The Division Of Economics Into Macro And Micro Is Incoherent. Individual Action And Interaction Are The Two Levels On Which To Focus.

If you read about or think about economics, whether you find your content in textbooks, business books, or business magazines or on news sites and programs or blog sites or via popular writers, you’ve probably come across the terms micro-economics and macro-economics. 

If you explore, you can find multiple definitions for each of these terms:

  • The International Monetary Fund defines macroeconomics as “how the overall economy works”, typically at the national level, and via the study and analysis of “aggregate variables” such as overall employment and money supply. Microeconomics, according to the IMF is concerned with a single market such as the automobile market or the oil market and how these are “driven by supply or demand changes”.
  • Investopedia, to take just one alternative source, describes macroeconomics as “the decisions of countries and governments” and microeconomics as “the study of individuals and business decisions”.

These are just two samples of the definitions available to searchers on the internet. They are clearly very different in import and meaning. 

The confusion would not be a surprise to Economics Professor Richard E. Wagner. In fact he says, in a book entitled Politics As A Peculiar Business, that the distinction between micro- and macroeconomics is “incoherent” and “non-informative”: it can’t tell us anything.

The established and institutionalized distinction between microeconomics and macroeconomics is incoherent in Wagner’s explanation, because 

it treats some types of interaction as macro while treating other types as macro, based on nothing more than the size or the extent of the interaction. Hence, the division of firms into distinct industries is to create micro entities, while their aggregation is to create a macro entity. This is nothing but incoherence, for all firms beyond proprietorships involve collective phenomena and are products of interaction.

Rather than the micro/macro classification, Wagner proposes the distinction between individual action and social interaction. He presents two very fancy terms for these two classifications: praxeology and catallaxy. Praxeology pertains to individual action, catallaxy pertains to interaction between individuals in society. Economic reasoning begins with praxeology, but most of the phenomena that are analyzed by economists are catallactical.

Prices, firms and markets are treated in the traditional economics as micro objects, to distinguish them from aggregate variables. But if micro pertains to individual action, then prices, firms and markets are macro objects because they pertain to interaction. Hence the accusation of incoherence. 

What’s so important about individual action in economics?  Wagner stipulates that societies change only through individual action inside those societies, with those actions spreading within the society according to the receptivity of other members of society to those changes. All change originates at the action, i.e. individual, level. Individual action matters; there is no such thing as social action.

Individuals interact through their connections to other individuals. If we think of society or the economy, it must be as a network of such connections. If we talk of social structures, we must talk of a network of connections between individuals who are constantly seeking better states of affairs within their own spheres of interest.

These choices of better states are subjective. As Wagner puts it, “Sentiment proposes objects for reason to think about”. In other words, economists can’t know why people do what they do. 

But modern economics can shed light on the implications of individual action and interaction. Systems theory establishes the basis for understanding interactions based on subjective value, and modern techniques of computational modeling of systems can show how theories play out. A frequent result of the action and interaction of individuals s “emergent” outcomes: patterns of system behavior that are not predictable from the behavior of individuals, yet are the result of it. Adam Smith recognized these outcomes as the results of human behavior but not of human design, brought about by the invisible hand of the market.

These emergent outcomes can mean economic flourishing for all because, in commercial societies, individuals choose actions that provide services to others that those others are willing to pay for. This is market-based action, continuously refined by the feedback loop of profit and loss, and the reciprocal relationship of choice and cost. All these actions, choices and costs occur at the micro level, the level of the individual.

Macroeconomics, on the other hand, is a mirage, a fallacy. It’s a made-up concept designed to justify government policy to “manage” a macro-level idea of the economy. If economists can aggregate data at the level of the economy, they can propose policies that claim to have the potential to induce changes in the aggregates. But since there is no such phenomenon as action at the aggregate level, or even interaction – people don’t interact with aggregates, but with other people – this entire scenario is invalid. Or, as Wagner would say, incoherent.

Why do the claims for the efficacy of policy persist? As Wagner also explains, the realm of economics and the realm of politics are now entangled. Actions in one realm can not be disentangled from action in the other. When individual action in the economic realm brings about flourishing, there will always be a politician or a federal agency to intervene to attempt to change the outcome. It is unlikely that we can disentangle ourselves from politicians and their macroeconomics any time soon, despite the incoherence.

