A podcast based on the winning principle that entrepreneurs need only know the laws of economics plus the minds of customers. After that, apply your imagination.

164. Per Bylund: Think Better, Think Austrian — A How-To Guide

Think better, think Austrian is the mantra we have adopted for our Economics For Business project. Economics is a way of thinking. It’s conceptual, and its concepts can help businesses to make better decisions. The most important business decisions are those that pertain to the generation of value for customers, since that is the purpose of the firm. We talk with economist Dr. Per Bylund about exactly how the Austrian way of thinking helps businesspeople in every role to think better, and the business benefits that ensue.

Key takeaways and Actionable Insights.

“Think Better, Think Austrian” means starting from first principles.

Businesses are concerned with behavior — with action. The most important behavior is that of customers . Do they buy, or do they not buy?

The Austrian economics framework places people, and the effort to understand what they are trying to do, in the center of its analysis. First principles in Austrian economics teach us that people act to improve their circumstances—to somehow make things better for themselves. We recognize that people have a purpose in mind, and they make choices that lead them to attaining what they want or need.

It is from this first principle that business owners and entrepreneurs can work backwards to understand the motivations behind the actions of our prospective customers. We can ask why. And we should.

Thinking backwards reveals new understanding.

If customers act in a way we don’t understand, or differently from the way we expect them to act, or hope they will act, we can work backwards from what we’ve learned without judgment and instead exercise empathy. They might do something “crazy” — like using a product in a very unexpected way, or buying a competitive product that we know to be “inferior” in some sense. We know that their action made sense to them, and that they believed they would be better off compared to alternative choices or actions. Working backwards from this understanding enables us to deduce their motivation, and what value they were seeking. We can learn from their “crazy” action and rethink our offering. We can choose to take their feedback, even if it doesn’t make sense to us, and offer them an alternative.

Thinking better requires a relationship with the customer.

Successful business owners and entrepreneurs must develop a deep enough relationship with their customers to understand how they think, how they feel, and how they perceive things. Additionally, we must learn the context in which they are making their choices—there’s no such thing as a non-contextual choice. Per Bylund makes this clear when he explains that ice cream in summer is a different product choice than ice cream in winter, and clothes for business wear at the office are a different choice than clothes for working from home. Consider this: Whom does the consumer believe is observing and judging them and what standards are being applied? Those are important contextual factors to be taken into account.

The Austrian thinker considers all these influences on the customer and uses them to build and nurture relationships

We know that the ultimate purpose for customer action is the relief of some unease.

How do consumers and customers decide what they want to spend their money on? Rather than asking ourselves what people want to buy, we can ask ourselves what decisions people make in pursuit of better circumstances. They start from a position of dissatisfaction. They feel unhappy, or disappointed, or feel let down or lacking in some way. Contented people don’t act. People whose every comfort has been seen to, and who lack nothing—people who aren’t experiencing any unease—don’t buy. Discontented people do. This never-fully-satisfied feeling of discontent on the part of the customer is the universal resource for the entrepreneur. It is never exhausted because people are never fully content or fully satisfied in all of their many needs.

Customers use this heuristic to calculate potential value, even though they likely have no idea they are doing it. They think, to what degree do I expect my choice to relieve my discontent? Satisfaction is achieved not so much via the benefit that products and services promise, but via the burdens that are taken away: less work, less difficulty, less effort, less cost to get to a feeling of less discontent or less fear or less concern or less stress.

Often, of course, customers’ concerns are social. How do others see me, how do I appear to them, how do I compare to others in appearance or competence or achievement? The relief of unease is always subjective and often the subjectivity comes in the form of the customer comparing themselves to others, or to their own assessment of others’ judgment of them.

The entrepreneur listens carefully to what customers say, and observes their actual behavior, then uses empathy to understand what process the customer is using to define their unease and ways to relieve it.

Additional Resources

“Think Better, Think Austrian” How-To Guide (PDF): Download PDF

“Per Bylund on Opportunity Costs”: Listen To Episode 7

163. Joe Matarese: Entrepreneurial Solutions To Medical Tyranny (Part 2, The Solution)

The medical care industry is so restrictive of individual freedoms — those of both of doctors and patients — that we can legitimately classify it as tyrannical. As is always the case, the solution will come from entrepreneurship, the creative and innovative response of individuals, doctors and teams and firms and their new business models to the dissatisfactions of patients and users of today’s system.

Joe Matarese is one of those innovative individuals. In episode #162 of the Economics for Business podcast, he described the nature and cause of the problem. In episode #163, he surveys the entrepreneurial solutions, some of which are beginning to emerge and some of which still lie in the future.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

As with all entrepreneurial solutions, the consumer is in the driving seat.

The consumer — in this case, the patient — are clear in what they want, and what they don’t always get: quality care, accessible and convenient, at an affordable price.

