Posts

169. Jeff Arnold: A Passionate Entrepreneur Profitably Redesigns The Insurance Experience

Is there any industry a passionate entrepreneur can’t improve and enhance by elevating the customer experience? The answer is clearly no. Economics For Business talks to Jeff Arnold, who finds insurance fun, exciting, and a source of inspiration, and who is advancing profitably towards the new future he’s imagining, where buying insurance is so enjoyable that customers will stop shopping on price and clamor for the new experience he is designing.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Passionate, creative entrepreneurs can deliver profitable innovation to any industry, no matter how static and rigid it may seem.

Jeff Arnold loves insurance. He told us he finds it fun, awesome, and exciting. Studying the intricacies of contractually trading and transferring risk for payment generated a lifetime interest and passion in him. He’s turned that passion into revenue and profit by delivering new value to customers in aspect of their life or their business that is extremely important to them.

As a good Austrian, Jeff Arnold views his industry first from the customer’s perspective.

Customer-first. That’s the Austrian way of business. When Jeff thinks about insurance, he thinks from the consumers’ perspective. They pay hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime for insurance of many kinds: house, automobile, business, medical care, and more. Do they know exactly what they are buying — or, perhaps more importantly, not buying because of exclusions buried deep in the small type of the appendices to an insurance policy agreement? How do they feel about the customer interface, including call center phone trees and hard-to-decipher policy documents?

From this perspective, he is able to develop design principles for an insurance business with a better customer experience:

  • Help customers to think about a systematic lifetime plan for all their insurances;
  • Help them develop the knowledge required to properly understand insurance offers and alternative policies;
  • Give them the opportunity to customize insurance products for their needs as opposed to buying a commoditized vanilla product;
  • Help them to get the exchange value from the purchase that is right for them.
  • Give them an interpersonal experience that’s much better than the industry norm.

Jeff focuses his customers on value, not price.

Most often, buyers approach an insurance purchase with a transactional frame of mind: how can I pay the lowest price. They’ll shop around to find it. Jeff wants to put an end to “price shopping”, to be replaced with a value calculation: what coverage do I need, how did I get it, and who is the best provider?

The value calculation often entails discovering and eliminating exclusions — coverages that are excluded in the fine print of the contract. These exclusions occur in home insurance (which is especially hard to read and understand) auto insurance (there are 12-14 exclusions to look for according to Jeff) and commercial or business insurance (where many coverages are automatically excluded and must be built back in item by item, with careful attention to detail).

The value solution lies in the integration of technology and personal service.

Jeff’s latest business, RightSure, aims to get individuals the right insurance by using A.I. in combination with “famously friendly humans”, i.e., staff carefully selected and trained to deliver knowledge and service in an amenable way. The A.I. can provide a preliminary phone interface, a chatbot interface on the website, and can do an excellent job of matching customer needs to the right policies. Famously friendly people can patiently explain all the policy options, point out what’s covered and what’s excluded, answer customer questions, and help them to make informed decisions. They’re good at listening, exhibit high empathy, and can help customers navigate from suspicion to trust.

The combination of A.I. and famously friendly humans delivers a superior customer experience while also achieving high levels of efficiency. The return on investment in human capital is as high as the return on technology capital. The combination generates brand uniqueness.

Jeff represents entrepreneurship in action in the insurance industry.

Jeff Arnold is a quintessential entrepreneur. He’s driven by a passion for his industry, where he spent a career in multiple roles before launching his current business. He gathered knowledge he learned from others and from his own experience in those various roles. He innovates by having a more highly developed customer focus than others, and commits to a better experience for his customers than they can expect elsewhere. And he knows how to combine and recombine assets and resources in new ways to deliver that better experience. He continuously monitors the customer experience and customer sentiment to keep improving.

His primary skill are empathy and imagination — understanding the experience customers prefer and designing it in his mind before bringing it to life. He doesn’t need technology expertise to bring his vision to life; he can buy that on the market. It is the human factors of empathy and imagination that lie behind his superior product.

Imagining the future drives product and service innovation.

After a lifetime in the insurance industry and informed by hundreds and thousands of conversations with consumers, Jeff can accurately identify current dissatisfactions and easily imagine future products and services to address some of those satisfactions. Some of the ones he mentioned in our conversation were:

The macro policy: Why do customers have to buy home and auto and business and medical insurance I separate policies and separate transactions. What if there could be one macro policy for a family, adjustable to new needs as life goes on yet still a “one policy” solution for managing all the risks a family faces?

Expanding liability coverage: It seems like lawmakers and courts are continuously finding new things the rest of us are guilty of, like saying bad things on social media. Liabilities are expanding — Jeff called it social inflation. What if our policies could keep up without us having to adjust them in new transactions?

New payment systems: What if we bought automobile insurance by the mile instead of in a lump? Or what if we got refunds based on good driving habits (which is beginning to happen with telematics)? Generally, the payment system of lump sums for coverage over a time period can be replaced by behavioral measures of consumption.

These are the kinds of innovation Jeff is imagining, and working hard on bringing to market. Entrepreneurs make the world a better place.

Additional Resources

Jeff Arnold’s author page on Amazon.com: Mises.org/E4B_169_Author

Jeff’s website, Ambassador For The Insurance Industry: JeffArnold.com

The Art Of The Insurance Deal by Jeff Arnold: Mises.org/E4B_169_Book

RightSure.com

168. Anthony J. Evans: Markets for Managers and Entrepreneurs

Markets are marvelous. They’re the poetry of economics. They are one of the most remarkable technologies humans have ever built. Beautiful businesses develop new markets both outside and inside the firm. We discuss markets with Anthony J. Evans, a business school professor who teaches that all businesspeople must become economists.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

A business economist is an Austrian who looks at the fields of economics and business to see how one is best applied to the other.

Aim to be a good economist and a good business practitioner. Managerial economics is the application of the economic way of thinking and the insights of economics to the managerial task of creating value. It was Shlomo Maital who wrote, “Managers can’t just employ economists, they must become economists”. Anthony Evans follows that direction and teaches his students at ESCP Business School that they’ll be more productive and more capable as businesspeople as a result of learning and applying economics.

Market system economics provides businesses with the best toolkit for success.

Businesses are participants in the market system. Managerial economists study markets in order to find ways for businesses to use market insights, harness market mechanisms and understand the signals and information that markets provide. It’s easy for firms to overestimate their ability to affect the markets in which they are participating, and don’t sometimes they don’t fully understand or properly analyze what market prices are telling them.

Prices are the most important market signals, and they can transmit information about potential futures. They can guide firms on understanding how much value they are creating relative to competitors. They can provide signals about how to increase revenue by moving process higher or lower. They can help businesses understand opportunity costs and transaction costs.

Markets are decentralized experimentation, and if some new experiments by disruptive competitors are commanding purchases from actual buyers today, that may signal more buyers and more transactions in the future especially after prices adjust to higher transaction volumes. Monitoring prices and reading the signals must be a core managerial skill.

Market tests should be applied whenever feasible. Technology can help.

Businesses should run a market test for every question that a market can answer: is this offering or initiative valued, is it preferred, can we put a price on it, will varying the price change the level of demand or acceptance, is the benefit greater than the cost, do some customers prefer a competitive offer? Run a market test — A/B test, pilot program, prototype evaluation, survey with customers, whatever is feasible.

Today’s technology provides tremendous help with low-cost digital testing methods, fast feedback loops, and efficient data processing. In fact, more and more, technology can relieve managers of the task of formulating their own understanding by automating the test procedures and the analytics and recommendations.

Markets can be brought inside the firm to improve business performance.

Markets stimulate innovation, lower costs, and efficiency because customers always want better, cheaper, and faster and competing entrepreneurial firms always want to provide those benefits in the search for profits. The same effects of the market order can be sought inside the firm. What is the market value and the right price for marketing services from the marketing department, or HR services or IT services? What’s the marginal cost versus marginal benefit analysis for one more HR staff member, or the opportunity cost of one more IT system installation versus one more sales campaign? What’s the value of the knowledge flowing through the firm?

These are the kinds of questions that the market order can answer, and managers should always be asking them. Prices can be the metric for all learning.

Market economics can also guide organizational design and processes.

Markets are dynamic and ever changing. Businesses must reflect and emulate this dynamism. Organizational design and structures must be flexible enough to enable dynamism and not erect barriers to change and adaptation. What are the forces that make markets grow and decline, and what are the forces that have this effect on firms? Organization should harness the forces of market growth.

