Last month, Sydney faced a major crisis. Seventeen people were held hostage in a cafe in the Central Business District for more than 16 hours by a man alleging to be an Islamic terrorist. The areas surrounding the cafe were evacuated by police. During the crisis, Uber Sydney was charging users up to four times the normal rate at a $100 minimum as a result of automatic price surging, and people took to Twitter to condemn the company.
Mashable published a story on the price hikes and the Twitter outrage that followed. In response to the criticism, Uber Sydney offered free rides to anyone leaving the Central Business District. They also offered to refund anyone who had already been charged a higher amount.
Uber faced an alarming PR scandal, and responded quickly to the user outrage, but there is a much bigger learning opportunity here for any company in an emergency or unexpected situation.
The conversation is about trusting algorithms and data in times of crises, specifically when decisions are made without human real-time experiences as a key factor. Uber's surge pricing kicks in automatically in times of high demand and low supply, such as in times of emergency, to encourage more drivers to get on the road. The situation in Sydney shows that we need more than algorithms to make decisions in our businesses and in our lives.
In Tim Leberecht's new bestselling book The Business Romantic, he argues that we need to look beyond our focus on data and the bottom line and bring our full selves to work. Our greatest need is to be in touch with what we really care about, and businesses need to bring more meaning and human connection into the workplace. As Leberecht explained on BNN:
The danger is that we rely too much on data. [Data] comes with many benefits but at the point where we outsource ourselves, and we outsource our very human agency to the machines so they make decisions for us, it becomes a bit tricky. There is a sense of worry right now that we have to reclaim some of that agency.
Reclaiming that agency is what all companies and individuals need to focus on in our world today. The new book models the type of connectional intelligence we need in our lives and workplaces -- and particularly in emergencies and crisis situations -- to determine how our data-driven models can combine successfully and even enhance our humanity.
One bright spot during the Sydney hostage crisis and an example of how to use our human empathy while leveraging our modern networks is the spread of the hashtag #IllRideWithYou. One Twitter user, "Sir Tessa," started the hashtag to provide support to Australian Muslims riding on public transit and fearing anti-Muslim sentiment. Using the hashtag, Australians posted information to identify themselves and their public transit route to indicate that they were willing to support any Muslim who feared islamophobic backlash in the wake of the hostage crisis. The hashtag was used over half a million times.
Focusing on where our humanity intersects with data is the future of work. Bringing the human element back into work will inevitably pay off in the bottom line as well. As Danny Vinik wrote about the Uber situation in The New Republic: "It's hard to imagine that Uber's increased profits from surge pricing outweighs the reputational damage they sustain from it."
Besides Uber's decision to offer free rides and use their service to help people in a crisis, the Twitter hashtag #Illridewithyou shows that when we care for one another in the hardest moments, our connected world can be used to accomplish great things.
Erica Dhawan is the co-author of the new book Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence by Erica Dhawan and Saj-nicole Joni. She is the CEO of Cotential, a global consultancy that enables organizations to accelerate the connectedness of their teams, customers and other stakeholders. Learn more at ericadhawan.com and follow her on Twitter.