Their definition of quality includes the alignment of interests between medical professionals and patients. Accessibility and convenience result from timely response to patient needs as opposed to lines, waiting rooms and delays. Affordable prices will arise when pricing is open as opposed to hidden behind the veil of insurance, co-pays, and healthcare-as-a-benefit rather than as an economic good.

Direct Primary Care is the business model that aligns doctor and patient interests.

The new emerging model of membership-based primary care (see BigTreeMedical.com) is a doctor or a small team of doctors setting up an independent practice and recruiting a customer base of subscription-paying patients. In return for a monthly or annual subscription, the patient enjoys access, and one-on-one consultations on demand (usually via tele-medicine visits). The doctor is often networked into a pharmacy (or the practice obtain a pharmacy license) so the patients access to drugs is facilitated, and the prices of drugs to the patient can be lowered.

Most importantly, the patients are able to build a strong relationship with their primary care doctor. Health monitoring can be closer and more personalized, and early treatment — one of the most important variables in medical care efficacy — can be facilitated.

The direct primary care practice is networked into specialists and treatment centers so that the doctor and patient together can choose the treatment pathway that is best for the individual — tailored to individual circumstances and needs.

Personalized technology supplements the Direct Primary Care model, greatly enhancing the health outcome benefits for the patient.

The direct primary care model and one-on-one patient-physician relationship provide the ideal conditions for the deployment of modern personalized technologies. Condition-monitoring watches and wristbands and other wearable or portable consumer electronics can provide the doctor with monitoring data and send an alert for any change in condition or abnormal reading. The doctor or patient can call for an immediate diagnostic consultation.

A direct primary care practice can be networked into an imaging center and a testing center for supplemental data acquisition — many of the new devices are mobile and can come to the patient, rather than vice versa, or can provide more immediate and convenient accessibility.

Personalized networked tech provides a new infrastructure for patient-directed monitoring and analysis (whereas the Obamacare “standard of practice” protocol predetermines what tests and diagnostics a patient can access, locked behind a bureaucratic gateway).

An entrepreneurial ecosystem of services will emerge to support the Direct Primary Care model.

The opportunities for entrepreneurs in the new medical care ecosystem are, to use Joe Matarese’s word, endless. He cited, as an example, the Surgery Center Of Oklahoma (SurgeryCenterOK.com), which posts cash prices for surgeries online (no hidden fees), and can usually provide service within 24 hours. They take no insurance and patients pay cash. On a broader geographic scale, medical tourism destinations with open pricing give patients the opportunity to find best pricing and provide the latest equipment and top doctors.

There are cost sharing services such as Sedera (Sedera.com) that offer new ways for patients to pay for healthcare in a peer-to-peer sharing of large unexpected medical costs. Sedera’s Cash Pay Directory provides educational resources and shopping tools to “help members become savvy healthcare shoppers”.

There are negotiation vendors who help patients to get fair pricing on medical bills from the big hospital conglomerates. There are online pharmacy vendors, like Mark Cuban’s Cost Plus Drug Company (CostPlusDrugs.com), to help patients shop for the best drug values.

There are entrepreneurial services like Freedom Health Works (FreedomHealthWorks.com) to help Direct Primary Care doctors with billing systems, office tech and the business infrastructure for a modern practice.

In the entrepreneurial world of healthcare, entrepreneurs compete to provide the best and most affordable services ecosystem so that patients can enjoy the best healthcare.

Open pricing and cash payments are an important component of the new system.

A big problem, perhaps the biggest problem, with the current medical care system is that the price system is not able to work in the way that it works in free markets. As Joe put it in episode #161, medical care system is “price-less”. Because payments are made by a third-party payer and not by the individual consumer, pricing becomes opaque to the user and economic calculation is rendered impossible. The third-party payment veil has resulted in price escalation and price manipulation and multiple prices for the same procedure at the same facility depending on whether the payments are immediate or deferred and the degree of bureaucratic and regulatory involvement.

If patients were to pay cash for treatments, they could make better decisions about exchange value. Catastrophic insurance for unexpected and rare events would make the use of insurance more like its application in car insurance and fire insurance — a properly priced optional spreading of risk for unexpected future events.

Consumers and physicians will collaborate in the creation of a parallel system for medical care.

Joe Matarese believes the status quo medical care edifice is too rigid and entangled to reform. The solution lies in a parallel system. If consumers activate their demand for improvements in quality, accessibility, convenience and payments systems, entrepreneurs will respond with new market-based offerings. Customers will flock to them because of the benefits they perceive in contrast to the current system. Market feedback loops of satisfaction and dissatisfaction will rapidly fine-tune the new parallel system to a higher level of value and acceptance. Joe estimates that to will take only 5-10 years for the new system to take over.

