Monthly Archives: June 2014



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Galeria de Imagens Pessoais -Junho de 2014

Cabbies and Bookworms Go to War with Uber and Amazon


Tussling with technology but imprisoned by the straight-jacket of convention

It’s hard to imagine that a London cab driver and a New York book editor have much in common – but they do. Both are squealing like wounded animals about what technology – in the form of Uber and Amazon – are doing to their livelihoods. A few days ago, cabbies in London brought traffic to a halt protesting the arrival of Uber. In New York, the head of Hachette’s U.S offshoot, the publishing company that owns Little Brown and other imprints, is lodged in protracted negotiations that have caused his authors to be virtually black-listed by Amazon.

London cabbies portray Uber as a company, backed by evil American giants such as Google, that is sidestepping regulations and will flood London’s streets with unqualified and unsanctioned drivers. Their protest last week was spectacularly inept, and for Uber, the footage of hundreds of cabs causing gridlock and frustration in central London was a godsend resulting in millions of dollars of free publicity.

In London, unlike in U.S. cities, there is no prescribed limit to the number of cabs – or “medallion holders” – that can be on the streets. Instead, London’s cab drivers have to pass a stringent test, which can require two to three years of study, of their knowledge of the city’s streets and their vehicles have to be able to turn within a 25-foot circle. For passengers, this means the cabbie invariably knows the quickest route to a destination – a marked contrast to what happens on the streets of New York or other U.S. cities. The cabbies, understandably, are petrified that Uber drivers armed with powerful apps will render their years of training and accumulated experience worthless.

However cabbies have been slow to adapt. After much whining, they have come to understand the benefits of e-hailing apps like Hailo but the design of their vehicles – distinctive, endearing and fetching as it is – hasn’t changed much in almost 50 years. For passengers, this means bone-jarring rides, noisy interiors and, especially for the elderly, vehicles that are notoriously difficult to manage, even though they have enough head room to accommodate a man wearing a bowler hat. It’s no accident that the manufacturer of these vehicles – for which there appears to be little demand outside London – was scooped out of bankruptcy a few years ago for a pittance.

Now as private hire cars proliferate and Godzilla – in the shape of Uber – threatens their livelihood, the London cabbies are confronting the same demons that faced others in spheres where technology destroyed livelihoods: stokers on steam locomotives who were replaced by diesel engines; the laundry maid by the washing machine; hot metal typesetters by Linotype machines; shorthand typists by speech recognition machines; the bank clerk by the ATM; the garage attendant by the self-serve pump; and now the supermarket checkout clerk by barcode scanners – the list is endless. Most of the ‘Knowledge of London’ that the cabbie so painfully accumulated is now contained in Google Maps, Waze, and Siri. Today the apps may still not be as good as the best cabbies but, if a computer can beat a chess grandmaster, an app will figure out the killer move between Charing Cross Station and Oxford Circus in heavy rain and miserable traffic.

Meantime, in New York, the editors at Hachette – silently supported by other publishers – are locked in a tussle with Amazon that is ostensibly about pricing and unfair treatment. Scrape beneath the surface and – just like the London cabbies – this too is an exercise in denial about the march of technology and being trapped within the straightjacket of convention. Before the Internet and the rise of Amazon, publishers, like the cabbies, held their passengers (in their case authors) hostage. They usually obtained worldwide rights to the work, were responsible for sales, distribution and marketing and determined the author’s ride – which was almost always as uncomfortable as the back of a London taxi. (Only a few lucky authors were fortunate enough to benefit from a publisher’s high quality editing).

Today, a publisher’s influence is much diminished. Authors have far more control of their destiny. The savviest can completely bypass publishers and, especially if they are attuned to social media, can generate demand for their work more effectively than any Madison Avenue imprint. If writers use Amazon’s services, they can publish on Kindle within minutes and avail themselves of tools to prepare audiobooks. Instead of waiting many weeks for sales reports (and months for royalty checks), the modern writer can obtain real-time updates of his online sales and, if published by Amazon, will be paid quickly.

Whether it’s driving a car or writing a book, the past few days have shown how Uber and Amazon are transforming the prospects for people with pluck and gumption. For others that are lodged in the past, be they cabbies or editors, the march of technology just makes for the oddest of soulmates.

Top photo: London black cab drivers take part in a protest against Uber in front of Buckingham Palace (Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images).


Has the Theory of Disruption Hit Puberty?


