135. Mark Packard: How to Put Time on Your Side

Entrepreneurial action occurs in time. This brings uncertainty, because of continuous change. We can’t know what will be our future result, yet we must produce now in order to discover it. Are there answers to this conundrum? Yes. They’re found in action, and the timing of action. Mark Packard joins the Economics For Business podcast to share his research.

Download The Episode Resource “Mastering Time” (PDF) – Download

Kay Takeaways and Actionable Insights

There are three ways we can think about time.

Eternalism: Time goes back in the past to infinity and forward in the future to infinity. It’s a real thing, e.g., we can identify “points” in time. This is the time of physics.

Presentism: Past time does not exist, it is a memory pattern; the future is undetermined, it’s just a mental image. The only time that exists, and is real, is now. This is the time of Austrian economics.

Growing tree: The past is real, it has been determined, and there is one real historical truth (think roots and branches). The present is real and unfolding (new leaves growing every day). The future is undetermined.

Presentism is the view of time that best aligns with Austrian entrepreneurship and subjectivism. Entrepreneurs act based on their own sense of time, which can be both objective (the clock is ticking) and subjective (how I act in time and how I feel about it).

Entrepreneurial action occurs in time, which brings uncertainty.

Why must entrepreneurs deal with uncertainty? Because production takes time, and there is continuous change, so the outcomes of the production process in the future can’t be known. Even if the entrepreneur knows what demand is today, it can change over time, and can’t be known in the future. Businesses choose entrepreneurial action long before they know how it is going to turn out. Entrepreneurial uncertainty is a consequence of the existence of time.

Time is scarce, but it’s not a resource.

We can legitimately refer to time as being scarce. We often feel as though there is not “enough” of it. We’d like to be able to try to pack more effort and action into the time available to us.

When we talk in terms of scarcity, it’s tempting to think that time is a resource, akin to other scarce resources. We manage those other resources, we allocate them, we combine them, we use them efficiently.

We’d like to think the same way about managing time. But we don’t have control of it. Time just flows. It’s not at our disposal to use and allocate as we see fit. We can’t defer judgement on how to allocate our time, for example, because time keeps flowing and by deferring judgement we just did allocate some present time to not acting.

The resource over which we do have control is our effort.

We can choose how to allocate our efforts in time. Our efforts are not scarce in the same way that time is scarce. Our efforts are limitless; we can put effort into a wide range of applications. It’s because time is scarce that effort must be allocated as if it were scarce.

As time flows, customers’ perception of value changes, and entrepreneurs must follow this change process closely.

The effects of the flow of time are not exclusively limited to the allocation of entrepreneurial effort. They are also manifested in the customer’s Value Learning Process. (Mark Packard describes this in detail, and gives us some management tools: Mises.org/E4E_44Mises.org/E4E_55Mises.org/E4E_62, and Mises.org/E4E_73).

As a result of the flow of time, customer value is a process. Customers prefer the best satisfaction they can presently identify. As time flows, and they gain more knowledge and experience, what they value changes. Their preferences are different in the future than in the present. There is continuous change.

Since consumers are sovereign to the entrepreneur, it is mandatory to keep up with these changes. The continuous process of value learning never stops, and entrepreneurs must follow closely, gathering feedback, empathically interacting with this feedback, and making adaptive changes in their value propositions in response.

Sometimes, customer preferences may stabilize. Entrepreneurs may come to believe that there is a loyal cadre of reliable customers, and may invest in nurturing this loyalty and in relationship building. But they can not permit themselves to become too comfortable in these relationships. Customers are not loyal to a product or service or brand or supplier. They always seek the best satisfaction, and once new knowledge is available to them, they will change their behavior.

All entrepreneurial choices about action are made in the context of time, with significant consequences for outcomes.