Professor Evans’ suggestion is a constitutional view of the firm. Let simple rules of conduct emerge from a shared sense of vision and mission, codify them, and then let decentralized teams run the experiments that feel constitutionally right to them given their reading of market signals.

Subjective value is immeasurable, but can be gauged in market tests.

The purpose of a firm is to generate subjective value, which is created by customers through their own experiences and co-created by the firms and brands and services that facilitate those experiences. Subjective value is intangible and immeasurable. But exchange value — what customers actually pay in an exchange transaction — can be a proxy in some cases.

Subjective value is a hard concept to grasp for those who have been educated or trained to think of value in objective terms, as something inherent in a product. Professor Evans finds his students, when asked to describe the value of an offering or an idea, instinctively gravitate to the product-based view, citing attributes, features and performance benefits.

Taking the customer perspective is very hard, and perhaps unnatural. The economic point of view is always to put the producer in the shoes of the customer, to take the customer’s view and identify the customer’s mental model for processing information and observation. It’s hard to do, and requires significant cognitive effort. But done well, it’s key to marketing, innovation, product improvement and competitive positioning. Empathically diagnosing subjective value is one of the greatest insights economics can give to business.

Entrepreneurs thrive in markets.

Markets are the place where entrepreneurs ply their skills, and the entrepreneurial role will never diminish. Their imagination of the future and anticipation of future demand – even under conditions of uncertainty – their creativity and their judgment will always be important in the context of dynamic interactions of multiple players, offerings, and institutions within markets. The human factor is the most important.

Entrepreneurship is not an academic matter to be debated for the distinction of different nuances, but a practical matter of working and succeeding in markets. It concerns the identification of a profit opportunity via some kind of new product, service, method, or recombination of capital, and the ability to introduce this novelty into the marketplace, actively making decisions about resource allocation, cost, investment, communications and all the other elements of a business, overcoming obstacles and resolving difficult challenges. It is, as Professor Evans stated it, both ideational and implementational. Ambidextrous.

And the common backdrop for all entrepreneurs and businesses of all kinds is continuous change. In his book Economics: A Complete Guide For Business, Prof Evans states that, “Economic change will disintegrate existing combinations (of capital goods) and force entrepreneurs to find new ones”. This action, which Prof Evans refers to as “recalculation”, is core to the dynamics and agility of entrepreneurs in markets. Recalculation is the creative pulse that provides the energy for generating new capital structures out of old ones.

Austrian economists have always been acutely aware of change as an economic factor. Perhaps the business world is catching up, but Austrians have always been ahead. It’s the perspective that entrepreneurs and businesses can co-ordinate with each other fruitfully in markets where change is so pervasive and so fast that no-one has complete knowledge and yet must be able to act. Austrian economics demonstrates that good outcomes are possible, even in these conditions of bounded knowledge, for everyone participating in the market, so long as entrepreneurs are free to do their work without intervention. It’s a very powerful message.

People in business can be proud of acting as value generators and not feel any imposed need to “give back” or sacrifice themselves to artificially constructed restraints.

Additional Resources

Economics: A Complete Guide For Business by Anthony J. Evans: Buy It On Amazon

AnthonyJEvans.com

167. Mo Hamzian: Everyone Deserves the Best Workplace

There’s a lot of speculation about the future of work — what form it will take, where it will be done, and who will do it (including the robots versus humans debate). We talk to Mo Hamzian, an entrepreneur who is not only theorizing about the future of work, but building newly imagined workspaces that combine spatial design with technology and custom services, making elite workspaces available to everyone.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Entrepreneurship is now both an economic and societal trend, opening up business opportunities of its own.

Entrepreneurship is now, as our guest Mo Hamzian styles it, “a thing”. It’s in the forefront of culture, it’s always in the news, it’s a lifestyle choice as well as a business choice, it’s a career, it’s a source of new heroes for our time.

  • Institutions of entrepreneurship are growing: schools are teaching entrepreneurship, media are covering entrepreneurship, technology is supporting entrepreneurship.
  • Standards are emerging: tools like our own value learning process and 4 Vs value generation model, as well as processes like the Business Model Canvas are becoming standards of the entrepreneurial method.
  • The sharing of entrepreneurial knowledge in a community is expanding via mentoring by experienced entrepreneurs.

