98. Mark Packard’s Empathic Mental Model for Predicting Future Customer Value

Empathy, properly employed, is a robust business tool that smart entrepreneurs use to design winning value propositions.

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Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Here’s why empathy matters for entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs’ success depends on what others do — those others being customers. The entrepreneur has the goal of customers buying, as a result of listening to their preferences and meeting them.

But there’s a little more work to do than just listening. As we discovered in Dr. Mark Packard’s previous podcast episodes, the customer is engaged in a continuous, dynamic, and ever-changing value learning process: learning what they, subjectively, really want. So they can’t tell you what they prefer when they are still engaged in the learning process. So listening, while useful in gathering factual knowledge, isn’t quite enough for the entrepreneur to embark upon designing a solution.

The entrepreneur must develop a special kind of “needs understanding” for their chosen customer group.

As Dr. Packard stresses — and as is foundational to the application of Austrian economics to business — the customer determines value, and that value takes the form of an experience: how customers feel about the experienced benefit of an economic exchange like buying a car, driving it, getting it serviced, and sensing the esteem of others for the choice they made.

There are two kinds of knowledge, factual and tacit. Your customers can communicate factual knowledge to you. They can’t communicate tacit knowledge, because it is derived from experiences that only they can feel.

So entrepreneurs must find a tool to represent the tacit knowledge that’s locked in the customer’s mind — a tool for “needs understanding”. The tool Dr. Packard proposes is a mental model the entrepreneur can use in the empathic process.

Importantly, empathy is not emotional mirroring — feeling what another person feels. It’s an active implementation of the entrepreneurial imagination, a cognitive act that the entrepreneur can plan and perform.

The process of modeling “needs understanding” starts with factual knowledge, purposely gathered and organized.

What entrepreneurs must pursue is deep learning about why customers feel the way they do about their experiences The goal is to gain insight in order to be able to improve consumers’ future experience. This requires knowledge-based inference from your empathic imagination about the causes of the current experience.

To do that, entrepreneurs need substantial background information—especially the personal and situational context surrounding the experience: the specifics of who, what, when, why and how. It’s not about imagining the experience of random people; it’s about learning a lot about a specific person in order to be able to successfully empathize with them.

Factual knowledge can be run through the entrepreneur’s mental model.

Once factual knowledge of the customer, their context and their current experience is gathered, the entrepreneur makes two runs of this information through their mental model. Think of it as running a simulation — a mental simulation.

  • The first run of the mental model is based on the entrepreneur’s own experience. Pick an experience that you’ve had and can self-analyze, so that you have a model of what that experience feels like. Now run the information you’ve gathered about the customer through that model — what does it suggest that they might feel? For example, think of an experience that you’ve had where you bought a product you expected to enjoy, and it disappointed. What did that feel like?
  • The second run of the mental model is the empathic mental model based on the entrepreneur’s understanding of the customer’s current or recent experience as told during knowledge gathering. You can understand what you felt like when a product disappointed. Now you imagine what the customer feels like or felt like as a consequence of a comparable experience.

The final step is to project the empathic mental model into the future.

The ultimate goal is to imagine what the customer’s feeling would be like in the future, following an experience with a new product or service value proposition offered by the entrepreneur. This is a projection — one that can be carefully constructed from the two previous runs of the mental model.

  • Create a mental model from your own experiences.
  • Run that mental model for an experience that a customer has reported to you that they have felt in the past.
  • Then run a projection of that model for the new experience you are planning to offer.

The more developed this skill becomes, the more confidence you can develop in your empathic projection, and the better you will be able to evaluate the business opportunity you are imagining you will design and create, and the value the customer will experience.

Just as the customer learns what to value, the entrepreneur can learn to project future value.

Dr. Packard emphasizes that the customer is continuously engaged in a learning process — assessing value propositions, making decisions as to what to buy and what to try, then evaluating the resulting experience — was it better or worse than expected?

The entrepreneur must keep up with this learning process, monitoring the customer’s dynamic subjectivism, their ever-changing preferences amidst an ever-changing context.

