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127. Matt McCaffrey: Austrian Business Strategy (Part 1): Emergent, Not Planned

Strategy is not the formulation of a plan. It is emergent from a process of exploration and discovery. Austrian economics is the best guide for entrepreneurial firms to put in place the methods and organization that unleash the power of emergence. Matt McCaffrey joins Economics For Business for a detailed exposition of the Austrian approach to Business Strategy.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

A firm is a vehicle for entrepreneurial action to generate value.

All businesses and all firms are entrepreneurial. They start from — and continue with — an aspiration to generate value for both customers and the firm, and they act on this intention by assembling assets (resources, people, cash, machines, software, etc.) that are required to realize and deliver value. The goal is to bring a good or service to market that is valued by others. Value is the ultimate goal.

There are clear conditions for this action to take place.

There must be a decision-making authority for the firm, because someone (or some collaborative group) must decide how to select and assemble just the right combination of resources and make a specific product or service from the assembly. We call that decision-making authority the entrepreneur.

A second condition is that someone or some group must bear the uncertainty of the action. It may not turn out the way that was expected. It may not be profitable. Less value may be generated, or none at all. This bearing of uncertainty is also the role of the entrepreneur.

It’s hard to get the operations of the firm just right, because of complexity and change.

Why is all this so hard, and the outcome so uncertain? Two reasons: change and complexity. The subjective valuations of customers, who decide what is more valuable and what is less valuable, are changing and reshuffling continuously, depending on situation, mood, the choices of others, and a myriad of other influences. These changes can become trends, fads, segments, and competitive advantages and disadvantages.

Continuous change contributes to the complexity of the resource assembly puzzle: there are innumerable ways in which resources can be combined and recombined in a firm, and getting the assembly just right is a difficult challenge that is never perfectly resolved.

Therefore, the Austrian view of capital as a flow is a fundamental contribution to rethinking firm strategy.

The resources assembled in an entrepreneurial firm are not valuable in themselves, but because they produce a good or service that the customer values and is willing to pay for. This value — translated into revenue through the customer’s willingness to pay — flows back to the firm as income. The flow of income is affected by each element in the firm’s capital combination and by the degree to which the combination is well-integrated for the value generation task. Customers drive the capital formation task. The entrepreneur is engaged in a never-ending process of combining different capital goods to find the combination that is the most serviceable in generating value. Treating capital as a value-generating flow helps entrepreneurs in practice to manage the persistent process of applying resource combinations in the market to ascertain what value they generate. It’s dynamic process with no pauses.

There are four implications for firm strategy — and they all contrast starkly with the traditional business school view of strategy.

The business school view of strategy takes the form of sophisticated data-fueled top-down planning models. Only a few special minds can take on this intellectually and computationally difficult challenge. Historically, the list of models has included Michael Porter’s Five Forces Model (a model of industry structure and how to create barriers to entry and competition); SWOT analysis (a model of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from the firm’s point of view, with strategic implications for the management of each element); PESTEL analysis of the business environment (political, economic, social, technological, environmental, legal factors) and how they affect firm performance. The common thread for these models is that they are implemented top-down: the strategists apply the tools, draw conclusions, and instruct the rest of the organization how to act.

Matt McCaffrey’s contrasted this top-down strategy approach to the Austrian strategy approach across four dimensions.

Learning versus Rational Design

The top-down models attempt rationalization: they view strategy as a rational design problem, to shape a distinctive internal competence to seize an external opportunity and evade external threats.

This approach overlooks the crucial problem of learning. In circumstances of uncertainty, unpredictability, complexity and change, learning is the essential method of making progress. Changing conditions can never be known fully enough or fast enough by people at the center (in the strategic planning department) compared to front line employees. Firms must find a way to make use of this front line knowledge, through learning.

Dispersion versus Centralization

To enable the freedom to learn and to apply learning, decision-making must be dispersed through the organization. A single mind or single planning unit can not centralize all the knowledge and can’t centralize decision-making. A strategic plan is not feasible. Organizational design and decision-making processes must be decentralized and dispersed.

Implementation versus Formulation.

A comprehensive plan is impossible. Firms must seek a more adaptive framework. Processes and methods and forms of organization must be capable of adaptation to unforeseen events and new information. Continuous deliberate adjustments must be made in the light of new circumstances, which may arise every day. Therefore, Austrians see strategy as emergent not formulated via a planning process. Adaptive firms implement entrepreneurial actions, and then adapt to the learning, new knowledge and new circumstances that present themselves as a consequence.

Structure versus Strategy

The business school approach is that strategy must be fully formulated, and only then can it be used to shape the structure and processes of an organization. Austrians take the opposite approach: the structure of the firm (its organization, processes, and interfaces with the external environment) shapes strategy. Hayek used the term “structure of production”. This structure can be changed, but not instantly or seamlessly. Structure and strategy influence each other to some extent, but business schools tend to make strategy prior: that a firm is organized in response to the CEO’s vision. Austrians understand that this is not realistic because it’s not possible to restructure an existing organization every time a new vision comes along. There’s a high cost to structural change, and strategy must adjust.