Because customer preferences are continuously changing through time, entrepreneurs are faced with an uncertain decision about when to act. At what point in time do they have enough knowledge to go to market with a new value proposition, or a new or improved product or service? They know that, as soon as they act, customer preferences are going to change further (perhaps as a consequence of the action). If the entrepreneur decides that acting as the first mover in introducing an innovation gives them an advantage, they also know that competitors have an opportunity to process the new changes and overtrump that advantage as a second mover. Both are competing over the customer’s shifting sense of greater satisfaction.

When does the entrepreneur know enough? How does a business identify the narrow window in the customer’s value learning process that provides a signal to act? Timing is a big, important piece in the entrepreneurial puzzle.

There are several areas of time management where entrepreneurs can improve their skills.

While time isn’t a resource to be allocated, it provides a context for action in which entrepreneurs can subjectively make changes for the better.

Recalibration

Is your internal clock moving too fast or too slow? Do you find that you are always running late, or, alternatively, arriving too early and consequently “wasting” time (i.e., burdened with time periods you can’t fill with appropriate action)? If so, it’s time to recalibrate. Change the pace at which you do things. The world proceeds objectively at clock time, but your internal clock is subjective. You may need to align the clocks better. Change your schedule or rearrange your tasks to make your internal clock better aligned with real clock time.

Better time planning

Sometimes we simply err in assessing how much time to allocate to each of our various tasks. Each one takes longer than we planned, and by the end of the day, we’re several tasks “behind” and some will remain undone. If that happens over and over again, if there is regularity in your mistiming, you should change your mode of planning. Allocate different — more realistic — amounts of time to the completion of each task. Allow for delays. Don’t “lose track of time”.

Fix your prospective memory

Do you put tasks on your to-do list for the future and then forget them? This is a failure of prospective memory — your memory of the future. Prospective memory is your recall of the schedule you had planned out for yourself. One answer is to use mechanical or digital aids. Write down your to-do’s on a calendar. Enter them into your phone. Set an alarm as reminder.

Whatever, happens, don’t be the bottleneck.

Time management is not trivial. For entrepreneurs, being late, missing meetings, missing deadlines, or experiencing delays is likely going to cost you dearly.

Don’t be the bottleneck, don’t be the one causing the problems, for your colleagues, your partners, your customers, or any collaborators. Fix your own timing issues.

Additional Resources

“How to Master Time” (PDF): Download PDF

“Value is a Learning Process” (PDF): Download PDF

The Fairest Society Is The One Which Most Energetically Promotes The Entrepreneurial Creativity Of All Its Members.

This post is based on – and utilizes a lot of the language from – The Theory Of Dynamic Efficiency by Jesus Huerta De Soto, an essay that highlights with great clarity some of the essential differences between Austrian economics and mainstream economics.

It seems as though those of us who favor free markets and the unleashing of the creative power of entrepreneurship have lost control of the language.

Take the word fairness as an example. In today’s perceptions of social justice (which, in itself, is an other term we’ve lost to irrational interpretation), fairness is deemed to require equalized outcomes for all. No-one should have more wealth or income than anyone else. Any institution or process or arrangement that tends towards an outcome that can be deemed unequal is unfair. 

Is this way of thinking good for society? There is an entirely different way of thinking, one which will lead to a much more dynamic and productive society that advances with great agility and energy towards a better future for all.

Economist Jesus Huerta de Soto calls this way of thinking “dynamic efficiency”. Efficient is another word that is typically misused in economics. It has been made to mean something like using fewer resources in order to achieve a given output. The point about dynamic efficiency is that output is never given. Thanks to individual human creativity, especially in the form of entrepreneurship, output is always changing, improving, becoming more effective and more useful and more valued by customers. The question should not be how to use fewer resources, but how to use resources in a good way to produce better outcomes.

Neither resources nor technology are “given” in real life. They can vary and actually do vary continually – as a result of entrepreneurial activity. This is the essence of dynamic efficiency – continuous change for the better. When so-called welfare economics calls for redistribution of resources in order to address perceived inequality, it is based on a static view. Interpersonal comparisons of what economists call utility require a snapshot to freeze data in time in order to analyze and decompose It. Meanwhile, time and economic conditions and entrepreneurship and innovation continue apace, and whatever comparisons are made are rendered irrelevant.