By keeping up via continuous monitoring, the entrepreneur will be able to make multiple runs of the empathic mental model, and test the model results for increasing predicted value.

Free Downloads & Extras From The Episode

Empathy As A Process (PDF): Get It Here

“The Austrian Business Model” (video):

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68. Steve Phelan Explains Why Entrepreneurial Intelligence Beats Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence promises cognitive augmentation for business practitioners. Professor Steven Phelan’s research reveals that Entrepreneurial Intelligence is far more important and far more likely to influence business success. He explains Entrepreneurial Intelligence and why it will always beat Artificial Intelligence on this week’s episode.

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

What is Entrepreneurial Intelligence?

For Steven Phelan, “It’s all about the spark” — the moment of inspiration in combining disparate elements together to develop a new solution. Humans draw on “the fringes of consciousness” to create new constructs.

Entrepreneurs also take risks, investing time, talent and treasure in their venture in hopes of gain, yet understanding that they could lose something of value to them in the endeavor.

Entrepreneurial Intelligence vs Artificial Intelligence

Click on the image to view the full PDF.

How do we contrast Entrepreneurial Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence?

First, we need to differentiate between the narrow and general forms of AI. Narrow AI is software that can solve problems in a single domain. For example, a Nest thermostat can raise the temperature or lower it in a room according to a pre-set rule. “If this, then that” is the general rule for this kind of intelligence. The parameters are designed by the programmers.

For the unstructured problems of life and business, a truly intelligent computer would have to figure out for itself what is important. Part of the problem is that understanding or predicting human motivations — as entrepreneurs do — requires a “theory of mind”, an understanding of what makes humans tick. Entrepreneurs need empathic accuracy — unavailable to AI — to anticipate the needs of consumers. A sentient computer would need self-awareness or consciousness to truly empathize with humans, and have a set of values with which to prioritize decisions.

What’s the role of machine learning?

If you work in a business that generates a lot of data, it can be mined by data scientists for patterns, and those patterns might indicate a better way to respond to customer needs. The richest source of data is behavioral — like choosing songs to listen to on Pandora. Machine learning can detect a pattern of what kinds of sings a user chooses most. A human interpreter can translate those patterns into preferences — in other words, motivations are embedded in behavior and machine learning can help entrepreneurs extract them.

So, the entrepreneur’s best resource is entrepreneurial intelligence.

The psychologist Howard Gardner helped us to recognize many types of intelligence, including math, language, spatial, musical and social. There are two types that might be indicative of entrepreneurial intelligence: EQ (Emotional intelligence) might be associated with intensified empathic skills and empathic accuracy; CQ (Curiosity Intelligence) is linked to the kind of creativity that finds solutions by combining elements on the “fringes of consciousness”, as Hubert Dreyfus puts it.

Can entrepreneurs and business owners assess their own entrepreneurial intelligence?

There are scales to measure EQ and Creativity. Here’s a link to an entrepreneurial quotient assessment:

And here is a more action-oriented self-assessment we developed for E4E:

The bottom line:

Entrepreneurs need knowledge of how to profitably satisfy customer preferences given the resources at hand. This is not a trivial requirement. It is not possible to pre-state all of the uses for a given resource nor to compute the payoff for a given application. Current computational methods are thwarted without a complete list of entrepreneurially valid moves and the payoffs from such moves. No amount of growth in processing power, data communication, or data storage, can solve this problem.

The late Steve Jobs is often held up as the epitome of a successful entrepreneur. His founding of Apple, ousting by his own board, and subsequent return to rescue the company, and then make it the most valuable publicly traded company in the world is the stuff of legend. One of the apparent secrets of his success was to understand that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

This ability to “read things that are not yet on the page” lies at the heart of the concept of empathic accuracy. Empathic accuracy is “the ability to accurately infer the specific content of other people’s thoughts and feelings”. Until AI can do this, Entrepreneurial Intelligence is a better tool for the innovating entrepreneur.

