Uncooperative

In economics, perfect competition is hailed as an ideal. It is a situation where a large number of firms each produce a similar product, and so consumers can get what they want at the lowest possible cost.

The cult of competition starts early. At certain elite high schools in Sydney, student exam scores are publicly displayed so that every student can see where they rank against each other. This information is then used to stream students into classes. Top ranked students study with other top ranked students, and bottom ranked students study with other bottom ranked students.

If the true goal were education, then it would seem reasonable for each class to contain a mix of strong and weak students so that the strong students could gain even higher mastery by teaching the weaker students. Instead, the streaming process places all of the weakest students together. Exams are less about erudition than about classification.

While elite high schools may not be providing an optimal learning environment, they are teaching their students a crucial life lesson. We are social animals, and your relative position often matters greatly. The schools will of course defend their system by pointing out, quite rightly, that ranking students encourages them to compete, and competition pushes students to achieve higher levels of performance.

Whether ranking students makes them perform better is an open question, but it certainly serves the interests of schools. Firstly, it allows schools to hothouse the best students, thereby increasing the chance that they will get into the best universities. This always forms a key pillar of an elite school’s marketing campaign to prospective parents. Secondly, it puts the students into a competitive mindset, which is just what they will need to fight for and secure the highest paying jobs. High incomes are of course necessary so that graduates can afford the school’s astronomical school fees and provide the school with generous donations in future.

“Competition” is a notion beloved by headmasters, economists, and government policy makers. In other words, by the very people who themselves do not face competitive market forces.

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

Another word for “competitive” is “uncooperative”. The brutal ranking system used in our education systems pits one student against another, and makes it dangerous to help a friend gain a greater understanding of the material. Unless of course you are so gifted as to be well above your friend in the competitive ladder, or so foolish as to not be able to perceive the cutthroat game into which you have been placed. Only geniuses and fools can afford to be benevolent in a school system designed to pit child against child.

This may all be true, but these are just issues for teachers and elite high schools. How is this relevant to issues in the business world like profit, market share, and market dominance?

Well, it is common for people from all spheres of life to believe that the ends can justify the means. Certain elite high schools believe this, which leads them to hot-house students in order to get them into the most prestigious universities. Uber, the global ride-hailing firm, also believes this, which has led the firm to engage in some very questionable behaviour over the past 8 years.

Founded in 2009, Uber has followed an aggressive growth strategy which might best be described as “ask for forgiveness not permission“. The firm has expanded quickly, entering new markets in many cases before regulations were in place. This has attracted protests from taxi drivers. However, Uber’s approach has been applauded by many economists who have argued that existing laws are often unfair since they protect complacent rent-seeking taxi monopolies that profit at the expense of consumers. Unrestrained competition, after all, is the temple where economists worship.

Uber’s belief that the end justifies the means appears to be an ingrained part of its culture, and not limited to its aggressive growth strategy. In the past, Uber employees have reportedly ordered and cancelled thousands of rides with Lyft, a rival ride-hailing firm. An executive publicly suggested digging up dirt on journalists who criticised the company. Uber implemented surge pricing during various emergencies including Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Sydney hostage crisis in 2014, and the London Bridge attack in 2017. Uber also started using a tool called Greyball in 2014 to allow its drivers to avoid giving lifts to regulators and law enforcement officers in areas where Uber is illegal.

While “success at any cost” may sound like a start-up mantra to live by, a key problem with this type of culture is that it encourages self-serving behaviour which is both reckless and irresponsible. In 2014, U.S. Senator Al Franken, Chairman of the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, stated that Uber has a “troubling disregard for customer privacy“. The following year, Uber acknowledged that driver names and license plate information of roughly 50,000 drivers had been exposed.

Waymo, the self-driving car subsidiary of Alphabet, is currently suing Uber for the alleged theft of trade secrets and patent infringement. Court documents filed this week have revealed that Kalanick was aware that Anthony Levandowski, founder of self-driving truck company Otto, was in possession of data from Google before Uber purchased Otto for $680 million.

