Can you save more people than Batman?
Entrepreneurs want to save the world. Specially social entrepreneurs.
There is plenty of inspiration to be taken from great entrepreneurs who have had an amazing impact on people’s lives.
Mohamed Yunus was one of the first to start this movement. He lifted millions of people from poverty with his micro-credits in Bangladesh. Another famous example is Blake Mycoskie, who helped millions of people get shoes and prevent infections by donating a pair to people in need for every pair of TOMS that’s bought.
But besides these earthly heroes, what if social entrepreneurs took inspiration from the badass heroes we follow in movies or in comic books?
Heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman or Spiderman are used to save the world single-handedly day in and day out.
These guys do great stuff against crime and catastrophes, but only because they’ve got superhuman powers.
Since none of us can afford to replicate these powers, we shouldn’t take inspiration in their examples.
But for the sake of debating, would it be interesting to emulate another breed of heroes like Batman or Iron Man?
They don’t have superhuman powers besides their intellect (and their huge fortunes), and they use these powers to create tools that help them enhance their cataclysm-solving skills.
That got me thinking. Should we all aspire to become rich and invest our money into saving the world on our own?
Hmmm… that might not work as well in the real world.
I recently came across this twitter rant against Batman by Nacho Vigalondo, a spanish filmmaker.
First it made me laugh.
Then it made me realize that Batman and company might be making things too hard on themselves by wanting to save the world all on their own.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from the collaborative and open world that could help Batman (and you) save, or at least help, a few more people:
1. Build to spread, not for your own use
Can you imagine Steve Jobs building an iPad and using it only for himself? Or Linus Torvalds keeping Linux only for his own projects?
Well, that’s what Batman does. He builds new tech and uses it only for himself. No sharing of the idea, the design, the code or the processes he uses…
What a waste of resources, right?
By keeping his tech for himself, he is responsible of more deaths and crimes than he solves in his comics.
When I started writing this post, I didn’t really know much about Batman or what technologies he has “developed” in his comics, so I went and dug some examples for you.
In its series Cataclysm, Gotham is destroyed by an earthquake, and Bruce Wayne’s buildings are the only ones to be earthquake proof.
If Bruce Wayne had open sourced his earthquake proof technology instead of making it proprietary, he could have saved many more fictional lives. And maybe Superwoman and Iron Man could also have used it.
Just Imagine the possibilities! Collaborative heroes!
But the authors wouldn’t have been able to publish this catastrophic series.
Are there examples of real world catastrophes that have been softened by technology?
Yes, there are.
After Kenya’s disputed 2007 presidential election, the opposition went on a violent killing rampage. Police went on to answer to violence by shooting violent protestors, creating even more violence.
A pretty batmanesque situation if you ask me.
So a collective of bloggers and software developers created Ushahidi within a few days, a website that collected eyewitness reports of violence by email and text message and placed them on a Google Maps map.
The site collected user-generated cellphone reports of riots, stranded refugees, rapes and deaths and plotted them on a map, using the locations given by informants. It collected more testimony — which is what ushahidi means in Swahili — faster than any reporter could. This allowed humanitarian action to go where it was most needed.
Ushahidi was an online tool that helped people in a time of distress. But it was made available for others to deploy whenever they needed it.
So when the Haitian and the Chilean earthquakes struck, Ushahidi went again into action. In Haiti, an emergency texting number was advertised via radio. Ushahidi received thousands of messages reporting trapped victims. They were then translated and plotted on a “crisis map.” Then Ushahidi volunteers instant-messaged with the United States Coast Guard in Haiti, telling them where to search.
And it was also made open source, so it allowed anyone, anywhere to repurpose it for pretty impressive solutions.
Ushahidi remixes include:
- a Kenyan wildlife charity used it to track lion and elephant sightings
- A big media outlet like Al-Jazeera, which used it during the 2009 Gaza war
- Communities mapping the impact of the BP oil spill, irregularities in the Nigerian election and Indian elections, reporting on medicine shortages in Africa or Japan’s earthquake and tsunami
Batman wouldn’t have done better.
