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Shifting Sand

Published: Jun 07 , 2018
Author: Tom Feinson

Recently Uber boss Travis Kalanick took an “indefinite leave of absence”. A phrase that coexists in the big book of signals next to “spending more time with the family” and just after “you have my 100% support”. True to form he has subsequently resigned.

The question is why? If not how this came to pass given he is the billionaire founder and driving force behind the success of Uber.

It’s down to power, hard & soft power, and the shifting nature of the power balance.

Travis’ behaviour and method of ‘success at any cost’ has driven his outstanding commercial performance. Investors like this commercial performance, but feel that some of his methods have been questionable, at the very least, which is something investors don’t like. Many investors feel that the behaviour of Travis and his organisation amounts to bullying.

His resignation comes after a review of practices in the firm and the many scandals that have resulted from its behaviour. It seems that Uber deceived local regulators, neglected the well-being of employees, troubled investors, was accused of stealing trade secrets by Google and appeared to treat its customers with disdain, in particular a woman who was raped by an Uber driver.

Last year Travis raised more money than the entire UK start up scene, he has created a company that operates in 662 cities around the world, is valued at £55bn and holds the casting vote on the board. You would think that this gave him enough hard power to be invulnerable. However, as with so many, he underestimated the importance of soft power, in this case social pressure.

Throughout this rollercoaster ride investors have been weighing up the risks to their investments. What started out as a small PR inconvenience snowballed to the point that it tipped the scales against him and with that a devastating shift in the power balance. The soft power of social pressure won out against the hard power of market and past performance. As a result, Travis has gone.

Theresa May the British prime minister may well also be reflecting on her under-estimation of the collective social power of the British public. The analysis showed that her competitors were underperforming, the conservative party were over performing and that she had the opportunity to extend her majority, hence a snap election.

Hard power is tangible, quantifiable and, typically, changes slowly, soft power is intangible, unquantifiable but critically can change quickly and dramatically as Theresa & Travis have found to their cost.

Power is one of the key building blocks of negotiating control, wise negotiators understand where power comes from, how to evaluate it and critically how to exploit it.


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Tom Feinson
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