Re-thinking The Role Of The Consumer In The Business System: Making Six Strong Connections.

A breakthrough paper published by Dr. Per Bylund and Dr. Mark Packard in January 2021, titled Subjective Value In Entrepreneurship, points to ten radical shifts in business thinking. We consider each one in turn. This article is number two in our series. (Previous articles here and here.)

Producers produce, consumers consume. Producers innovate, consumers enjoy the benefits of innovation. Producers pursue new ideas and new economic value, consumers evaluate and choose.

These are typical mental models of the business system. What if they are painting the wrong picture? What if, in representing the flow of production, innovation, ideas and value from the producer to the consumer (or the B2B customer), they are missing the fundamental mechanism of economics?

That is one of the questions asked by Dr. Per Bylund and Dr. Mark Packard in their paper Subjective Value In Entrepreneurship. In it, they propose a different image. Rather than a one-way flow of value from producer to consumer, they suggest that the producer and the consumer are equally engaged in a joint quest for value. The flow is two-way, not one-way. 

One of the implications of this new perspective is to attach greater importance to the connection between the entrepreneur and the consumer, and to study this connection with greater intensity, rather than to focus on the behavior of the entrepreneur or the behavior of the consumer in isolation. 

To immerse ourselves in this new way of thinking about the consumer’s role, a new mental model helps. In the new model, the consumer can be viewed as a dynamic bundle of connections to various resources. The consumer is assembing a system – to run a household, or to run an office, or to implement some specific task in as efficient and effective way as possible, i.e. best result at lowest cost. To supply the system with the required resources for its operation, the consumer connects to supply sources: for the household system the connections might be to a supermarket, a dry cleaner, an array of other retailers, a few gas stations, the local water and energy suppliers, audio and video entertainment services, internet and PC, some expert services (an electrician and a plumber, for example), one or more schools, doctors and healthcare services. There are many more of course. Think of a cloud of service connections surrounding each individual consumer and family. We can imagine a similar cloud for a B2B customer.

Whether consumer or customer, the value generation system is big and complex.

A producer who seeks to provide services to the consumer should first develop the mental model of all the existing connections the consumer has already assembled in their cloud, and is currently monitoring, managing and evaluating. For each one, the consumer continuously applies a set of value questions: was my most recent experience as valuable as I wanted it to be; do I continue to rank the value of that experience value higher than alternative satisfactions; do I feel the cost of exchange is less than the value experienced? This ongoing valuation is a dynamic swirl of continuous change, with different satisfactions and services simultaneously rising and falling in their relative ranking in the consumer’s mind.

With each act of valuation, the consumer emits a signal for the alert entrepreneur to pick up: dissatisfaction or satisfaction. The signal can be understood in terms of the consumer’s interaction with the world of goods and services providers, in the context of a never-ending quest for a higher value state. The entrepreneurs and businesses that have developed the strongest connections to the consumer will be best placed to intercept and translate the value-seeking signals.

The Six Strong Connections.

Mark Packard Episode Cover Photo

Alert businesses develop their connections along multiple dimensions;

The Information Connection: consumers are imparting information in their desire for greater value, and the smart business develops excellent information-receiving capabilities. The well-tuned connection is not so much information-gathering (i.e. intentional queries such as surveys) as a cultural disposition to hear and listen, especially at the front lines of direct contact with customers.

The information connection is two-way. Successful businesses fine tune their information provision to the customer, aiming to ensure that it is personalized, specifically relevant to a declared value desire, and additive to the knowledge they need to support their decision-making. Happily, “spray and pray” advertising tactics have been abandoned. Personalization of digital communications is a big advance for businesses, so long as they avoid the feelings of “interruption and annoyance” that can be the unintended consequence.

The Value Proposition Connection: from the listening connection, businesses can craft a customized value proposition, a proposal to address the customer’s search for greater value. This connection must also be two-way. How does the customer react? What is the level of belief? Is the customer prompted to learn more about the firm making the proposition? How does the customer feel about this value proposition compared to alternatives? If there is no feedback loop, the business is unable to answer these questions and unable to advance further through the value process. 

The Evaluation Connection: consumers are engaged in continuous evaluation of their alternatives within the value system they have created for themselves. Businesses aim to be part of the evaluation process, providing knowledge where it is requested, and responses where they are called for.

