A few days ago, I wrote about Bill Joy’s advice “If you cannot solve a problem, make the problem bigger. If you draw a bigger circle, you start to see several systems you can work on.”
Reading James Farrar’s post “Diginomica and the Salesforce Counsel of Despair”, I kept thinking we could all heed that advice.
I have a lot of respect for James and what he is doing for Uber drivers. But I wonder how much he has factored the consumer pov. I moved most of my business to Uber a few years ago because I found taxis in many cities unhygienic and surly. But recently, especially arriving late at night at my home airport I have noticed Uber drivers have been playing games – shopping around and canceling rides after they commit. I complained to Uber after I saw a female customer stranded at 2 am. Uber sent me a nice note but did little to investigate. In contrast, this week in New York city I took two yellow cab rides (cannot remember the last time I had) and three Carey Limo rides. Clean vehicles and pleasant drivers including a couple who fed my curiosity about the history of the city’s bridges. And I said to myself, thank you Uber for forcing the entire market to evolve.
That of course also raises the bar for Uber and for its drivers. And I wondered if similar is happening in London where the leg room in black cabs are always a treat for my 6 ft 2 frame. And where taxi drivers are famous for The Knowledge – a 150+ year tradition of learning every nook and cranny of the city. In other words, Uber was not going to have easy competition in that city and probably needed to compete more on price.
I wondered if James had surveyed a broad sample of Uber drivers like Tony DiBenedetto, former CEO of Tribridge did as he told me in an interview for Silicon Collar. He decided to sell his car and started taking Uber everywhere. In addition, he started journaling each experience and told me about the drivers he met
Most of them were not ex-taxi drivers. I would say 50% of the people who drove me in that first month had a second job. It was everything from young kids just trying to make it, to retired people, or people who were bored. One of my drivers was a helicopter pilot who for two weeks a month worked for the big oil companies in New Orleans. The other two weeks he just didn't see himself doing nothing. He's ex-military, and so he picked up the Uber thing to basically not be bored. I thought that was interesting. The retired people were all pretty similar: They wanted to get out of the house or make a little extra cash. I'd say 5% to 10% were in between jobs. There's no question that it fills a gap in employment. It allows for people to run their little businesses, and still do Uber as a supplement. All the drivers love the flexibility.
Which brings me to some of the points I made to James on Twitter
- I admire what you are doing. Personally, I am generous to Uber drivers and like talking to them on my trips. Having said that when I wrote my recent book, Silicon Collar, I found our economy supports 800+ occupations and new ones every year...UK is likely similar..
- I am at other end of spectrum. we have 6m unfilled blue collar/trade jobs. Been so for a decade. Why do workers not want them?
- so If Uber makes you miserable, look around. Lots of opportunities. It's similar to advice I give to many young workers not happy in their careers.
So, honestly, no offense to the kind man, but not sure I can relate much to James’s point that Uber “takes advantage of sweated labour with workers in London earning as little as £2 per hour.”
Which brings me to Salesforce. As James points out, it has become an icon for corporate activism
Salesforce has been at the vanguard, if not the barricades, in Silicon Valley’s fight for social justice. It has been an evangelical champion of equality claiming it as nothing less than a ‘higher purpose’ for the company. Salesforce weirdly refers to its workforce as the ‘Ohana’ (Hawaiian for family) and pursue four pillars of equality — equal rights, equal pay, equal education and equal opportunity. To its great credit, Salesforce has taken principled stands against discriminatory public policy proposals in Indiana and Georgia albeit in the name of the Ohana.
I am a Marc Benioff fan and have written about him in several of my books and blogs. I consider him a cloud computing pioneer, a colorful and generous tech exec whose conferences have reshaped the somewhat drab enterprise software market.
But I do wonder if in his activism, Marc has drawn a large enough circle and asked his customers if they are comfortable with that profile. As I wrote in Salesforce is vulnerable I am not sure many of them are. Many would prefer Salesforce focus on its economics and expanding its functional footprint as a cloud leader.
I like activism at an individual executive level, I am less comfortable with it at the corporate level. It attracts activists for hundreds of causes and they hold you to ever higher standards. As a customer advocate, to me customers deserve way more attention than activists or for that matter, even Wall Street.
