The Economics for Business Podcast

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.

202. Murray Sabrin: Financing Health Care

Entrepreneurial business solutions can lead to better outcomes in every economic endeavor. In the field of medical care, entrepreneurship has been hampered by non-market arrangements. There’s some sense of an emerging trend towards better choices for users, a trend that we discuss with economist Dr. Murray Sabrin. Knowledge Capsule All systems evolve. The current system of medical care uncoupled from private markets evolved in ways that result in higher costs and poorer outcomes. Our economy — and the economic experience of all of us as individuals — would be improved (i.e., greater customer value would be experienced) if we could lighten the burdensome weight of government regulation and its consequent effects on the system of medical care and medical insurance. Our homeowners insurance, our automobile insurance and our life insurance are market products that give us the experience of seeking information and making informed choices based on pricing and perceived benefits. Medical insurance has evolved differently — it’s tied to work and puts us in a medical system where prices and choices are opaque and highly constrained. The associated costs are a great burden on the economy, and they result in diversions of productive investment from better uses. The evolution of employment-linked healthcare began in dangerous industries like forestry logging, when employers introduced on—site medical care to treat on-the-job accidents — employers understood the mutual benefit of a healthy workforce. During and after World War II, the incentives for employers shifted: wage controls prevented them from attracting workers with higher pay, and so they introduced the benefit of tax-free healthcare benefits. An industry linking employment and medical care grew by leaps and bounds. Today, both employers and employees are beginning to understand the drawbacks of the evolved system. In the evolved medical care system today, employees feel constrained because they can’t freely choose their doctors and service providers, and healthcare treatments they might want are often made unavailable to them. They’re not made aware of pricing, and therefore unable to make informed choices. Employers are beginning to understand the high costs for traditional indemnity insurance, and many of them are seeking alternatives. Dr. Sabrin listed a number of these emerging innovations. 1. Employer self-insurance. Instead of incurring the heavy cost of insuring via the conglomerates like Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana, Aetna, United Healthcare and others, many employers are shifting to self-insurance, hiring an independent third-party administrator to set premiums for normal expenses, and utilizing re-insurance against the cost of catastrophic medical events. 2. Medical savings accounts. Financial innovation has opened the possibility of utilizing current savings for future medical expenses, ideally deposited tax free, appreciating tax free and withdrawn tax free (although, inevitably, there are government restrictions). It’s another component in the free-market medicine revolution. 3. Medical cost sharing. Some affinity groups take the route of medical cost sharing — groups pooling funds to pay individual medical costs. Some of these groups may create membership lifestyle qualifications — non-drinkers, non-smokers, etc. — to link healthy behaviors to lower medical care costs. 5. Wellness rather than healthcare. The realization is dawning that medical care costs are inflated by unhealthy lifestyles. Employers and employees share a mutual interest in a healthier workplace and healthier workforce. Better alignment of incentives could encourage healthier eating and drinking habits, greater levels of exercise, and generally more health-conscious behavior. The feeling of entitlement to healthcare that can result in a lowered drive to stay healthy is a moral hazard that has been induced by the current medical care system. Reducing medical care costs via a healthier workforce is a win-win for employee and employer alike. Restoring the doctor-patient relationship via Direct Primary Care. The primary care doctor who has a knowing and caring relationship with individual patients, and who knows their ailments and their lifestyle, and their family and economic circumstances, is a historical tradition in American life, a part of the American dream. The corporate medical care system took this relationship away in many ways, replacing it with an impersonal system of “in-network” availability of physicians with no personal relationship component. Direct Primary Care is restoring the doctor-patient relationship following principles of entrepreneurial business design. A doctor contracts with a small number of patients — few enough to ensure availability and access — who pay a subscription fee, sufficient to provide cash flow for the doctor’s office and immediate support functions. The doctor constructs a personally curated set of network connections to specialists, such as cardiologists or urologists, and to services such as imaging and lab analysis, so that patients can be directly connected with pre-selected and approved providers for specialist needs. Direct Primary Care can eliminate or circumnavigate much of the bureaucracy, paperwork, and creativity-stifling sclerosis of current day corporate medical care systems. 6. Pricing transparency. A parallel innovation to DPC is demonstrated in transparent pricing clinics and surgeries, the clearest example being provided by Surgery Center Of Oklahoma (SCOO) which famously provides an open price list for commonplace surgeries, with no surprise surcharges or hidden fees. These prices are often much, much lower than would be charged for the same service by corporate hospitals; the quality is often higher; the speed of getting an appointment is faster; and the most important trait is that the pricing is transparent to the end-user. Patients become consumers in the traditional sense of the word — able to make a free choice based on open pricing information. 7. Better self-monitoring. How’s your health? You may not have sufficient information for a good answer – the medical care system often makes information hard to access. One improvement is the self-monitoring that is technologically enabled today. Your Apple watch, for example, can tell you a lot about your vital signs, as can apps+devices like Kardia or a simple scale. Consumers may also be able to find a local DPC doctor or naturopath with whom to share the data for recommendations on natural solutions for any signals they might detect. This is a decentralized approach to healthcare that’s consistent with the general trend away from restrictive top-down centralized structures and processes. Additional Resources The Finance of Health Care: Wellness and Innovative Approaches to Employee Medical Insurance by Murray Sabrin: From Immigrant to Public Intellectual: An American Story by Murray Sabrin:

