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.

Marc Ross

Based in Washington, DC, I specialize in thought leader communications and global public policy for public affairs professionals working at the intersection of globalization, disruption, and politics.

Clients hire me to ghostwrite, engage influencer networks, manage media relations, produce events, audit their communications infrastructure, consult on hiring, provide issue briefs and news generating talking points, as well as manage end to end communications projects where I assume a role of project leader and general contractor.

I work independently but provided access to a substantial global network of collaborators with expertise in websites, graphic design, audio, video, polling, data analytics, and research.

Using the latest tactics of an American political campaign with expertise shaped by being a practitioner of global business communications, I help clients tell their story and build trusted relationships with all necessary stakeholders.

Successful communications are all about STOCK = strategy, tactics, organization, consistency, and know-how.

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