Emergent strategy is based on business rules.

What, then, replaces top-down strategic planning? Austrians use the term “rules”. Rules are an internal device to help managers and employees make decisions on the spot in response to learning and new knowledge. Matt McCaffrey gave an example: whenever there is a break in the supply chain, repurpose old capital goods and bring them into the production process as a low-cost way to fill the gap. It’s a broad and simple rule, and it enables decision-making to go forward at the point of the supply chain break. People close to the action can use their local knowledge to solve the problem within the guideline of the rule.

Another example was given by Bob Luddy, CEO of CaptiveAire, who set the rule for his firm to always have the best price in the marketplace. It’s a simple rule that requires tremendous local knowledge about prices of systems and components, of competitive offerings, and about turnaround time (a cost element of price) among many others. Sales and marketing people as well as engineers can make decisions following this rule.

Rules sustain firm uniqueness.

Business school strategists often focus on competitive advantage as the goal of strategy. But the concept of competitive advantage comes from neoclassical economics and the depiction of markets as bounded cage-fights for market share between similarly-resourced rivals.

Austrian strategy focuses more on firm uniqueness. A firm’s distinctive rules can result in a unique mode of delivering value, and a unique perception in the eyes of customers. A brand is a set of rules that generates such a unique perception.

The ultimate distinction: strategy is exploration.

Strategy is emergent, not planned. Strategy is entrepreneurial. It’s a continuous process of learning through action and discovery. Sometimes, firms discover things they really wish they hadn’t. That’s part of the process through which, eventually, strategy evolves. It’s emergent. Over time, a firm can adopt some simple rules that seem to bring some order, but adaptation to new circumstances is always required. Profit is the signal that adaptation is successful.

We use the term explore and expand to capture the Austrian approach to strategy. Firms are always exploring, seeking ways to improve performance. When some experiments yield promising results, they can be expanded. Explore and expand is a trade-off: how much of the available resources should be allocated to each type of activity. Entrepreneurs manage the trade-off in order to succeed. There’s no strategic plan from on high to make the trade-off for them.

Additional Resources

“Emergent Strategy Process Map” (PDF): Download PDF

Austrian Perspectives on Entrepreneurship, Strategy, and Organization by Nicolai J. Foss, Peter G. Klein, and Matthew McCaffrey: But It On Amazon

“Entrepreneurship and Firm Strategy: Integrating Resources, Capabilities, and Judgment through an Austrian Framework” by Matthew McCaffrey and Ulrich Möller (PDF): Download PDF

“‘When Harry Met Fritz’: Rules as Organizational Frameworks for Emergent Strategy Process” by Nicolai J. Foss, Matthew C. McCaffrey, and Carmen Elena Dorobăț (PDF): Download PDF

108. Per Bylund and Mark Packard: Radically Reshaping Business Thinking via Subjective Value

In a recently published paper titled “Subjective Value In Entrepreneurship,” Professors Bylund and Packard apply the principle of subjective value to generate significant new avenues of thinking for entrepreneurial businesses to pursue.

Download The Episode Resource10 Radical Shifts in Business Thinking – Download

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Re-think value.

Business schools teach value creation. But their definition of value is faulty, based on a profound misunderstanding. Value is not objective and measurable, as in the business school paradigm of generating more of it. Value is subjectively understood and experienced. It’s a motivation for action (people have a desire to achieve experiences that they value) but it’s immeasurable. It is emergent from complex social systems and patterns of interaction between individuals, not something “created” by businesses.

Re-think the economics of value and value creation.

Value is created by consumers via their experiences. Producers are servants to consumers and their preferences; producers seek to convince consumers to allow them to provide for their wants. Since consumers have alternative courses of action, producers must scrutinize and revise their plans continuously to conform with consumers’ changing choices. This is consumer sovereignty, an essential element of a value-centric business model.

Re-think the role of the consumer in the economic system.

Consumers facilitate their own consumption. They pursue their own individual well-being, including by expressing their wants and needs to producers. The demanding of solutions is the task of the consumer, as is the choosing between available and expected alternatives. They experience value uncertainty (their preferences may end up dissatisfied) and they actively assess and learn about entrepreneurially produced alternatives that are available. They learn cumulatively as they amass consumer experience. Thus the role of value innovation and solution discovery is, actually, the consumer’s and not the producer’s. Innovations are generated by consumers in their never-ending pursuit of higher-valued satisfactions. Consumers’ own imagination and understanding shape their subjective experience.

Re-think the role of the firm.

The producer’s role can be divided into value proposition creation, value facilitation and value capture. Producers respond to consumers’ dissatisfactions with the status quo by devising and assembling new value propositions – features and benefits responsive to consumer wants, aiming to generate feelings of well-being and satisfaction. Producers become partners in the consumer’s value learning process, providing a comparatively better offering than others, so that the consumer prefers it.