Free Downloads & Extras

Insights Statement Template: Our Free E4E Knowledge Graphic
Marking Platform Tool: Our Free E4E Knowledge Graphic
Understanding The Mind of The Customer: Our Free E-Book

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67. Trini Amador: The Business Tools to Shift Customer Behavior in Your Favor

Every successful business is built on empathic understanding of customers’ preferences. As we know from the theories of Austrian economics, the preference scales of every individual are highly subjective, idiosyncratic, context-dependent, and highly changeable. How does an entrepreneur develop the appropriate level of understanding? Can this understanding be a source of business-building advantage?

We talked with Trini Amador, a returning guest and an in-demand global branding and marketing consultant who has developed an effective process for every entrepreneur to achieve a breakthrough level of insight into customer motivations.

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Customers bond with businesses and brands they love and trust. The choices they make have their own internal logic. Entrepreneurs must develop insights into their motivations.

Insights are the lifeblood of any brand- or business-owner, says Trini. Why do customers behave the way they do — especially in buying or not buying? Insights tell you. They become the difference between “just a business” and a brand that successfully delivers against the needs of their customers.

Insights are the entrepreneur’s understanding of customers’ motivations, values and attitudes.

They’re the “Why” in why people act the way they do. Always emotional, always subjective. Entrepreneurs who understand “Why” can design stimulus or communication or innovation to motivate buying behavior.

There’s an insights generation process. It starts with identifying the people you wish to serve.

Trini recommends a focus on your “core target” audience — not a general definition of who might buy, rather a highly specific profiling of your most likely and best prospects. Mark Packard, in episode #62, called them “high knowledge” customers. They know what they want, they know the category and they’re precise about what experience is satisfactory and what is not.

There is no shortage of data for you to utilize. Make sure you select the most important and useful data:

Attitudinal data: how your customer feels, especially if they are expressing dissatisfaction;

Behavioral data: behavior reveals preferences — “motivations are embedded in behaviors”.

The best sources of data are first hand observation and one-on-one conversation.

Organize your data in an insightful way.

To avoid data overload (there’s so much of it to collect!) Trini suggested  couple of organizational techniques.

One is visualization: build a visual profile of the customer with photos and notes indicating their hobbies, favorite brands, activities — visuals that depict their behavior and preferences.

A second is personalization: write a composite profile as if it were one individual and use it as a “one perfect customer” persona.

The objective is to change behaviors. Insight is the required key to unlock the possibility of doing so.

Trini cited the example of his own wine brand from Sonoma County, California: Gracianna. For example, the objective may be to get people to visit the tasting room who have never visited before. That’s a behavior change.

Why do people behave the way they do? One inquiry tool is the 5 Why’s, which is a way to examine the sequential rungs on the individual’s means-ends ladder to identify their highest value, the motivation that is ultimately driving them. Trini used the example of why some people feel better about buying a Tesla than an alternative vehicle. Ultimately, they want to feel that they are better citizens of the planet. Trini entertainingly ascends the rungs of the ladder from “need a new car” and “get from A to B” to arrive at “the feeling of being a better citizen”.

Using these tools, we arrive at a deep understanding of why customers make the choices they make — that is, an insight.

The Insight feeds the Behavior Modification tool.

The definitive “Why?” that emerges from the 5 Why’s inquiry becomes the current state in the behavior modification tool. This tool has two components:

Attitude Modification: behaviors are related to attitudes, and so to change an attitude can lead to a change in behavior. Attitude modification documents the FROM (the attitude we want to change) and the TO (the new attitude we want to encourage).

Key Marketing Platform: a marketing platform is a staging point for all initiatives aimed at achieving the desired attitude among target customers: communication, promotion, innovation, distribution, relationship.

Continuing the Tesla example, we want our prospective customer to feel that Tesla is the most progressive electric car that helps save the planet in the coolest, most prestigious ultra-premium way. If we can get them to feel that way, they’ll buy. The entrepreneur imagines the future behavior, and then acts through the marketing platform to cultivate that motivation.