As if all of this weren’t enough, in February Susan J. Fowler, an ex-Uber engineer, publicly claimed that she was sexually harassed while working at the company. Uber hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the claims, and in June more than 20 people were fired. Last week, CEO Travis Kalanick was finally ensnared in the continuous series of scandals and resigned following demands from investors.

The problem with a culture that supports warlike competition and uncooperative behaviour is that there is no easy solution. Where people are causing harm to others through extremely self-serving behaviour, the punishment may need to be severe. In extreme cases, even the Roman Catholic Church will resort to excommunication rather than communication and forgiveness. Benjamin Edelman, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, appears to agree with this line of thinking, and this week argued that Uber has been operating beyond the law from day one, and needs to be closed down.

Will it come to that?

While Uber lost almost $1 billion in 2016 it has raised around $15 billion from investors. As a result, it most likely still has a huge war chest. However, combine Uber’s lack of profitability with its seriously problematic corporate culture, which may take many years to change, and it seems that Uber’s troubles look set to continue for a long time to come.

In the near term, it is a promising sign that Uber has decided to adopt all of the recommendations from former Attorney General Eric Holder’s investigation. The key recommendations are extensive including a reallocation of responsibilities of the CEO, use of performance reviews for senior management, an increase in the number of independent board members, an improved human resources system, creation of a robust and effective complaint process, and redrafting the company’s cultural values.

Uber’s bold always be hustlin’ culture has produced rapid growth, but has also attracted scandals, enemies, protests, and disgust. Now would be a good time for it to adopt a more cooperative, friendly (and law abiding) approach.

Blockchain For Managers

No matter one’s professional background, these days it is almost impossible to escape at least a very basic introduction to “blockchain.”

At its core, blockchain has the potential to give every individual access to data, processes, and the ability to transact with others on a scale that was never before possible. From a strictly mid-20th century point of view, the introduction of blockchain is the next step in a future foreseen by Peter Drucker. Many individuals will be self-employed, and the value creation process will be overseen and managed in a way that no longer requires multiple layers of other human beings to be part of the process. It is likely to be implemented by HR departments for employee record and compensation management, and will almost certainly be the final nail in the coffin of mandatory centrally located physical workplaces. It could also be used for proof of work, and as a means of payment using virtual currency such as Bitcoin.

For professional managers, a discussion about blockchain opens up several landmines, none of which are easily dealt with. The reason? The technology will wreak havoc on the managerial class. Many things managers do – and in many industries – are about to be automated out of existence.

Blockchain will create the same kind of career obsolescence for managers in many industries as the self-driving car, automated manufacturing, and automated supply chains will produce for “blue-collar” workers.

Unlike the less educated, lower skilled part of the workforce, however, managers will be tasked with planning their own extinction.

How to embrace that future?

Firstly, as a manager, you need to become an expert on how blockchain can be implemented in your industry. And secondly, you need to step up to the plate, and lead the change in whatever area it is that you work.

For anyone who comes from a non IT background, this might sound like a daunting proposition. However, for the current batch of MBA graduates, usually somewhere between their late twenties and early fifties, this is the task currently at hand. It will be impossible for this group to escape further formal education or work experience that requires them to understand, deal with, or implement blockchain in some form or fashion.

While a good technical background will of course be helpful, understanding how blockchain will impact your industry is much more about understanding your industry, the needs of your customers, and how this new technology might be able to solve problems in new and more efficient ways.

One of the most important things to remember about blockchain is that it is uniquely suited to tracking, monitoring and creating data in process-heavy parts of an industry. As a result, blockchain will initially be useful in banking and financial services, but will also quickly take hold in supply chain management.

Digital natives and those who have adopted this new technology because of the demands of working life (Gen X in particular), will have little trouble understanding how blockchain can be applied to these kinds of use cases.

What Are Concrete Steps I Can Take Now?