Additional Resources

“Entrepreneurial Solutions to Medical Tyranny” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_163_PDF

Medicus Healthcare Solutions: MedicusHCS.com

162. Joe Matarese: Medical Tyranny and Its Entrepreneurial Solutions (Part 1, The Problem)

Medical care in the US exemplifies how the perverse effects of accumulated, self-reinforcing economic errors can render a system dysfunctional for consumers. As CEO of Medicus Healthcare Solutions, Joe Matarese has seen the current system from the inside — working and interacting with thousands of hospitals and thousands of providers, primarily doctors, around the country, dealing with processes, bureaucracies, government reimbursement procedures, and the full gamut of the producer side of the medical care system. In Part 1 of a two-part podcast series, he gives us the informed insider’s view.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Many forces combine and interact to produce the medical care system we experience today.

Politics: As in almost all cases of market destruction, politicians are highly responsible. They have decided that the medical care of individual citizens is an appropriate field for their interventions, and they meddle in their usual ignorant and incompetent fashion. Dr. Scott Atlas of Stamford University was one who documented some of this glaring incompetence and its resultant creation of the crisis response to the COVID-19 pandemic in his book A Plague Upon Our House. The impact of political incompetence on individuals’ experience of medical care is not limited to COVID-19, but Atlas’ book provides one excellent example.

Regulation: Politicians don’t just meddle; they legislate and regulate. The Affordable Care Act of 2011 is a particularly significant milestone. It created a regulatory environment in which it became virtually impossible for independent physician groups to function. Smaller and rural hospitals could not survive the regulatory burdens imposed, and many closed or were acquired by larger hospital groups. The resultant consolidation and anti-decentralization led to centralized decision-making (particularly evident in the COVID-19 pandemic, but much more broadly impactful than just that event) to the effect that individual doctors are told how to practice and how to treat their patients. The one-on-one doctor-patient relationship that flexibly exercises the experience of the doctor on behalf of the individual needs of the patient and their particular condition Is no longer operative. Doctors now apply a centrally designed pre-determined “standard of care” (and are even told by the AMA what “woke” language to use when interacting with their patients).

Bureaucracy: With regulation comes bureaucracy. Central to the medical care system is the CMS bureaucracy — The Centers For Medicare And Medicaid Services. (You can visit the behemoth at cms.gov — it’s instructive to see the breadth and depth of its reach.) This is the home, for example, of the code lists that govern medical care billing and payment policies. Every doctor must code every patient interaction and every procedure, and the code triggers a specific billing amount. The care that doctors can give patients is governed by these codes and standard-of-care protocols rather than the heuristics an experienced doctor uses to treat individual patients in individual circumstances.

Perverse incentives: Out of the regulatory bureaucracy comes a cascade of perverse incentives. The billing code system leads to one of them: hospitals and doctors will lean towards treatments and billing codes that result in the best billing and revenue outcome for them, rather than what is best for the patient. Similarly, with the fee-for-service model of the Affordable Health Care Act, there’s always the incentive to provide the service or procedure that generates the best fee.

Financial Engineering: The worst financial engineering of the medical care system is the tying of health insurance to employment, and the general misuse, misunderstanding and mispricing of insurance that results. Insurance is appropriate for classes of events (like car accidents or house fires) which are known to have distributed incidence but unknown in terms of where and when they will take place. Individuals pay into an insurance pool that can be drawn on when an unlucky individual encounters an incident; we all hope we will never have to draw on it. In health care insurance, individuals pay for coverage which they know they will draw on. They expect insurance to pay for routine things they should really pay for out of individual income or savings. Medical insurance coverage is appropriate for rare or catastrophic events, but not for everyday health maintenance. In fact, insurance totally obscures the market for health care.

The combined result of all these forces is the elimination of economics from medical care.

No free market: Medical care is the epitome of interventionism. There are no unregulated voluntary exchanges between buyer and seller, in this case patient and doctor. Every interaction is regulated, bureaucratized, coded, and distorted by financial engineering. Most importantly, there is no free market pricing. Prices are the indispensable signaling and information exchange mechanisms of markets; when they are suppressed, markets can’t function. The medical care system is, as Joe Matarese puts it, price-less.

No entrepreneurship: The function that solves consumer problems in markets is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs identify customer dissatisfactions and devise and present solutions for consumers to choose from. Entrepreneurship can’t operate in regulated healthcare. It is suppressed. Joe pointed out that, in the few corners where an entrepreneurial breakout has occurred — he mentioned medical tourism, Lasik eye surgery, cosmetic surgery, and The Surgery Center Of Oklahoma (SurgeryCenterOK.com) — prices have been lowered, quality increased and value spread wider and wider in the market, reaching more and more consumers.

