FF Insights #586: Us versus Them

February 9, 2022: The mystery of empty planes; Why Spotify wins; It’s elementary

Founding Fuel

[From Pixabay]

Good morning,

That humans and the societies they create are very nuanced and complex is something we understand intuitively. But just how complex does this get really? Robert Sapolsky’s remarkably insightful Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst offers many pointers. Consider his observations on how people think about Us versus Them.

“Just as we view Us in standardized ways, there are patterns in how we view Them. A consistent one is viewing Them as threatening, angry, and untrustworthy. Take space aliens in movies, as an interesting example. In an analysis of nearly a hundred pertinent movies, starting with Georges Melies’s pioneering 1902 A Trip to the Moon, nearly 80% present aliens as malevolent, with the remainder either benevolent or neutral. In economic games people implicitly treat members of other races as less trustworthy or reciprocating. Whites judge African American faces as angrier than white faces, and racially ambiguous faces with angry expressions are more likely to be categorized as the other race. White subjects become more likely to support juvenile criminals being tried as adults when primed to think about black (versus white) offenders. And the unconscious sense of Them as menacing can be remarkably abstract—baseball fans tend to underestimate the distance to a rival team’s stadium, while Americans hostile to Mexican immigrants underestimate the distance to Mexico City. But Thems do not solely evoke a sense of menace; sometimes it’s disgust… 

“Thus, we tend to think of Us as noble, loyal, and composed of distinctive individuals whose failings are due to circumstance. Thems, in contrast, seem disgusting, ridiculous, simple, homogeneous, undifferentiated, and interchangeable. All frequently backed up by rationalizations for our intuitions.”

This, he goes on to write, has far reaching implications on the societies people live in. “There is often an inverse relationship between levels of intragroup and intergroup aggression. In other words, groups with highly hostile interactions with neighbours tend to have minimal internal conflict. Or, to spin this another way, groups with high levels of internal conflict are too distracted to focus hostility on the Others.”

Worth thinking about, isn’t it?

The mystery of empty planes

Covid-19 gave a big blow to the airline industry. And even as the pandemic rages on the airline industry, adhering to the law of unintended consequences, is giving a big blow to the environment. Wire reports:

“In December 2021, 27,591 aircraft took off or landed at Frankfurt airport—890 every day. But this winter, many of them weren’t carrying any passengers at all. Lufthansa, Germany’s national airline, which is based in Frankfurt, has admitted to running 21,000 empty flights this winter, using its own planes and those of its Belgian subsidiary, Brussels Airlines.” 

Why would they do that? 

“[T]o keep hold of airport slots.”

Te article goes on to suggest things might not change in the immediate future. 

“[T]he industry sees the madness in flying empty planes. Willie Walsh, director of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), has said the UK’s decision to increase its use it or lose it level to 70 percent is ‘condemning airlines to operate thousands of flights at low capacity, which is environmentally stupid.’ An emissions calculator developed by the ICAO suggests that a flight between London Heathrow and Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport would burn more than 2,500 kilograms of fuel on a single leg, with the associated carbon dioxide emissions.

“‘These airlines probably don’t want to do it, but they’re backed into a corner,’ says [James] Pearson [a route development analyst]. ‘They have no option but to do it.’ The environmental implications are massive, of course—but as a proportion of all flights, the number of ghost journeys is likely minute.

“Pearson reckons the problem shows the inflexibility of the slot system when confronted with what everyone hopes is a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Yet he’s not sure there’s any alternative.”

Dig deeper

Why Spotify wins

Nandan Nilekani and Tanuj Bhojwani in their most recent book The Art of Bitfulness hammer an important point. That the internet in its current avatar is broken. And this, they say, has to do with the payments infrastructure not falling in place. This is why alternative business models evolved over time and all of it competes for people’s attention. It doesn’t matter whether or not the business has deviated from its original business. While we could hear the merit in their argument, it was hammered home some more when reading a piece about Spotify by Evan Armstrong on Napkin Math

“In October 2021, the company had 381 million monthly active users and was growing 19% year over year. Its users reside from Birmingham to Bangladesh, with the service available in around 180 countries. The business is cash flow positive and is inching ever closer to profitability.  

“We could write a piece about how the company has fueled user growth through telecom and consumer packaged goods partnerships. We could also examine the longer term effects of artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell pulling their music from the platform due to Spotify’s deal with The Joe Rogan Experience. Or why its push into concert ticketing couldn’t challenge Live Nation or AEG Presents. But what is fascinating to us is a different question: in a market with multiple credible alternatives, what force is keeping Spotify on top?

“Our thesis is simple: Spotify wins because it has what matters most—attention.”

Dig deeper

It’s elementary

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Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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