No business got ubered. Jobs did.

Maurice Levy, the CEO of Publicis, found the perfect words. “Everybody is starting to worry about being Ubered“. The image speaks for itself : we imagine a horde of barbarians besieging a market, forcing the way into it and dislodging the previous lords. One day one wakes up, realizes he’s not the lord of the castle anymore and that looters took the furniture, the crockery and settled in a new place. More, they did it with the support of formers vassals and citizens.

A speaking image but an image that introduces a bias that does not exactly reflects the reality. It suggests that the initiative of the attack came from outside, from barbarians, from Uber and its likes in many industries. So there would be an attacker on the one side and a (poor) victim on the other side.

No business got Ubered. They Ubered themselves.

Let’s consider the case of Uber vs. the taxis. What happened ? A company breaks into a market with two differentiating elements leading to a better customer experience.

– better and nicer cars and drivers

– a booking application based on geolocation.

Of course, there’s a couple of other things but it’s about the back office and how to optimize the system. But seen from a customer’s perspective there is nothing more than these two points. The rest matters in the model but is not seen by the customer.

These two elements helped Uber de break the taxi castle’s door. They are what makes Uber different than old taxi companies. Could any of the old companies have used geolocation ? Yes. Improve their level of service ? Yes. It would have questioned many things in their business, would have required efforts and caused teeth grinding but they could have made Uber before Uber. It would have been difficult but not that much, considering the troubles they face today.

What does it mean ? Uber attacked no one and barbarians did not break in by force. Doors were wide open, the drawbridge was down and there was a sign saying “Come on it’s open…and there’s free lunch inside !”.

No one got Ubered. They Ubered themselves because of their inertia. Pointing at the new lord’s aggressiveness (even if there are actual misbehaviors) is useless, better help those who still have their castle to be less negligent.

There was no attacker, only failing parties. Avoiding being Ubered (defensive) is useless, better try not to uber yourself (proacttive attitude).

Uber and others did not start a revolution, they are the result of the inertia of those who did not want the status quo to end. That’s a big difference. There’s a legal principle saying that no one can use legal means based on one’s own negligence. It’s the same in business and the people responsible for the situation are not the ones that are often pointed at.

Only jobs got ubered

In the end there’s not so much change in terms of model. Or very little. A quasi-monopoly is replaced by another one in an economy that does not get disintermediated, contrary to what people think. A new monopoly that has a bigger leverage effect that allows new ways to manage its back office and, most of all, its workforce.

Contrary to old monopolies, the workforce is not guilty of negligence. It executed the model, conscientiously following the rules. But the workforce got ubered and we’re far from understanding what it will mean in the future and its future impacts.

The economy is transforming and so must do the social mode. However, at a time when economic models are being reinvented, making a “barbarian culture” become the new normal, we should pay more attention to what is more than a new lord in the castle  : a new status for the workers in the castle.

Photo credit : Barbarian Horde by Danomyte via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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