Uber lacks the Knowledge

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Uber can't find my house.

A company with 22,263 worldwide employees, a market cap of nearly $60 billion, and a CTO with two degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology can't find my house.

Whatever mapping technology Uber drivers are using to find my residence, it is failing.

I have repeatedly used the company's app to inform them of this mistake, but now I just use my neighbor's address as my own to ensure less friction and delay.

Uber knows that errors in map data significantly impact the quality of their services, thus leading to suboptimal user experience.

Uber frequently touts investments and commitments to better maps - the company even hosts a blog called Uber Engineering complete with fancy graphs and algebra heavy mathematical formulas.

One such post on this blog, the company suggests it is working to improve mapping accuracy with CatchME.

You know CatchME.

CatchME is a concept created by a non-communications professional and most certainly by a committee of engineers looking to impress each other without regard to their end-users.

This committee of engineers looking to impress each other so enjoyed using CatchME as the premier mapping solution they blogged about it.

The need for CatchME explained in a Uber post from April 2019: "Reliable transportation requires a robust map stack that provides services like routing, navigation instructions, and ETA calculation. Errors in map data can significantly impact services, leading to suboptimal user experience. Uber engineers use various sources of feedback to identify map errors, for instance, machine learning models to log and understand user feedback, or by evaluating map metrics to improve map quality."

CatchME all sounds hyperbolically wonderful and technology-focused, yet Uber can't find my house.

Hey, Uber here's a useful end-user suggestion, how about less machine learning models and more twin-speed bikes.

This bike-focused model seems to work wonders in London.

Without a doubt, London's taxi service is the best in the world.

No doubt this is in part because cab drivers working in London must know the quickest routes through London's labyrinthine road network. There are thousands of streets and landmarks within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross - the junction in the city where six routes meet. Anyone who wants to drive an iconic London cab must memorize them all - they must have the Knowledge.

The guidebook issued to prospective cabbies by London Taxi and Private Hire (LTPH), which oversees The Knowledge test, summarizes the task like this: To achieve the required standard to be licensed as an "All London" taxi driver you will need a thorough knowledge, primarily, of the area within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. You will need to know: all the streets; housing estates; parks and open spaces; government offices and departments; financial and commercial centres; diplomatic premises; town halls; registry offices; hospitals; places of worship; sports stadiums and leisure centres; airline offices; stations; hotels; clubs; theatres; cinemas; museums; art galleries; schools; colleges and universities; police stations and headquarters buildings; civil, criminal and coroner's courts; prisons; and places of interest to tourists. In fact, anywhere a taxi passenger might ask to be taken.

The Knowledge was introduced as a requirement for taxi drivers 154 years ago and mastering The Knowledge typically takes students three to four years.

The Knowledge is gained by traversing London on a foot, motor scooter, and bike -- remember this is all before they can get behind the wheel of a taxi.

Consider that to get behind the wheel of black London taxi someone probably logged more than 50,000 miles on a bike and foot, basically two circumnavigations of the planet, nearly all within inner London's dozen boroughs and the City of London financial district. Studying to be a London taxi driver, one needs to devote entirely to the challenge.

The Knowledge is not merely a matter of way-finding - the key is a process called "pointing," studying the stuff on the streets. Those successful in passing the exam have developed a system of pointing that some call "satelliting," whereby the New York Times reports, a candidate travels in a quarter-mile radius around a run's starting and finishing points, poking around, identifying landmarks, making notes. By this method, the theory goes, a Knowledge student can commit to memory not just the streets but the streetscape — the curve of the road, the pharmacy on the corner, the sign of a pub.

This taxi cab requirement process is unmatched anywhere in the world.

Sure anyone can access a GPS device to get around, and Uber drivers in Britain's capital are famously not required to learn the Knowledge to earn a license.

Who knows what Uber's requirement is in America beyond knowing how to power up a smartphone.

Technology, engineering, and machine learning are all well and good, but the addition to a commitment to craft and walking the streets is necessary. The Knowledge isn't a simple process, but it provides a path to understanding how successful leaders are the ones able to process loads of online and offline information.

Eleanor Maguire, a neuroscientist at University College London, has spent 15 years studying cabbies and the Knowledge. The New York Times reports, she has discovered that the posterior hippocampus, the area of the brain known to be important for memory, is bigger in London taxi drivers than in most people and that a successful Knowledge candidate's posterior hippocampus enlarges as they progress through the test.

Maguire's work demonstrates that the brain is capable of structural change, even in adulthood. The studies also provide a scientific explanation for the experiences of Knowledge students, the majority of whom have never pursued higher education and profess shock at the amount of information they can assimilate and retain.

As you think about the team and company you are building, are you over-indexed on technology and discounting being in the streets?

The best performing among us excels equally at processing loads of online and offline information.

Uber's one-sided business technology model means they can't find my house.

