Weekend Briefing No. 212

Welcome to the weekend. It’s a new month and that means it’s time for the March playlist. This playlist is fire – one of my favorites in a long time, including new music from Sia, Justin Timberlake, and a guy I saw perform in a laundromat in Williamsburg. (You can’t make this stuff up!)

Prime Numbers

95,000 – Using a survey of 1.7 million individuals from 164 countries, researchers calculated that $95,000 is an optimum salary for achieving fulfillment. (Insert Biggie joke here.)

46 – In 2017, 902 ICOs occurred. Of these, 142 failed at the funding stage and a further 276 have since failed, either due to taking the money and running, or slowly fading into obscurity. This means that 46% of last year’s ICOs have already failed.

52 – South Korea is reducing its maximum work week from 68 hours to 52.

Breakthrough Tech for 2018

It’s that time of year when the MIT Technology Review releases its list of breakthrough technology. The (slightly more geeky) 38-year-old Kyle gets the same thrill about this as the 14-year-old Kyle did about the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue! So…. Here are my favs: 1) Zero-Carbon Natural Gas. A pilot power plant just outside Houston, in the heart of the US petroleum and refining industry, is testing a technology that could make clean energy from natural gas a reality. The company behind the 50-megawatt project, Net Power, believes it can generate power at least as cheaply as standard natural-gas plants and capture essentially all the carbon dioxide released in the process. 2) Artificial Embryo. In a breakthrough that redefines how life can be created, embryologists working at the University of Cambridge in the UK have grown realistic-looking mouse embryos using only stem cells. No egg. No sperm. Just cells plucked from another embryo. MIT Technology Review (14 minutes)


The Securities and Exchange Commission has sent subpoenas to as many as 80 people and companies behind the rise of so-called initial coin offerings, a clear sign of the agency’s desire to rein in the popular new fund-raising method. Over the last few months, the commission has asked for information from companies that have sold new virtual currencies to raise money for their projects, as well as advisory firms and lawyers who have helped with these sales. The SEC Chairman recently noted “Market professionals, especially gatekeepers, need to act responsibly and hold themselves to high standards,” in a speech at the Securities Regulation Institute. “To be blunt, from what I have seen recently, particularly in the initial coin offering space, they can do better.” New York Times (6 minutes)


Palantir deployed a predictive policing system in New Orleans that even city council members don’t know about. The company provided software to a secretive NOPD program that traced people’s ties to other gang members, outlined criminal histories, analyzed social media, and predicted the likelihood that individuals would commit violence or become a victim. Predictive policing technology has proven highly controversial wherever it is implemented, but in New Orleans, the program escaped public notice, partly because Palantir established it as a philanthropic relationship with the city through Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s signature NOLA For Life program. Thanks to its philanthropic status, as well as New Orleans’ “strong mayor” model of government, the agreement never passed through a public procurement process. The Verge (9 minutes)

This Panda Is Dancing

This Panda Is Dancing is a poetic short film by my friend Max Stossel & Sander van Dijk about the Attention Economy. Technology and media are designed to maximize our screen-time. But what if they were designed to help us live by our values? What if news & media companies were creating content that enriched our lives, vs. catering to our most base instincts for clicks? What if social platforms were designed to help us create our ideal social lives, instead of to maximize time-on site and “likes”? What if dating apps measured their success in how well they helped us find what we’re looking for instead of in # of swipes? As technology gets more and more engaging, and as AI and VR become more and more prevalent in our day-to-day lives we need to take a look at how we’re structuring our future. I first saw Max perform this poem 4 years ago and it really stuck with me. I hope you’ll like it as much as I did. Vimeo (4 minutes)

Going Light

To that end, I just backed a really interesting project on Indiegogo called the Light Phone 2. It’s a beautifully designed (Seriously… It looks like a Deiter Rams) minimalist phone that nudges you toward spending less time on your phone and more time being present with people. Less time on apps, more time living life. It’s connected to your current phone number and operates a supplement for those days you need to focus or moments you want to be present. It does 5 things: calls, SMS, music, navigation and alarm. The phone allows you to “go light” and leave behind the distractions. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Indiegogo (6 minutes)