The Exchange Connection: too often, it is the exchange connection between customer and provider that is emphasized at the expense of all others: it becomes the sole end of interaction for the business, whereas it is better (and more profitably) seen as one component in the cloud of connections surrounding the consumer. Certainly, a completed exchange connection – i.e. an economic transaction – indicates a successful response by a business to a consumer’s signal; however, it does not say anything about the probability of future connections.

The Experience Connection: subjective value is experienced uniquely by the consumer, so this connection is the most distant for the producer. The only role is as observer, monitoring the experience. The monitoring can be funneled through feedback loops to the designers tasked with making the experience as valuable as possible.

The Assessment Connection: the consumer’s assessment of the experience is more accessible to the producer, because the consumer is much more liable to articulate the details of the assessment, whether as complaints or praise. A strong connection would deliver far more nuance, of course, especially in the consumer’s conditional language of “It would be better if….” or “I wish…..”.

When business truly grants the consumer / end-user the role of equal partner in co-navigating towards a higher value, these six two-way connections are established, always open, and serve as freeways of co-creation.

The New Economics Of Value And Value Creation.

A breakthrough paper published by Dr. Per Bylund and Dr. Mark Packard in January 2021, titled Subjective Value In Entrepreneurship, points to ten radical shifts in business thinking. We consider each one in turn. This article is number two in our series. (Previous article here.)

There’s classical economics and there’s Austrian economics. There’s classical physics and there’s quantum physics. In each case, the emergence of the new science requires rethinking of the “rules of the game”. In the case of quantum physics, not everything about Newton’s Laws, or even Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity, can be thought of as accurate any more, and the things we think of as existing in spacetime (the three dimensions of space plus the dimension of time) are not everything that exists nor everything that is real. It is the study of energy at the smallest possible scale in quantum physics that reveals new insights and new knowledge. At this level, the rules are different.

The equivalent perspective in Austrian economics comes from methodological individualism – the study of economic energy at its smallest possible scale: the individual, individual choices, and individual transactions. These interactions and transactions roll up into the complex, swirling, ever-changing systems we call firms, markets and, ultimately, economies. But it is the study at the individual level that yields new insights and new knowledge, just as in quantum physics.

It is in this spirit that Dr. Bylund and Dr. Packard approach the subject of economic value. Progress in the world is the creation of new economic value. Who creates it? The answer is not what most people think. Consumers create value. That’s because value is a feeling, the emergent outcome of an experience that the consumer judges to be of value to them. Their assessment occurs in their own mind, after the event of the experience, and is entirely individual. Value is, in other words, subjective. There is no value without consumption.

This realization compels a re-thinking of the concept of value in business. It is typical, today, to talk of businesses as “creating value”, and to think of some firms as creating more value than others as a result of competitive advantage or superior strategy. The methods of measurement for these assessments usually involve financial variables such as profits or stock price appreciation or margins.

But this approach is not accurate, and it’s not right. Businesses, firms and entrepreneurs and their brands and offerings are parties to value generation. They’re just not the creators, because there is no creation without consumption.

So, if they don’t create value, what do they do? They pursue new value on the customer’s behalf and they capture some portion after customers create value, providing themselves (and, by extension their customers) with the sustainability required to continue to offer innovative value propositions in the future.

Here’s how that process works out

Identifying value potential in response to customer signals.

After customers create value in consumption, they evaluate it in comparison to their expectations and to alternative satisfactions they could have chosen. If there is a discrepancy on the downside, they emit a market signal we call dissatisfaction. The genius of customers is to be able to identify potential improvements through this mechanism of dissatisfaction. They are always seeking a better experience, no matter how good the latest one might be. In this way, they are the driver of innovation and economic growth.

But dissatisfaction signals are not always easy to interpret. The famous observation attributed to Henry Ford applies: if I’d asked them what they want, they’d have told me “faster horses”. Ford’s customers were dissatisfied with the transportation experience offered by the best horses (and carts) of the time, but couldn’t wish for the inexpensive automobiles that Ford eventually developed.

We could say that Ford identified the value potential in the desire for faster horses. Consumer signals require interpretation, and that constitutes one of the major contributions, and major skills, of entrepreneurial businesses.

Value Facilitation

Once value potential is identified and confirmed, the role of business is to make it easy, convenient and enjoyable for customers to experience the new value. Value facilitation means taking a proposed new or improved product or service all the way to the point where the customer can buy it and experience it. We might say that value facilitation is the traversing of the last mile and the last foot into the customer’s domain.