Make sure the team and company you are building can find my house - embrace the Knowledge.

- Marc

Marc A. Ross is a strategist and advisor working at the intersection of globalization, disruption, and politics. Ross specializes in helping entrepreneurs and thought leaders make better connections and better communications. He is the founder of Caracal Global.

The Post and Courier: Biden keeps large lead in SC’s 2020 Democratic presidential primary

Joe Biden — 36%

Elizabeth Warren — 17%

Bernie Sanders — 16%

Kamala Harris — 12%

Pete Buttigieg — 5%

Cory Booker — 4%

Tulsi Gabbard — 2%

Julián Castro — 1%

John Delaney — 1%

Amy Klobuchar — 1%

Beto O’Rourke — 1%

Tim Ryan — 1%

Tom Steyer — 1%

Andrew Yang — 1%

Michael Bennet — 0%

Steve Bullock — 0%

Bill de Blasio — 0%

Kirsten Gillibrand — 0%

John Hickenlooper — 0%

Jay Inslee — 0%

Wayne Messam — 0%

Seth Moulton — 0%

Joe Sestak — 0%

Marianne Williamson — 0%

Brand purpose has become essential - are you doing it correctly?


Caracal Global’s How to Communicate like a Thought Leader | Number One

As Jack Neff writes in AdAge: "Clearly you can't know a brand's purpose just by its name or products or ads."

Brand purpose, to be successful and impactful, needs to be more than a name, a logo, the functionality of your app.

A successful and impactful brand purpose is an ethos that exists in the hearts and minds of your stakeholders.

A successful and impactful brand purpose becomes transformational and not transactional.

Many professional communicators frequently conflate brand purpose with cause marketing, often linking brands with causes that don't clearly fit, make sense, or generally miss the mark.

"It's not cause marketing," Jim Stengel, former chief marketer at Procter & Gamble says of brand purpose. "It's the core principle of your company. If it's not multifunctional, multidisciplinary, embraced by the CEO, something people talk about, measure, and put in performance reviews, it's not going to work. If it starts in marketing, stays in marketing, becomes a slogan, a tagline, a nice campaign, it's going to die."

Brand purpose to succeed needs to be embraced by all of your stakeholders and must have an evident ability to break through the noise.

Making purpose work

Nike's purpose is perfectly summed up with its "Just Do It" tagline. 

This is one of the most persuasive examples of making purpose work as a foundation of a brand. Nike's brand purpose is clear, and it envelopes all of its stakeholders with the grand mission of bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.

Another purposeful company is Dick's Sporting Goods, which announced it would stop selling guns and ammunition at all of its 125 stores. 

"You know everybody talks about thoughts and prayers going out to them. That's great. That doesn't really do anything," CEO Edward Stack said. "We felt we needed to take a stand and do this."

"I basically said, 'I don't care what the financial implication is,'" he recalled at an appearance at the WSJ CEO Council.

When many are demanding action on access to guns in American and few actually doing anything, Stack made action the purpose of the company he is leading. Action to be a good corporate citizen and action to do what is right regardless of the financial impact.

Amplifying purpose

For many brands, purpose is using what has worked for years and amplifying that message.

When Walmart launched its "Save Money. Live Better." tagline in 2008 that came from an archived speech founder Sam Walton gave in 1992.

"At the time [of the new tagline], there was a fairly big backlash against Walmart being this giant company," Stephen Quinn, former Walmart US chief marketing officer said. "The company was looking for a higher purpose beyond low prices, which was quite transactional." The tagline helped people inside and outside Walmart see the purpose of the company's mission to force down retail prices.

The tagline launched a communication effort which clearly explained how much money a Walmart customer would save and also became an internal organizing principle for the company's employees.

Why purpose matters

The key to purpose is recalling its purpose. 

"Purpose-led brand communications is not just a matter of 'make them cry, make them buy,'" Unilever CEO Alan Jope said at Cannes earlier this year. "It's about action in the world." 

Many professional communicators frequently conflate brand purpose with cause marketing, often linking brands with causes that don't clearly fit, make sense, or generally miss the mark.

Purpose, when matched with action and amplification, can help your company engage all stakeholders with inspiration and innovation as well as serving as an internal organizing principle.

Brand purpose is what your own, what you are shaping, what you are promoting, and what is driving you to compete for customers.

Brand purpose is more profound and more vibrant than cause marketing.

Brand purpose should be a multi-decade commitment and not based on a short-term cause marketing fling.


Marc A. Ross is an advisor and connector working at the intersection of globalization, disruption, and politics. Ross specializes in helping entrepreneurs and thought leaders make better connections and better communications. He is the founder of Caracal Global.

Bloomberg Radio: Sound On: 2020 elections, the NRA, and immigration


Last Friday, Caracal Global founder Marc A. Ross joined Bloomberg Radio's Sound On program.