The consumer generates a willingness-to-pay, when they feel that the use value of an entrepreneurial offering exceeds the price they are asked to pay. The offering now has exchange value to the consumer. This money magnitude does not indicate the actual subjective value to the parties, but it does generate profit (if it covers production costs) that can be used in the market.

Re-think business models.

A business model captures the fundamental idea of consumers and innovative businesses jointly navigating a shared experience of value uncertainty, in a never-ending quest for higher value states from which they can both profit. This co-navigation process must be built in to business model design, and business model innovation consists of new co-navigation pathways and new ways of sharing. For example, the concept of generative business models we explored in E4B episode #104 gives a greater role in co-navigation to consumers as a way of generating new value.

Management without measurement.

Subjective value represents a challenge to theories of business that adopt a “make the numbers” approach to performance. When value is immeasurable, business processes must be assessed via variables such as the quality of understanding of the consumer and their preferences, the quality and accuracy of empathic diagnosis, and the trust generated with consumers to adopt the business as a co-navigator of value uncertainty. It is possible that survey data can be helpful. More fundamentally, Austrian economics can provide a set of principles for management without measurement.

One approach is qualitative models, which can be designed and subsequently calibrated with marketplace activity. One form of such models is simulation, using agents that represent the emotions and uncertainty felt by consumers in markets. This is a direction that technologically-augmented entrepreneurship may take.

Re-think output metrics.

Similarly, in a world of subjective value and qualitative assessment, concepts such as KPI’s (key performance indicators) can’t realistically be applied. Concepts such as profit and free cash flow continue to apply, given full recognition that they are reflections of accounting conventions, because they indicate the sustainability of the firm and its business model. But new output metrics for subjectively-experienced consumer value and for satisfaction and well-being remain to be invented.

Re-think organizational design.

Subjective value applies not only to consumer activities but equally to entrepreneurial activities. Professors Bylund and Packard present entrepreneurship as an individual journey, one that is primarily mental. The journey is a series of imaginations, judgments and learning over time regarding what problems to solve, what resources are available, what those resources can do, what can and should be done with them (in combination), how to do it and why (i.e. what are the goals and ends the prospective entrepreneur aims for).

Entrepreneurship is chosen. In an entrepreneurial business, many individuals are engaged in — choose — entrepreneurship. Much of their motivation lies in unleashing their imagination, processing their own learning, and finding purpose and meaning. Organizational design becomes the search for the best structures to free the individual to make entrepreneurial choices, to apply their individual imagination and explore the co-navigation of uncertainty with consumers. The firms that do this best will be the ones that succeed in value facilitation and value capture.

Re-think motivation and incentives.

Why do individuals choose entrepreneurship? As Professors Bylund and Packard point out, money magnitudes do not express much of entrepreneurial motivation. Subjective values of purpose, meaning, achievement, personal fulfillment and others are primary. These can not be captured in salaries, bonuses, awards, promotions and titles. The firms that master subjectivist motivations will be able to attract the best talent.

Re-think the social contribution of business.

Entrepreneurial capitalism is under fire in America today. Profit is seen as exploitative, and employment is often viewed as restrictive and oppressive. The ends of business are sometimes portrayed as conflicting with those of society.

An understanding of subjective value would generate a perspective of business as the facilitator of satisfaction and well-being in society. Business creates jobs and incomes for consumers, enabling them to facilitate their own value both in the form of psychic reward in their work and user satisfaction in their consumption value experiences. Individuals, families and communities are all beneficiaries of this value generation.

Businesses provide consumers with continuously improved goods and services at ever-lower costs, providing the means for consumers to achieve their desired experiences and satisfactions. This provision of means is generated entirely in response to consumers’ expressed wants and preferences.

Contribution to societal well-being is therefore the sole end of entrepreneurial business.

Additional Resources

10 Radical Shifts in Business Thinking (PDF): Download Here

“Subjective Value In Entrepreneurship” by Mark Packard and Per Bylund (PDF): Download Here

“The Value Generation Business Model” (video): Watch Here

Corresponding PowerPoint (Download Here) and Keynote Slides (Download Here)

The Austrian Business Model (video): https://e4epod.com/model

Start Your Own Entrepreneurial Journey

Ready to put Austrian Economics knowledge from the podcast to work for your business? Start your own entrepreneurial journey.

Enjoying The Podcast? Review, Subscribe & Listen On Your Favorite Platform:

Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherSpotify

“Subjective Value In Entrepreneurship” by Mark Packard and Per Bylund (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_108_Article

“The Value Generation Business Model” (video): Mises.org/E4B_108_Video

Corresponding PowerPoint (Mises.org/E4B_108_PPT) and Keynote Slides (Mises.org/E4B_108_Key)

“The Austrian Business Model” (video): Mises.org/E4B_108_ABM

104. Professor Mohammad Keyhani on Generativity, The New Digital Pathway to Business Growth

Our metric for business is value generation. The scope of Economics For Business is not determined by business size or type — we don’t label firms as small, medium or large, or by the stage of their development, or by industry.