Facilitating value means making the least amount of work for the customer. We don’t think about work as something the customer has to do. But the concept is important in identifying barriers to purchase and barriers to usage. If the customer has to learn new software, a new interface that doesn’t work the way they’re used to, or a new car dealership whose customer service process is different, it’s all work. If a customer has to drive to a store instead of accepting delivery at the office or home, it’s more work. If a truck requires more maintenance, it’s more customer work. If the customer must do some research to find out about a brand that was previously unknown to them, it’s more work. Economic science recognizes the disutility of work. If there’s a possibility of achieving a benefit with less work, that’s the benefit the customer will choose.

Value facilitation is the business activity of minimizing the amount of work the customer must do to experience the benefit on offer, reducing the barriers to purchase and usage to zero.

Capturing value

When the value facilitation process is taken to the max – the last foot – the value experience is ready for capture.

On the customer side of the transaction, the final step is translation of their value assessment (which includes the weighing of multiple value perspectives, and especially relative value compared with what else they could use their money for) into a monetary expression we call willingness to pay. The willingness to pay means the customer perceives more value in the potential experience on offer than in holding on to their cash or using that cash for alternative purposes. It can only occur when the benefit they anticipate exceeds the price asked by the entrepreneurial business making the offer. There might be some negotiation (special promotions, discounts, coupons, incentives, and so on) before the willingness to pay is finalized and expressed in a purchase.

The customer captures value by buying and using and experiencing what they bought. This might be immediate (like an ice cream cone) or delayed or spread over time (like a car). 

The business captures value when they receive the cash, and subtract all the costs of production. The quality of the business model determines how much of the value the business captures, and how much is lost to costs or shared with partners in the value delivery network or supply chain. Some business models capture more value than others. For example, selling direct to consumers via the internet usually empowers sellers to capture more margin than going through a 3rd party retailer and wholesaler network and sharing margin with them. There’s both more value for the consumer (delivery versus pick-up, speed, convenience, etc) and more to be captured by the producer.

Besides negotiating price, the producer’s role at this stage is to monitor the customer’s value experience – did it go smoothly, did it meet expectations, are there any dissatisfaction signals to be picked up?

Value agility – strong feedback loops and responsive innovation.

Value facilitation is never complete. The entrepreneurial business must become adept at reading consumer signals after the value experience and value capture. This is accomplished by keeping open the feedback loops from the end-user to the business – contacting, monitoring, listening, processing, and ensuring that the feedback enters and is absorbed by all parts of the business, not just the call center or the marketing department. Every part of the business should be entrepreneurially empowered to respond to end-user reactions and signals. A firm with value agility is organized differently, with every possible touchpoint and listening point ready with a response.

This value agility and readiness spontaneously organizes continuous innovation, making changes to firm behavior, policies, outputs, services and delivery to aim for the best possible accommodation of changing and evolving customer requirements. Continuous change is the norm for the entrepreneurially empowered firm.

Quantum Economics

In quantum physics, entities in a quantum state emit what are called “offer waves”. Other quantum entities absorb these offer waves and send out a “confirmation wave”. When the offer wave and confirmation wave match, a real-time event occurs as a result, although very rarely, because the quantum states and offer waves are continuously changing. The quantum states and the offer wave and confirmation wave are real, but they do not occur in the dimensions of spacetime (the three dimensions of space plus the dimension of time that are the “container” for everything we can observe and experience with our senses). They occur in quantumland – a land of probabilities, possibilities and potential that are not yet quite real to the human observer.

The economics of value can be thought of in the same way. Consumer dissatisfaction is the emission of offer waves: I will be your customer if you can solve my dissatisfaction. Entrepreneurial action can be thought off as the confirmation wave, sometimes but rarely providing the right response and precipitating a real event, a transaction. 

There is no concept of cause-and-effect or stimulus-and-response. The offer wave and confirmation wave exchanges are occurring simultaneously, at all times, in all directions, amidst continuous change. Professors Bylund and Packard painted the picture of consumer and entrepreneur co-navigating a sea of uncertainty in a shared quest for a higher value state. Each has a role, but neither is the stimulator or responder. Both of them play both roles at the same time. The new rules of value require us to think differently than we’ve been taught in the past.