Motivation @ Work

What motivates people to work? Career, community and cause. Career is about work: having a job that provides autonomy, allows you to use your strengths, and promotes your learning and development. It’s at the heart of intrinsic motivation. Community is about people: feeling respected, cared about, and recognized by others. It drives our sense of connection and belongingness. Cause is about purpose: feeling that you make a meaningful impact, identifying with the organization’s mission, and believing that it does some good in the world. It’s a source of pride. These three buckets make up what’s called the psychological contract — the unwritten expectations and obligations between employees and employers. When that contract is fulfilled, people bring their whole selves to work. But when it’s breached, people become less satisfied and committed. They contribute less. They perform worse. Harvard Business Review (8 minutes)

Mother of Invention

How did Maye Musk (Elon’s mom) parent a family of entrepreneurs?   Unlike most women of her generation – she is 69 – maternity has not defined Maye. She has run her own nutrition business for 45 years and has been a model for 54 years. In contrast to today’s tiger mothers and helicopter parents, Maye did not hover over her children, schedule their lives, read to them or check their homework; indeed, they learned to forge her signature to sign off their work. She was hands-off, just as her parents had been. Her business, run from home, provided her children with training as budding entrepreneurs. The children all helped out: Tosca remembers writing letters for Maye and answering the phone. “It really helped us to get a sense of independence as well as understand work ethics,” Left to explore the world for themselves, each child spontaneously developed strong – and very different – interests. 1843 (13 minutes)

From the Community

My friend and officemate Nicole Shore of Zero to Sixty Communications placed a great piece in the Wall Street Journal about how the Catalyst Fund is bringing financial services to the bottom billion.

My friend Jason Weiner is discussing worker-owned platform cooperatives at Harvard Law this week.

Feedback Loop

Last week in the Addition by Subtraction story I asked: What do you do? How would you describe it at its most essential? What extraneous elements can you remove from your product or service to get closer to that core?

Below are some of your most interesting answers:

Hey Kyle – Your challenge to reduce our purpose to the minimum essential ingredients is a good one. My first thought was a one-liner we use: “The Ugandan Water Project helps you provide clean water in Uganda and save lives. “…but to take your challenge further, I wondered if perhaps our motto works better: “Give Water. Give Life” Finally I tried to take it to a more symbolic level that might be at risk for losing focus but still has some essential truth: “Green 4 Blue” good exercise – thanks for the invitation to the distillery. – James Harrington

Hey Kyle – Great question, ‘What extraneous elements can you remove from your product or service to get closer to that core?’ This was a great thought exercise. At PhotoUp we edit millions of photos per year in the niche of real estate marketing photos. Almost every single person I’ve talked to asks if we plan to expand into other editing services such as editing photos for wedding photographers. While this has been tempting, we’ve continued to say no to extraneous elements. By saying no early and often PhotoUp has become the market leader in our niche with a deep moat around our business. Our team, our systems and our technology is years ahead of our competitors because of this. This doesn’t mean we aren’t innovating. We have a dedicated team that is always improving our product and slowly expanding our offerings and features based on client demand. That said, with 200+ employees, let’s just say I get a few emails every day. Last month I told my team if an email doesn’t need a direct and immediate answer from me to leave me out of the chain. By saying no to daily chatter, our team is able to stay focused on our core business rather than on its common imitator busyness. – Kristian Pettyjohn

You have captured the essence of elegant engineering in this question.  The most effective engineers eliminate the noise, define the problem clearly, focus on solving the problem (and not 10 other problems as an add-on), and develop the simplest solution.  This concept has made Amazon billions of dollars of profit in AWS. Remember the scene in Apollo 13 where they were trying to figure out how to use both CO2 scrubbers so that the guys could continue to breathe until they got home?  The lead guy comes into a room of less than 10 people, dumps a box of stuff on the table, identifies the problem, the materials, and the timeline.  Nobody bothered with what-iffing that was not in scope of the available materials and timeline.  They did it. –Barry Westaway (Hi dad!)

Weekend Wisdom

“We love instant, public, global messaging and conversation … but we didn’t fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences.” – Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, in a contrite twitter thread about his plans to improve discourse on the social media platform.

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway – Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose.

Photo by Ken Treloar