Human work and organization is in the early stages of being redesigned in a way that will be every bit as transformative as the industrial revolution was in the 19th century.

Revolutions, by definition, cannot be managed. Change, however, certainly can be.

One of the first steps to riding the wave of change is to accept that the world is rapidly transforming and that blockchain is one of the key drivers.

To that end, there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself.

  1. Take a course on blockchain. Consider a specialized course offering for managers in a banking or finance center where you will have access to the best teachers and thought leaders in this space including but not limited to IT experts (which often include lawyers, academics, regulatory agencies, and people in leading industries) where this is hitting first.
  2. Look on Meetup for groups interested in tech. This is a good way to meet other professionals who have a common interest.
  3. Think about vital processes in your industry and how blockchain might be used to improve them.
  4. Design a flow chart with one process you believe can be improved by a blockchain application.

Embracing blockchain will help you to understand the technology and identify ways that you can manage change within your industry, and be a positive driving force for innovation.

Marguerite Arnold is the founder of MedPayRx, a blockchain healthcare startup in Frankfurt. She is also an author, journalist and has just obtained her EMBA from the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

Image: Pexels

What Does Blockchain Mean For HealthCare?

There are many people who cringe when they think about what is going to happen to healthcare under a Trump administration. Healthcare is a subject which has wormed its way into everyday conversation since Ronald Reagan was in office. Back then “entitlements”, specifically social security, were a supposed “third rail” that could not be touched, whittled down or even frozen.

Fast forward to the present.

Regardless of what you think about immigrants, poor people, old people, sick people or children, there is one fact that is inescapable. The basic notion of the “welfare state” is being re-examined. It is not just the United States where this is a hotly contested issue.

The drivers? Exploding costs and aging demographics along with creaky infrastructure and outdated service models.

The scandal facing the NHS in mid May over a massive hack made possible by outdated software is just one example of how fragile established western healthcare systems currently are.

That the system needs to be fixed is not controversial. How to fix it is another issue.

In the United States, there is huge pressure on Republicans to overhaul Obamacare. And it is fair to say that there are no easy fixes to a system in the United States that is unbelievably complex, expensive, and which has gaping holes in it. Out of desperation, one proposal to cut costs in the United States is to incorporate blockchain technology. In Europe, where the social state as a concept has not died, blockchain has already begun to be examined as a cost-saver in both the public and private insurance industry.

Blockchain could help to reduce healthcare costs. One of the biggest drivers of healthcare costs in the United States and other places is the administrative time, cost and paperwork necessary to run a regulated industry. A key benefit of using blockchain will be lower costs of healthcare administration due to economies of scale that will provide much needed relief to state and national budgets. This means that the forecast explosion of costs might be better contained.

Rising healthcare costs are further complicated by privacy laws that aim to protect health related information. In the United States, this falls under HIPAA. Otherwise known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, this Clinton-era legislation has very strict rules about how health records can be shared. Blockchain in this environment provides a secure way for databases to talk to each other, and offers a solution to the privacy conundrum laid out for IT professionals in this space since 1996.

For this reason, introducing blockchain represents one of the first true opportunities to “fix” a horribly broken system – in the U.S. and elsewhere.

In Europe, where the concept of inclusive healthcare is akin to a sovereign right, this conversation has already started.

Implementing blockchain will not simply be a matter of sending “bitcoins” to doctors for payment. It will be about the widespread use of “smart contracts”. The earliest use cases across the industry are mostly related to health record management and access, as well as insurance claims.

Blockchain may be a secure technology, but creating a fully digitised healthcare system raises serious privacy concerns. If people are enrolled in systems where they can be tracked for life, what happens to that information and who has the right to access it? How will such interactions be designed to protect the individual in a world where nothing, suddenly, is truly private. How can people with pre-existing medical conditions be sure that their information won’t fall into the hands of insurance companies who will use the information to charge higher insurance premiums or to deny coverage?