Watch this video for a quick review of the 4V’s Business Model

When Businesses Re-Think Value Using A Subjectivist Approach, Many Beneficial Consequences Follow.

When businesses take the time and analytical effort to think about value and to define it from the customer’s perspective, they will realize the opportunity to re-shape their business models and manage their business in new ways.

Here is a quote from a respected business source, highly ranked on the Google search page:

What’s the purpose of your business? Some would define it as profitability, cash flow, security, or freedom. The purpose of a business is to serve the values of you as the owner. Its purpose is value creation for the owner.

And, in a 2020 post, respected consultancy McKinsey demanded a clear definition of value and then failed to give it.

Particularly at this time of reflection on the virtues and vices of capitalism, we believe it’s critical that managers and board directors have a clear understanding of what value creation means. For today’s value-minded executives, creating value cannot be limited to simply maximizing today’s share price. Rather, the evidence points to a better objective: maximizing a company’s value to its shareholders, now and in the future.

These quotes are a tiny slice of what’s out there: multiple definitions or approximations or circumlocutions for value.

Value is not a thing. It can’t be created or maximized. Value is a personal feeling of satisfaction experienced by an individual, in their own mind. It’s positive, because it occurs when an experience is preferable to an alternative or to an expectation or to what went before. It can be expressed or communicated by the individual, but it can’t be measured.

The purpose of a business is not “value creation for the owner” but the facilitation of value for the customer. That word facilitation is important. When a customer senses value potential – the possibility that a consumption experience might be satisfying and fulfilling to them – they may seize it. They buy, they use. They create value. There is no value without consumption. Value is in the customer’s domain. They are the ones who discover new values; they are the ones who innovate, because without them there is no innovation. Innovation is an experience of the customer.

The business is the facilitator for the customer.  This role is a major change for many businesses compared to the way they currently think about themselves. There are numerous significant implications.

Businesses and customers co-navigate the uncertain seas of value.

In their recently published paper, Subjective Value In Entrepreneurship, Professors Per Bylund and Mark Packard point to the value uncertainty that both consumers and businesses experience. Consumers know what problems they are trying to solve or what dissatisfactions they are trying to overcome, but they can’t know whether the business’s offering is going to deliver the satisfaction they are looking for. Will this suit make the right impression in the office? Will this spaghetti and meatballs remind me of the time I spent in Rome? Will this car deliver 35 mpg even though I use it mostly just to ferry the kids back and forth to school? Consumers can never be sure that they’ll have the experience they want.

It’s the same for businesses. It’s impossible to know how the consumer will feel, and impossible to know whether the specific combination of features and benefits and website design and advertising and customer service will precisely meet one customer’s requirements, and to know how much different the next customer’s requirements will be.

The customer and the business are both searching for the perfect intersection of wants and solutions. Neither one of them can know exactly where that intersection lies. This makes them equal partners in value in a way that businesses have not typically treated customers in the past. Value is created by customers; businesses facilitate. Innovation is actualized by customers; businesses bring it to market. Discovery of new uses and applications is the task of the customers; businesses observe and adapt.

Businesses must grant customers a new co-equal role.

A business or brand is just one part of a value facilitation network.

When the consumer experiences value, it’s experienced within a consumption experience system. Tide laundry detergent is consumed as a combination of chemicals designed to get clothes white and bright and smelling nice. It’s used in a washing machine, of which there are numerous brands and types and sizes the world over, connected to all kinds of water systems with many kinds of water (hard, soft, mineral, etc.). It’s used on all kinds of fabrics, at many different temperatures and altitudes. It may be used in conjunction with other additives such as bleach or fabric softener. The washed clothes may be to wear at school or on the sports field, or to the office or to a party. They may be worn in all kinds of weather. The washing detergent is bought on a trip to the supermarket along with other groceries, and must be transported from the store to the laundry room.

The consumer has a system. They have a lot of household chores and they allocate them to certain times of the day or week and they have certain ways of completing those chores. They experience value within this system. They orchestrate all of their providers to make the system work for them.

It’s important for value facilitation for businesses to see themselves as a node and a set of connections within a value facilitation network – a value net. What is the best way to fit in to make the consumers’ system work best for them, on their terms? How do different consumers’ systems vary? How does that affect the business’s “fit”? How can a business fit more consumer systems? How can a business earn greater significance in a consumer’s system by helping them orchestrate, or by helping them with multiple jobs rather than one?

