Weekend Briefing No. 257

Welcome to the weekend. Hello from Boston.

Prime Numbers

1.5 MM – Analysts at RBC Capital found that each Amazon Go store will reel in an estimated $1.5m in yearly revenue, 50% more than your typical corner shop.

32,000 – If you earn $32,000 annually you are in the 1% wealthiest people globally.

1 Asparagus is the #1 most healthy vegetable. (Apparently, Bloomin’ Onions don’t rank too high… go figure?)

2018… The Best Year Ever

I know it’s more popular than ever to focus on doom, gloom and governmental dysfunction. But… 2018 was actually the best year in human history. Each day on average, about another 295,000 people around the world gained access to electricity for the first time. Every day, another 305,000 were able to access clean drinking water for the first time. And each day an additional 620,000 people were able to get online for the first time. Fewer than 10% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty, as adjusted for inflation. (In the 1950s it was over 50% and in the 1980s it was 44%.) 15,000 children died around the world in the last 24 hours. But in the 1990s, it was 30,000 kids dying each day. Never before has such a large portion of humanity been literate, enjoyed a middle-class cushion, lived such long lives, had access to family planning or been confident that their children would survive. Let’s hit pause on our fears and frustrations and share a nanosecond of celebration at this backdrop of progress. New York Times (8 minutes)

Dannone’s Plan B

Yesterday I was teaching a class on the duty to maximize shareholder value (and whether it exists) and came across this article on a huge multinational corporation that says the “purpose of this firm is not to create shareholder value.” Danone is rethinking the motivating idea of the company. That means rejecting the Anglo-Saxon idea that a firm exists primarily to maximize the welfare of its owners, the shareholders. Danone is pursuing what CEO Mr. Faber sees as a more meaningful goal – to get healthy food to as many mouths as possible, benefiting everyone from suppliers to consumers to owners. To that end 30% of Danone’s various subsidiaries are B Corp certified. The goal is to do them all within a few years, at least by 2030. In April, Danone North America, encompassing WhiteWave, an organic-food firm that Danone bought in 2017 for $12.5bn, became the world’s biggest B Corp. The idea is that the blending of profit & purpose will help to win back trust from consumers. The Economist (8 minutes)

Blockchain in 2019

After the Great Crypto Bull Run of 2017 and the monumental crash of 2018, blockchain technology won’t make as much noise in 2019. But it will become more useful. Here are two reasons why 2019 will be the year that blockchain technology finally becomes normal. 1) Big plans from Walmart—and Wall Street. Walmart has been testing a private blockchain system for years as a food supply tracker. It says it will start using the system next year and has instructed its suppliers of leafy greens to join by September. Meanwhile, on the cryptocurrency side, Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), the owner of the New York Stock Exchange and one of the most influential players on Wall Street, plans to launch its own digital asset exchange in early 2019. And Fidelity Investments recently created a new company called Fidelity Digital Assets. 2) Smart contracts: finally good for something in the real world. One practical use of smart contracts that might appear in 2019 is in legal technology. Simple smart-contract-based legal agreements (for example, an agreement between a worker and a company) can track the rights and obligations in legal agreements (like a freelance contract) on the blockchain and, once the contract’s conditions have been met, automate payments using cryptocurrency. MIT Technology Review (7 minutes)

Napa-fication of Kentucky

Kentucky bourbon towns are ready to become the Napa of American whiskey. In 2017, 1.2m people visited bourbon distilleries (a 20% jump from 2016, and nearly double the number in 2014). Now, the race is on to see which Kentucky bourbon town becomes the Napa Valley of American whiskey. Local businesses are smelling the prosperous notes of the same Napa wine craze that transformed the tiny Northern California farming town into a premiere vacation destination in the ’80s. To the chagrin of many Kentucky traditionalists, dining hotspots with craft whiskey lists, high-end retailing, and bourbon-smashed bridal parties have become the norm. New York Times (11 minutes)


In 2009, the 1MDB fund was set up to promote economic development in Malaysia and started raising billions of dollars in bonds. But in 2015, reports began to emerge that the then-prime minister Najib Razak fraudulently took $700 million for personal use, and much more was likely siphoned into the hands of Jho Low, a Malaysian financier infamous for throwing extravagant parties. Sarawak Report, one of the first publications to break the story, called it the “heist of the century.” And it was. The larger-than-life story of how that happened features heads of governments, leading banks, movie stars, and a $250 million, 300-foot super-luxury yacht. Quartz (8 minutes)

Intellectual Humility

Intellectual humility is simply the recognition that the things you believe in might in fact be wrong. But don’t confuse it with overall humility or bashfulness. It’s not about being a pushover; it’s not about lacking confidence, or self-esteem. The intellectually humble don’t cave every time their thoughts are challenged. Instead, it’s a method of thinking. It’s about entertaining the possibility that you may be wrong and being open to learning from the experience of others. Intellectual humility is about being actively curious about your blind spots. One illustration is in the ideal of the scientific method, where a scientist actively works against her own hypothesis, attempting to rule out any other alternative explanations for a phenomenon before settling on a conclusion. It’s about asking: What am I missing here? Vox (11 minutes)

Counterintuitive Frugality

Want to save money? There are plenty of things you can do outside of the strictly financial realm that can help you with your bottom line, while fulfilling another of your goals. For instance, learn a new skill. This might seem counterintuitive because you might think you need new gear or books or experiences to get started learning something new. If you want to cook, for example, won’t you need a cookbook and ingredients and an instant pot and a new set of knives, and and and? Undoubtedly, you’ll need a few things, but for our purposes, the savings comes from the time invested in learning something new. If you’re fiddling around the kitchen, or reading a new history book about the fall of Rome, you’re likely not online shopping or popping in to Target for “just one thing.” Lifehacker (6 minutes)

Weekend Wisdom

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility. – St. Augustine

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 M N.