201. Trini Amador: How Gracianna Became The Most Awarded Winery

It’s the ambition of every entrepreneurial business to advance from a standing start to customer—recognized leadership in its chosen field. It’s achievable, even without breakthrough technology and venture capital financing. Trini Amador’s Gracianna Winery is one of our Economics For Business entrepreneurial businesses of the year for 2022 for precisely such a journey story. Trini joins us to review the principles, processes and programs that are driving success. Knowledge Capsule Gracianna is the most awarded winery. Metrics of success can vary across categories and industries. In the wine industry, awards presented in tastings conducted by prestigious panels and arbiters are important signals to customers. In a recent period, Gracianna winery, a small craft producer in the highly competitive Russian River wine area of Sonoma County, California, has become the most awarded in its class. And since that class is, by the owner’s choice, world-class — the best-of-the-best — the achievement is elevated to the highest possible level. Examples of the awards won include gold medals at the Sommeliers Choice Awards and the Sunset International Wine Competition, and double gold at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition. More awards are listed at Gracianna winery has also won hospitality awards for its tours and wine tastings, including a #1 position on TripAdvisor for Things To Do In Healdsburg, CA (out of 117 competing alternatives). Everything begins with a commitment to understanding customer needs. Trini and his family set themselves a goal of making a mark as a world class winery. They’ve certainly done that. How? Trini Amador is an entrepreneur in the Austrian tradition: the entire journey starts with deep understanding of customers and their needs. Who are the people who enjoy world class wines and associated experiences, and why do they choose to participate in this industry as consumers? What kind of experiences do they seek? How do they want to feel about those experiences? Why do they undertake travel to visit different wineries? Why do they choose California, and Sonoma County and the Westside Highway in the Russian River Valley? How do they like to buy online? Why do they join wine clubs? All of these choices are emotionally driven — the answers lie in the heart and not the data. Becoming a world class winery is a direction of travel, and the destination becomes clear with more and more learning about customers and their needs, wants and preferences. Brand vision is integrated with customer understanding and empathy. Focus and feedback can take a brand to the top. Trini describes his company and his team as obsessively focused on customers. As they collect more and more customer knowledge via more and more interactions, the better they get at serving customer needs. There are really only two I techniques: listen and observe. Since the Gracianna experience includes onsite tastings and tours, the Gracianna team can meet customers face to face and listen for their responses, preferences and hopes. And since all Gracianna wine is sold direct via the internet, butting activity can be observed directly. The requisite business skill is always to pay attention for signals, and always attend to the feedback that results from interaction. All guests are self—selecting themselves to be part of the Gracianna story. They’ve chosen the relationship. Gleaning the motivation behind their doing so is the goal of the marketing team. Consistent, precise execution is more important than strategy. Once the brand’s direction is set, and an initial understand of customers is established, then execution takes over. Execution is a daily discipline, and the power tool is consistency: establishing a high standard and maintaining it in every action. It’s perfectly possible to build a brand this way. Trini likened his approach to building a bird’s next — one twig at a time. Every act of execution, every customer service interaction, every e—mail and every tasting service is another twig added to a perfectly shaped, ultra—strong construction. Small brands can claim ownership of an equity this way (such as “best tasting room experience” on TripAdvisor) without expensive investment in communications; just execute, execute, execute. Let employees on the team exercise both their responsibility and their creativity in precision execution. Always aim for effectiveness (the best possible execution) rather than efficiency (the lowest cost or least—resource execution). The best kind of planning is contingency planning to establish a prepared adaptiveness. Wine is, at its fundamental level, an agricultural business. Trini calls it rhythmic — grow, harvest, make wine, store wine, release a vintage. No two growing seasons are ever alike. In addition, there can be crises — excess rain, floods, unusual growing temperatures, fires, pests. The best way to deal with these variations is contingency planning, i.e., imagining all the things that could go wrong and having a set of actions in mind if they do. Adaptiveness is a core attribute for all entrepreneurs, and is especially applicable in wine. Explore and expand is an orientation that fully applies — once the curves that nature throws have been negotiated. The greatest entrepreneurial attribute is courage. In face of all the challenges and amidst all the uncertainty of an entrepreneurial business, Trini maintains that the key to a successful outcome is not so much strategy as courage. Make the best decisions you possibly can based on understanding customer needs, and then have the courage to act on the decision. The action generates interaction, which results in feedback, which provides the knowledge and energy for the next decision and next action. Courage is the entrepreneur’s best business tool. Additional Resources "Gracianna: Award Winning Winemaking and Entrepreneurship" (video): Lisa Amador’s Cookbook, Comfort! A Gracianna Member-Inspired Cookbook: Trini Amador’s "Brand Uniqueness Blueprint" (PDF):