Business is a responder rather than an initiator.

A major change in business mindset is called for when value is redefined as subjective, and as a consumer experience. Our traditional mythology of business is as the proactive initiator of relationships with customers, the discoverer of new techniques, the innovator, the advertiser pushing new solutions to a grateful crowd of takers. The “great men and women” theory of business as led by extraordinary visionaries fits this mold of thinking. The Steve Jobs attitude of “people don’t know what they want until I design it for them and present it” is similarly reflective of the accepted imagery that business leads and people follow.

In reality, business is the follower, or at least the responder. The demand for innovation and better service and better experiences comes from consumers. They are the ones who cultivate the realization that not everything works as well as it should, that the levels of service that are offered are not good enough, that experiences could be better. They send out signals to this effect via what we call dissatisfaction or unease with the status quo.

The effective businesses are those that respond best to these signals, the ones with the best antennae and with the best interpretation of signals that may be coded in a different language than businesses are used to. These businesses are especially tightly coupled to their customers. They are skillful in exercising empathy, and in imagining experiences from the consumer’s perspective. They exhibit better understanding.

The consumer signals indicate there is potential for new value. The task of business is to see this potential and fashion a responsive offer that can trigger its realization. It’s a humble approach to business, an assembly of experiments to see if they can get to the right response, rather than a magisterial strategy or business plan for success.

Here’s a simple example. A recent Ford F150 truck re-design features an interior with a flat surface work “desk” for using a laptop, and an exterior power supply for plugging in all kinds of electrical equipment (the ad shows a DJ hauling and plugging in his gear). Did Ford independently initiate these ideas? No. They responded in an agile way to the practices of truck owners, some of whom spend hours a day working in their cabs, including computer work, and some of whom are entrepreneurial DJ’s hauling their gear to where the gigs are and asserting their independence from other people’s power sources. The consumer acts, the business responds. That’s the new subjective value generation method.

Subjective value thinking puts business in a different place in society.

When the purpose of business is to facilitate valued experiences for customers, to help them achieve betterment in their lives, and to find meaning and purpose in the successful pursuit of that betterment, we can view businesses in a new light. We can discard the cynical expectations of exploitation of unsuspecting customers instilled in us by our Marxism-tinged educators, and embrace the understanding of businesspeople devoted to the betterment of customers, and thereby the betterment of society. Businesses are sustained by the entrepreneurial ethic of serving others in order to help themselves. This ethic is the foundation of economic society, and subjective value thinking highlights it in the most appropriate way.

Quantum Economics, Potential, And The 4V’s Business Model.

To get your head around quantum mechanics, it’s necessary to be able to think about a space that’s between reality (called spacetime in the language of the science) and imagination, something that doesn’t exist. This half-way house, this in-between, is not unreal. But it can’t be observed or verified. Some of its inhabitants will become real and verifiable and some won’t, never to be observed at all. A way to think about this in-between is as potential. Potential is sometimes realized, and sometimes it isn’t.

In her book Understanding Our Unseen Reality, Ruth E. Kastner explains how potential can be realized in quantumland. It takes the form of a transactional process, in which a quantum object that she calls an emitter sends out an offer wave. Under certain conditions, another quantum object, which she calls an absorber, can receive the offer wave and send a confirmation wave in return. If the confirmation is a mirror image of the offer, the two objects have formed an incipient transaction. If there is only one offer and only one matching confirmation that is an exact mirror image, the incipient transaction becomes actualized and real. It becomes, in Kastner’s words, “A brick’, an observable, verifiable event in spacetime. (pp 48-53)

I am quite sure I have oversimplified quantum theory. However, it’s in the good cause of making an analogy that is useful for real-world practicing entrepreneurs and businesses.

Austrian economics is quantum economics. Quantum mechanics is the study of behavior and properties and interactions of the smallest units of energy in the universe.  One of its revelations is that “the rules are different” at this scale. The rules of classical physics do not apply. Austrian economics is the study of the smallest unit of energy in the economic system, the individual. The term that is used in economic science is methodological individualism: the study of the behaviors and properties and interactions of individual people and how they propagate into processes like value creation, and economic growth, and into structures like firms. (Here’s a white paper that explains in detail.)

