My Dad & I On Uber & Disruption

Today is father's day in the U.S. and I find it fitting to talk about my father's work. 

My dad is a yellow cab driver in NYC and since ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft came to the U.S. market, I have been especially interested in his job, whether he makes enough money, and whether he will have the same job security he has enjoyed these last 16 years.

This interest has led to me asking my dad a lot of questions about Uber, and whether he believes he is facing increasing competition because of the company. Our conversation usually circles around me expressing that I am surprised that there are still as many yellow, green, and private cab drivers in NYC as there were before I moved to Ghana. My dad usually responds, fondly, "wa gime (you’re stupid). You only want bad for me".

I can't help but laugh in reflection. My father mistakes my genuine curiosity for benign ill-will. Although I care about my dad and his work, I get excited about using technology to solve problems and reduce inefficiencies. To suggest that I expected Uber to have a bigger share of the cab market is not to imply that I am do not care about traditional cab drivers. Rather, I am especially interested in trends and movements because I do care, and because I am fascinated with how people navigate disruption on the personal and private lives.

In fact, from discussions with my dad and the Uber and private cab drivers that I meet, I have come to two important realizations about how my dad and I generally view and navigate disruption.

1. On Impact & Rate Of Change: I see that whereas I get particularly excited about change, ever ready to bulldoze ahead with new technology, my dad intimately understands that disruption does not happen in a vacuum. Although my dad and I would both agree that Uber and other ride sharing apps have had an impact on the market, my perspective of this impact, in both scale and time, is disproportionate to the reality of what is occurring. My dad knows the history of livery services in NYC well, he understands the power the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) yields, the politics and investment of owning a Medallion (yellow cab), all together leading him to feel pretty strong about his staying power in the work. In this respect, the truth about Uber's position in the market probably falls somewhere in the middle: although my dad should probably be more concerned about the trend than he is (numbers), I should be less worried than I am. Disruption, even for the big giants, is a slow monkey.

2. On Adoption And Allegiance: Whereas I get really passionate about and loyal to a new vision or opportunity for change or impact, ever ready to completely abandon the old, my dad is a bit more cyclical in adopting new ways. Once I discovered Uber in NYC, I would only use Uber, rarely use anything else. As a yellow cab driver who is not on the Uber platform, my dad is not strict about only using his "own", ie. yellow cabs or other livery drivers. Instead, he operates on the margin. When he can't drive and needs a ride, he will call a local private livery company or order an Uber. This decision depends on time and cost; he is always dancing between old and new, conservative and progressive.

On Disruption In Africa

This dichotomy between my dad and I's views on Uber is a great analogy for how I see disruptors in Africa. Some people are like me - Afro-optimists who believe that things are changing rapidly and are ready to risk it all on that bet. Others, like my dad see differently - they know the larger ecosystem ultimately dictates both their personal and other societal outcomes, and navigate within that sphere to their end.

I think there is value in both perspectives: of the change enthusiasts and the system realists. On the day to day, I believe that most of us navigate some middle of both perspectives. I just believe that the perspective we ultimately invest most of our time dictates the kind of work that we do.