Uber and the Last Bastion of a Scoundrel

If you're a taxi driver, you are looking at the end of business as usual.

If you’re a taxi driver, you are looking at the end of business as usual.

Here’s one way to tell you’re near the tail end of a disruption, are about to be outflanked and have no moves left: you head to court or the legislature to stop your competition.

The classic example was the US music industry suing their customers to stop illegal downloads. Or the previous generation’s 1984 “Betamax Case,” where movie studios tried to stop consumer use of VCRs.

In each of these instances, not only did the incumbent industries lose big time (if not in the courts, then in the marketplace), but the incumbents missed a couple of key points:

  • That the “illegal” activity they so feared was actually a request from consumers for a product they did not have.
  • That there was more money to be made adopting the new technology and new consumer behavior than in resisting it.

Today, DVD (and download) sales are a huge part of the US movie and TV industry’s sales. And, guess what? People are still going to the movies and still watching television. And, once Apple figured out how to give people an easy and relatively cheap way to download the songs they wanted, illegal downloading slowed and a new industry was born.

So, given those ample lessons from the past, why do we have Uber and Lyft and their myriad other alternative ride comrades being dragged into court, hauled before regulatory bodies and legislated against around the world? It’s because the taxi industry and its captive regulators see a threat to their cozy way of doing business.

Rather than see these services and their growing popularity as a request from the market for services they don’t now have (clever apps, easy payments, peer reviews, etc.), the incumbents react in fear and freeze up, fight back, run away or play dead — the classic fear responses of any mammal.

Thing is, this won’t work (at least not if history is any indicator). The innovations that Uber and its ilk represent are too good — and classically disruptive — to just go away. Even if Uber is put out of business, someone else will come along to fill the vacuum in the markeplace. Even the world’s economists — generally not a revolutionary crowd — agree.

So what’s a better solution? How about opening to learning and employ the classic adage: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

Organizations and industries (and people) that open to learning, that view disruptions as opportunities to try new things, that go with the flow of their consumers’ desires use creativity and innovation to stay ahead of the game. Those frozen in fear abandon creativity and head for the courts instead.

Much as Samuel Johnson observed nearly 300 years ago when he said “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” in today’s disruptive business environment, the courts are the last bastion of a scoundrel.

Photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org