An example of an emergent process is the Austrian Business Model, a framework for profit-making operations for businesses. The essence of the Austrian Business Model, the engine if you will, is the core value generation process we call 4V’s. The 4V’s represent a rolling, recursive, repeating value process for firms to successfully bring new innovation to the market. The 4V’s are Value Potential, Value Facilitation, Value Capture, and Value Agility.

In quadrant V1, Value Potential, is in quantumland. It’s not yet real, but it can be. Think of it as the space where the consumer is sending out offer waves, just like a quantum object. These offer waves are a little hard to process. The consumer expresses dissatisfaction, or unease with the current state of their consumption experience. Things could be better. The wine could be more to their taste, or it could be less expensive. They like the room afforded by their SUV but they’re a bit unsure whether they can put up with the mpg levels. They like going to restaurants but it might be nicer if the restaurant came to them. Maybe they feel they’re not getting all the possible benefits that they could from the internet. Or Netflix. Why is zoom so hard to use? Why does my bank treat me with such disdain? Why can’t I eat as much chocolate as I would like? Why is healthcare so expensive? I’d like to earn a degree, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the 4-year commitment or the money. Why is the CFA exam so hard? Why is dentistry so painful? Is my dog enjoying its food? I hate having acne. I have a headache. Sometimes, I feel a bit lonely.

Consumer sentiments such as these are offer waves. They’re the signal that precedes an incipient transaction. If they are important enough to the individual, and if they’re important to enough individuals, they represent value potential. For example, unease about the time commitment and cost of acquiring a traditional 4 year degree could be an offer wave that, when absorbed and confirmed, becomes educational innovation, the formation of online for-profit degree courses, and ultimately Coursera and Masterclass. Concern about the palatability of dogfood could become The Farmer’s Dog, or A Pup Above or one of many more entrepreneurial initiatives. Feeling lonely sparks the $3 billion online dating industry, or Meetup.

None of these businesses are real in their pre-existence as consumer unease. They are potential. Every firm, every business unit, every industry, every innovation begins as a quantum object we call consumer dissatisfaction. Every firm needs to begin with a stash of value potential. Every firm needs to be able to exercise empathy to detect the signals, understand the feelings of the emitters, the dissatisfied consumers, and translate them into commercial possibilities. These firms need the creative imagination and the resourcefulness to devise and run multiple probes into these possibilities, a portfolio of experiments in activating potential. Some will work in generating a confirmation signal that the consumer determines is the mirror image to their unease. Many experiments won’t work. The process is probabilistic. It might be possible to improve the probabilities in your firm’s favor by running more experiments or becoming better at absorbing offer waves. Or it might not.

Whatever the case, identifying and accumulating value potential is a necessary capability of every successful firm. Without it, there is no success. It requires deep, intimate understanding of the consumers, and a commitment to interpreting their offer waves. It requires the humility to know that it’s hard to perfect the process, and that there will be a lot of misinterpretations and errors.

 

 

Value Is A Process – the Essence Of Entrepreneurship.

 

What is the value of a pizza?

If you asked a standard economist, they might—thinking themself quite clever—ask in return, “well, what would you pay for one?” Now, that’s a fine response as far as it goes. But in neoclassical economic theory, that’s not as far as they seem to think.

Standard economists will readily admit that value is subjective, but what they mean by that is not what subjectivists mean by it. See, in philosophy of science, social science divides down strict lines of ‘objectivism’ and ‘subjectivism.’ The objectivist—also realist or positivist (these are distinct terms, but align in the objectivist paradigm)—sees the social world as comprising real things, objective phenomena that are more-or-less stable and causally deterministic and, thus able to be studied as such. In other words, social reality is in principle no different from physical reality, and we can study it the same way. Yes, it’s true that there’s tons of noise and randomness when studying social phenomena, which require statistical methods to find causal relationships, but the same is true of certain natural sciences too, such as climate science (not exactly a ringing endorsement in many libertarian circles).

Applying objectivist philosophy to the value concept, the assumption is that value is real and objective. A pizza has value—it’s there in the pizza. But what’s interesting about this value—which has been defined as ‘marginal utility’ since 1871—is that it’s different for everyone. Utility, of course, is usefulness—how much benefit I would get from the pizza. But utility is different for everyone—we have different tastes, dietary needs, and so forth. What this means is the objectivist economist—which is most of them—understands value as objective but idiosyncratic. ‘Idiosyncratic’ is synonymous with ‘subjective’ if you’re an objectivist.