How? Consider all resources that fall under the headings of communication, innovation, promotion, expanded distribution, and enhanced relationships. Experiment, experiment, experiment. Test, test, test. We’ll discuss the techniques in a future episode of Economics For Entrepreneurs.

Free Downloads & Extras

Insights Statement Template: Our Free E4E Knowledge Graphic
Marking Platform Tool: Our Free E4E Knowledge Graphic
Understanding The Mind of The Customer: Our Free E-Book

Start Your Own Entrepreneurial Journey

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33. Isabel Aneyba: Listening From the Heart and the Techniques of Empathy

Per Bylund teaches us to explore the only two fields that matter for entrepreneurial success: understanding the laws of economics and understanding the mind of the customer. Isabel Aneyba is an expert in the techniques of empathic diagnosis that yield the understanding of the customer’s mind, and she shares these techniques — and her success in starting and growing a customer research company — on the Economics For Entrepreneurs podcast.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Listening to customers is a planned activity. Yes, we suggest regular, frequent, conversational interaction with customers. But not without a calculated purpose. You need to know in advance what you will do with the information — what decisions will you make that you can’t make now. This enables you to define the expected value of the information, and how much of your scarce resources of time and money to allocate to gathering and processing it. If you don’t know the purpose and estimated value of the research, don’t conduct it.

5 Steps To Help You Listen With Your Heart Graphic

Click the image to download the full 5-step PDF

Conduct conversations with customers at least every week. Isabel includes conversations in the customers’ homes or offices, conversations in your offices, face-to-face (including digital face-to-face using webcams). To make emotional connections, we look into each others’ eyes. Certainly, these conversations can be integrated with findings from other customer data sources, but they can’t be replaced.

Exercise your passion for listening; don’t focus on asking questions. The style of conversational research is the opposite of interrogation. Don’t work too hard on composing a list of questions, and sticking to your list. Once the conversation starts, let it flow. Focus on what the customer is thinking and feeling, not on facts. Use non-verbal cues to do so (Isabel tells us how during the podcast). Employ gentle probes (“Tell me more about that”) rather than direct questions. Let the customer do the talking and make it comfortable and easy for them. Good researchers, and all entrepreneurs, have a passion for listening.

Storytelling is the great revealer. Rather than ask a structured set of questions about, for example, the stages of a customer journey, it’s better to get the customer to tell a story, in their own words. Invite them to start at the beginning and continue to the end, without interruption. For example, the story of a visit to the doctor might begin with feeling symptoms and end with the doctor’s prescription. The customer will tell you everything that went on in between, from the drive to the office to the time in the waiting room to the doctor’s demeanor. Let them tell the story uninterrupted. You can loop back later into internal details.

Try other exercises besides asking questions. In some cases, Isabel favors the exercise of having a customer make a collage out of photos, magazine pages and other materials. The choices in the collage can revel preferences, and the customer is naturally open to explaining why they made the choices and what the collage and its elements means to them.

Listen with the heart to uncover hidden truths. Isabel explains how:

  • Open the conversation with an “emotional handshake”. Find a conversational path (which might not concern your business question) for the customer to express emotion. “What do you love to do?”
  • Listen for the customer’s emotional drivers — expressions like “I feel” or “I enjoy” — when they talk about a behavior or choice or a functional benefit. These expressions reveal emotions, and you can gently probe whether these emotions represent the subjective reason why customers behave as they do.
  • Interpretation is required — the customer won’t tell you that they take action X because of emotional driver Y. You have to make the connection. Then gently probe to see if you can find confirmation.

Apply the learning to design a better customer experience. Remember that customer research has a purpose. Your purpose in business is to create and keep a customer. Customers purchase your good and services for the experience they anticipate. By listening for their emotional drivers, you’ll identify gaps in the current experience — examples of customer unease. Use the information you gather to eliminate the gaps, and relieve the unease.

Compute the return on information. How much does the information gathering cost? How much value will you able to facilitate for the customer by designing an experience they feel better about?

