Uber, Uber, Everywhere: Ted Graham and the Uberization of Everything

It seems that for every product, industry, service or experience, there’s at least one company claiming Ubership of it. That’s according to PwC’s Innovation Leader Ted Graham. Graham’s knowledge of this young upstart model of a new kind of entrepreneurship that uses the best of technology – its ease and availability – to ‘give people what they want, when they want it’ [1] comes from his personal experience as an UberX driver.

In case you’ve only just returned to earth and haven’t heard about Uber, or, like me, are in denial, Uber is a GPS-enabled smartphone service through which people who need a ride are matched with drivers who use their own cars. While Uber is driving cab companies and regulating bodies crazy, it’s efficient and readily available, easy to use, offers automatic payment with a simple click of your smartphone and provides considerable cost savings to users. Yes, there are risks, but one has the distinct impression those are glitches that will be ironed out sooner than later by a company focused on steady growth through constant and responsive improvement; a company that is the very definition of innovation. With that in mind, why wouldn’t you use it?

Graham recently took the stage to speak at the 2016 Randstad Award presentation gala, where he talked about what insights, beyond tips from satisfied customers, he gained as an UberX driver. He’s put those insights, knowledge and experience into a book he’s co-authored with Jason Goldlist, The Uber of Everything, to be released this spring.

What attracted Graham to the Uber experience was his need to ‘break the fourth wall’, to find out firsthand how processes in other organizations were being developed and managed in new, innovative ways, and what outcomes they were experiencing – all with an eye to applying lessons learned to his role as PwC’s leader of innovation. PwC has long been attracted and committed to finding new, innovative, transformative ways of driving growth in their business, adjusting to their clients’ needs and, more importantly, assisting the organizations for whom they provide audit, assurance and tax advisory services to realize greater growth by becoming more agile as they prepare for the future. And according to Graham, agility, not volume, is the new currency – the new measurement - of profitability. This concept turns complacent organizations on their ear, organizations that pay lip service, but nothing else, in the way of resources, to innovation. It’s the manifestation of organizations putting money on their future.

To Graham, the future is now. In fact, it happened a few seconds ago and now we’re working on a newer future. That’s how fast change is coming, how ground shaking its impact and how urgently organizations need to heed its call or risk failing large and fast. Uber-fication is everywhere, in every type of business, sector, industry and service. It’s in new and innovative business models, products and services, and fresh, vigorous ways of developing new client bases and marketing to them.

While picking up and delivering customers in his minivan through the streets of Toronto, Graham made three key observations that had him thinking about the processes used by his own employer, PwC, and how his organization could help customers rethink and reimagine the way they do things, all through an innovative lens.

1. partners

Uber currently has a temporary workforce of 20,000 drivers in Canada who work an average of 5-10 hours per week – a workforce responsive to supply and demand. The company’s onboarding process is efficient, respectful of time and thorough. Drivers who have frequent complaints lodged against them are brought in for re-training and, if necessary, dismissed. There is zero tolerance for misdemeanours. Uber’s processes made him rethink how PwC hires temporary workers and onboards them, and if and what kind of overhaul is required.

2. feedback

Uber functions on two-way feedback; that is, in the same way customers rate drivers immediately through their smartphones, drivers rate and identify passengers, which explains why some people wait a very long time for a pick-up, while other, more pleasant, sober passengers are greeting and delivered more quickly. That aside, reciprocal feedback provides drivers, who are independent contractors, with choice and autonomy. This has applications across industries because it empowers a workforce, creates consequences and reward systems, encourages engagement and effort, and values and incentivizes innovative thinking.

3. risk & reward 

Uber’s model brings the issue of job security and what that looks like in the future to the forefront. Driving for Uber has its risks. Drivers use their own cars, which may affect their insurance rating and identifies them personally by disgruntled taxi drivers who are feeling their livelihoods threatened and are often angry and insulting. But there are rewards as well. Uber drivers set their own hours, work when they want and as much as they want. Uber cars reduce the risk of drunk drivers, reduce road congestion and, for drivers, uses vehicles that are otherwise idle 95% of the time. 

what’s changing, besides everything? the way people work continues to evolve.

More and more workers are independent contractors (according to Graham, 60 million in the U.S., 2.2 billion globally). The ‘sharing economy’ is rapidly becoming the major motivator to entrepreneurial start-ups. It’s what Graham calls a ‘Freed Market Economy’, based on exponential inventory (goods and assets we own but don’t use and can lend out), trust (new forms of trust when the government no longer regulates on our behalf) and profit (rethinking and redefining what constitutes businesses and profit).

Hot on the heels of the Randstad Award event, the May 8, 2016 Saturday edition of the Toronto Star was guest edited by innovation expert and author Don Tapscott. Every section of the paper featured relevant subjects influenced by concepts of innovation through technology, including the Life and Entertainment sections, the last bastion of the humanities.  According to Tapscott, everything – and I mean everything – is or will be influenced, affected or revolutionized by innovation and collaboration as Canada embarks on ‘a renaissance in entrepreneurship’ [2]: driverless cars (Auto section), Canada’s digital economy (Business), bionic bones (Insight), crowdsourcing (Sports), policing (GTA), disruptive technology and film (Entertainment), urban beekeeping (Homes & Condos), smart luggage that never gets lost (Travel) and feeding astronauts through space technology (Weekend/Life). That’s just some of the subjects covered.

Many mature workers – and cab drivers – already feel the sting of change and wonder what the future holds in terms of job security. Will it change shape or disappear completely? What will happen to the concept of full-time work and benefits; will they follow the dinosaur into obscurity? Work in the world of today is a shape-shifter; many organizations that understand they need to change are making it up as they go along. The wise ones are planning for change and putting the advice of innovative thinkers like Ted Graham into practice. They’re hiring accordingly, with other skills in mind besides the ability to execute the job. Smart, creative, inquisitive minds that continuously learn, the ability to not only think outside the box, but blow it wide open, technological capabilities – these are the skills that will invent, imagine, create and develop new models and processes for industries and services that don’t yet exist in a resurgence of entrepreneurship. Welcome to the 21st century.


[1] https://www.uber.com/our-story/

[2] Don Tapscott, Saturday Star, Saturday, May 7, 2016; pg. A1

about the author

Marie-Noëlle Morency - Communications Manager

As long as I can remember, I have always written stories. No matter what I wrote, from little tacky poems to silly mystery fiction, words and images always felt magical and powerful. And today, storytelling is as important as ever, as people crave for authentic emotions and interactions with the world around them. As a content marketer and communications expert, that is my job and my passion to craft stories that matter to job seekers and employers.

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