Download The Episode ResourceHow Generative Is Your Business? – Download

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

We see business through the lens of entrepreneurship, defined as the intentional pursuit of new economic value. A reasonable proxy metric we can use is growth. Business growth is consequence of generating new economic value. That value is determined by customers, and a growing company is creating more customers and/or adding to its share of customer dollars spent in value exchange.

The changing dimensions of business growth.

The economic route to growth is changing. In today’s markets, we often see speed of growth that goes beyond historical expectations. Business models can expand their reach and accelerate their performance over networks faster than ever before.

An Austrian perspective on business enables entrepreneurs to perform in a high-growth environment: Austrian entrepreneurs recognize the boundaryless-ness of markets, the flexibility of capital combinations, and re-combinations to respond to the rolling flow of value learning signals from consumers, and the benefits of shedding control in order to accept complexity and emergence. Austrian entrepreneurs are well-placed to enjoy success in today’s markets.

Professor Mohammad Keyhani sums up the Austrian entrepreneur’s advantage in the term Generativity.

The generativity of a system is the capacity to produce unprompted, unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from a large, broad, and varied audience. The concept of generativity is closely aligned with the Austrian ideas of spontaneous order and emergence.

By way of an example, the concept has been applied to technologies, where the characteristics of generativity can be identified as the increase in participation as an input and the increase of innovation as an output. One of the results of this thinking has been open innovation: anyone can participate (e.g., when corporate research is not limited to a corporate R&D lab, ideas can come from anywhere outside the corporation), and more and better innovation is an outcome.

One of the potential effects of generativity is to overcome knowledge constraints. Open innovation is an example: even the biggest corporation with the best minds in its employment can not possibly have a majority of good ideas. They don’t even know what answers they should be looking for.

Detaching the search process from the searcher.

When we face knowledge constraints, we search for answers. But a searcher only knows to search in certain places. Generativity can separate the search from the searcher, unleashing the search process to look in places that would be blind spots for the searcher. Similarly, generative design can generate product ideas that the human designer could not.

The incentives of the market can take control of the search process. The demand side (via broad, unfiltered participation) defines the problem to be solved and the supply side (via equally broad and equally unfiltered participation) creates solutions.

Generative characteristics can be built-in to a product or service.

5 characteristics of generativity in products are:

Leverage: the product can be put to many uses, and users can do many things with it, including those that the product designer could never anticipate.

Adaptability: the product can be further modified to broaden its range of tasks even further; new code can be contributed by users, accessories can be added, and so on.

Ease Of Mastery: there are no or low barriers to broad usage and broad adoption due to unusual or hard-to-acquire skills.

Accessibility: the product is accessible to everyone and its usage is not limited to a specific set of users.

Transferability: The advances in and changes to the technology made by some users are transferable to all users; new users can build on what previous users have contributed.

Generative products are tools for entrepreneurs.

Generative products are a little hard to describe or categorize. They’re more like toolkits rather than specific use products. Professor Keyhani started a website to curate some of these kinds of tools / toolkits for entrepreneurs: Entrepreneur-Tools.Zeef.com/Keyhanimo

Some examples he mentions:

Zapier.com and Integromat.com link web apps and digital tools together via API’s to assemble automated workflows.

Airtable.com — flexible and powerful cloud-based relational database for regular users.

No-code software development tools like Adalo.com (build your own app), Voiceflow.com (build your own voice app) and Bubble.io (anyone can be a software developer).

There is a broad future growth path in generativity.

Let users generate innovations; let them accumulate (new users can build on the innovations of earlier users); focus on capturing as much of the value as is appropriate for the entrepreneur-as-orchestrator.

Additional Resources

Professor Keyhani’s website: MohammadKeyhani.com

How Generative Is Your Business? (PDF): Download Here

“A Theory of Digital Firm-Designed Markets: Defying Knowledge Constraints with Crowds and Marketplaces” by Mohammad Keyhani, et al  (PDF): Download Here

The Austrian Business Model (video): https://e4epod.com/model

Start Your Own Entrepreneurial Journey

Ready to put Austrian Economics knowledge from the podcast to work for your business? Start your own entrepreneurial journey.

Enjoying The Podcast? Review, Subscribe & Listen On Your Favorite Platform:

Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherSpotify

103. Steven Phelan: Embrace Complexity, Pursue Continuous Innovation, Don’t Waste Time on Planning

A rapidly advancing strand of theory has enabled great advances in the understanding of complex adaptive systems. Austrian economics is quintessential complexity theory; Austrians recognize that economic systems exhibit emergent outcomes as a result of the myriad interactions of consumers and businesses, value propositions and value perceptions, technologies and channels, and the innumerable transactions and exchanges that take place. The future is unknowable — we can’t know what will happen, and we don’t even know what can happen — and the system can sometimes feel turbulent and chaotic.