Free Downloads & Additional Resources

“5 Steps To Help You Listen With Your Heart” (PDF): Click to Download

Isabel Aneyba’s company, COMARKA Consulting & Marketing Research

“Qual Method Aims to Unite Clients, Respondents in Co-creation”

“Let’s Work Together: The Consumer Co-Creation Camp”

28. Steve Phelan on Negotiation As A Core Capability For Entrepreneurial Success

Negotiation is a capability that entrepreneurs use almost all the time. It’s an area of entrepreneurial performance where an understanding and application of Austrian Economics can be very helpful.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

It’s all Austrian! Negotiation skills represent one of the resources entrepreneurs must assemble and maintain. The value of any resource is subjectively determined, and so the price is never fixed, it’s subject to negotiation. Two people can have different subjective opinions about the value of a resource – and those opinions can change, e.g. during the course of a negotiation, when one agent changes the opinion of another.

Negotiation starts on Day 1 and never stops. Founders deciding to set up a company negotiate over who plays what role, who gets what share of the equity, and so on. From Day 1, the entrepreneur bargains for advantage, putting the best case forward at all times, and always thinking ahead to the next negotiation.

In Bargaining For Advantage (Revised Edition, 2018), Richard Shell lays out 6 principles of negotiation that Professor Steven Phelan, himself a teacher of negotiation strategies to entrepreneurs in business school, reviewed and illustrated with examples.

Subjectivism: Know Your Own Bargaining Style. The entrepreneurial journey starts from self-assessment: Who Am I? Some people are uncomfortable with negotiation, and sellers might take advantage by making only fixed offers. There is a competitive negotiation style and a co-operative negotiation style, and some points on the spectrum between them. (Most professional negotiators think of themselves as co-operative.) Don’t feel bad if you hate the confrontation of traditional negotiation. You don’t have to drive the hardest bargain. You can control the timeline for greater reflection. You can prepare yourself well to reduce your anxiety. Know yourself, accept your self-knowledge, and learn how to apply it for advantage.

Know your ends and select the best means. Ends-means analysis is fundamental to entrepreneurship, as it is to negotiation. Identify your own expectations, set your goals high, and be ambitious. Remember that a goal is not a fixed point – like a price to settle on. It’s complex and layered and can have a lot of non-monetary components. These are the elements you can vary to adjust the bargaining advantage in your favor, by using them as concessions, or trading them for a better deal. For example, you may be able to reach the price you want by providing seller financing.

Use external – and authoritative – standards and norms to help you. Norms can narrow the uncertainty in negotiation for both sides. For example, real estate agents use “comps” (recent sales prices of comparable homes in the local area) to narrow the range of possible prices in a transaction. Of course, there are multiple norms and standards that could be used – like price per square foot, or lot size, or views – and you should know them all, select your preference, and then argue persuasively in favor. Pick a standard that shows your offer in the best light.

Time preference – thinking long term. A negotiation might seem like the very definition of short-term: you want a good outcome now! But is this the last time you’ll negotiate with this party? Does your agreement in this situation potentially affect future negotiations? If you bargain a new hire down to the lowest compensation level, do you risk them leaving in the future and jeopardizing a team project? Think of the second order consequences and the lifetime of your business. It’s a mark of the good economist – and the good negotiator – to always think in the long term.

Use empathy as the planning basis of all negotiations. We’ve emphasized many times that the core skill of the entrepreneur is empathy – understanding the feelings of the other party, whether that’s a customer or a party to a negotiation. Why is the other party negotiating with you at all? What do they want – or need? Get to know them as people. Take them to dinner. Meet their family. Can you ethically meet their personal needs as well as their corporate needs? You can never eliminate all uncertainty, but deeply understanding the other party can go a long way towards doing so.

Find your leverage: the situational advantage to reach agreement on your terms. Of course, leverage in a negotiation can be positive or negative at the outset, depending on the situation. You should always look for ways to reduce the value of the other party’s alternatives (that’s their leverage) and increase the value of their own. Put scarcity on your side by having more than one bidder for what you are offering. Use time – leverage can change over time, especially if you can wait and the other party can not. One useful tool is BATNA – best alternative to a negotiated agreement. If you have more alternatives than the party on the other side of the table, that gives you leverage.