200. Business Learning From 199 Episodes

We’ve conducted 99 conversations with value-creating entrepreneurs, and we’ve conducted about 100 Q&As with business school professors who research and teach value creation. Here’s a headline summary of what we’ve learned. Knowledge Capsule 1) A firm is defined by its purpose. Firms with a clear purpose that aligns everyone who works there, along with all suppliers and partners and customers, perform at a high level over the long term. Lack of clarity of purpose is associated with fluctuating performance and often with “fade” — permitting competitors and market changes to erode away a firm’s advantage. Knowledge Capsule #199: 2) A successful firm’s purpose is always based on value for customers. Purposeful firms identify a vision of value received by the customer, and commit themselves to it. They craft a business model to deliver the vision, including continuous increases in efficiency and continuous innovation, thus expanding the value space in which they operate. They build and maintain strong relationships in all directions. They look to the long term, including future generations. Per Bylund and Mark Packard on Subjective Value, The New Economics Of Value and Value Creation: 3) Firms need a deep understanding of value. We say in Austrian economics that value is subjective. It’s formed entirely in the mind of the customer, as result of a customer’s learning process: becoming aware of a firm’s offering, evaluating its attractiveness, comparing it with alternatives, putting it to use and assessing whether the usage experience met expectations. They learn from their own perspective, in their own context, and in the process of running their own system (their household, their office, their factory) and living through dynamic changes that alter their perspective. Value is a 2-way flow: the value proposition flows to the customer, and the value experience flows back to the firm as cash flow and feedback. The value cycle is complex and understanding it is very demanding, as is understanding the customer and their system. Winning firms work hard to build a deep value knowledge. The Value Learning Process: 4) Purpose + Value Creation + Entrepreneurship. In Austrian economics, entrepreneurship is the driver of the business system. The term is often misinterpreted as pertaining to start-ups and small business innovation. It actually pertains to value creation. Entrepreneurship is an approach to business that starts with the customer and their needs — a definition of what new value opportunities are currently unmet — and develops the knowledge and assembles the capability to craft a product or service to meet those needs. There is time uncertainty and resource risk in committing to this development. Any firm and any project that pursues this new knowledge with the intent of creating new customer value is entrepreneurial, irrespective of scale. Entrepreneurship also weeds out elements that are not value drivers — bureaucracy, obsolete assets and unproductive infrastructure such as luxury office suites. Entrepreneurial firms are focused and efficient. This is Value Entrepreneurship: 5) Entrepreneurial firms operate unique value-centric business models. Entrepreneurship is action, and the set of actions the firm takes to make money consistently over the long term is called the business model. Business models vary by industry — some industries are more profitable than others — and by firm — in every industry, there is something about some firms that makes them more profitable than others. That something is their business model. The business model that emerges from 199 Economics For Business episodes is the 4V’s model: Value understanding: building an advantaged and exclusive knowledge base on understanding your chosen customers and their value needs and value preferences. Value facilitation: designing and assembling a system to meet those needs and preferences and taking it to market for feedback on customer acceptance and approval. Value exchange: market implementation at scale to generate reliable recurring cash flows from customer purchases and relationships. Value agility: systems to receive and respond to feedback in a dynamic, responsive flow. Per Bylund introduces the Austrian Business Model: The Austrian Business Model Video: Hermann Morris’s Business Model: Educate The Industry: 6. The entrepreneurial mindset is different. Over 199 episodes, we observed the following characteristics of the entrepreneurial mindset: Greater capacity for imagination: imagining great futures for customers; Better judgment: judgment is intent (the strong emotional relationship with a desired successful outcome), plus intuitive decision-making when data are incomplete, plus confidence in action-as-experimentation, whatever the degree of uncertainty; Learning: entrepreneurial firms are learning machines, and especially good at challenging their own assumptions. Empathy: the skill to understand how customers feel subjective value, and to process data through the customer’s mental model; Orchestration: entrepreneurial firms seldom have direct control over all the resources required to deliver value, and they are expert at orchestrating others’ resources, including their time and skills and knowledge. Embrace of change: entrepreneurs don’t fear change, they welcome it as an opportunity. Peter Klein: Opportunities Don’t “Exist”. Entrepreneurs Create Them: Victor Chor’s Entrepreneurial Orientation: 7. Explore and expand. Entrepreneurial firms not only embrace change, they make it, through a process we call explore and expand. It means always running lots of experiments to see what works unexpectedly. Experiments should be designed to refute existing assumptions. There should be a wide variation of experiments, not just a series of nuanced changes. Entrepreneurs look for a big variation in outcome and so they make big variations in inputs. The Age Of Strategy Is Over: The Replacement Is Explore And Expand: 8. Harnessing the highest values. What guides customers’ behaviors are not features and attributes, like pricing and performance metrics and guarantees, but values. The firmest guidance comes from the highest values. If a customer’s highest value is family security, they’ll never buy any offering that doesn’t align with their value system. Successful entrepreneurial firms know how to climb the values ladder from features to highest value, providing strong rungs at every level, and always going all the way to the top. Internally for business, the highest values are service to others, delivered in the form of value creation, and ethical behavior. Value As A Basis For Business Building: 9. Managing the loop Business is a flow. In business-as-a-flow, there’s no start and no finish. It’s non-linear. The environment is entirely uncertain and unpredictable. A business forms its intent, and then chooses and implements actions it judges will advance that intent. There’s no way to know what the result will be, and so the business commits to receiving and reading the feedback, making appropriate adjustments, and then implementing new, adjusted actions, to gain the next round of feedback. This is the flow of knowledge-building, and it flows as a repeated loop, with the same process but different actions, new learning and continuous adjustment. With sound and active monitoring and management, the loop will generate some durable learning that merit repeated action. Cash flow will flow back to the company, and profitable returns will grow. The loop can be self-reinforcing. Mark McGrath: OODA Loop: Bart Madden: Proficiency With The Knowledge-Building Loop Is The Key To Value Creation:

199. Bartley J. Madden: Value Creation Principles

Value for customers is the purpose of all entrepreneurial business. Firms big and small must know, follow, and adhere to the principles of value creation. This is pragmatic not theoretical — the consequence of a failure to do so is that the firm cannot survive. Bartley J. Madden studied value creating firms as a co-founder of a successful investment research firm and then managing director of Credit Suisse HOLT. He is now an independent researcher and founder of the Madden Center For Value Creation in the College of Business at Florida Atlantic University. He joins the Economics For Business podcast and shared a summary of a lifetime of research. Knowledge Capsule A systems thinking approach provides the best route to understanding value creation. The business firm is a sub-system within a bigger system, that of society. The effectiveness of the firm is tied to organizational learning and the evolution of dynamic capabilities. Bart Madden’s pragmatic theory of the firm treats it as a holistic system with a well-defined purpose. If it is successful in achieving its purpose, it will benefit the larger societal system. The purpose of the firm is a four-fold composition of mutually reinforcing goals. Sometimes, the business literature is guilty of treating purpose as a PR statement, a catchphrase that can be communicated without it necessarily governing the firm’s behavior. Bart Madden’s view of purpose demonstrates much greater depth, appropriate for complex systems management. Purpose is 4-fold: A vision of the value that can be realized by customers, and that can inspire and motivate employees to work for a firm committed to ethical behavior and making the world a better place through customer value. [[{"fid":"137418","view_mode":"image_no_caption","fields":{"format":"image_no_caption","alignment":"center","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Example 1","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_caption_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_file_link[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"image_no_caption","alignment":"center","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Example 1","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_caption_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_file_link[und][0][value]":""}},"attributes":{"alt":"Example 1","class":"media-element file-image-no-caption media-wysiwyg-align-center","data-delta":"1"}}]] Customers consume value by experiencing it in their interactions and relationships with the firm. The customer’s experience is dynamic within their own system of competitive offerings and alternative choices.Survive and prosper through continual gains in efficiency and sustained innovation. These are long term performance variables that depend directly on a firm’s knowledge-building proficiency. A firm must generate a return that is greater than the cost of capital, and as it matures, this return can be eroded away by competitors who offer lower prices or different features to customers. Building knowledge and translating it into new business capabilities is critical for long-term survival. [[{"fid":"137419","view_mode":"image_no_caption","fields":{"format":"image_no_caption","alignment":"center","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Example 2","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_caption_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_file_link[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"2":{"format":"image_no_caption","alignment":"center","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Example 2","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_caption_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_file_link[und][0][value]":""}},"attributes":{"alt":"Example 2","class":"media-element file-image-no-caption media-wysiwyg-align-center","data-delta":"2"}}]]Work continuously to sustain win-win relationships in every direction. Relationships with customers are primary for value creation, and relationships with employees and managers must generate the understanding, motivation and commitment to delivering customer value, while relationships with suppliers, collaborating firms and other partners must result in their best support for value creation. It’s a way of living and doing business that engenders trust all around. Shareholders are also rewarded as a consequence of these relationships.Take care of future generations. The long-term view of the pragmatic theory of the firm as a system within the bigger system of society emphasizes thoughtful concern for the future, so that return on capital can be sustained. Paying attention to minimizing waste in the earliest product and service design stages can serve the future, and this includes minimizing pollution (a form of waste) and reducing harm to the environment.