Such comparisons completely ignore dynamic efficiency, the capacity to foster entrepreneurial creativity and co-ordination and collaboration, and to seek, discover and overcome any maladjustments or unmet needs in society and among its members. The most important goal is to apply these dynamics and continually shift possibilities to a new higher level.

The driver of this creative and dynamic energy of improvement is entrepreneurship. This can be understood as the typical human ability to recognize opportunities for profit that appear in the environment and to act accordingly to take advantage of them. Entrepreneurs are alert to these opportunities. They are creative in producing new knowledge, new solutions, and new possibilities. The entrepreneurial process never stops or ends. There are always new opportunities to be seized, whether in the form of new ends (things we achieve that we never thought we’d be able to) or new means (better ways to reach goals for which we may have been striving for a long time).

Will there be waste as all these new opportunities are pursued? Probably. Can perfect equality or static efficiency be reached. No – because the dynamic creation and discovery of new outcomes is never balanced, it’s always tilted towards change and towards a better future.

What, then, can we say of the ethics or the social justice of this dynamic and creative economy? We address that question from the perspective that every person possesses an innate creative capacity that enables them to perceive and discover the profit opportunities that arise in their environment, and to act accordingly to take advantage of them. Entrepreneurship is the typically human ability to perpetually create and discover new ends and means. The ethical principle is that each person has the right to the results of their entrepreneurial creativity. Whatever they create, they keep. It’s not a matter of redistribution, but it is a matter of equity. Earn it, keep it.

That’s why de Soto says, “the fairest society is the one which most energetically promotes the entrepreneurial creativity of all its members” – a society in which no authority will expropriate the results, partially or totally, of the creative entrepreneurial process. Social ethics hinge on the private ownership of that which is entrepreneurially created and discovered, based on the voluntary exchange of all goods and services. 

Regulation and state intervention in pursuit of redistribution or restriction of entrepreneurial activity impedes creative action, limits people’s creative capacity , and the new knowledge and innovation that moves society forward. State intervention is both dynamically inefficient and ethically reprehensible.

A dynamic and ethical society under these principles will evolve the institutions that can support them. Entrepreneurial behavior takes place best in emergent common law legal frameworks, and moral frameworks. Taxation policies can undermine entrepreneurship, as can misconceived regulation and economic intervention. The law should be on the side of entrepreneurial creativity.

Social justice concepts such as fairness and efficiency should be re-examined through the lens of economic dynamism and creativity driven by entrepreneurship. All in society thrive most in the entrepreneurial environment.

134. Per Bylund: The Unrealized

Understanding The Unrealized requires us as entrepreneurial businesspeople to think better, and to resist settling for what is merely feasible in a regulated, risk-mitigated world. We must ask what could be possible in a different world, and act on that basis. Sound economics supports such action. Per Bylund takes us through his thinking about The Unrealized.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

First, see beyond what’s there.

From Bastiat’s famous parable about the broken window comes the economist’s instinct to think about 2nd, 3rd, and Nth order consequences of actions. These are typically unseen by those who don’t think like economists, and never even considered by politicians.

Entrepreneurs always have 2nd or 3rd alternative actions in mind if the consequences of their first choice are unexpected, and they will always adjust further if required by customer feedback, with the constant aim of producing high customer value and satisfaction. They see beyond what’s there.

Government regulators and legislators make promises on the basis of forecast 1st order consequences only.

Regulators promise that the consequences of their actions will be beneficial, at least to some groups. For example, in minimum wage legislation, they promise a pay raise for the lowest paid workers. What is not seen are all the jobs that disappear — are never offered — as a 2nd order consequence of making minimum wage labor unaffordable to the profit seeking entrepreneurs, the ones who create jobs.

Beyond the unseen is The Unrealized.