How should businesses manage complexity? They shouldn’t. It’s not manageable. No plan survives the first contact with customers is the way Steve Blank famously puts it.

What’s the answer? Don’t plan. Implement an Austrian Business Model and embrace the complexity of the marketplace.

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

How do you do that? Professor Steven Phelan uses the complexity theory metaphor of the dancing rugged landscape. Think of the market or business sector in which you are operating as a landscape of peaks and valleys. You can see some of them but not all of them. Your view may be improved if you have more knowledge about where you are and where you are trying to get to, but knowledge is never complete. And the landscape is not stable — new peaks form, old peaks move and crumble, valleys become deeper. The pursuit of new economic value is the search for peaks, locations of high value that your business can capture, if you can get there. A plan won’t get you there, because you can’t see a pathway and the destination is going to move and change anyway. And you might identify another, better peak as you explore, and you’ll make an unplanned change in your journey to switch destinations.

Professor Phelan sums up the many choices open to entrepreneurs in complex environments under two approaches.

Approach 1: I believe I can see a peak, and identify a pathway to reach it.

You will never be right. But there are smart actions:

  • Be humble: be conscious that you may be proven wring.
  • Act fast: test, test, test to prove the peak and the path.
  • Be agile: prepared to change or pivot when circumstances and data change.
  • Be aware of competition and fast followers and adjust accordingly.
    • Refine / redefine your niche to further differentiate.
  • Build fortifying uniqueness around any peak you find.
    • Culture
    • Brand
  • Build-in continuous change and innovation.
  • Assemble multiple peaks, reducing dependence on any single one.

Approach 2: I don’t know where the peak is, but I believe I am in an opportunity-rich landscape.

Don’t get trapped — and waste all your resources — in blind random searching.

  • Run multiple experiments — small, medium, and large.
  • High speed of sorting through outcomes.
    • Example: Big Pharma seeds multiple biotech startups, acquires winners.
  • Choose customers to serve first, rather than choose products or services to produce.
    • Customer need is the beacon to guide the search
    • The customer need is never fully understood
    • And it’s always changing
    • The work of identifying it is never complete
    • But it is the guiding light
  • There are no events (like product launches) only the continuous flow of searching, responding to customers, and changing in response.

As Professor Phelan states: the work is never done. No landscape is unchanging. No peak lasts forever.

Additional Resources

“The Entrepreneur In A Dancing Rugged Landscape” (on Twitter)

“The Complexity of Opportunity” by Steven Phelan (PDF): Download Here

“Austrian Theories of Entrepreneurship: Insights From Complexity Theory” by Steven Phelan (PDF): Download Here

“The Austrian Business Model” (video): https://e4epod.com/model

Start Your Own Entrepreneurial Journey

Ready to put Austrian Economics knowledge from the podcast to work for your business? Start your own entrepreneurial journey.

Enjoying The Podcast? Review, Subscribe & Listen On Your Favorite Platform:

Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherSpotify

101. Per Bylund: Silicon Valley Is Bad At Entrepreneurship.

Our goal at Economics For Business is to help entrepreneurs and their businesses succeed. Per Bylund and Hunter Hastings discuss the true implications of the current furor over the anti-market behavior of some of the Big Tech companies of Silicon Valley. They are destroying value and consuming capital.

Why? How can this happen? Read Per Bylund’s Tweets.

Download The Episode Resource Silicon Valley Is Bad At Entrepreneurship – Download

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Where Is the consumer?

The Austrian business model emphasizes that the consumer is in first position. The goal of entrepreneurship is the creation of new value, and Austrian entrepreneurs understand that value is an experience, and evaluation is in the consumer’s mind. Entrepreneurs facilitate value experiences, via an understanding of what consumers will value, and of gaps or shortfalls in the value propositions from which they choose today. Business success lies in filling the gaps and solving the shortfalls.

Silicon Valley Is Bad At Entrepreneurship

Technology-driven means not thinking about the consumer

The histories of many Silicon Valley tech firms reveal that they started out to build a technology, one that performs efficiently, automates effectively, and exhibits cool features. There’s a pride in engineering, as there should be. But even the most beautiful technology can’t succeed without consumers in mind. The technology-driven approach to innovation must not contravene the principles of the consumer-driven approach to value.

When consumer value is not the business model

Facilitating consumer value is a business model. Value is a learning process for consumers, of which exchange value (paying in dollars for value anticipated) is a component part. The revenue model for the entrepreneurial firm consists in earning this exchange. It’s all integrated. Some Silicon Valley companies (Google, for one) accepted investor funds and began operations without a business model in place. When consumer value is not integral to the firm, it’s quite possible that they lose their grip on the concept. They don’t create value for consumers, or for the economy. Or for investors, for that matter — they’re using investor funds in ways the consumer does not value.

In many Silicon Valley models, consumers are creators of content for the technology company to control, analyze and re-sell as data to the advertiser. Consumers are creating value for the platform, not vice versa.