Repressed Innovation: A major output of freely priced entrepreneurial markets is innovation. Entrepreneurs bring improvement in the form of new services and offerings, improved processes, and the application of new scientific discoveries. The innovation process is highly repressed in US Health Care, as in, for example, the FDA’s long and arduous bureaucratic process for approving new drugs resulting in delays in their adoption costing millions of lives.

Replacing the free market is an edifice of massive, plodding, constraining entities.

The top of the monstrous pile can probably be assigned to Big Pharma. The massive amount of funds flowing through the pharmaceutical companies empowers their commandeering of the medical community. Government healthcare agencies such as CMS, FDA and VA take up their entwined cronyist positions related to Big Pharma and Big Hospitals. Big Insurance is the financial engineering for the edifice. The bureaucracy regulates them all, but from a position of having been captured through the lobbying process. The patient sits at the bottom of this stack, squeezed by its weight, restricted by its rules, and constrained from receiving individualized care even though doctors and nurses are capable of providing it.

The COVID-19 experience was an instance of the negative consequences of regulated, bureaucratic, perversely incentivized and politicized medical care.

The standard four pillars of a medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic would have been:

  1. mitigation
  2. early outpatient treatment
  3. hospital treatment
  4. vaccination

Instead, we were bureaucratically and politically accelerated towards a mass vaccine solution, satisfying the perverse incentives of Big Pharma.

Mitigation could have embraced healthy lifestyles, nutraceuticals, and some stratifying of risk by patient age. Instead, it was botched with ridiculous and useless mask mandates and pointless (and damaging) lockdowns.

Early outpatient treatment for those infected would have recognized the “golden window” of outpatient treatment in the first two or three days of the case to reduce the need for later hospitalization, as documented by Dr. Serafino Fazio and others in a published paper (see Mises.org/E4B_162_Paper), with drugs like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, but these were ridiculed, and their use repressed. By the time hospital treatment is needed, the condition has changed from one of inflammation and clotting to pneumonia and lung infection, with potentially worse outcomes. The use of remdesivir was centrally authorized, and this drug is much more expensive and risks worse side effects than the early treatment drugs.

The four pillars were abandoned for the centrally planned decision of mass vaccination.

There is a pathway out of medical tyranny.

Principles of Austrian economics can help us find the way out of the current situation. Some of the principles we might apply include:

Let free markets operate: The medical care edifice refutes and represses free markets and market pricing. The first step in a solution is to restore markets to medical care.

Customer sovereignty: Markets are built around the consumer as “the captain of the ship”, determining the purpose and direction of the voyage. Consumers would exercise their sovereignty in a one-on-one relationship with their primary care physician.

Decentralization: Decisions in markets are made close to the customer and not via centralized bureaucracies.

Network versus hierarchy: Austrian economics views markets as networks of specialized nodes connected by 2-way information flows and provider-consumer interactions. The medical care edifice is a hierarchy not network.

In Part 2 of “Entrepreneurial Solutions to Medical Tyranny,” Joe Materese will identify some specific ways that we can build a parallel system outside the edifice to bring back consumer sovereignty and free markets.

Additional Resource

“Entrepreneurial Solutions to Medical Tyranny” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_162_PDF

Medicus Healthcare Solutions: MedicusHCS.com

161. Connie Whitman: Turning Experience Into An Intellectual Property Business

Your individual experience is a business asset. Life is teaching us more than we sometimes realize. An insightful analysis of what we’ve experienced, combined with purposeful translation, can generate unique intellectual property on which to base a unique approach to business. Connie Whitman joins Economics For Business to share her experience and her development of a thriving, resilient, and adaptive coaching and training service.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Experience is an asset that reveals our business superpowers.

Life teaches us whether we fully realize it or not. While climbing the job ladder at a firm may seem like the pursuit of credentials and titles, it’s better understood as an accumulation of knowledge and learning that can be applied in the future in entrepreneurship.

Connie Whitman enjoyed a 20-year career in financial services up to the SVP level. It was her customers who pointed out to her what “superpowers” she was developing — a distinctive capacity to assist all parties in a complex collaborative contract to fully understand the benefits accruing to each one of them individually and all of them collectively.

We all can have these superpowers, but we don’t always realize them until a third party points them out, through asking for input or advice or seeking us out or praising us. It’s important to learn the right kind of self-assessment — and to learn to listen to others’ assessment of us — so as to be able to understand our own superpowers.

We can translate our experience into intellectual property that forms the basis for an entrepreneurial business.

Connie Whitman transformed her experience into both a brand philosophy and a scalable methodology.

Connie knew from her experience in business that the function entitled “sales” is often viewed negatively: sales activities and salespeople might be accused of rapaciousness and avarice, however unjustified such accusations may be. She intended to develop a service in coaching and training in the sales field, and so it was important to distance herself from these misperceptions. Her counter was selling from a place of love: relationship selling based on love, respect, and integrity. Selling is the construction of an “everybody wins” proposition. It’s an honorable implementation of the entrepreneur’s ethic of service. Anyone using Connie’s techniques would evoke for themselves a feeling of pride and self-respect that the critics of the sales function try to deny.