[[{"fid":"137421","view_mode":"image_no_caption","fields":{"format":"image_no_caption","alignment":"center","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Example 3","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_caption_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_file_link[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"4":{"format":"image_no_caption","alignment":"center","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Example 3","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_caption_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_file_link[und][0][value]":""}},"attributes":{"alt":"Example 3","class":"media-element file-image-no-caption media-wysiwyg-align-center","data-delta":"4"}}]] A firm that is successful in achieving its four-part purpose benefits customers, employees, partners, suppliers and shareholders, as well as society at large. Nurturing and sustaining a knowledge-building culture is the most critical driver of long-term performance. Knowledge-building is a continuous loop: Knowledge base, purposes and worldview: Every firm has a knowledge base that determines current perceptions or current worldview, which includes ideas and beliefs and assumptions about interacting with the world. Perceptions: We see the world through our perceptions and construct our reality that way. We may be self-assured about some favorite ideas about the obvious way to proceed, but we may be proven wrong via future learning. Purposeful actions and consequences: With its purpose in mind, the firm takes actions, and each action has consequences, which may or may not have been anticipated. Feedback: Learning from actions and their consequences is consumed as feedback, a critical component of the knowledge-building loop. The knowledge base changes as a result of this learning. An existing assumption may be replaced. Humility is important when traversing the knowledge-building loop. New understanding and new perceptions: As a result of feedback and learning we may be able to evaluate our assumptions differently and perceive the world in a new and more accurate way. It’s hard to be skeptical about our own strongly held beliefs, and therefore a cultural commitment to experimentation — the kind that’s capable of revealing obsolete assumptions — is necessary. Knowledge-building stems from firm culture. Knowledge-building proficiency is a culture which views everyone in the firm as a value creator and a knowledge worker who can continuously improve their own problem-solving skills. This, in turn, motivates all employees since they can take great satisfaction from their jobs. One of the errors of the traditional command-and-control management structure is that it assumes the smartest people are “higher up”, and it takes decision-making away from those closest to the customer and to the most relevant knowledge. The higher-ups set short-term targets for the employees, which is inconsistent with treating individuals as learners and value creators. Knowledge-building occurs, and must be nurtured, at every layer of the firm. The correct view — and the correct measurement — of firm performance is the life cycle. All firms traverse an inevitable life cycle. Bartley J. Madden’s books and research picture it this way. [[{"fid":"137423","view_mode":"image_no_caption","fields":{"format":"image_no_caption","alignment":"center","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"The Competitive Life Cycle View of the Firm","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_caption_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_file_link[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"6":{"format":"image_no_caption","alignment":"center","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"The Competitive Life Cycle View of the Firm","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_caption_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_file_link[und][0][value]":""}},"attributes":{"alt":"The Competitive Life Cycle View of the Firm","class":"media-element file-image-no-caption media-wysiwyg-align-center","data-delta":"6"}}]] During a period of high innovation, economic returns are high, and firms can reinvest at a high rate. This inevitably fades as competitors erode the advantage. In maturity the returns approach the cost of capital, and the business model may fade to the point where it fails to make the long-term cost of capital. That’s why firms must always be investing in long term new innovation projects for continuous refreshment and to repeat the high return stage. They must demonstrate to investors a skill in making these high return long term investments. The stock price is an appraisal of this skill. [[{"fid":"137422","view_mode":"image_no_caption","fields":{"format":"image_no_caption","alignment":"center","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Example 4","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_caption_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_file_link[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"5":{"format":"image_no_caption","alignment":"center","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Example 4","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_caption_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_file_link[und][0][value]":""}},"attributes":{"alt":"Example 4","class":"media-element file-image-no-caption media-wysiwyg-align-center","data-delta":"5"}}]] The life cycle components are the long-term cost of capital, the return on capital that results from knowledge-building proficiency, the fade rate and the reinvestment rate. The metrics of firm performance are those related to the life cycle. Additional Resources The Pragmatic Theory of The Firm and The Knowledge-Building Loop (PDF): Books by Bartley J. Madden: Value Creation Principles: The Pragmatic Theory of the Firm Begins with Purpose and Ends with Sustainable Capitalism: Creation Thinking: Valuation: Your Worldview: The Four Core Beliefs You Need to Solve Complex Business Problems: Paper: "Bet on innovation, not Environmental, Social and Governance metrics, to lead the Net Zero transition" by Bartley J. Madden (PDF): Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard Rumelt: Plain Talk: Lessons From A Business Maverick by Ken Iverson:

198: Catherine Kaputa: The Brand of You

Brands are prized by corporations as significant value-driving economic assets. Brands help customers enjoy more valuable experiences, raising willingness-to-pay levels and thus improving cash flows — higher cash flows as a result of higher prices, faster cash flows because branded products tend to turn faster than their non-branded counterparts, longer lasting cash flows because brands have longevity in customers’ perceptions, and less volatile cash flows because brand loyalty can smooth out the effects of economic booms and busts. For these reasons, corporations invest in brands and brand building. Catherine Kaputa makes the case that individuals should invest in themselves as brands, and makes the tools of brand-building available to individuals for personal brand-building: the brand of you. Knowledge Capsule You are a brand, assessed subjectively by your customers. Think of yourself as a brand. Think of your customers - your boss, other leaders and decision-makers in your firm, your colleagues, your clients, your suppliers. They all have a subjective perception of you and the value to which you can contribute in any business situation. Is it the perception you want? Do people see you as the problem solver and solution designer for their problems? Like any brand owner, you can work to actively shape that perception. As Catherine Kaputa puts it: If you don’t brand yourself, others will, and they may not brand you the way you want to be branded. The first tool in the branding toolbox is positioning. The branding community has developed the idea of brand positioning. In the perception space in which your brand operates, you seek to identify a unique, highly differentiated position. You want to be perceived as different and better. Positioning is the identification and selection of that unique space in the minds of customers and the basis of the of credibility, reputation and trust to be able to make the claim. Importantly, positioning requires outside-in thinking. Think of your customers first, their needs, their mindset, and their perception of the other brands in the space. Your positioning must be in their minds, not yours. Differentiation is a most important element of positioning. Typically, perception spaces are competitive. Customers looking for solutions to problems and better experiences scan the space for alternatives and make comparisons between them. Know your competitors, assess them through the eyes of your customers, and find a positioning that is both different from and better than alternatives for your customer, using their mental model and assessment criteria. Aim to “own” that unique space - meaning that the customer identifies you as the only one or the best one of their alternatives to meet a particular need. Attach an idea to yourself. A way to pin down a perception in a customer’s mind is to attach an idea to a brand, in this case yourself as a brand, in a way that the connection is immediate and becomes automatic. The idea should be singular and highly focused. Catherine Kaputa recommends a process of subtraction to reach a singular idea — you’ll start with a multi-layered and possibly complicated idea, but if you keep subtracting the least relevant, least important and least differentiated elements, you’ll arrive at the pared-down singularity. You should be able to express it in a phrase or a sentence, one that you can keep repeating to embed it. Her own example in her marketing career was to brand herself as “good with difficult clients”. Every marketing services company has clients or accounts or marketing challenges that are deemed to be difficult and not everyone wants to be exposed to that risk. Someone who steps up and enjoys performing well on such a stage is both differentiated and highly sought after. Personal brand positioning strategy templates provide another tool for self-branding. In her book The New Brand You, Catherine Kaputa provides 10 brand positioning templates as examples of how an individual might approach the process of self-branding and build their own brand. Download "Ten Personal Brand Positioning Strategies" in PDF: These are complete templates for rigorous use and application, appropriate for individual interpretation, embellishment and nuance. One example is the Innovator strategy. Let’s use this template as an example of the self-brand positioning process. 1. What’s the customer need that the Innovator addresses? Identify your target audience and the problem they want solved. Innovators are needed to create something new, when existing strategies are failing or sales are declining or new market entrants are redefining the terms of competition. New solutions are sought, and Innovators are the ones people turn to. Innovators are recognized as the creative resource that’s required. 2. What are the attributes to point to in order to claim the Innovator positioning? Catherine Kaputa lists 5: Visionary with clear objectives: not just creative, but capable of identifying business objectives for creativity and of seizing opportunities. Brilliant at problem-solving: full of ideas, but always directed towards solving important problems. Bold risk-taking: when others hold back, Innovators are eager to design and run experiments from which to learn, knowing there’s no such thing as failure, just new knowledge. Fresh thinking: not following the crowd but diverging from the norm. Inventive: Innovators demonstrate the capacity to be first in new designs, new thinking and new ideas. The point is to evaluate yourself against the attributes of the positioning type: is this you? 3. The next step is a positioning statement. Catherine provides examples: Sample Positioning Statement: An innovative professional in an industry beset by mergers and dynamic change positioned herself in the following way. Draft Sentence: For senior managers, boss, clients, industry who need new products and services I stand for innovative problem solver in industries undergoing massive change. The format to use is: For (target audience) who needs (problem you solve) I stand for (value proposition). 4. Add reasons to believe. Pick three reasons and 3 keywords or phrases as to why customers should invest in your positioning statement by hiring you or giving you the project. Innovator is just one of multiple possible strategies. Yours may be one of these or a combination of several. There’s a personal test you can take at for initial input to start your positioning process. Positioning is a means not an end: there is more work to do. Catherine Kaputa follows the logic of brand positioning all the way to implementation. It’s not a theory, it’s a practice. There are actions that brand marketers take to communicate and embed their positioning. She cites three major ones: visual identity, verbal identity and brand marketing. Commercial brands spend a lot of time, effort and resources on a brand’s look: logo design, package design, website colors and typefaces, video style, and so on. The goal is to communicate a style and an engaging and brand-appropriate visual personality. The same principles apply to personal branding - choose your look, your dress-style and fashion carefully and thoughtfully. Verbal identity comes from the words you use, the story you tell, and how you communicate in presentations, e-mails, tweets, speeches and conversations, whether in the conference room, the auditorium or on zoom. Work on it. Marketing your brand should be guided by your goals for your personal brand. Once you have them defined, choose your media, your message, your content, your campaign tactics and your metrics. Additional Resources The New Brand You: How to Wow in the New World of Work by Catherine Kaputa: Find your own brand positioning ( on "Ten Personal Brand Positioning Strategies" (PDF):