In reality, regulations are not what politicians promise. They are not actions to help people. They are restrictions on entrepreneurs’ economic behavior. Entrepreneurs are aiming at satisfying customer wants as much as possible. Regulations aim to restrict this customer-satisfying action by forbidding certain innovations, or declaring that they must be designed and implemented in ways that have value for the regulator and not for the customer or entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs are forced to abandon some of their efforts to generate new value by satisfying customers, or to redirect their efforts into less value-producing channels. The potential output of their creativity goes Unrealized.

Society accumulates and compounds losses when entrepreneurial creativity is curtailed.

What could have been the case if entrepreneurs were unbound, if the regulatory chains were cast off? We can’t know. But we can know that The Unrealized is a cost to society.

And the cost is cumulative. Technology and innovation thrive and grow in response to observations of how customers experience value from it. Entrepreneurs introduce a new application of technology by building on what’s available today and adding to the value experience that they observe customers enjoying today. If innovation is restricted by regulation (or any other barrier), these observations can’t take place. The next big thing that builds on today’s big thing won’t happen. We keep falling behind what is possible because of these regulatory restraints. Consumers become cumulatively worse off. Society is permanently and increasingly damaged.

We are placed on a different value trajectory — one that limits our options.

What if Henry Ford had been restricted from introducing assembly line manufacturing of automobiles? It’s not hard to imagine such a case in the OSHA environment of today. What if the innovation cloud of new roads, better engines, gas stations with coffee and hot dogs, and all the other ancillary results of assembly line manufacturing had not been allowed to form?

Such a thought experiment demonstrates how regulation places society on a different trajectory than what is possible from unlimited entrepreneurial innovation. Will Uber’s technology launch us on a trajectory of ever-more-ingenious applications of on-demand service, stimulated by consumers’ unlimited imagination of greater and greater convenience? Or will taxi medallion regulation permanently limit that imagination to keep it within the boundaries of bureaucratic compliance and control?

Per Bylund’s term for the effects of bureaucratic control is limited optionality. Quality of life is elevated when we have greater optionality. Regulators don’t want us to have that experience. Less optionality means less value.

Continuous reinvention can’t be planned.

The second and third and Nth order consequences of unrestricted entrepreneurial creativity and consumer imagination are not subject to planning. Emergent new inventions and innovations are not predictable. The probability of positive outcomes from the creative process can be enhanced by entrepreneurial intent and aspiration and effort. But on the other hand, the range of positive probabilities is greatly reduced by restrictions on that intent and aspiration. What could be is bounded by what is attempted, and regulations narrow the field in which attempts are made.

Make sure you do not restrict your own creativity with self-imposed regulation-like limitations.

Regulation limits innovative possibilities. What if the same is true of your own entrepreneurial practice? What if The Unrealized is concealing itself in your own business? Are you sure that your imagination about possible futures based on your understanding of customer wants is expansive enough? Are you sure that you have considered all possible approaches to satisfying those wants, even the ones that are most unlikely? Have you examined every possible pathway to a unique position in the marketplace? Have you found every possible way to cut out cost and time from your production process? Are all your processes designed and engineered to remove all barriers to successful outcomes?

If you are inside a corporation, are there corporate restrictions that act like regulations, channeling your creativity into pre-ordained pathways and towards pre-selected attractors? Are there unnecessary constraints on emergence?

The Unrealized lurks everywhere. The entrepreneurial task is to root it out.

Additional Resources

Per Bylund’s book, The Seen, The Unseen, And The UnrealizedMises.org/E4B_134_Book

Mises U 2021 presentation, “The Seen, The Unseen And The Unrealized”: Mises.org/E4B_134_Lecture

“The Broken Window Fallacy” by Robert P. Murphy: Mises.org/E4B_134_Article1

“Compounding Shortfalls in Innovation” by Hunter Hastings: Mises.org/E4B_134_Article2

“Mark Spitznagel: At What Price Safety?” — another take on The Unrealized from an investing perspective: Mises.org/E4B_134_Article3

Economics In The Digital Age Is Different.

Steve Denning is one of our most important and insightful writers at the intersection of economics, business, and management. He has been in the lead in alerting the business world to the imperative of new thinking about organization, embracing agility and the end of hierarchy, agile processes, and digital transformation. His message: management must change to keep up with technology.

