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

Audio Mises WireIn 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.

Watch the “Value Generation Business Model” video at Mises.org/E4B_108_Video.

Key Takeaways and 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

“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

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