What if an evil genius ran your business? Will your competitors win because of your 1990s ethics?
New business models and market opportunities are emerging that would have seemed unethical just a few years ago. As physical world technologies such as driverless cars emerge to join the software “brains” and augmented reality, radically new opportunities exist that change the dimensions of morality. Take action now to identify yours. Be your organization’s visionary!
- Look at the shocking list below of markets that would have been considered unethical by your parents.
- Envision 10 years into the future for your own markets. What ridiculous money making opportunities could exist for the entrepreneurial and immoral?
- Ask “would a local or foreign company do this?” – morals are not global values and they change with time.
- Select 2 or 3 outlandish opportunities and start to make them real.
Give me Examples
Do you remember when buying a flight ticket meant you automatically had a right to reasonably sized hand luggage, and maybe even hold luggage and a meal? No more4 .
In 2012 Michael Sandel2 identified several markets making money in areas that would have been considered immoral just 20 years earlier; including the opportunity for:
- buying the right to immigrate to the USA for $500,000. Most countries have a price including the UK, Australia, Jersey, Malta, Greece, Cyprus, and many others3
- USA prisoners to buy an upgrade to their cell for $89 a night
- solo drivers to buy the right to drive in the car pool lane
- paying an Indian woman to carry a surrogate pregnancy
- buying the right to shoot an endangered Black Rhino in South Africa
- buying admission to a top UK or USA university
- buying the life insurance policy of an elderly person so you get the pay-out when they die.
- buying preselected first class eggs and sperm for your unborn child – own or surrogate.
If you are shocked by any in this list, then that only serves to show that modern markets have different moral limits to those you may personally hold.
A new product strategy must start with new ideas, unfettered, by any constraints. Gather your wildest and craziest brains in a room. Tell them that there are no rules – especially no moral or ethical rules. You want crazy and immoral ideas. Filtering can come later – in that phase of strategy where consultants stress “the tough part of strategy is deciding what NOT to do”. First you need the uncomfortable ideas in front of you so that you can examine them forensically.
So what opportunities do the current technologies and market climate make possible? You are in a better position to answer this question for your own industry than I am. But here are a few ideas that I expect to see in the next 5 years:
Driverless Cars bring many opportunities for user payment to secure:
- Other cars to defer to your vehicle. This is likely to be a graded scale – priority 6 defers to priority 7. Priorities available on a highest bid basis – just like Google ads.
- A priority rating in the event of a collision. When a collision is unavoidable, cars choose to damage a lower insurance priority vehicle rather than a higher grade.
- Car riders journey history to be sold to those who have an interest such as real-estate agents, retailers, and of course the state.
Note that the German state7 has identified a few rules but these don’t seem to reflect users expectations, so I don’t expect them to become universal any time soon6.
A few other random opportunities
Would you pay for these? Would your neighbours?
- Pay for your property not to be on a drone flight path.
- An energy company sponsor your home heating controller to raise the temperature a degree – or maybe a part of a degree so you don’t notice. This could be both a direct profit opportunity and a load balancing opportunity.
- Cab companies (driverless?) charge for faster pickup. When most people have abandoned owning a car in favour of on-demand driverless cars, this could demand a significant premium. Uber and others already do this to some extent but we can expect the scale and impact to be much more significant.
- As augmented reality and video game experiences merge, virtual reality could easily come to occupy more of our lives than physical reality. Even if this is only a substitute for current TV watching time. Then of course everything that’s in the physical world is now for sale in the virtual world, only with super powers and magical qualities.
- Conversely, would you accept a payment from your energy company to allow them to adjust your heating and other appliances?
Morality is not a universal language.
The tracking of individuals and the sale of their information would once have been unethical. Now its fine for software to trade on the words a user says, even though the person was unaware the microphone was on.
What is moral, ethical and legal in your own culture and country, is unlikely to be universal. So what may not be acceptable where you live, may not be the case in every market your company works in. So your competitors may not have the same constraints you do. How does that affect your strategic business plans? Do you leave those opportunities for others? These are top level decisions.
What about your business?
Markets and morals are not natural bedfellows and state regulators have an important role to play. What the work of Michael Sandel and the other references below have shown us, is that business morality is an evolving framework. Digital ethics is sometimes discussed in an AI context but is way behind the business opportunities emerging.
So I encourage you to lead the charge. How would an evil genius look at the present and future market opportunities for your business?.
Be wild and weird! Go boldly where nobody has gone before!
- Germany is the only country that has devised such a framework; in 2017, a German government commission—headed by Udo Di Fabio, a former judge on the country’s highest constitutional court—released a report that suggested a number of guidelines for driverless vehicles. Among the report’s twenty propositions, one stands out: “In the event of unavoidable accident situations, any distinction based on personal features (age, gender, physical or mental constitution) is strictly prohibited.”
- “What money can’t buy: The moral limits of markets” Michael Sandel 2012
- “Want to buy citizenship? It helps if you’re one of the super-rich” The Guardian 2013
- Ryanair cabin bag policy gives only a right to a very small bag that must fit under the seat in front of you. https://www.ryanair.com/gb/en/useful-info/help-centre/faq-overview/Baggage#0-1
- “A study on driverless car Ethics Offers a Troubling Look Into Our Values” The New Yorker, January 24 2019
- “Ethics Commission: Automated and Connected Driving” www.bmvi.de