Recently, he turned his attention to economics. His conclusion: economics must change to keep up with technology. Mainstream economics that is; we Austrians may claim a special position, as I’ll argue below.

A school or tradition of economics (such as “mainstream economics”) tends to be defined by stacking dead economists and their theories one on top of another and calling the resulting intellectual edifice a definitive body of work for the filling of textbooks. Later arrivals to the school limit themselves to publishing marginal elucidations. Keynesian economics continues as a set of theories derived from the conditions between the first and second world wars in socialist Britain. Keynesian economists in 2021 continue to insist that these theories still hold, and, in fact, they are the backbone of US Government economic policy today, and the reason it is so disastrous.

In his article Why Mainstream Economists Miss Digital Innovation, Denning drives home just exactly why this backward-looking process of economic theorizing takes us so far off base. Mainstream economists (he quotes Nobel prizewinner Robert Solow) had a very difficult time even recognizing the contribution of digital services to economic value. The “real economy”, Solow opined, was about physical products. Now the largest firms in the world are those delivering primarily digital services. So much for the validity of Nobel rise recognition.

Denning also calls out Robert J Gordon, who asserts that the great innovations occurred before 1970  – innovations such as electricity, household appliances that reduce work, air conditioning that increases comfort and productivity, flushing toilets that improve sanitation and health. Gordon dismisses innovation after 1970 as narrowly focused on entertainment, communication, and information technology. He referred to the arrival of the iPhone as a minor event in entertainment and communications. He failed to realize how a handheld computer in the hands of billions of people radically increases productivity and economic growth, which has been associated with the eradication of poverty, as well as changing how people are educated, given access to healthcare, and put on a pathway to higher aspirations and better lives.

Denning uses this example as an illustration for his conclusion that mainstream economics misses “that digital innovation has changed almost every aspect of human life”. Of what relevance is a field of study that is so oblivious to real life?

Fortunately, there’s a school of economics that understands the dominant role of digital innovation: Austrian economics. There are several points of difference with mainstream economics. One is the understanding that Austrians have of the market as a process and the economy as a constantly changing capital structure. Mainstream economists’ main tool is the study of equilibrium: under what conditions would the economy be perfectly balanced with no more change? Austrians understand that there is no equilibrium, and equilibrium is not a state we desire. The market is a flow of continuous, often dramatic and always accelerating change. Technologies build on technologies and change becomes exponential in terms of impact on growth and improvement. More and more customer value is generated, without limit.

Austrian capital theory recognizes capital in the economy as a flowing river of technology enabling more and more customer value, and constantly changing and improving in response to customers’ never-ending demand for betterment – faster, cheaper, more efficient, more convenient, more comfortable, more productive. Customers demand this continuous change, and technology helps to deliver it.

Another tool in the Austrian economists’ toolbox is the understanding of the role of the entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, and the entrepreneurial method. The entrepreneur has no role in mainstream economics. No one has figured out a mathematical equation to represent this most human of innovative influence. Entrepreneurs are those who look at the world and ask themselves how they can make it better than it is. That’s why Steve Denning can quote an entrepreneur like Marc Andreessen who wrote  “Why Software Is Eating The World” but can’t find any economists to quote.

He could have referred to W. Brian Arthur’s paper, Competing Technologies, Increasing Returns, and Lock-In By Historical Events, where he anticipated exponential growth and the rise of the tech titans. Brian Arthur calls his brand of economics “complexity economics”, which is a strand of Austrian economics. Denning might also have quoted Todd H. Chiles on Organizational Emergence, his theory about how firms and markets advance rapidly through stages of dramatic change and increasing value generation as a result of both technology and changing consumer preferences.

Steve Denning is right to say that it’s imperative that mainstream economics catches up with technology. He should go further and call for the widespread recognition of Austrian economics as the economics of radical economic change. It’s already the go-to theory to explain bitcoin, free software, and the economics of video games. Mainstream will never catch up.