Weekend Briefing No. 103 | Digital Dissenters, The Automation Paradox, The Purpose Paradox, Wounded Warrior’s ‘Lavish’ Spending, Digital Mourning
Welcome to the weekend. This week the east coast dug itself out of knee-high snow and got back to work. Several Twitter executives announced their departure —including its heads of PR, engineering, and video service Vine. Michael Bloomberg is considering a bid as an independent candidate. He’d most likely run if Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were nominated as the Republican and Democratic candidates, respectively.
Digital dissenters. We’re constantly distracted. We walk around with our eyes cast down upon our devices. We’re rarely fully present anywhere. We concede our privacy. Robots are taking our jobs. Where do humans fit into this new economy? Really not as creators of value, but as the content. We are the content. We are the data. We are the media. As you use a smartphone, your smartphone gets smarter, but you get dumber. Techno-skeptics want to go back to the basics – to a world where the interests of humans come before the needs of robots, algorithms, and Silicon Valley. Learn more in this long form piece in the Washington Post.
The automation paradox. When computers start doing the work of people, the need for people often increases. On average, since 1980, occupations with above-average computer use have grown substantially faster (0.9 percent per year). How can this be? It might seem a sure thing that automating a task would reduce employment in an occupation. But that logic ignores some basic economics: Automation reduces the cost of a product or service, and lower prices tend to attract more customers. ATMs made it cheaper to operate bank branches, so banks dramatically increased their number of offices. So when demand increases enough in response to lower prices, employment goes up with automation, not down. Learn more in the Atlantic.
The purpose paradox. One of the paradoxes of business is that the most profitable companies are not those that are most profit-focused. In a survey titled “The Business Case for Purpose”, a team from Harvard Business Review Analytics and professional services firm EY’s Beacon institute declares “a new leading edge: those companies able to harness the power of purpose to drive performance and profitability enjoy a distinct competitive advantage”. On its own, purpose is nothing more than an aspiration. It is its sidekicks — measures and methods — that make purpose tangible and keep managers on the straight and narrow. Learn more in the Financial Times.
Wounded Warrior Project spends lavishly on itself read the headline in the New York Times this week. This highlights the fact that there are two rule books: one for for-profit companies and one for non-profit. When startups spend on human capital, perks and marketing they are praised for “good culture” and aggressive growth, even if they have yet to make a dime and are just burning through VC cash. When a nonprofit does this, we assume some level of fraud. Wounded Warrior Project is a $225 MM (annually) organization. Do you think that happened by treating it’s employees poorly and holding bake sales? This piece misses the point so badly. Let’s stop focusing on “overhead” and start focusing on impact as my friend Dan Pallotta says in his TED Talk The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong.
Digital mourning. Historically, mourning the loss of a loved one has been a communal activity marked with ritual, but since WW I, morning has gone private. The Internet is allowing a return to age-old, communal forms of mourning. That makes some people uncomfortable. In the wake of David Bowie’s passing, #RIPDavidBowie was a hashtag, yes; it was also a funeral. Facebook has become the digital gravesite. It makes one question whether a teenager grieving the loss of a friend believes, at some level, because their friend’s wall is still up, that she is still, in some sense, alive? What’s the difference, after all, if all your contact was virtual? Leant more in the Atlantic.
THINGS I LIKE
The death of the adult male friendship. A study of relationships in the UK found that more than 2.5 million British men have no friends they would turn to for help or advice in a crisis. Additionally, men’s chances of friendlessness almost treble between their early 20s and late middle age. And married men are also significantly less likely than their single counterparts to say they have friends to turn to outside of the home.
Dumb & Dumber. What if the the classic 90s comedy Dumb and Dumber, featuring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, was actually shot as an intensely moving drama? We bet it would have swept the Academy Awards and here’s the emotional trailer to prove it!
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