But philosophical subjectivism, as the Austrian School espouses, sees the social realm very differently. There is no “social reality,” strictly speaking. A job, a marriage, a personality, a reputation—these don’t really exist. ‘Reality’ references the physical realm—what the natural sciences study. The company Google is just a concept—a figment of our imagination. There are real people that ‘belong’ to the Google organization; there are physical structures that comprise Google’s offices (the Googleplex); Google even creates some physical products. But the organization ‘Google’ is just a concept that Sergey Brin and Larry Page conjured and was granted ‘legal status’ (which is just getting another imaginary organization’s imaginary stamp of approval), which solidified the concept ‘Google’ as a ‘legal entity’ into the minds of people that is—for most intents and purposes—for us as if Google were a real ‘thing’. Lots of social constructions are like that: marriages, job titles, fictional characters like Harry Potter, etc. Many more are flimsier: relationships, reputations, scientific knowledge, etc. These have little or no institutional status, and so evolve with the whims of society. Studying social phenomena from this subjectivist perspective, then entails understanding what people think about those phenomena, how they understand them and why.

Value, from a philosophically subjectivist viewpoint, is very different from the objectivist concept of value as objective, idiosyncratic usefulness. Instead, subjective value occurs in the mind.

There are two key aspects of a subjective value concept, which we can distinguish by the form of word (i.e. part of speech) that it takes. As a verb, value (i.e. to value) is a prediction of or reflection on a benefit (depending on the context of the valuing). To say “I value the pizza” means either ‘I expect to benefit from the pizza’ or ‘after eating the pizza, I recognize benefit gained from it.’ As a noun, value is a conscious experience of benefit. This means that there is no value until it’s been experienced. When you understand the experiential nature of value, then we can’t equate predictions of value (value as a verb) with real value (value as a noun).

So when we ask, again, what is the value of a pizza, the right retort, from a subjectivist perspective is not “what would you pay for one,” but “how much benefit did you experience from it?”

To show how and why this matters, consider an example. Let’s say you’re hungry and are in the mood for pizza, enough so that you’re willing to pay up to $20 for one. So you ordered a pizza from Bylund Pizzeria around the corner for $10, who makes the pizza at a cost of $5. You have it delivered and leave $2 for tip, bringing your total outlay to $12.

In the traditional economic analysis, the example stops here. You have all the information that you need to calculate total economic value created. Economists estimate value as willingness-to-pay or WTP—how much you were willing to spend to satisfy your want, $20 in this case. The price P ($10+2) and cost C ($5) are the other two relevant factors. Total economic value creation is calculated as WTP-C, the total new consumer value minus the cost in resources and labor to produce it: $20 – $5 = $15.

But the subjectivist framework doesn’t stop here. Again, value hasn’t emerged yet, since it hasn’t yet been experienced. So let’s keep going. You sit down to the table, open up the pizza box and find a beautiful pizza with a fat cockroach crawling on top of it. You slam the box shut and run it outside to the nearest dumpster.

So let’s redo our economic value analysis now. Value isn’t WTP, it’s the benefit experienced. What was the total value achieved from the pizza? Zero. Probably even negative—you could say that you experienced harm rather than benefit, both in the trauma of the fright and in the fact that now dinner is going to be late. Let’s plug in zero: $0 – $5 = -$5. In other words, economic value was destroyed in the transaction—$5 of resource were expended for absolutely no benefit.

Life is an endless value journey—action and experience are continuous from birth to death. This journey is a learning process. What valuation should we assign goods, services, and activities? How should we prioritize our activities and expenditures to maximize our value experiences and well-being?

The principle of diminishing marginal utility—that consumption of a second unit of a good is not as valuable as the first—is widely known and accepted. But what’s not widely admitted, although we know it intuitively, is that the needs that we must satisfy to maximize well-being are dynamic. We keep getting hungry over and over again. One might break an arm, birth a child, pick up a new hobby, or start a new diet—changes that alter the things we value most. Similarly, changes are going on around us that have similar effects—changes in the weather, new innovations, pandemics, and politics.

Value is a process—one that we’re not just constantly engaged in but also constantly monitoring and learning from. It is in this process—in advancing it forward—that we find the essence of entrepreneurship.