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.
Principle 1: The distribution of knowledge requires disaggregated thinking.
Source: “The Use Of Knowledge In Society,” F.A. Hayek: Mises.org/E4E_92_Hayek
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.
“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…..”
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.
Source: Bureaucracy, Ludwig von Mises: Mises.org/E4E_92_Mises
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 e
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