Monetization as an afterthought

We often hear the word “monetization” in descriptions of Silicon Valley business models. The word itself is quite revealing. It certainly doesn’t connote a commitment to serving the consumer. Monetization is the search for a revenue model after the technology is launched. Many of the monetization schemes are advertising-based, which can be problematic. They are often value-destroying for consumers, especially in the “interrupt and annoy” formats that are common on the internet today. Advertising is certainly not innovative — it’s been around for a very long time, long before Silicon Valley came into existence. When firms are selling consumers to advertisers, their commitment to consumer value becomes secondary.

It’s not that B2B business models are any less valid than B2C. The key is to remember the Austrian principle that value in any stage of the production chain is made possible only if there is consumer value at the end of the chain. Microsoft, for example, is a technology company primarily focused on B2B value propositions in areas like business productivity. They always have an eye on the next stage in the value chain: improved business productivity and efficiency enable Microsoft’s customers to, in turn, produce lower-cost consumer services and enhanced consumer experiences. Microsoft has its eye not only on the immediate B2B customer but also on the next stage of the value chain.

A cultural problem

Ultimately, the kinds of Silicon Valley companies to which these observations apply face a cultural problem. Consumer value and consumer service are not a sufficient part of their DNA. They were founded and developed to nurture technology — in some cases, brilliant technology, in others more mundane; they found technical ways to reach mass distribution based on the new power laws of digital networks; they found bolt-on monetization schemes that responded to mass reach. Culturally, the idea of consumer value has never been central to them.

Perhaps that’s why, today, we see Twitter censoring its users and throwing them off the platform, angering many more.

Generative products versus central control

The value promise of today’s digital products and digital markets is exciting for consumers. The term “generative” has been coined to describe the new characteristics of products that give consumers leverage – make their jobs easier; that provide adaptability so that consumers can change them to suit their own purposes; and that are easy to master and easy to access. The spirit of generativity lies in unleashing end-user creativity.

Some Big Tech companies don’t seem to believe in the generativity of their products and their consumer relationships. They prefer centralization and control. They want to collect and control consumer data and turn it into their own closed products. That’s why they need so many engineers to build the algorithms and the data banks. That’s why they need so many content monitors to project their control. They are centralizers in a world of decentralization. This leaves them open to disruption by the next generation of entrepreneurs who start their journey from the point of view of what consumers value.

Free Downloads & Extras From The Episode

“Silicon Valley is Bad at Entrepreneurship” (PDF): Download the PDF

Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech by Mike Masnick: Download the PDF

“The Austrian Business Model” (video): https://e4epod.com/model

Start Your Own Entrepreneurial Journey

Ready to put Austrian Economics knowledge from the podcast to work for your business? Start your own entrepreneurial journey.

Enjoying The Podcast? Review, Subscribe & Listen On Your Favorite Platform:

Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherSpotify

 

92. Clay Miller: 5 Austrian Principles Applicable to Your Business Today

Principles of Austrian economics have immediate applications in business. Clay Miller, a deeply experienced and highly successful global tech entrepreneur, makes the case via five principles drawn from five easily-accessible sources of Austrian economic theory, with many accompanying examples.

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Principle 1: The distribution of knowledge requires disaggregated thinking.

Source: “The Use Of Knowledge In Society,” F.A. Hayek – Get It Here

Hayek wrote this paper as part of a research program into the problem that economics tries to solve. He defined it as a knowledge problem. Knowledge “never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess”.

The implication he drew was for central planning by governments and their departments and committees that would attempt to plan production or set prices. Such central planning is impossible because dispersed knowledge can not be aggregated and so the planners never have enough knowledge on which to base a plan.

Quote

“The statistics which such a central authority would have to use would have to be arrived at precisely by abstracting from minor differences between the things, by lumping together, as resources of one kind, items which differ as regards location, quality, and other particulars, in a way which may be very significant for the specific decision. It follows from this that central planning based on statistical information by its nature cannot take direct account of these circumstances of time and place…..”

Application

In our Economics For Business project, we have the opportunity to help entrepreneurs apply the same principle to business knowledge, or data. Too much aggregation can obscure information that is really important and most useful for improving business performance.

Here’s an example. A frequently used KPI (Key Performance Indicator) is average revenue per customer. It’s calculated by aggregating all customer revenue into one number and dividing by the number of customers. For this to be actionable intelligence, it is necessary to assume that spending by each customer is very uniform. But consider the case where average revenue per customer is $190 for a customer base of 10 users, composed of 9 who spend $100 each and one who spends $1,000. The KPI does not suggest that each new customer you acquire will spend $190. In fact, it’s more likely they’ll spend $100. And, in fact, what you would really like to know is the profile of the $1000 customer and whether that profile, applied in recruiting new customers, would enable you to recruit more $1,000 spenders. You really want to choose metrics that can provide insight into individual customer behavior — like the nature and motivation of the one $1,000 spender.