In the New Yorker article, What the Theory of Disruption Gets Wrong, Jill Lepore states, “disruptive innovation as the explanation for how change happens has been subject to little serious criticism.”

There’s a good reason for this.

As people learned about the theory of disruptive innovation, they immediately saw this as an algorithm that would explain their personal experience. There wasn’t quantitative evidence, but the body of qualitative evidence quickly mounted.

In 2004, I was a sell-side analyst covering the emerging markets. As I read The Innovator’s Dilemma, I realized that Christensen’s theory explained why mobile penetration was repeatedly beating expectations. Two years earlier, I had started covering America Movil, a Latin American cellular company. At that time, wireless penetration in Mexico was 25%, having already surpassed wireline at 15%. Based on who could afford a higher-end cellular phone and had access to credit, penetration possibly, maybe, would reach penetration of 40% or 40 million people.

Carlos Slim, America Movil’s controlling shareholder, saw a different opportunity: 60% of the population or 60 million people who wanted to communicate but couldn’t afford to. Slim went after these individuals with subsidized handsets and pre-paid cards. For this demographic, inferior sound quality (at least initially) was a small price to pay to get connected. Today, wireline penetration in Mexico is still under 20% — wireless at 90%. Disruptive innovation theory provided a framework for understanding what I saw happening in the emerging markets.

The more familiar I became with these frameworks, I suspected they weren’t just applicable to industry, but also to individuals — to me, in particular. I had now been an Institutional Investor-ranked sell-side analyst for nearly a decade, and was at the top of my game. But I was also ready to do something more, to make a dent in the universe. According to the theory, I if I stayed at Merrill Lynch that wasn’t going to happen. To upend my status quo, I would need to play where no one else was playing – so I became an entrepreneur.

“The theory of disruption is meant to be predictive,” says Lepore, suggesting that it isn’t. According to Christensen’s research, when a company pursues growth in a new market rather than an established one, the odds of success are six times higher and the revenue potential 20 times greater. This is obviously good. But even with the odds six times higher, at 36% v. 6%, you still may fail. Lepore writes that Christensen launched a fund in 2000 that underperformed during the dot com bust. By definition, disruptive stocks are going to be more volatile than the market. What Lepore doesn’t write is that in 2007, Christensen launched another fund, which I co-founded – and when I sold my stake in 2012, we were significantly outperforming the broader market. The theory of disruptive innovation is just that: a theory, or a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural. It isn’t foolproof. NO theory is. As Darwin would have predicted, the theory of disruption is still evolving.

In fact, I believe that Ms. Lepore’s article will help with this evolution. Most of us like ideas and people that fit into our worldview, but there is tremendous value in finding room for those that don’t. According to Christensen and Boston University Professor Paul Carlile Christensen, inThe Cycles of Theory-Building in Management Research, “It is only when an anomaly is identified — an outcome for which a theory can’t account that an opportunity to improve theory occurs.” Ms. Lepore’s piece is fertile with anomalies, providing opportunities for further research. Perhaps beginning with Apple.

The Innovator’s Dilemma was published in 1997, making the theory of disruption seventeen years old. A teenager. According to Erik Erikson’s theory of developmental psychology, this is the time when people undergo the transition from child to adult. There is an identity crisis, where the question is asked – Who am I and what can I be? There is an opportunity now for the theory to grow up. Ms. Lepore described this theory as being founded on “panic, anxiety and shaky evidence.” That is one possible interpretation. I believe it is founded on courage, confidence – and rafts of qualitative data. Innovation is ultimately about moving from stuck to unstuck – whether for a company, an individual, or a theory. Whether you agree or disagree (or both) with Ms. Lepore, certainly her piece has the potential to make an adult of these frameworks. In the meantime, the theory of disruption is just coming of age. Let’s treat it like the teenager it is, and give it a few more years before we decide how it measures up.

Whitney Johnson is a co-founder Clayton Christensen’s investment firm, a speaker and coach on innovation and investing. You can sign up for her newsletter at

Photo: alphaspirit / shutterstock Remix: LinkedIn


Innovation, Disruption, and the Sixth Force


Regulated industries beware. Disruption is headed your way, too. Companies whose incumbency has been protected by regulation face devastating competition from entrants none too concerned with pesky legalities.