Bloomberg Chief Washington Correspondent Kevin Cirilli was the host.

Wendy Benjaminson, Bloomberg News 2020 Politics Editor, and Ben Chang, Former White House National Security Council director of communications, also joined the program.


US-China trade talks
2020 presidential elections

You can catch the 34-minute episode below.

Vehicle design and urban mobility

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Vehicle design and urban mobility have been on my mind a lot lately. In fact, two of the guest speakers at Brigadoon salon dinners this fall will lead discussions on the intersection of moving people with transport and moving people with design.

Growing up in Detroit I have had a long love affair with the automobile. Both of my grandfathers worked at the famous Ford River Rouge plant and my father was a senior executive at an auto components company. I grew up with the Big Three and many members of my family were employed and able to build a rich life because of the car.

I have always loved being in a car - so much so I couldn't wait to drive. I would frequently take one of my family's car on little spins around town even before the great state of Michigan officially sanctioned such behavior. Even today I find a road trip to be one of the most pleasant experiences.

But that seems to be all changing. The desire to get behind the wheel - heck even owning a car seems antiquated these days.

Young people are not getting driver’s licenses so much anymore. In fact, no one is.

According to a 2016 study by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the percentage of people with a driver’s license decreased between 2011 and 2014, across all age groups. For people aged 16 to 44, that percentage has been decreasing steadily since 1983.

It’s especially pronounced for the teens—in 2014, just 24.5 percent of 16-year-olds had a license, a 47-percent decrease from 1983, when 46.2 percent did. And at the tail end of the teen years, 69 percent of 19-year-olds had licenses in 2014, compared to 87.3 percent in 1983, a 21-percent decrease.

Among young adults, the declines are smaller but still significant—16.4 percent fewer 20-to-24-year-olds had licenses in 2014 than in 1983, 11 percent fewer 25-to-29-year-olds, 10.3 percent fewer 30-to-34-year-olds, and 7.4 percent fewer 35-to-39-year-olds. For people between 40 and 54, the declines were small, less than 5 percent.

Kara Swisher penned her March 2019 New York Times column with the headline = Owning a car will soon be as quaint as owning a horse - The shift away from private vehicles will happen faster than we think.

In business as in politics, it is important to be mindful that demography is destiny and the trend is your friend.

So what do the trends of fewer people getting driver’s licenses and a major thought leader using the word quaint to describe car ownership mean for the future of vehicle design and urban mobility?

I have some ideas, but I am not completely sold on my viewpoints. I am fully aware I biased because I love a car and the freedom and purpose it provides. At the same time, I know living in a dense urban core is far different than living in a sprawling suburban metroplex.

Just last week I took a meeting just outside the gates of the White House and used a water taxi and a shared pedal-assist electric bike to get there.

My transport choices have come a long way from breaking the law to go on a joyride.

Even if you live in a one-vehicle household like me, it is clear at certain times we want some private mode of transportation as well as access to shared and public modes of transportation.

In the editor's letter at the start of June's Monocle magazine, Tyler Brûlé recalls his experience in Milan where one of his most interesting observations came for an industrial designer who proclaimed that mobility design isn’t going to be all liquid, streamlined shapes but that, rather, we’re heading for a very boxy future.

“As speed isn’t going to be the key aspect for future personal mobility, we don’t need to have pointy vehicles,” said the designer. “City roads will all have speed limits that will be 30km/h – max. This means we’ll be looking for space efficiency and that will mean boxy shapes allowing for more headroom, bigger doors, and more seats. For designers and auto brands this is a huge challenge as differentiation will be very difficult: a box is a box is a box.”

Brûlé suggested the designer seemed frustrated by the challenge ahead for transportation but it could be argued that the industry has already found itself in a place that’s not far from where mobile-phone design has ended up.

Just as a Huawei device looks very similar to an iPhone as well as any Samsung smartphone, the same will probably happen to automotive design: shared designs and similar shapes produced in the same factories but with different badges.

If our vehicles of the future do end up being boxier, more of the same, and less unique, Brûlé suggests it likely that much of what will make transportation experiences more premium will be what happens on the outside. That is, where our vehicles are taking us and hopefully allowing us to pursue other more productive tasks than crawling through commuter traffic.

Regardless of the shape and speed of the vehicles of the future - to make any of this successful and useful will call for proper infrastructure.

As cities figure out how to get more people off the road, they need to make public transportation and shared options feel more premium and more useful.

If you’re keen to discuss this topic and learn more on the vehicle design and urban mobility, then join me in Detroit or Los Angeles at a Brigadoon salon dinner this fall.

- Marc

Marc A. Ross is a strategist and advisor working at the intersection of globalization, disruption, and politics. Ross specializes in helping entrepreneurs and thought leaders make better connections and better communications. He is the founder of Brigadoon and Caracal Global.