We spend a lot of our time making decisions. We make some choices on auto-pilot, like brushing our teeth in the morning; others are tougher, revolving around job opportunities, life partners or places where we’ll live. At work, managers and business leaders are always making decisions about new products, staffing or initiatives.
Sometimes the hardest part of decision-making is not the process; sometimes it’s merely making the best decisions that propel us forward and don’t cause a mess of other problems.
With every decision, there are always pros and cons. Everything comes at a price in life and business, and even an opportunity that appears excellent has some downside to it. That’s just the way it goes in life and work. There is no such thing as perfection, but that’s what helps keep us always striving for better.
The battle between Uber and the taxi industry is an excellent example of decision-making. Uber is valuated at around $60 billion, but the company, and its CEO, Travis Kalanick, have pushed it to a point where based on news reports you have to wonder what’s going to happen next––and not in a good way. We’ll see in the future if their decisions have been the best, both for Kalanick and Uber.
The Problems with Uber
A couple of years ago, Uber was all the rage. At the time, a medallion for one iconic yellow taxi cost $1.3 million. But, there was significant competition for the traditional cab as it seemed that everyone in Manhattan was calling an Uber taxi.
Last year as I was talking to a cabbie about the taxi industry and Uber, he informed me that some New York City taxi owners were trying to sell their medallions for $500,000. At the time, it sounded like the death knell was ringing for the old taxis.
As it turns out, not so fast.
Flash forward about another year, and yellow taxis have taken matters into their hands to compete against Uber. Their decision was kind of simple: let Uber crush them and destroy the traditional taxi business (still a possibility), or put up a challenge. In the meantime, Uber, the famed disrupter seems to face one problem after another.
First, a recap of how the New York taxi industry is dealing with Uber:
- Fight fire with technology fire. There have been a handful of apps that have been used by the traditional taxi industry to compete with Uber. The apps have succeeded in fits and starts, but next time you’re in New York City and don’t want to take Uber, or hail a cab the old-fashioned way, take a look at Arro or GoCurb.
- Compete on price. One of the reasons why Uber was initially so successful is because it used sophisticated algorithms to undercut taxi prices and then to use surge pricing when demand was high. The regular cabbie on the street, and the taxi industry for that matter, just couldn’t compete with the advanced technology of Uber. Traditional taxis took a beating, but they’re looking to compete on pricing.
- Driver competition. If you speak to a cabbie in New York City, ask them how driving a yellow cab compares to Uber concerning earnings. Many drivers who went to Uber found themselves working more and earning less. It’s no news to learn that as the drivers see it Uber has not been terribly kind and, ultimately, they’ve made no secret of wanting to use driverless cars exclusively.
In an article posted on TheStreet, it was reported that Kalanick and Uber prided themselves on, “Nimble, creative decision-making.” It’s true that Uber is innovating and continually thinking out of the box to get ahead of its competition. However, there have definitely been challenges which have been detailed in news articles.
- Does the business model work? Uber is not yet a public company with over $12 billion in investments, and one of the primary reasons is because it’s not yet fully confident that it’s able to provide its investors with a solid return on investment.
- Drivers are not happy with Uber and to make matters worse, Travis Kalanick was caught on video telling an Uber driver that if he wasn’t making enough money, it was his fault.
- Uber and ethical boundaries. Uber is a notoriously tough competitor, and its method is to not only disrupt but destroy. It’s reported that it used technology, called Greyball, to deceive legislative and regulatory officials in places where there’s been resistance to Uber.
- Battle with Google. In the courts, a war of the tech titans is playing out as Waymo, which is owned by Google to develop the technology for self-driving cars, has sued Uber and its company, Otto, over stolen company technology secrets.
I can go on with Uber’s challenges at the present moment, but it’s clear that Uber is at some cross-roads. In the not-to-distant future, we can see Uber continue down a highly profitable road as the undisputed king of transportation (of course, ultimately without drivers). Alternately, we can see a company that is battered and continues to go from one problem to another until investors move on or the company and investors come up with a significantly alternate strategy to Kalanick’s playbook.
The reality for Uber is not that it’s not been making decisions.
The question with Uber is, is it making the most effective decisions?
So, in a world of options, how to do you make the right decisions? Or, perhaps a better question, is how do you make the best choice with the options, opportunities, and challenges you have at hand.
- The first place to begin is always with your values. In the case of Uber, as an outsider, it seems to value disruption, fierce competition and winning (at all costs). You can have good values, or you can have values that appear destructive to others, but whatever the case, decisions have to conform to values. Decisions are always better if they align with your values. You’ll find yourself more comfortable, and you’ll be rationalizing less, even in the face of challenges.
- Visualization of vision. In the past, I’ve sat in plenty of meetings where some manager tells the team to visualize financial success. Frankly, I always rolled my eyes. However, that’s not to say there isn’t truth to visualization and vision. When you’re in the process of making decisions, and you want to decide on the best course of option, you have to think through the end-results between options. For Uber, the company sees itself as the dominant global transportation company. That’s the visualization of vision.
- Paradox of choice. We live in a world where there can be too much choice. Too many options can keep us from making decisions, and we end up in a situation of inertia in the decision-making process. When you’re making an important choice, one of the things you want to do as fast as possible is to eliminate options quickly. If you have five opportunities for a decision, remove three as soon as possible. Then work on the remaining two.
- Situation guiding. Sometimes in life and business, you have events that happen that may or may not be in your control. The older you become and the more experience you have, you should use it to help inform your future. Even if you’ve had failures in the past, you have learned something. Keep going back to what those lessons have been. Use the lessons to inform your present situation. For the taxi industry in New York City, they relied for decades on their business model until it was impossible to continue. And now they’re fighting back with technology and trying to provide cabbies with better driver conditions. The situation Uber created has helped guide them as they try to beat back the completion.
- Someone asked me recently if I had to pick a single word for my life, which word would it be. That was easy: courage. Decisions take courage, especially when the challenges arise. No decision arrives without work. Even if you think everything is going to be fantastic with your life partner, the new job, city, business opportunity, etc., there’s always work to do––and sometimes it can be hard and painful. Courage in speaking about the inevitable challenges with those who are working with you, courage in moving forward when it’s easier to walk away and courage to make strategic adjustments will help you find validation and success in your decisions. In other words, stay the course and use the headwinds to your advantage.
I think it’s fair to say that the number of decisions that most of us make on a given day has multiplied. Technology and human advancement have provided us with enormous opportunity, but as the taxi industry, with unexpected challenges. However, any decision, even the toughest, can be made with focused and calm thinking. And, always bear in mind your values, the vision, choices elimination, the situation and courage despite the challenges that arise.
Posted: May 23, 2017
© 2017 Savas Vikos all rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Savas Vikos with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.