As a consequence, we see the emergence of new societal norms.

An entrepreneurial society favors self-reliance over dependency, resourcefulness over entitlement, breakout achievement versus structured conformity, and creativity over formula. Entrepreneurship is understood as a journey that is never completed, and may adaptively follow many diversions in pursuit of evolving goals, rather than a predictable climb up the hierarchical ladder of the corporation. Keep thinking rather than keep climbing.

Even inside the corporation, structure is giving way to small self-organizing teams and corporate procedures are being replaced by adaptiveness and agility.

One of the implications of the growth of entrepreneurship is the trend that gets the name “The Future Of Work”.

Entrepreneurship brings many significant social changes, including flexibility of time and place and methods of work. And the government’s pandemic policies of shutting down office and work spaces and encouraging work-from-home accelerated those changes. Now it is clear, more than ever, that, in the digital age, there is no need whatsoever to commute through grey suburbs on jammed roads or overcrowded trains to get to a dull and depressing cubicle farm just so that you can be in the same building with the other sad souls who are your colleagues.

Cities will empty out, commercial office markets will enter a period of secular decline, and individuals will feel liberated and empowered to do their best work in the physical location and surroundings of their choice.

One way to seize the opportunity represented by the future of work is via real estate itself — repurposed and re-imagined.

Mo Hamzian is an entrepreneur who sees the opportunity in real estate for work where many might see only decline. He looks at it through a different lens, as entrepreneurs do. Can real estate provide the multi-purpose flexibility and adaptiveness required for today’s and tomorrow’s work patterns? It can if looked at creatively.

The creative lens is the customer-first lens: everyone deserves the best workplace.

Business thinking that prioritizes customer sovereignty can often solve the most challenging problems. Mo Hamzian translates the unmet needs of today’s distributed workforce as seeking the best space from which to work — comfortable, well-equipped, good acoustics and conferencing technology, a place that “recognizes you” and your needs.

He developed his ideas, in part, by studying the workspaces of the business elites — the top bankers, tech executives and corporate CEO’s. These are immersive, high tech, high comfort, high style ecosystems you never want to leave. They’re available to a very few. What if they were made available to a much wider audience? This is the way many markets evolve — first, affordable at great expense only for a few, then quickly expanded to a mass audience.

This is the idea behind VEL — Mo Hamzian’s startup to bring elite workspaces to a wide audience of users on demand.

  • Do your best work: the VEL concept is aimed at personal productivity, encouraging the individual to achieve high quality output in a temporary workspace. This implies, of course, some responsibility and commitment on the part of the user.
  • Achieve flow: the ultimate level of individual work is characterized by the feeling of flow — the fulfilment of experiencing how good you are and how much you are improving while doing your work. VEL’s workspace and technology are designed to support flow.
  • Elite environment for everyone: Mo Hamzian’s study of immersive elite workplaces enables designs that bring the same experience to a temporary workspace.
  • Technology: From wi-fi telecommunications and conferencing to (in the future) A.I. and VR and holography, there’s a lot that technology can do to support high quality and high productivity work, and VEL can provide it on demand at variable cost and affordable pricing.
  • Flexible access: customers can rent VEL space and technology by the hour or by the day, in whatever configuration they prefer.
  • Democratization and decentralization: VEL workspaces are available to all, with an aim to distribute them across the country for wide availability, whether urban, suburban, or rural, wherever work can be done.
  • Customization and recognition: Ultimately, the high-tech VEL workspace will recognize the individual when they walk in and configure to their customized set of needs.

The VEL concept removes frictions and barriers that might otherwise stand in the way of the future of work and the future of distributed entrepreneurship.

As we advance towards a more entrepreneurial future across the entire business landscape, from big corporations operated by flexible, agile teams to individual practitioners, gig workers and small, highly specialized and highly networked companies, concepts like VEL will be an important part of the enabling infrastructure.

Additional Resources

Mo’s LinkedIn page: LinkedIn.com/in/MoHamzian

Mentioned by Mo as a worthwhile mentoring site: GrowthMentor.com

VEL website: MyVEL.com

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

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