These new healthcare systems will need to be designed with privacy issues kept firmly in mind. An old and crumbling system is about to be replaced with a technology whose impact is as yet largely unfelt. And for the most part, it will be Generation X and Y who will be tasked with building these systems. The privacy rights of young people and many voiceless individuals on the fringes of the system will be affected. This could serve as a clarion call to those who have long been left out of the healthcare debate, but more likely it underlines the importance of safeguarding the privacy rights of groups who are presently unaware that their fundamental rights are hanging in the balance.

In sum, blockchain will absolutely play a defining role in healthcare reform. How and where it will be applied is still unclear. However, it is likely to play a central role in redesigning healthcare systems for the 21st century in America and beyond.

Marguerite Arnold is the founder of MedPayRx, a blockchain healthcare startup in Frankfurt. She is also an author, journalist and has just obtained her EMBA from the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

Image: Flickr

How to achieve your goals by improving your self-discipline

Breakfast is not just the most important meal of the day, but also the most important meeting you’ll have: a chance to check in with yourself, remember what it’s all about, and strengthen your resolve to succeed. Success in business means not just managing your assets, your network, and your office, but above all: managing yourself. Ambition and hard work are a good start, but without rhythm and regularity it is easy to lose your flow, and wind up stranded from your original vision.

Simply put, in business there is no sustainability without self-discipline. If you are concerned that your dwindling energy levels are compromising your ability to fulfill your potential, that you are hiding from responsibilities that require regular attention, or that you’re giving in too frequently to distractions, it is time to take a serious look at your levels of self-control.

Fortunately, there are a number of techniques for doing so, many of which have been suggested or verified by experts. These can be as simple as hiding temptation from your sight or avoiding distractions. If you find yourself reaching for your smart phone every two minutes when you know you should be concentrating on your spreadsheets, hide it. Put it in a drawer or, better still, out back in your locker. Tests have shown this works with kids and candy – and what is that smart phone if not candy for your bored eyes?

Then there are more grown-up, professional methods you can try. We all become jaded with our ambitions from time to time. We forget why we got into the game in the first place, or are dragged down by the sensation that our competitors are achieving more with less. Giving in to these feelings will just make things worse. Instead, highlight the positive values that drive your daily work. Make a list of the reasons it’s important for you to stay strong and fulfill your responsibilities. And visualize the end results: not just how they will affect you, but the benefits they will have for other people. These techniques have been shown to strengthen the user’s willpower.

It can also be a question of lifestyle. Poor sleep invariably leads to poor self-discipline. This is not just a matter of fatigue-induced laziness: sleep deprivation actually affects the way your prefrontal cortex operates. That’s the part of the brain responsible for self-regulation, so it’s worth making sure it’s in top working order when it’s online! Another lifestyle factor is the company you keep. You need two kinds of friends (and hopefully they overlap a bit). The first kind is the type that exercise their own self-control in an exemplary manner. Hanging out with well-disciplined people makes you better disciplined. (Probably your mother told you that when you were hanging out with wrong’uns as a child!) The second type of buddy you need is someone who’s prepared to look out for you. Having friends or family members that give you regular reminders to stick to your good intentions can be really effective.

All the same, it’s important to make sure that you’re not chasing somebody else’s dream. It has been shown in studies that our willpower soon runs low if we’re trying to please others instead of focusing on our own desires. If you’re not sure whether this is you, return to our first method: make that list of personal values. If they don’t match the goal for which you’re aiming, maybe you’re honing your discipline towards the wrong goal.

Now that you have a pretty good idea on how to pursue your self-discipline workout regime, one last tip: start with a bang. Don’t try to segue softly into your new mode of operation, but choose instead a specific start point and call it Day Zero. Research has shown that setting a date to start your new regimen can actually make you more likely to see it through.

For a step-by-step plan on how to integrate these ideas and more into your self-discipline campaign, have a run through this new visual guide. Self-discipline is not just a trait you are born with or without: it is a skill you can build on and practice on your rise to the top.

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

Image: Flickr