She crafted a methodology for selling from a place of love in the form of a seven-step selling process. It is replete with Austrian principles of subjectiveness, empathy, and customer sovereignty.

Preparedness: Planning in advance to assemble all the knowledge and understanding available to make you informed and ready; anticipating what the customer will want to know and is likely to ask.

Connecting: Using empathy to connect on the basis of what’s important to the customer in order to establish credibility.

Exploring: Asking questions to learn as much as possible about the customer’s needs and preferences in the context of their current circumstances.

Active Listening: Connie’s phrase is “be present” — listen intently and indicate that you have heard accurately by asking follow up questions to further explore customer needs.

Presenting Solutions: Framing all value propositions as a solution — reliving customer unease.

Confirming: The process of closing the sale, actively asking the customer for their business.

Following up: Consistent, persistent, and respectful (CPR) follow up to confirm satisfaction and potentially extend the relationship.

Connie’s method has evolved and improved over the years — nothing is ever fixed, and all businesses adapt and learn. Yet this intellectual property developed from experience has proven to be solid capital generating both revenue flows and client satisfaction, not to mention word-of-mouth recommendations and references.

Business-building is a function of your network — another piece of intellectual property born of experience.

You meet many people in your professional career and you make many connections. Your network is another IP asset. It’s one you should groom and keep fresh and active, turning it into another business asset.

An IP business can be lasting, but you may have to refresh the infrastructure.

Connie’s in-person, face-to-face business model was challenged during the COVID pandemic. When business travel stopped, and a lot of sales training budgets were cut. The IP remained valid. The market signal was for her to digitize the business. She took classes and hired consultants to learn how to achieve domain authority. She educated herself on the technology required for digitization of her individual business model, and the processes for digital engagement that were consistent with her 7-step process and principles. The result has been further growth, and the continued fulfillment of pursuing her business goals, and realizing new ones.

Your entrepreneurial IP business can become your most fulfilling experience.

Connie describes her entrepreneurial experience as immensely fulfilling — the most rewarding thing she has done in her life. It’s the realization of the value accumulated over a career, and the new value shared with clients in providing service to them. It has been tremendously hard work, of course, and has required some challenging resource allocation decisions — of both time and money — but the reward greatly exceeds the sacrifice.

Additional Resources

“Connie Whitman’s Seven-Step Sales Loop” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_161_PDF

ESPEasy Sales Process by Connie Whitman: Mises.org/E4B_161_Book

Connie’s website: WhitmanAssoc.com

Changing The Sales Game podcast: Mises.org/E4B_161_Pod

160. Laura and Derek Cabrera: Systems Thinking For Business

Entrepreneurs can realize their goal to think better, think Austrian by taking a systems thinking approach. We can ditch linearity and hierarchies in favor of distributed networks and webs of causality and create better knowledge – more aligned with the real world — and better mental models. Professors Laura and Derek Cabrera of Cabrera Research Lab and Cornell University — leading authorities on systems thinking — speak to Economic For Business on the application of systems thinking for entrepreneurs, and everyone.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

There’s a crisis in thinking in the business world.

Laura and Derek Cabrera have conducted deep research in the field of business thinking, and they’ve identified both the problems and the solution. The problems include reductionism (we’re taught to think about parts of systems instead of the system as a whole); hierarchical organization of thinking (versus complex distributed networks); thinking in categories versus breaking down part-whole groupings; thinking in terms of liner cause-and-effect versus webs of causality; and the prevalence of bivalent logic (right/wrong, black/white) rather than the multi-valent logic of many right answers.

This way of thinking is not well-aligned with the realities around us. The solution is systems thinking — the thinking of complex adaptive systems.

Systems thinking aligns with how the real world works.

Our mantra at Economics for Business is Think Better, Think Austrian. Systems thinking is better thinking (and Austrian economics fully embraces complex adaptive thinking — what Mises called constant flux and Hayek called spontaneous order and Lachmann called the market as a process of combination and recombination).

Systems thinking defines complex adaptive systems in this way:

Autonomous agents follow simple rules based on what’s happening locally around them, the collective dynamics of which lead to the emergence of the complex dynamics we see.

This description is actually a mental model of a complex adaptive system. The products of systems thinking are mental models. None are perfect representations of reality, but they help us when they are better representations of reality.

Four simple rules of systems thinking produce better mental models.

By following 4 simple rules, over and over again, anyone can become a practiced and adept systems thinker. The rules are captured in the acronym DSRP.

D is for Distinctions. Systems thinkers make distinctions between different things and different ideas. We can make distinctions between different customers, different costs, different sales channels, different suppliers, different employees. We identify boundaries, what’s inside and what’s outside. We differentiate, compare, and contrast.

S is for organizing ideas into systems of parts and wholes. Everything is a system because it contains parts. Every e-mail contains words that contain letters made up of pixels. We construct meaning when we organize different ideas into part-whole configurations. We split things up or lump them together in systems of context. We group, we sort, we classify, we assemble.

R is for identifying relationships between and among ideas. We can’t understand much about anything without understanding the relationships between or among the ideas or components. Relationships include causal, correlation, feedback, inputs/outputs, influence, etc. Fundamentally, relationships are action and reaction. We live in an infinite network of interactions, including between our own thoughts, feelings, and motivations. We connect, interconnect, associate and join.

P is for looking at things from different perspectives. When we make a distinction or identify parts and wholes or identify a relationship, we are always doing so from one particular perspective, made up of the point from which we are viewing and the thing or things in view. Being aware of the perspectives we take is paramount to understanding ourselves and the world around us. If we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. We frame, we interpret, we empathize, and we negotiate from a perspective.

Systems thinking is not a set of steps but a set of rules, and from the interplay of these rules emerges the dynamics of systemic thought.

There are four types of action for systems thinkers applying the DSRP rules.

1) See Information and structure.

To construct meaning and mental models, we take in information and structure it. It’s important to recognize the difference between the information and how we structure it. A good way to do this is visualization: use whiteboards or sticky notes or software to map out systems and parts (e.g., boxes within boxes on a chart) and relationships (lines between the boxes). This physical manifestation of a system can help create new knowledge and point to solutions.

Laura and Derek told the story of a large conglomerate business that, by visualizing its divisions and functions and the information flows between them, was able to identify redundancies, see where communications and information was lacking or blocked off, and design a new and improved structure.

2) Use common patterns in the structure of mental models.

Laura and Derek use the term cognitive jigs: forms of information structuring that can be used again and again. A list is one type of cognitive jig. It can be used to order priorities or structure wholes into parts. Similes and metaphors are jigs. There’s another called a relationship distinction system (RDS) that can help solve silo problems in organizational design by identifying required relationships and the people responsible for them, and the resources required to operate the relationship. Excel spreadsheets and tables are jigs. Look for useful cognitive jigs and use them over and over again. They increase the efficiency and speed of thought.

3) Make structural predictions.

Austrians are wary of predictions because we know the future is uncertain. Here, we are not talking about predicting the future, but predicting the possibility of new knowledge existing after restructuring information. For example, a new relationship opportunity could emerge if we change our perspective. A new understanding could emerge if we break something that we were treating as a whole into its parts. We can identify gaps in our current thinking and make a bet that there’s something positive in changing that thinking. We can create new knowledge.

4) Embrace the logic of and/both.

We are taught bivalent logic: there’s right and wrong, there’s black and white, there’s X and Y. There’s an alternative: multivalent logic. There can be more than one right answer. There can be a continuum rather than fixed points.

One example of multivalent logic applies in the analysis of what customers want. They have a variety of preferences, ordered in different ways at different times and in different contexts. They are continuously learning what to want, and always making trade-offs. Bivalent logic won’t help entrepreneurs understand customers’ choices or decision-making processes.

Another example of bivalent versus multivalent logic is cause and effect compared to a web of causality. We tend to think of cause and effect as neighbors on a timeline. The cue ball of cause strikes the colored ball of effect and moves it in a designated direction. But it’s more realistic to think of the events of our lives or our business having multiple causal factors. There are so many mediating factors and external and internal variables that lead us to be more systematic in our thinking about them. Purposely look for webs of causality rather than shoehorn observed phenomena into a linear causal model that doesn’t match the reality of the world.

Systems thinking includes the recognition of individual subjective purpose and intent.

The perspective of methodological individualism leads Austrians to worry about whether systems thinking is well-aligned with Austrian thinking. I asked Laura and Derek this question. The response: “I would say that’s precisely what systems thinking entails — the notion that each individual agent is following simple interaction rules with other agents, and that those interaction rules are leading to the system and its emergent properties.

An example of an interaction rule from Austrian economics: humans act in order to improve their circumstances. Another is that they use their own subjective value system to determine what is an improvement. The action axiom, subjective value, opportunity cost in choosing between alternatives, profit and loss and the context of constant change are the simple rules of Austrian economics.

Practice, practice, practice.

Systems thinking is something everyone should be able to do. It can be practiced. Our brains are already building mental models about the world. It’s already in us and so it pays to be aware of it. 

It’s like any exercise: more reps make us stronger. Look at anything through the DSRP lens when you are feeding your dogs or driving down the highway observing billboard advertisements. Make the neuronal pathways of DSRP second nature.