Similar Austrian thinking would apply, for example, to Google analytics, which can profile the type of customer interacting with your website or app, and observable behavior such as conversion rate by page visited, or abandonment rate for specific pages. These are disaggregated statistics that can help you serve customers better.

Austrian thinking is rigorous in seeking to identify cause and effect, and to ensure that correlation is not mistaken for causation. A simple example is restaurant data that exhibits a 30% increase in customer traffic on Tuesdays. There’s a correlation between day-of-week and traffic increases — but it’s not causation. Tuesday does not cause the traffic increase. What does? It requires digging to find out, perhaps, that a local firm offers a perk to office workers to pay for them eating out on Tuesdays. As Hayek would say, this is specific knowledge of time and place, more likely to be qualitative than statistical, embracing the subjectivity that’s central to Austrian economics.

Principle 2: Consumer Sovereignty requires that entrepreneurs are directed by their customers.

SourceBureaucracy, Ludwig von Mises: Get It Here

This book focuses on the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of bureaucratic organizational structures and processes. In a chapter titled Profit Management, Mises defines the Austrian concept of consumer sovereignty. Understanding and applying this concept is central to entrepreneurs’ capability to create effective value propositions for their offering, brand or business.

Quote

“Thus the capitalist system of production is an economic democracy, in which every penny gives the right to vote. The consumers are the sovereign people. The capitalists, the entrepreneurs, and the farmers are the people’s mandatories. If they do not obey, if they fail to produce, at the lowest possible cost, what the consumers are asking for, they lose their office. Their task is service to the consumer. Profit and loss are the instruments by means of which the consumers keep a tight rein on all business activities.”

Application

Consumers are the ones driving production. It’s up to business managers to make sure that every decision is towards bettering the value proposition offered to customers.

For example, the décor in a restaurant should be chosen not because the owner favors it or because an interior designer decrees it, but for the purpose of enhancing the value experience of those consumers the owner wants to attract and to serve. This requires empathy. Consumer sovereignty and entrepreneurial empathy go together.

Because consumers are the ones valuing what is produced, they are the ones ascribing value to the product or service the entrepreneur produces. The entrepreneur needs to anticipate what they value, and to do so requires ever-greater closeness to the customer. Clay described the value provided by simple but tasty barbecue restaurants in his home state of north Carolina, in a décor of plastic and paper and small booths. But that wouldn’t attract the customers who prefer fine dining in a five star restaurant. The customer decides what experience they value.

Startups can usefully anticipate consumer preferences by creating an imaginary perfect customer, and thinking through the value they want and the value the business can facilitate for them. Once in production, get as much feedback as possible on the actual value experience and the customer’s feeling about it. Every decision made inside the business needs to be for the purpose of and directed towards improving the customer value proposition and value experience.

Principle 3: Human value scales are complex and ever-changing and entrepreneurial empathy is required in order to reach an understanding of customers’ value dynamics.

SourceHuman Action, Ludwig von Mises: Get It Here

Human Action is the magnum opus of Austrian economic theory. Every chapter will yield great insights for business. Clay selected value scales as a topic.

Quote

“It is customary to say that acting man has a scale of wants or values in his mind when he arranges his actions. On the basis of such a scale he satisfies what is of higher value, i.e., his more urgent wants, and leaves unsatisfied what is of lower value, i.e., what is a less urgent want. There is no objection to such a presentation of the state of affairs. However, one must not forget that the scale of values or wants manifests itself only in the reality of action. These scales have no independent existence apart from the actual behavior of individuals. The only source from which our knowledge concerning these scales is derived is the observation of a man’s actions.”

Application

When a person makes a decision to purchase your product or service, they conduct a quite complex evaluation to integrate your offering into their scale of values. And the values and the scale is constantly changing. Consumers are not static robots. Their circumstances change, their preferences for saving or spending change, their time of life or even time of day demand rearranging of value scales.

A consumer may have a high preference for Krispy-Kreme donuts. But then they go on a diet. Their value scale changes. Losing weight and increasing fitness are now higher values than enjoying a donut. If you are the Krispy-Kreme donut franchisee, it’s important to be aware of the value scale change, and to empathize with the customer. Maybe you could develop a promotion called “Cheat Day” that rewards them with a donut treat after a week of exercise and donut restraint. As Wayne Gretzky used to say, skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is now.

How can you understand value scales? One interview with a customer — what a researcher would call deep, rich qualitative information — can be worth much, much more than survey data. Mises said that we can only know an individual’s value scales by observing an individual’s actions. Having them answer a survey question such as “How highly do you value this item?” or “What price would you pay for this item?” does not indicate how they would fit the item into their value scale. They may say they would pay $250,000 for a Ferrari, but, when they weighted the experience of owning the Ferrari versus the opportunity cost of foregoing other experiences, would they actually make the purchase? The survey answers won’t tell you.

Entrepreneurs are rewarded for estimating correctly what the customer values and creating the appropriate value proposition.

Principle 4: The market is a discovery process, with uncertainty on both sides of market exchanges. All entrepreneurial actions are tests, with no certain outcomes.