2. He weakens himself and the world he means to protect
Do you know how to defeat Batman?
You just have to send two villains the same night to commit separate crimes. Or three villains if Robin can handle the second one.
Since his gadgets are only his, he is the only one able to put his great solutions in action.
A Waste of intelligence.
Try explaining to victims that they can’t get access to his solutions because he is a capricious and traumatized billionaire who needs to save the world on his own.
If you want a real world example of a “villain”, there is Martin Shkreli, the 32-year-old hedge-fund manager turned pharmaceutical-company C.E.O.
He became instantaneously famous last fall when he acquired the U.S. rights to a lifesaving drug and raised its price over 5,000 percent, from $13.50 a tablet to $750.
This tactic creates an artificial barrier to access putting real people’s lives in danger and exclusively benefiting Shkrely and his investors.
To justify this move Shkrely argued that Daraprim is underpriced.
Do you know how to make people like Shkrely invincible?
By allowing an exclusive distributor to price a generic drugs wherever it wants to, exploiting a regulatory loophole. This way even an open source drug can’t take his over-priced drug down to empower entrepreneurs who don’t want to only enrich themselves but also want to benefit society as a whole and have a bigger impact
Some australian High School students reversed engineered Daraprim’s recipe and proved it could be produced for a few bucks, but they can’t do much to provide an alternative to the overpriced drug due to the highly regulated environment.
Here we don’t need a guy like Batman to fight against corporations that over-price life-saving drugs.
What we need is:
- a lobby pushing to remove this monopolistic regulatory loopholes,
- more people open sourcing their drug recipes so they can be produced at a small scale for a low price
On the other end of the spectrum, there was a guy who really wanted to save the world of polio: Jonas Salk.
He created the vaccine to cure polio, and he refused to patent it. By doing this he gave up on a patent worth $7 billion… making it possible to save over one million people since 1955.
By allowing anyone to produce his vaccine, he and his team were able to get rid of polio better than if he had tried to do it by himself.
Let’s check out the scores. Batman 0 – Open Source 2
3. He won’t use best practices and standards
If Batman wanted to cross the city quickly, instead of using an extremely expensive and noticeable bat-mobile, he should use an ambulance. That would do the job.
If something breaks down in the batmobile, you can’t go down to the hardware store and just replace it. You have to hand-craft the pieces yourself. Making pieces for a bat-mobile is f***ing expensive.
Unless you open source the bat-mobile.
Then even ambulances would look like bat-mobiles. We would all have flying ambulances filled with mind-blowing features.
But let’s assume Batman prefers to keep his inventions secret, because otherwise he would let bad guys copy his toys of choice and challenge the public order.
If violent criminals represent 1% of the population, that leaves the remaining 99% dependent of Batman to save their skin.
Please keep your inventions secret, because otherwise you would be empowering everybody to protect themselves.
Well done Batman.
Let’s finish this post with a last story of someone who is taking a much smarter approach to save the world. Or at least to take pollution a notch down.
You’ve probably heard of Tesla, right?
The electric car company open sourced all of their patents in 2014. At the time electric cars were less than 1% of the market sales. So they realized that if they wanted to dramatically change the car market from fossil fuels to electric, it wouldn’t be enough with their efforts.
They can’t do it alone. That’s why they have shared their patents in Open Source, so other manufacturers can help them develop faster the kind of infrastructure we need to build a worldwide network of electric chargers to move from fossil fuel transportation to renewable energy transportation.
Besides, it also makes business sense.
Electric cars haven’t replaced gas-guzzling cars yet. But the future certainly looks brighter now that big companies are sharing their cutting-edge technology with others to help tackle collectively some world-scale problems.
From my perspective, a better version of Batman would be one who decides to protect people beyond his reach, and even after his death by making his inventions open source.
So let’s shift the vision we have of heroes. These might not be solitary do-it-all guys and gals anymore, but people really willing to create an impact by encouraging others to help them in their mission.