About business practices. My speeches about Spotify, Google, and other practitioners of predatory commercial standards who successfully hide behind the sweet, ambitious, and cuddly public good language, are not about hippie values. I believe that honest competition is a part of human make, and will always be.
Let’s take the recent study on Uber and Lyft that proves that their business model defies the laws of physics and results in human suffering in the long run. The study is less poetic than my take on it, but my take it more fun:
PHYSICS: It is not possible to make a huge profit doing what you are trying to do in the current market without cutting corners and setting the prices impossibly low.
UBER: No problem. We will skip the expenses paid by cab companies, create a massive PR campaign selling us to the drivers as the hottest shit in town, get the general population addicted to low prices, and let it all sort itself out. Moving fast and breaking things. Haven’t you heard?
PHYSICS: But somebody will have to take the hit for pretending that I don’t exist.
UBER: Not me.
PHYSICS: I am not going away.
UBER: La la la la la la la I am not listening. Bo-ring.
PHYSICS: Talk to you soon.
UBER: We will have self-driving cars soon. Drivers are losing their jobs anyway (haha)
PHYSICS: So your workers are taking a hit, right?
UBER: Look, puppy!
Soooo….. there is a big difference between competition – and chicanery – even if chicanery has been accepted by the desperate. Chicanery (which is exactly what it is, underneath the glitter and the temporary social acceptance) is not hard to accomplish because a combination of desperation-driven humans in the workforce and career-bulding humans speaking at conferences, is a heavenly environment for predators who want to make a quick buck.
But nature never forgets even if it doesn’t remind you immediately… truth is physical. Honor and decency are worth fighting for because they are not words, they are how things work… if we don’t fight for them, we will find ourselves in a completely ugly world where we are all for sale, where we are physically free but our souls are enslaved. Wait a second…
Here is a metaphor. Imagine a fight between two boxers. Say, whoever wins, takes home five million dollars, and the other one takes nothing. Say, they both agreed on it. It’s an honest fight, all fair. Then one of the guys slips drugs in the other boxer’s drink so that his rival gets sleepy and tired and cannot fight adequately. And the charlatan wins and takes the prize. On the surface, it’s a victory. But in the reality underneath, it is not a victory. It is a disgrace and an act of cowardice. The suffering of the other guy is real but the victory of the coward is an illusion. Confusing people’s minds with propaganda and desperation (“you have to… or else you’ll starve”) is like slipping drugs into one’s drink. It is an act of weakness. They can’t win in an honest fight!
Yes, predators have a social function. Yes, extra slick bullying and extra machiavellian lying eventually force people to become more alert, which is good.
But do you really want to be on the receiving end of it, hoping that the bad guys won’t touch you?
No, not everyone is a revolutionary. Not everyone has to be. But the best revolution is being your best self where you are. And that means, honor. Palpable honor. Whether you are a boss or an employee.
Business practices do not exist in a vacuum, they are not born from immaterial trends and industry conventions, they are born from what real people feel and choose to do, based on how their mothers and fathers raised them. Despite the giant show of fog and mirrors, the trend setters are mortal humans who eat breakfast, sneeze, poop, and make individual choices. The cumulative result comes from the cumulative individual choices, theirs, yours, and mine. Keynotes speeches and high end business meetings are forms of subjective influence, and it’s fine. But there is nothing fatalistic about charlatans.
They are allowed to try. We are allowed to laugh them out of the room and tell them go talk to their mother.
Photo credit: Eric Schmidt. By Charles Haynes (Charles Haynes’ flickr account) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons