Weekend Briefing No. 267

Welcome to the weekend. As expected, last week’s briefing on race in America was a bit polarizing. Thanks for all the interesting comments I received. (You can see a selection in the Feedback Loop section).

This week, I’m back to my more standard content. Hope you enjoy!

Prime Numbers

257 – People unsubscribed from the Weekend Briefing after last week.

39 – Emails with positive feedback from last week’s briefing. Of course, one of them was my mom, so…

1 – Email criticizing last week’s briefing.

College is a Racket

It’s always fun to see a friend on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek (Hey Rebecca!), especially when it’s about her startup disrupting the concept of higher education. Getting a college degree has long been integral to the mythic promise of American opportunity. Yet for millions, it’s become exactly that, a myth—and a very expensive myth at that. The average student leaves school carrying $30,000 in debt. More than 40 percent of students who enter college fail to earn a degree within six years, and many of them wind up in the workforce lacking the credentials and practical skills required to get ahead. A 27-year-old entrepreneur who dropped out of Harvard, Rebecca Kantar, has a plan to fix it. The American obsession with college admissions, she says, benefits the wealthiest and highest-achieving students, while leaving the vast majority ill-qualified for the jobs of the future. Imbellus Inc., a startup in Los Angeles that aims to reinvent testing and, in the process, challenge the received wisdom about what students are expected to learn. The digital assessments Imbellus has developed resemble video games. Placing users in a simulated natural environment, they present test takers with a series of tasks, all the while capturing the decision-making process used to complete them. And because each simulation delivers a unique user experience, they’re intended to be cheat-proof. Bloomberg Businessweek (16 minutes)

Meritocracy?

The recent indictment of 50 affluent parents, test administrators, and coaches from elite schools exposes the hypocrisy our nation holds about a sacred yet illusory concept: Meritocracy. Success, no matter how you define it, is influenced by access to opportunity. Who gets into what college is often based on privilege, even without cheating the system or breaking the law. At social events we hear comments from affluent parents about how “some black kid took my son’s spot at Harvard and I am so tired of affirmative action.” Those parents don’t seem to be tired of the generations of affirmative action for the wealthy from “legacy” students or a bump up in admissions bartered for the family funding of a dormitory. Those who buy into our nation as a meritocracy fail to recognize it as a fallacy and that a true meritocracy is impossible to achieve. Medium (5 minutes)

Financial Insecurity & IQ

Not being able to pay your bills has the functional equivalent of lowering your IQ by 13 points. Many Americans have scarcity mindsets because of their inability to pay their bills. In a scarcity mindset, your functional bandwidth decreases — it influences you to be less generous and less reasonable. The opposite of a mindset of scarcity is a mindset of abundance, which is what many entrepreneurs have. Abundance mindsets tend to build on to themselves if the environment is right. Big Think (3 minutes)

Prison Films 

My friend Sharon Chang produced two feature films shot at Pendleton, a maximum-security prison in Indiana. Unlike any “prison genre” films, this project focused on bringing the most authentic truth from prison. The documentary was born out of filmmaking workshops. While making the narrative, it was co-directed by 13 incarcerated men. Both films are on HBO on-demand now. I highly recommend watching them back to back if you have the time. OG and It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It

The New Scramble for Africa

The first great surge of foreign interest in Africa, dubbed the “scramble”, was when 19th-century European colonists carved up the continent and seized Africans’ land. The second was during the cold war, when East and West vied for the allegiance of newly independent African states; the Soviet Union backed Marxist tyrants while America propped up despots who claimed to believe in capitalism. A third surge, now under way, is more benign. Outsiders have noticed that the continent is important and becoming more so, not least because of its growing share of the global population (by 2025, the UN predicts that there will be more Africans than Chinese people). Governments and businesses from all around the world are rushing to strengthen diplomatic, strategic, and commercial ties. This creates vast opportunities. If Africa handles the new scramble wisely, the main winners will be Africans themselves. The Economist (8 minutes)

Brooklyn Navy Yard

I love the Brooklyn Navy Yard! I can see it from my office window. It is now home to over 400 businesses employing more than 7,000 people in the industries of additive manufacturing, tech, food and beverage, fashion and move. Established in 1801, the Brooklyn Navy Yard served as America’s premier naval shipbuilding facility for 165 years, and launched America’s mightiest warships, including the USS Monitor, the USS Arizona, and the USS Missouri. Peak activity occurred during World War II, when some 70,000 people worked at the Yard. The Yard was in continuous operation until 1966, when it was decommissioned and then sold to the City of New York. Today, the spirit of innovation again abounds on the 300-acre site, where business is booming, employment is soaring, and the Yard is undergoing its largest expansion since WWII. Here’s a great video of the site. Monocle (4 minutes)

Management Questions

Questions are a manager’s best tool. The best way to understand what’s going on or how to get better is to pose probing questions to the people you manage, and above all, to yourself. Here are some questions managers should be asking themselves: 1) Do my reports regularly bring their biggest challenges to my attention? 2) Would my reports gladly work for me again? Here are some questions they should be asking their reports: 1) What’s the best use of our time today? 2) What does your ideal outcome look like? What’s hard for you in getting to that outcome? 3) What can I do to make you more successful? 4) What was the most useful part of our conversation today? First Round Review (17 minutes) 

Building Trust 

Based on data from 597 people, the best ways to build trust as a leader are: 1) Show Vulnerability. Being vulnerable with your weaknesses and mistakes demonstrates empathy: The more empathetic someone is, the more likely they are trusted. 2) Communicate the intent behind your actions. Communicating the intent behind your actions means being open about why you’re saying something, and why decisions are made – including your decisions to not act on something. 3) Follow through on your commitments. Enough said. Signal v Noise (6 minutes)

South Africa 2020

We had a bunch of really strong applicants for our South Africa 2020 trip. Y’all are a seriously impressive group! It looks like it’s going to be an amazing group. We’re keeping applications open until March 31st. If you’re interested, click here to learn more and apply.

Feedback Loop

Really thankful for this installment. I am a Black New Yorker who can trace one side of family back to slavery in North Carolina and the other to the Turks and Caicos in just one generation. Growing up in the NYC area and going to Duke I have been around people who consider themselves socially liberal all my life, yet I have found that the burden of proving or explaining the deep issues of race in our country has most often fallen on me. It is encouraging to me that you, a White man, are using your influence and power to not only learn and seek things out for yourself, but to share it with others. Keep fighting the good fight! -Caleb

G’day from Melbourne, Australia. I just wanted to drop you a quick note thanking you for this Weekly Briefing, and the focus on justice, equality and reconciliation. Our Australian experience of race, injustice and disfranchisement is very different from America’s, but I cannot help but feel that we have a lot to learn from your struggle for a shared vision of the future, and how to put it all right. In particular, the New Orleans monument episode is a great vignette connecting past history, future aspirations and present action that provides a glimpse about how we might move forward. Thank you, and please keep this great content coming. -David

Love all the social justice topics covered here! Makes me want to do something more with my voice to inspire change. Thank you for sharing, Kyle! -Holly 

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 Yonghyun Lee.

Should We Work Together?

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Weekend Wisdom

Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come. –Henri Nouwen