Thursday, May 14, 2015

Trolley-Problem Variations for Entrepreneurs

The "Trolley Problem" is an ethical conundrum devised by British philosopher Phillipa Foot in 1967.  Along with  the so-called "Fat Man" variation, these thought experiments tends to whipsaw people from feeling confident about their ethical choices to wondering if they are being consistent at all.

If you've never played, here's a 90-second short from BBC Radio 4 that explains all:



There's also an interesting book by Thomas Cathcart in which he tries the case in the "Court of Public Opinion," and a longer Harvard lecture in which the conversation plays out.
  
Recently in McSweeney’s,  Kyle York wrote a laugh-out-loud send-up of the trolley problem.  I now consider him my inspiration for the following variations, designed to test your meddle as a modern entrepreneur.

Play on.


The Mother Theresa

There’s an out-of-control trolley speeding toward Mother Theresa. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits and kills Hitler, Jack and Ripper, Mussolini and Tom Brady. You suddenly notice that Mother Theresa has the newest iPhone, and then you remember that delivery of yours has been delayed.

The Wish I Had Another

There’s an out-of-control trolley speeding toward Marc Andreessen, who is writing a 125-tweet essay on why trolleys will soon be digitized. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits Peter Thiel, who is busy over-investing in every trolley company in the world so that if just one hits he can lecture us all on how he successfully disrupted the trolley industry.  You only have one trolley.

The Family Feud

There’s an out-of-control trolley speeding toward your mother. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits Steve Jobs.

How will you ever explain to your father what happened?

The Venture Capitalists

There's an out of control trolley filled with venture capitalists speeding toward a chasm.  You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley's path so it pulls up outside a Disrupt hackathon filled with cold beer and aspiring entrepreneurs.  Unfortunately, you don't have time to pull the lever because you're too busy making changes to the pitch deck from your last unsuccessful financing meeting.

The Peter Drucker

There's an out of control trolley speeding toward Peter Drucker who is absorbed trying to figure out how sending the message "Yo" back-and-forth can possibly be a financible business.  You can pull a lever and send the trolley safely back to its depot. Drucker begs you not to.