Michael Porter, in his seminal book Competitive Strategy, proposed a model of five forces that can be used to analyze the attractiveness of an industry. While in business school at Harvard, I had the good fortune to address with Porter, a faculty member there, what I believed to be an important SIXTH force—regulation. We were discussing the airline industry at the time, and I argued that since some players yield relatively more influence over regulation, and since regulation sets the boundaries of the playing field, one cannot look at only Porter’s five forces to accurately describe a competitive setting

Over the subsequent two decades, scofflaws, aided by technological advances, have spurred disruptive innovation at a staggering pace. Regulation, viewed in Porter’s earlier works as of little competitive concern, is now at the heart of the matter.

Unsurprisingly, incumbents in the industries under assault don’t go down without a fight. Instead, they turn to the weapons that helped structure an industry in their favor in the first place. What they desperately want is inertia. They want the object at rest to stay at rest. It’s not that they are anti-innovation. They are anti-cataclysm.

The rules that built the industries were often designed to protect consumers from the risks posed by asymmetric information, monopoly power, or utter disdain for their well being. Certainly, some regulation was over-done or even wrong-headed. But, for the most part, the rules provided a safer, fairer marketplace.

Companies worked hard to shape regulations in ways that would not disadvantage them relative to competitors. If possible, advantages were sought. In the end, some equilibrium was reached—a set of boundaries within which Clay Christenson’s “sustaining innovation” could emerge, but where discontinuous change was unusual. Investments under these circumstances could be made with less risk. Profits were more predictable. Management approaches and organizational structures emerged to reliably turn out like quality products and services at standard costs.

Competing and prospering wasn’t easy, of course. But the rules of the game were better understood.

Over time, technology was adopted by incumbent competitors creating mainly marginal improvement at the customer level and to generate more profound impacts through internal efficiency. The spoils of these gains benefited the owners of the most powerful firms, at least until all the majors adopted the same, basic approaches.

Then, in the 1990s, technology not only advanced in power. It simultaneously rapidly decreased in cost. The competitive world became a bit more egalitarian.

What was the impact? What IS the impact?

  • Information asymmetry has become information transparency.
  • Monopoly power is shaken by upstarts.
  • Consumers’ well being relies more on individual diligence than government paternalism.

What emerges?

  • Medallioned taxis challenged by on-demand rides from Uber and Lyft.
  • The local record shop upended by file sharing and the iTunes Store.
  • The Bell System (once serving jacks in the wall) replaced by Apple and Samsung in collaboration with Verizon Wireless, Virgin, and Sprint serving customers who no longer use wire-line telephony.
  • Hotels challenged by homeowners and apartment dwellers renting their accommodations by the night through Airbnb.

Even old-line businesses like automobile manufacturing and sales are impacted. Tesla, the darling of the eco-friendly and growth investors alike, has run straight into incumbent protectionism. The company wishes to do what other successful companies have done of late—sell its innovative products directly to consumers. Yes, I know. Crazy talk.

The problem isn’t that selling products to consumers directly is at all radical. The most successful retail innovation of the last decade is, arguably, the (vertically integrated) Apple Store, known at once for terrific customer service and outstanding warranty support. The issue is that existing auto dealers are attempting to protect their business model from cataclysm. They fear, with good reason, that antiquated automobile consumer protection approaches, if shown unnecessary (or even inefficient: see ), would lead to the unraveling of the entire distribution system on which their model relies.

So, instead of competing through their own innovation, automobile dealers are seeking legal and legislative intervention to secure the rents they earn from an industry historically protected by government action.

What makes these challenges troubling to incumbents is that consumers are demonstrating demand for the upstarts’ models in droves. The writing is on the wall. Industry dynamics are in flux. Regulation provides only fleeting refuge. Sooner or later, that old, warm, protective blanket will give way. And, it should. In a market economy, protecting industries’ sunk costs of adhering to outdated regulation is inefficient and anti-progress. Ironically, in these situations some measured phase out of regulation is actually supportive of consumer interests.

The problem for incumbents is that their market strength insulates them from upstarts for quite some time. Why is this a problem? Because the upstarts’ growing consumer support sneaks up on industry stalwarts. By the time incumbents realize that they face real threats, their ability to effectively respond is impaired. Too little is able to be done too late. And, like many telcos and record labels, the incumbents wither.

Whether regulation should have been included in Porter’s “forces” from the beginning is an open question. What is indisputable is that companies who continue to overly rely on regulation instead of their own innovation to secure their competitive position are running a substantial risk.