SourceCompetition And Entrepreneurship, Israel Kirzner: Get It Here

This is a seminal work on entrepreneurship. One of the major themes is that markets are a process of discovery. That insight directs entrepreneurs to think in dynamic, process terms. The entrepreneur experiences uncertainty in what he or she is producing, because they are not sure of what customers will value in the future. The customer is uncertain, too, because they’re unsure of how they’ll value what the entrepreneur produces. Whenever we, as consumers, feel trepidation about “pulling the trigger” on a purchase, we are experiencing this uncertainty. Meanwhile, the producer is anxiously discovering the receptiveness to his or her value proposition.

Quote

“The market process, then, is set in motion by the results of the initial market ignorance of the participants. The process itself consists of the systematic plan changes generated by the flow of market information released by market participation — that is, by the testing of the plans in the market.”

Application

Kirzner points out that every plan an entrepreneur has, every value proposition, every offering made to prospective customers can only be a test, a trial. Nothing in the market can be certain. Entrepreneurs are trying to anticipate what customers are going to value, and they can never be sure in advance.

That’s why entrepreneurs use empathy, to imagine, if they were the customer, what type of experience the customer would be looking for. Entrepreneurs must imagine what customers might enjoy in the future. They must seek the customer’s agreement that, “Yes, your product or service delivered what you promised and made me feel better.”

One implication of Kirzner’s principle of “market ignorance” is for branding. If a brand has accrued a certain level of market reputation, consumers will feel less ignorant. They will feel they “know” a brand that’s been producing for 100 years, that is symbolized by the 3-point star that can be seen everywhere, and that is trusted and approved by many other consumers. A brand represents the stored experience and the stored reputation of many customers.

Principle 5: All entrepreneurship is for social good, and more social good is achieved by subjecting business to the marketplace test of profit and loss.

SourceAustrian Perspectives on Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Organization, Peter G Klein, Nicolai Foss, and Matthew McCaffrey, “Austrian Perspectives On Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Organization”: Get It Here

In Chapter 4 of this book, the authors discuss the concept of social entrepreneurship. This is an idea that seems to be gaining traction, especially among millennial business owners and millennial entrepreneurs. The idea is that business should be focused on something more than profit and loss. It should provide some “social value”, making the world better. Klein, Foss, and McCaffrey provide some robust Austrian thinking with regard to social entrepreneurship.

Quote

“However, these metaphors (“social value”, etc) often imply a false conflict with traditional entrepreneurship. For example, the contrast between conventional market entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship implies that the former is somehow not social, or even anti-social. This is misleading, however; for example, Austrians would respond that Mises’s calculation argument demonstrates that the entrepreneurial market economy is profoundly social. Entrepreneurs, by bearing uncertainty in an effort to satisfy consumers, work ceaselessly to improve the welfare of all members of society, and their work in turn strengthens bonds of cooperation between individuals and communities, while at the same time disincentivizing conflict and exploitation. This is social behavior in its most fundamental form.”

Application

Steve Jobs improved society greatly by inventing the iPhone. The impact on society was considerable — better communication and information sharing, and higher productivity for billions of people.

Every venture — including social ventures — must grapple with basic economic problems. Taking on a social mission does not relieve the firm of the pressures of the marketplace. Social enterprises are business organizations, and if they earn revenues through the sale of goods and services, they must apply judgement to allocate scarce resources in the face of uncertainty. Genuine participation in the marketplace requires them to be subject to the profit and loss test.

Klein, Foss and McCaffrey make the point that “social value” is incalculable. What’s good for one individual is not the same as for another. Individuals value things subjectively. When a business pleases one group, it may be adversely affecting another.

Profit is not evil. It’s impossible to make a profit without serving your fellow man. You are doing good for society by being an entrepreneur, by producing things that people want and value. You forego your own consumption by investing in your business, and so you are making a sacrifice to serve others. And if social entrepreneurs are not subjecting themselves to the profit and loss test — if they are supported by charity or grants — then they are not receiving the signals form consumers that they are allocating scarce resources in the way that consumers — i.e., society — prefers.

The ethic of entrepreneurship is to serve, and to make others’ lives better, and to receive the approval and reward of customers via the profit and loss mechanism of the market.

Free Downloads & Extras From The Episode

“The Use Of Knowledge In Society,” F.A. Hayek (American Economic Review, Vol. XXXV, No. 4, September 1945; pp. 519–30): Get It Here

Bureaucracy, Ludwig von Mises (Yale University Press, 1944): Get It Here

Human Action, Ludwig von Mises (Mises Institute, 1999): Get It Here

Competition and Entrepreneurship, Israel Kirzner (Liberty Fund, 1978): Get It Here

Austrian Perspectives on Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Organization, Peter G Klein, Nicolai Foss, and Matthew McCaffrey (Cambridge University Press, 2019): Get It Here

“The Austrian Business Model” (video): https://e4epod.com/model

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