197. Phil Johnson: Entrepreneurs Demonstrate A Special Emotional Intelligence

Business success goes beyond numbers and planning and finance acumen. There’s an emotional component to it, ranging from the courage to make decisions without knowing the outcomes in an uncertain future, to the resilience of weathering storms and coping with unanticipated crises. There is also, of course, the joy of achievement and goal-attainment. There’s a concept identified as emotional intelligence that individuals and teams can cultivate as an element of a mental model that’s well-aligned with business performance and positive business outcomes. Knowledge Capsule The entrepreneurial method is to pursue change, but people’s natural attitude is to resist change. We have an inbuilt, biological resistance to change. It triggers fear and anxiety that get in the way of moving towards the change that we seek. In addition to this emotional resistance, we develop habits that keep us in the status quo, and present another barrier to behavioral change. We all must fight an internal battle between our old habits and desired new habits. Entrepreneurs develop a special emotional intelligence that motivates action. Entrepreneurs are in the business of making change. They can overcome the natural emotional and behavioral barriers because they have a highly developed emotional intelligence. They have such an emotional relationship with their vision of a successful outcome for their efforts that they can overcome fearful restraints and resistance to change. They are especially highly motivated to take action. It’s their emotion that drives action, not intellect. Emotional intelligence is much more influential in business success than IQ. A 40-year study at UC Berkeley found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is 400% more powerful than IQ in predicting which individuals would have success in their field. Private companies like PepsiCo and Apple have uncovered similar findings in their internal studies. High emotional intelligence not only releases personal energy and creativity, but it also results in higher levels of interpersonal trust and shared engagement with others. With high emotional intelligence, we are driven to help others to enjoy better experiences as well as to advance out of our own comfort zones to access new areas of achievement. The consequence of achieving high levels of emotional intelligence is higher levels of trust and engagement in business, and, thereby, better business results. Everyone can improve their emotional intelligence and benefit from its compounding effect. We are pretty much born with our IQ — we can’t increase it. But everyone can raise their level of emotional intelligence. Not only that, but emotional intelligence is a compounding asset — we can raise it and raise it again and keep on raising, so long as we work at it. Part of the equation is personal energy management. Phil Johnson identifies personal energy as the core element at the heart of the power of emotional intelligence. We “give our energy away” when we permit others to disrupt our emotional flow — make us annoyed or angry or resentful or frustrated. As a consequence, we feel the need to “steal energy from others” by getting the better of them or by exercising a command-and-control management style. The net result is strife, dissension, and misalignment — where team or corporate energy is wasted. We can avoid this waste by cultivating emotional intelligence. There are high-ROI habits, practices and skills that help to build emotional intelligence. Happily, we can practice some of the habits and skills that develop and demonstrate emotional intelligence. One such habit is authentic listening: when we take criticism personally, we give away energy. So, if we eliminate all personal inner-directed emotion from our reception of comments and suggestions from others, we can utilize all the experience and knowledge that’s shared with us for betterment and improvement. Don’t resist, don’t judge. Don’t let attachment to our own preferences get in the way of receiving input. Don’t raise walls. We have no personal interest in what others think of us, only in the information they can impart, which might be useful The other side of the coin is authentic communication: be sure that all the content of our communication is factual and positively motivating and designed to be helpful to others, strengthening trust and engagement. If we develop a consistent reputation for authentic communication, we’ll raise engagement (and Gallup reports that employee engagement is at a very low level today, which is a great cost to economic productivity). In addition to habits and practices, Phil Johnson urges us to commit to the emotional labor of recognizing our own fears, biases, and status quo preferences, and to establish an emotional distance between our motivations to action and our ego-based fear. It’s emotional labor that pays interest — it has a high ROI. Emotional intelligence releases the power of intuition, and creates a state of flow. When we fear making decisions, we try to rationalize those decisions, to seek objectivity and lower uncertainty. When we distance ourselves from fear, we can unleash intuition — that decision-making capability that is beyond our understanding and comes from our unconscious brain. Intuition takes over more and more as we master emotional intelligence. We make choices that are not intellectual — we go beyond our intellectual ability. Emotional intelligence takes us to a flow state. We get away from thinking and move towards intuitive doing, beyond our comfort zone beyond our fear and anxiety. Additional Resources Phil Johnson on LinkedIn: Phil Johnson’s Zoom Calendar: Videos from alumni of Phil Johnson’s MBL (Master Of Business Leadership) Program: UC Berkeley Study, EQ >IQ:

196. Bart Vanderhaegen: How Criticism Fuels Knowledge Creation in Adaptive Entrepreneurial Firms

Success in business — serving customers well, and achieving growth in revenues and assets with a return on capital greater than its cost over the long term — is tied to knowledge-building, whereby everyone in the company learns more and more about specialized and advantaged methods of generating value for customers. Customer value fueled by knowledge-building flows back to the company as cash flow as a result of customers’ willingness to pay (which, itself, is a piece of knowledge to be discovered through testing and experimentation). The uncertainty of the future means that a lot of knowledge-building must be achieved through experimentation — testing ideas to find out if they work or not. The earliest stage of this testing is bound up in the concept of criticism. Bart Vanderhaegen, a philosopher, epistemologist, and business consultant, explains the role of criticism to Economics For Business. Knowledge Capsule There is broad agreement on the need for adaptiveness in business. It is becoming more and more accepted to view firms as operating within a complex adaptive system in which the interactions of millions of agents, and the resultant emergence of new outcomes and new system properties, require an acute sensibility regarding change — and speed of change — in the business environment and an ability to make adjustments in response or, if possible, in anticipation. This adjustment process often goes by the name of adaptiveness. What, exactly, is being adapted? Bart Vanderhaegen’s analysis is that it is ideas that are being adapted and adjusted. He defines idea in this business context as a goal and a plan to achieve that goal — a desired end and the associated means. It is ideas that ultimately result in changing people’s behavior, changing product and service offerings, and changing markets. If the idea is wrong, it will fail in achieving any desired change. To establish why or how an idea is wrong requires criticism. Criticism is an artifact of the science of knowledge. Critical rationalism views knowledge as useful information we use to solve problems we face. It can never be viewed as final — it’s conjecture about possible solutions that we are continuously challenging and criticizing to expose any error that we can subsequently correct to improve upon the solution, and to get closer to economic reality. That’s adaptation. Firms actively seek the criticism of the market. Once ideas have been activated as products and services, firms are comfortable with the criticism of the market. As Mises observed, the customer, by buying or not buying, returns a verdict on every business’s offering. And business welcomes the criticism, in the form of sales report, or market share analysis, or market research. The market is full of feedback, and in the case of non-buying, the feedback is criticism and triggers improvements or an adaptation of the plan. In business, there tends to be less comfort with criticism in the pre-market stage, but it’s a necessary tool for refining options and making decisions. In Bart’s way of saying it, the word criticism, when used in business, has “kind of a weird smell around it”. There’s a culture of what he calls justificationism. We are taught to project confidence bout business plans. Executives claim expertise in the domains for which they were hired. The boss is correct. This is all misplaced. What we should be confident about is capacity to solve problems, and not be scared of making mistakes, but rather to be eager to adapt our knowledge to observed reality when it changes. By utilizing criticism methodically, businesses can unleash its power. The proper use of criticism is to criticize ideas and not persons. We always want to celebrate the owner of an idea, and grant them autonomy to accept or reject criticism. Bart’s three step method for business criticism is: Start with the presentation of the idea by the idea owner. There should be the opportunity for a full and reasoned presentation. Questions of clarification can be asked, but no criticism at this step.Then follows the offering of criticism. It should be high quality, constructive and specific as to what elements are in doubt and why, and what can be improved. General opposition such as “That will never be accepted here” (which could be said of any idea) is not acceptable.The criticism session is completed with a consent stage, in which the idea owner indicates which criticisms he or she finds relevant and will act on to improve the idea, whether in ends or means or both. Consent is in the discretion of the idea owner and should not be the result of any pressure by critics, whatever their rank or status. There is no “softness” in this: there is a shared and passionate commitment to improve. Successful adaptive businesses develop a positive culture of criticism. It’s important to analyze and classify the prevailing firm culture. Some cultures will discourage or reject criticism as a method for improvement, especially those that are hierarchically organized and have a tradition of authoritarianism. The appropriate culture values truth and values adaptiveness, and celebrates the identification of error as a successful step towards improvement. Bart called this culture a “tradition of criticism”, which sounds contradictory since the word tradition is usually associated with preserving the status quo; but a tradition of criticism implies a kind of stability around the practice of criticizing. People become comfortable with it, and try to become better at it, and are proud to be part of the path to betterment through criticism. The Amazon 6-page memo system is a good example of the tradition of criticism. Idea owners are required to prepare a detailed memo describing the idea and the business case and this is submitted to a committee of reviewers in a dedicated meeting, escalating in rank towards the most senior management as the idea is vetted, improved, and increasingly strengthened. It’s a tradition and a part of the Amazon culture. Such a culture is not initiated with an announcement or a campaign, but emerges organically as a universal tool for everyone in the firm to utilize. Additional Resources Pactify Management: Bart on Twitter: @B_Vanderhaegen Bart’s podcast: Fallible Management ( Bart’s email:

192. Mark McGrath on Orientation and the Adaptive Entrepreneurial Method

When firms apply the principles of Austrian economics to business…

191. Allen Mendenhall: Putting Humanness and Ethics Back Into Business Economics

We are living through a particularly bad moment in history for free markets and capitalism. Government, not business, is promoted as the solution to all problems. Young people have never known any other environment, and one of the consequences is the skepticism about capitalism that they learn in school, college, and university.

190. Peter Klein: Why Managers Still Matter:

Entrepreneurial businesses embrace adaptiveness and change, and continuous innovation enabled by flexible and responsive organizations, empowered at every level. That doesn’t mean there’s no role for managers.

189. James Kent: Carving A Differentiated Growth Space In A Well-Established Market

Entrepreneurs always generate new value for customers; that’s what they get paid for. It’s not always necessary to create a new market; there are many creative ways to expand the value potential of established markets and carve out a territory in the new expanded space.

188. Jordan Lams on Finding and Patiently Developing Your Entrepreneurial Focus

We define entrepreneurship in terms of people working creatively to make others’ lives better.