it must be taken for a purpose that means something. So it’s important to identify one’s passions and do what’s right and just. Then, it’s easy to see what long-term goals to aim for. That’s really all there is to it. Until that’s done, no specifics in the world can help you.
What is one failure you’ve experienced, and how did you overcome it?
In retrospect, all failures are valuable. This is something that I teach my entrepreneurship students: The most valuable thing you can do as a real-life entrepreneur is fail. That’s the only way to figure out what doesn’t work. It tells you something important about the world that really helps when trying again. But you need to keep an open mind and try to rationally figure out what went wrong to learn from it.
In this sense, every failure is a win. But it requires a sense of maturity and autonomy that I certainly didn’t have when I was younger. I didn’t systematically stop to reflect on what had gone wrong the same way I do today, so I didn’t learn as quickly as I could have. But I finally learned that lesson, so I no longer fear failure. Instead, I eagerly look forward to learning form today’s magnificent failures!
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I really like and appreciate people and what they have to say. I’m just not very good at showing it, so I bet that’s a surprise to a lot of people who know me!
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
The most important would be the digital personal assistant Cortana in my Windows phone. I’m definitely a fan, if not a junkie. People might think it’s funny, but it’s really much more than a caricature that people in my line of work are absent-minded. So to have a service like Cortana in one’s pocket is pretty much an everyday lifesaver.
I also use Twitter, which is the only social media outlet I can stand. But that’s probably because I use it as a way of getting quick, curated information. I follow people who I know have interesting perspectives and who link to or write thoughtful, intelligent, provocative commentary.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
If I had to pick one, I would pick a book that most people wouldn’t even think of reading — and that would seem utterly boring to most people. But Ludwig von Mises’ “Human Action” is a life changer.
It’s an economics treatise, which I realize sounds extremely boring. However, it is one of those books you can read over and over again and learn new things each time. I have no idea how many times I’ve read “Human Action,” but I still learn something about the world every time I open it — on pretty much every page.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Ludwig von Mises has made a lasting impression on me for two very specific reasons: his scholarship in general and economic theory, which is just magnificently insightful, and his way of life. He never ever cowered or backed down. Instead, he stood tall and firm for everything he thought was right — even at great personal costs. Very few have the courage and integrity to lead their lives like Mises did. He has really influenced not only my thinking, but also — more importantly — my philosophy on life.