Entrepreneurial action occurs in time. This brings uncertainty, because of continuous change. We can’t know what will be our future result, yet we must produce now in order to discover it. Are there answers to this conundrum? Yes. They’re found in action, and the timing of action. Mark Packard joins the Economics For Business podcast to share his research.
Kay Takeaways and Actionable Insights
There are three ways we can think about time.
Eternalism: Time goes back in the past to infinity and forward in the future to infinity. It’s a real thing, e.g., we can identify “points” in time. This is the time of physics.
Presentism: Past time does not exist, it is a memory pattern; the future is undetermined, it’s just a mental image. The only time that exists, and is real, is now. This is the time of Austrian economics.
Growing tree: The past is real, it has been determined, and there is one real historical truth (think roots and branches). The present is real and unfolding (new leaves growing every day). The future is undetermined.
Presentism is the view of time that best aligns with Austrian entrepreneurship and subjectivism. Entrepreneurs act based on their own sense of time, which can be both objective (the clock is ticking) and subjective (how I act in time and how I feel about it).
Entrepreneurial action occurs in time, which brings uncertainty.
Why must entrepreneurs deal with uncertainty? Because production takes time, and there is continuous change, so the outcomes of the production process in the future can’t be known. Even if the entrepreneur knows what demand is today, it can change over time, and can’t be known in the future. Businesses choose entrepreneurial action long before they know how it is going to turn out. Entrepreneurial uncertainty is a consequence of the existence of time.
Time is scarce, but it’s not a resource.
We can legitimately refer to time as being scarce. We often feel as though there is not “enough” of it. We’d like to be able to try to pack more effort and action into the time available to us.
When we talk in terms of scarcity, it’s tempting to think that time is a resource, akin to other scarce resources. We manage those other resources, we allocate them, we combine them, we use them efficiently.
We’d like to think the same way about managing time. But we don’t have control of it. Time just flows. It’s not at our disposal to use and allocate as we see fit. We can’t defer judgement on how to allocate our time, for example, because time keeps flowing and by deferring judgement we just did allocate some present time to not acting.
The resource over which we do have control is our effort.
We can choose how to allocate our efforts in time. Our efforts are not scarce in the same way that time is scarce. Our efforts are limitless; we can put effort into a wide range of applications. It’s because time is scarce that effort must be allocated as if it were scarce.
As time flows, customers’ perception of value changes, and entrepreneurs must follow this change process closely.
The effects of the flow of time are not exclusively limited to the allocation of entrepreneurial effort. They are also manifested in the customer’s Value Learning Process. (Mark Packard describes this in detail, and gives us some management tools: Mises.org/E4E_44, Mises.org/E4E_55, Mises.org/E4E_62, and Mises.org/E4E_73).
As a result of the flow of time, customer value is a process. Customers prefer the best satisfaction they can presently identify. As time flows, and they gain more knowledge and experience, what they value changes. Their preferences are different in the future than in the present. There is continuous change.
Since consumers are sovereign to the entrepreneur, it is mandatory to keep up with these changes. The continuous process of value learning never stops, and entrepreneurs must follow closely, gathering feedback, empathically interacting with this feedback, and making adaptive changes in their value propositions in response.
Sometimes, customer preferences may stabilize. Entrepreneurs may come to believe that there is a loyal cadre of reliable customers, and may invest in nurturing this loyalty and in relationship building. But they can not permit themselves to become too comfortable in these relationships. Customers are not loyal to a product or service or brand or supplier. They always seek the best satisfaction, and once new knowledge is available to them, they will change their behavior.
All entrepreneurial choices about action are made in the context of time, with significant consequences for outcomes.
Because customer preferences are continuously changing through time, entrepreneurs are faced with an uncertain decision about when to act. At what point in time do they have enough knowledge to go to market with a new value proposition, or a new or improved product or service? They know that, as soon as they act, customer preferences are going to change further (perhaps as a consequence of the action). If the entrepreneur decides that acting as the first mover in introducing an innovation gives them an advantage, they also know that competitors have an opportunity to process the new changes and overtrump that advantage as a second mover. Both are competing over the customer’s shifting sense of greater satisfaction.
When does the entrepreneur know enough? How does a business identify the narrow window in the customer’s value learning process that provides a signal to act? Timing is a big, important piece in the entrepreneurial puzzle.
There are several areas of time management where entrepreneurs can improve their skills.
While time isn’t a resource to be allocated, it provides a context for action in which entrepreneurs can subjectively make changes for the better.
Is your internal clock moving too fast or too slow? Do you find that you are always running late, or, alternatively, arriving too early and consequently “wasting” time (i.e., burdened with time periods you can’t fill with appropriate action)? If so, it’s time to recalibrate. Change the pace at which you do things. The world proceeds objectively at clock time, but your internal clock is subjective. You may need to align the clocks better. Change your schedule or rearrange your tasks to make your internal clock better aligned with real clock time.
Better time planning
Sometimes we simply err in assessing how much time to allocate to each of our various tasks. Each one takes longer than we planned, and by the end of the day, we’re several tasks “behind” and some will remain undone. If that happens over and over again, if there is regularity in your mistiming, you should change your mode of planning. Allocate different — more realistic — amounts of time to the completion of each task. Allow for delays. Don’t “lose track of time”.
Fix your prospective memory
Do you put tasks on your to-do list for the future and then forget them? This is a failure of prospective memory — your memory of the future. Prospective memory is your recall of the schedule you had planned out for yourself. One answer is to use mechanical or digital aids. Write down your to-do’s on a calendar. Enter them into your phone. Set an alarm as reminder.
Whatever, happens, don’t be the bottleneck.
Time management is not trivial. For entrepreneurs, being late, missing meetings, missing deadlines, or experiencing delays is likely going to cost you dearly.
Don’t be the bottleneck, don’t be the one causing the problems, for your colleagues, your partners, your customers, or any collaborators. Fix your own timing issues.
“How to Master Time” (PDF): Download PDF
“Value is a Learning Process” (PDF): Download PDF