This can occur at the level of individual learning or of organizational learning. In episode #152 (Mises.org/E4B_152), we discussed the organizational model of VMCL — an organization using learning to acquire the capacity to do its mission every day to achieve its vision.

Additional Resources

“How to Become A Systems Thinker” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_160_PDF1

“Practical Systems Thinking Actions and Behaviors” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_160_PDF2

Systems Thinking Made Simple: New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems by Derek and Laura Cabrera: Mises.org/E4B_160_Book

Cabrera Research Lab: CabreraResearch.org

159. Rory Sutherland: An Austrian School of Marketing

Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chairman Ogilvy UK, is a peerless marketing authority, revered throughout the business world. He published a blogpost with the title Wanted — an Austrian School of Marketing. In praxeology, subjective value theory, customer sovereignty, and ordinal value stacks, he identified the building blocks of a marketing approach for our digital age. We talk about it in Economics For Business #159.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Mainstream economics has the wrong narrative about capitalism and, consequently, a misconception about marketing.

Mainstream economics fetishizes efficiency, and regards marketing as a cost and an add-on business activity rather than fundamental and essential. There are multiple erroneous assumptions about consumer behavior such as adhering consistently to transitive preferences, perfect trust, and knowing to the penny how much utility will be derived from every transaction. Utility is defined in a circular fashion (consumers act to maximize utility / how do economists know what utility is / it’s the value that consumers try to maximize).

The influence of mainstream economics on business is to favor a focus on what Rory terms “instrumental objective means of business growth”, such as lower prices, and wider distribution. Business becomes obsessed with quantification, and, because value is not quantifiable, looks for other outcomes that can be quantified and used to justify investments. This approach misses the key point: that the marketing tournament is played out not in the objective arena, but in the subjectivity of the consumer’s mind.

Ludwig von Mises developed the science of understanding human behavior, and provided a unique economic underpinning for marketing.

Mises introduced the new method of praxeology, making Austrian economics an entirely different science than mathematics-based economics. It’s the science of human behavior, of action, and can be combined with psychology and evolutionary biology in the development of a superior mental template for understanding business.

For marketers, the most telling understanding from praxeology is the consumer’s drive to relieve uneasiness. Mises phrases it: “The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness.” Note the terms “impels” and “always”. These are powerful insights for marketers. But more is required for action: “the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove ….the felt uneasiness”. This is the task of marketing: to create such an expectation.

The relief of unease is the consumer’s primary drive, and therefore the proper focus of marketing.

There is no need, as Rory phrases it, for marketers to “ladle on the positives” in their communications. Removal of unease works differently. It creates the expectation that uneasiness can be removed by actions the consumer takes.

Reputation, for example, is a reassurance to customers that they won’t be disappointed, and that promises made can, with some confidence, be expected to be kept.

A strong brand is a special form of such reputational reassurance.

Investment in a costly advertising campaign with high production quality can remove unease about the credibility of a seller — someone willing to invest in advertising must be confident that there will be widespread acceptance of what they’re offering, giving the buyer a corresponding confidence of not only quality but also social endorsement.

Guarantees, samples, and easy return policies are examples of widely used and effective unease-reducing marketing initiatives.

In fact, anything that reduces the work that customers need to do to enjoy the product or service (such as, for example, home delivery) can relieve unease and increase the value experience. Economists might call this reduced opportunity cost or transaction cost. Whatever the terminology, the unease-reduction approach is the most powerful marketing method.

One example Rory cited was that of zoom. While the technology has been well-established for some time, zoom was bedeviled by the problem of social unease in the early phases of its establishment. Is an electronic meeting as effective as an in-person meeting? Will a client think less of a service provider who doesn’t fly to see them, irrespective of the quality of the remote, technology-enhanced communication?

The analysis of unease — especially the socially-contextual unease inherent in a service like zoom — is a really important element in the understanding of value generation through marketing. Austrian school marketers can develop a special understanding by asking more questions about how best to reduce unease rather than how to increase desirability. Rory used the example of range anxiety for potential buyers of electric vehicles. Their anxiety about possibly running out of power before finding a charging station might be irrational based on their physical environment and infrastructure, but the anxiety nevertheless governs purchase and usage and demands relief.

Marketing is built on an Austrian understanding of customers and their subjective heuristics of value perception.

Customers’ perception of the potential for the relief of unease is subjective and emotional. The appreciation of goods and services is not merely a product of their objective characteristics. Value for consumers can be created through psychology, not just through production. Value is a consumer experience, an emotional response driven by a subjective sense of what matters to them, embedded in context, story and meaning.

Changing consumer behavior is not a function of the objective reality of product and price. Marketers who focus just on these elements are “playing with a limited deck”, in Rory’s words. The presentation of a good or service to customers is fundamental to the value proposition. It’s not an add-on or an optional extra for business. Marketing can change customer’s minds through reframing, through changing the social context, or through any one of many, many more ways to change how they look at things.