Use the six principles to prepare a strategy. Shell recommends that you make your opening position as aggressive as you can, and support it with the best norms and standards you can compile. That will put the other party in the position of having to find contrary logic as a counter – it’s called anchoring: your opening bid becomes the anchor for locating the range of negotiation. Never meet in the middle. Let the other party concede first. Shell refers to if-then thinking. If you’re called upon to make a concession, then you know exactly what counter-concession you are going to call for from the other party. Never concede voluntarily, always ask for a responding concession.

Have a specific negotiation plan in mind. Use the accompanying planning tool, adapted from Richard Shell’s book. Physically fill it out, use empathy, acknowledge uncertainty, gather as much information as you can, find your own norms and predict which ones the other party will use, find a good agent if you need one. Planning in advance will give you confidence and help you succeed, even if you don’t relish negotiating.

Use this 10-step planning guide to plan your next negotiation.


PDF icon Download Our 10-Step Negotiation Planning PDF (124 KB)


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5. Peter Klein on Empathy for Entrepreneurs

Today we talked with Peter Klein about empathy – a critical tool in the entrepreneur’s toolbox. It’s through empathy that entrepreneurs can get into the customer’s mind, understand and identify their needs and wants from their perspective and in their perception.

This is the skill that enables the design of new products, new services, new systems and new solutions. If the entrepreneur has exercised empathy well, the chances of success in the design process are high for the customer to say, “Yes! That’s what I need!” Is empathy a difficult skill to master? Not really. We all have it to some degree. It needs to be applied with a combination of subtlety and discipline.

Show Notes

Empathy is a skill we learn from childhood. We’re taught as kids, when we say or do something that might be unkind or upsetting to another person, to “think about how they must feel”. The vernacular is to “walk in their shoes”. It’s the same essential skill we apply as entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs need to master the skill for an audience that might not be in their social circle and with whom they may not be familiar. You may be selling to car buyers, or cooking enthusiasts, or sports fans, or the procurement officer at a client. This kind of empathy is a little bit less natural and a little bit more learned.

It is entirely possible to learn entrepreneurial empathy and to get better at it. You can develop a process of reading and gathering data about the category or market you’re operating in, talking to actual and potential customers, conducting quantitative or qualitative surveys (like focus groups), analyzing the sentiments in social media conversations, or just talking to folks with a viewpoint. You can hire a consultant or an employee with highly developed customer empathy skills. But always, it’s your interpretation of the data that’s the key. What is motivating the customer, what is driving them, what is the feeling that’s at work?

There are plenty of tools. There are market research tools, analytical tools, and all kinds of methods you can use. Learn them on YouTube or an online course. Or use our Entrepreneurial Diagnosis Tool: the Contextual In-Depth Interview. 

Think of yourself as a Doctor, performing a diagnosis. Often the patient can describe symptoms, but does not know the underlying cause, and certainly doesn’t know the cure. The doctor asks questions, performs some pattern recognition based on existing knowledge, and perhaps performs some tests to narrow down the possibilities. In the end, the doctor arrives at the diagnosis and the prescription based on skill.

The Doctor analogy extends even further to the cure you are trying to deliver to the customer. Your target customer is not so much looking for something new as they are seeking to solve some dissatisfaction. There is some feeling on their part – a little vague, perhaps, not too well articulated, but nevertheless genuinely felt – that something in their life could be better. Ludwig von Mises called it “felt uneasiness”, which is a wonderfully descriptive expression. As an entrepreneur, you are taking away an uneasiness. The result is a better feeling on the customer’s part – an end to that uneasiness.

This is what entrepreneurs do in a free market economy of mutually voluntary exchange. We persuade customers that they will feel better, be better off, experience more enjoyment, if they buy the product or service we are offering to them. They can be confident of that future feeling because of the empathy the entrepreneur has exercised in developing an understanding of them, their dissatisfactions and their unique individual preferences. The entrepreneurial system is best for everyone because it’s based on empathy.


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