Weekend Briefing No. 272

Welcome to the weekend.

As you might suspect, I love a good newsletter. Every once in a while, there’s something so cool, that I feel like everyone should be reading it. So it goes with my friend Margot’s newsletter. Lorem Ipsum keeps over 100,000 really interesting people up on what’s cool and why. Think: really funny and insightful commentary on music, fashion, food, and culture and why they matter. Get on the list and take your place in the (smart) cool kids’ club.

Prime Numbers

93 – Not drinking water was associated with consuming an extra 93 calories per day, on average, and 4.5% more calories from sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks and juice.

72 – 72 percent of Americans said they agreed “the ‘rules’ about what you can and cannot say are changing so fast it’s difficult to keep up.”

5 –Both Democrats and Republicans disagree with the statement that “sexual harassment against women in the workplace is no longer a problem in the United States.” Since 2016, Democratic agreement declined by 4 points, and Republican agreement declined by 5 points. This suggests that despite increased polarization on some issues of sexual harassment, the #MeToo movement may have made Democrats and Republicans more aware of the prevalence of sexual harassment at work.

Aligning Values & Money

Last week I asked for recommendations on personal finance books and got a bunch of recommendations. Thanks so much for your input. I’ve ranked the top 18 in this article. The one book that came up over and over again was The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist. This liberating book shows us that examining our attitudes toward money―earning it, spending it, and giving it away―offers surprising insight into our lives. Through personal stories and practical advice, Lynne Twist asks us to discover our relationship with money, understand how we use it, and by assessing our core human values, align our relationship with it to our desired goals. In doing so, we can transform our lives. Kyle Westaway (7 minutes)

Zombies in the Classroom

Silicon Valley came to small-town Kansas schools — and it is not going well. Recently public schools near Wichita had rolled out a web-based platform and curriculum from Summit Learning. The Silicon Valley-based program promotes an educational approach called “personalized learning,” which uses online tools to customize education. The platform that Summit provides was developed by Facebook engineers and is funded by Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Under Summit’s program, students spend much of the day on their laptops and go online for lesson plans and quizzes, which they complete at their own pace. Teachers assist students with the work, hold mentoring sessions and lead special projects. The system is free to schools. The laptops are typically bought separately. Many families in the Kansas towns, which have grappled with underfunded public schools and deteriorating test scores, initially embraced the change. But sentiment seems to be turning. “We’re allowing the computers to teach and the kids all looked like zombies,” said Tyson Koenig, a factory supervisor in McPherson, who visited his son’s fourth-grade class. In a school district survey of McPherson middle school parents released this month, 77 percent of respondents said they preferred their child not be in a classroom that uses Summit. More than 80 percent said their children had expressed concerns about the platform. New York Times (11 minutes)

Seed & Transform

I’ve got 2 new conferences on my calendar this Spring. I’m excited about them, and thought you might want to check them out as well. Seed is about early stage social enterprise funding ecosystem (aka social entrepreneurs and funders); whereas Transform is about creating systems change through the lens of climate, communities and capital. Seed runs May 20-21 in San Francisco, and Transform runs right after, from May 22-24. They’re produced by GatherLab, the team that founded the original SOCAP conference (which effectively launched the impact investing movement in 2008). They’re focusing on kickstarting and accelerating change through do-oriented, interaction-heavy gatherings. Weekend Briefing readers get a special discount. Click to learn more and sign up. See you there. Seed & Transform (Sponsored)

As a special treat, I want to give away a ticket to the conferences to an early stage social entrepreneur. If that’s you, click here to apply.

AI Artist

AI is capable of making music, but does that make AI an artist? As AI begins to reshape how music is made, our legal systems are going to be confronted with some messy questions regarding authorship. Do AI algorithms create their own work, or is it the humans behind them? What happens if AI software trained solely on Beyoncé creates a track that sounds just like her? This is a legal clusterf*ck. The word “human” does not appear at all in US copyright law, and there’s not much existing litigation around the word’s absence. This has created a giant gray area and left AI’s place in copyright unclear. It also means the law doesn’t account for AI’s unique abilities, like its potential to work endlessly and mimic the sound of a specific artist. Depending on how legal decisions shake out, AI systems could become a valuable tool to assist creativity, a nuisance ripping off hard-working human musicians, or both. The Verge (13 minutes)

Come by Easily

What should you read next? Whatever books shaped the people you most admire and respect. Get in the habit of asking people you respect a simple question, “What book has changed your life?” If a book changed someone’s life — whatever the topic or style — it is probably worth the investment. If it changed them, it might at least help you. The result is a kind of ad-hoc reading list of transformational books and surprise rabbit holes that I would have never expected. Socrates supposedly said that we should employ our time improving ourselves by other men’s writings, and that in doing so we can “come by easily what others have labored hard for.” Yes. That’s the point of literature — it is the accumulation of the painful lessons humans have learned by trial and error. For 5,000 years we’ve been recording this knowledge in books. The more hard knocks we can avoid by reading them, the better. Human Parts (6 minutes)

Parenting & Risk Management

Despite making a living through dangerous feats like establishing some of the world’s hardest ice and mixed climbs, sending a frozen Niagara Falls, and setting the distance world record for paragliding (twice), Will Gadd hasn’t reached the ripe old age of 52 without knowing a thing or two about risk management. Gadd and his kids try to go on one adventure every weekend, not only because they love it, but also because it teaches the girls how to assess and manage risk in the outdoors, a skill that Gadd hopes they will carry over to everyday life. Risk management, however, isn’t about eliminating risk altogether—an impossibility in any facet of life—but recognizing potential hazards and mitigating the consequences, or knowing when to bail. He classifies risk into three general tiers based on the potential consequences: 1) bumps and bruises, 2) hospital, and 3) death. He uses the same system whether guiding or out with his girls, but his girls were the ones who came up with the names. When they reach a hazard, like the base of a cliff, together they assess the danger. They run through scenarios—what would happen if this, or what would happen if that—and then come up with ways to manage or work around those hazards. If the risk is too high for the girls’ experience or ability level, they’ll walk away. “I’m not trying to scare my kids by pointing out there is potential for death and hospital and bruises out there,” Gadd says. “I’m trying to get them to identify the real problems, and then they’re free to explore the spaces between them.” Outside (6 minutes)

On Prestige

What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like. Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself. Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious. Paul Graham (16 minutes)


The Second Mountain by David Brooks. Everybody tells you to live for a cause larger than yourself, but how exactly do you do it? In short, this book is meant to help us all lead more meaningful lives. But it’s also a provocative social commentary. We live in a society, Brooks argues, that celebrates freedom, that tells us to be true to ourselves, at the expense of surrendering to a cause, rooting ourselves in a neighborhood, binding ourselves to others by social solidarity and love. We have taken individualism to the extreme—and in the process we have torn the social fabric in a thousand different ways. The path to repair is through making deeper commitments. In The Second Mountain, Brooks shows what can happen when we put commitment-making at the center of our lives. Amazon

From the Community

Congrats to my friend Daniel Epstein for making Fortune’s World’s Greatest Leaders list.

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 Jon Hieb.

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Weekend Wisdom

Change breaks the brittle.Jan Houtema