Having said that, I am glad Salesforce is not canceling their contract with the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agency. According to Bloomberg, several hundred Salesforce employees have sent a letter to management
"Given the inhuman separation from their parents currently taking place at the border, we believe that our core value of Equality is at stake and that Salesforce should re-examine our contractual relationship with CBP and speak out against its practices,"
That makes me wonder if these activists have drawn a big enough circle around the CBP which has the hugely unenviable job of enforcing a broken immigration system. As I wrote here
The 3 million a year (immigrants) arrive here through a dizzying array of (over 200) preferences and visas – and many do with no formal paperwork. There is the F1 direct immigrant preference for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children. Not to be confused with the F-1 Student Visa which has restrictions on when and where you can work. Many F-1 visas get converted to immigrant visas when their employers hire them after graduation. Many of these lanes have not been well monitored. The H1-B visa, the so-called “Genius Visa”, was originally meant for highly specialized skills, PhDs in Astrophysics and such but they mostly got used for much more mainstream software developers. There has been so much abuse of the spousal visa that Congress had to add a specific section about it to the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Then there are diversity lottery and investor visas. And yet in spite of all these lanes, we have in addition millions of undocumented workers.
This week to celebrate the 40th anniversary of my own arrival in the US, I played tourist on my trip to New York and took a ferry to Ellis Island and Liberty Island. I took a photo of a quote from a century ago which to me reflects the attitude of majority of immigration officers I have met. In those 40 years, I have entered the country countless times as I have traveled to over 70 countries. Yes, a few are jerks, but the vast majority are good, caring workers trying hard to enforce compliance in a relentless flow of humanity.
Which brings me to Diginomica. James comments about them
When I raised the subject of the staff called for boycott of Dreamforce on twitter last week, Dennis Howlett complained bitterly about my use of language. In his post he mischievously raised the spectre of a trade unionism of long ago, Marxism and even the Soviet Union. He even compared me to Derek Robinson, a 1970’s trade unionist and member of the Communist Party of the Great Britain. In several Diginomica articles including this one, a consistent complaint from Howlett is the supposed politicisation of my union’s dispute with Uber.
I don’t know much about trade unions and socialist/communist ideologies. I do have a keen interest in Diginomica. collaborate often with their team. I quote them, they review my books, and quote me. There is mutual respect.
Having said that, I have told Dennis several times they need to broaden their circle when it comes to global coverage. Particularly since the arrival of President Trump, European media coverage of the US has been negative, even snarky. While they are entitled to that pov (Lord, many Americans are even more critical), I think in being fixated on US warts they miss out on plenty of non-US coverage.
It’s fine to criticize the US for leaving the Paris climate accord, but publications like Diginomica should have been all over Germany’s track record on renewables. After basking in the glow as a Green Chancellor for years, Angela Merkel is poised to miss her own modest targets. As I wrote here
Yet, in spite of spending hundreds of billions of euros on subsidizing renewables, Germany will struggle to meet its 18% renewables target for 2020. The country continues to rely heavily on its coal and lignite, and more recently on natural gas from Russia.
It’s fine to criticize US on trade tariffs, but in their coverage of manufacturing markets, I wish Diginomcia would ask why more non- US companies do not make and hire more here like BMW has with its SUV plant in S. Carolina. It is a tenet of modern business to make as close to demand, not cling to old Ricardian principles of comparative advantage. Besides its vast market, the US has some of the best energy economics in the world, very competitive state and local incentives and our labor equipped with modern automation and accustomed to making newer, smarter products is no longer uncompetitive.
Same with our immigration. It’s fine to criticize when we do inhumane things like separate mother from child, but drawing a bigger circle would also mean pointing out factoids about our broken immigration system. It would mean asking the uncomfortable question why undocumented immigrants entering from the US South used to be mostly single men, now entire families are trying to enter. Have we been sending signals their chances of entering the country improve that way?
It would also mean asking why with global affluence growing – you only have to visit Dubai, Singapore or Shanghai or go see Crazy Rich Asians - to ask why the world is not following the decades of US leadership and becoming similarly generous to immigration. Why does Japan with its acute aging workforce not take in more? Why did rich Arabs not take in the Syrians who trekked across Europe? From a language, religion, weather, cuisine and many other perspectives that would have been the logical destination for those refugees. Yes, these are troubling questions but ones I wish European publications would ask even as they intensely criticize US policies.
Finally, James invokes the Pope. “Last weekend the Pope visited Ireland and had to face up to the consequences of generations of abuse and misuse of power.” My wife and I are not much into formal religion. My wife was brought up in Catholic Ireland, and I myself went to school founded by Catholic missionaries. But we are global citizens and visit cathedrals and stupas and mosques wherever we travel. Having said that, we are disgusted with the abuse disclosures in the Catholic Church. Again, though I invoke the larger circle. My sister-in-law spent hours braving the crowds to see the Pope in Dublin that weekend. There are countless millions like her who look up to the Pope. Who am I to question that much faith and loyalty?
I respect personal activism, not so much corporate activism. But as an analyst, I like to be objective and unemotional when looking at issues. And following Bill Joy’s advice, I would love all of us to similarly draw bigger circles. We need to stem the current epidemic of guilting each other about failing on some moral benchmark or other.