Consumers evaluate through heuristics rather than rational calculations of economic benefits and costs. The marketing power of brand or reputation is a customer heuristic: a firm that has invested in its reputation through quality and service, reliability, and consistency in keeping its marketing promises, as well as cultivating its online ratings, will be rewarded in the marketplace. Customer disappointment — resulting from a failure to consistently keep promises — will be punished. Reputation and disappointment, of course, are subjectively perceived.

Austrian marketers thrive on the feedback loops.

As Rory puts it, some people like plain white bread and some will pay $10 for a sourdough olive focaccia loaf. Marketers explore all the possibilities in a market — they embrace the messiness of customer preferences and the whimsy of their choices. Perfect competition deprives customers of these whimsical choices; it commodifies what’s offered by suppliers.

If markets were designed by suppliers there’d be less variance but also less resilience (fewer options). Markets are designed by consumers and value is created in customer-initiated experiences, facilitated by suppliers who listen and respond well. Consumers get what they want via feedback loops, sending signals back to the marketer about what they want and don’t want, and what they’ll buy and won’t buy.

Brands especially welcome market feedback so that they can align more and more tightly with consumer preferences, and customize the branded experience to an ever-greater extent, reinforcing the brand-consumer bond. It is the consumer feedback loop that drives innovation. Marketing is the listening and alignment function. It’s essential to the workings of capitalism. It is the tool for synthesis of value through the imaginative redefinition of what people value, based on their signals.

It is the Austrian perspective that deals so well with the unpredictability of marketing successes.

Another limitation of conventional economics and quantification-obsessed businesses is the search for one right answer. Such restricted models of reality are dangerous. What capitalism and marketing are good at is coming up with multiple answers — increasing the potential solution space for problems, and increasing the number of ways to relieve unease.

The answer to any customer demand is never one thing, it’s multiple options for different value-uncertain customers to choose from. Sometimes there are what Rory calls “opposite things” (Red Bull and Coca-Cola) or sometimes multiple different things (a wide range of single serve beverages for a wide range of consumers in a wide range of situations).

Rory is an expert on unpredictable marketing successes. In his book Alchemy, he describes the “magic” of marketing and some of its unpredictable outcomes. One of the notable ones was the success of Red bull, a beverage brand that, according to research among its own consumers, “tastes kind of disgusting”. The testing agency had never seen a worse reaction to any new product. Why is there such unpredictability? As Rory puts it:

Models of human behavior devised and promoted by (mainstream) economists and other conventionally rational people are wholly inadequate at predicting human behavior.

Red Bull “hacks the human unconscious”. It has potent associations with risk taking behavior, with myths about the power of caffeine and taurine, with perceived signaling effects, and with several more psychological placebos. These have nothing to do with product and price, and make the success of Red Bull unpredictable.

Another way to say this is to call Red Bull’s success an emergent property. The future is unpredictable, but so is the past (we can’t really explain Red Bull’s success), even though we attempt to post-rationalize. It’s just one of several possible outcomes and we don’t truly know the story and how it happened.

Austrians’ embrace of emergent outcomes in free markets with freedom of choice makes marketers perfectly comfortable with unpredicted outcomes.

Much of business success is luck, instantiated by entrepreneurship and enabled by marketing.

As a consequence of this unpredictability, extraordinary business success is a function of luck and timing. Business outcomes are largely probabilistic rather than deterministic. Sadly, 80% of the effort in business is applied to pretending that it is deterministic — in the form of planning and strategy activities for example.

The time and place of “take off” for new innovations and marketing campaigns is entirely unpredictable. There are two influences that can bring a little more certainty. One is the role of the entrepreneur, who is likely to be more single-mindedly focused and more persistent in betting on a single innovation than a larger corporation that has a portfolio and a risk-averse bureaucracy.

The second is marketing, which has the capability to change customer psychology and change their frame of reference, transforming a bleeding edge concept into something inevitable and compelling. Early-stage adopters are often seen as somewhat crazy (i.e., there is limited socially contextual acceptance for the innovation), and marketing can accelerate the adoption curve by reducing or eliminating the value uncertainty of more customers more quickly.

Importantly for marketers, Austrian economics takes a process view of markets, in which people and their preferences and their individual and social behavior are constantly changing. This “constant flux”, as Mises worded it, gives energy to marketing as a stimulus for innovation, improvement, and promises of better alternatives.

Additional Resources

“The Austrian School Of Marketing” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_159_PDF

Rory Sutherland’s blog post: “Wanted — an Austrian School Of Marketing”: Mises.org/E4B_159_Blog

Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and LifeMises.org/E4B_159_Book

Rory Sutherland on YouTube: “Praxeology: Time To Rediscover A Lost Science” (There’s a special frame at 8:10): Mises.org/E4B_159_Video