Weekend Briefing No. 273

Welcome to the weekend. Hello from Northern California.

Last week the link I shared to Lorem Ipsum was incredibly popular, so I thought I’d give a shout out to another newsletter I’ve been digging recently by my friend Paul. Paul Minors is a productivity blogger and consultant who is obsessed with optimizing his time and income. Check out his blog and YouTube channel to learn how to supercharge your productivity.

Check out my May playlist for good weekend vibes.

Prime Numbers

250,000 – McDonalds is hiring 250,000 senior citizens this summer.

100 You can live on these tropical islands for less than $100 / day.

96 –Chapter 12 Farm bankruptcies in the Eighth Circuit, which includes states from North Dakota to Arkansas increased by 96% in 2018.

Microbots

Like Frankenstein, Marc Miskin’s robots initially lie motionless. Then their limbs jerk to life. But these robots are the size of a speck of dust. Thousands fit side-by-side on a single silicon wafer similar to those used for computer chips, and, like Frankenstein coming to life, they pull themselves free and start crawling. He imagines a wealth of uses for these microbots, which are about the size of a cell. They could crawl into cellphone batteries and clean and rejuvenate them. They might be a boon to neural scientists, burrowing into the brain to measure nerve signals. Millions of them in a petri dish could be used to test ideas in networking and communications. This is the latest step in the vision that physicist Richard Feynman laid out in 1959 in a lecture, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” about how information could be packed into atomic-scale structures and molecular machines could transform technology. New York Times (6 minutes)

McKinsey & Puerto Rico

A fiscal plan for Puerto Rico is being developed by McKinesy & Co. Under the plan’s current version, two-thirds of Puerto Rico’s 114 government agencies would be consolidated or eliminated, yielding an annual savings of $1.6 billion. The board would slash personnel costs, double the tuition at the University of Puerto Rico, and strip $153 million from the annual public-safety budget, partly by eliminating supposedly redundant divisions like the Rescue Squad. Since PROMESA was passed, Puerto Rico has closed or will close more than 450 public schools. Among the many mind-blowing figures in the fiscal plan, one stands out: the $1.5 billion earmarked over the next six years for costs related to the restructuring process itself — more than a billion of which will go to lawyers, bankers, and consultants, McKinsey included. (The firm billed the board more than $72 million through January, and its ongoing contracts total about $3.3 million a month.) The projected overall fees are more than five times what Detroit spent on its $20 billion bankruptcy, previously the largest local-government default in U.S. history, and higher even than the bill for Lehman Brothers, the $613 billion corporate liquidation that nearly destroyed the world economy. Last fall, the New York Times reported that McKinsey had millions invested in Puerto Rican bonds via the firm’s secretive internal hedge fund. McKinsey denied any conflict of interest, saying it was a routine investment that its consultants on the island were unaware of, but at the least the revelations gave McKinsey’s critics more ammunition to claim it was profiting from Puerto Rico’s misery. New York Magazine (22 minutes)

Extended Intelligence

The notion of singularity – which includes the idea that AI will supersede humans with its exponential growth, making everything we humans have done and will do insignificant – is a religion created mostly by people who have designed and successfully deployed computation to solve problems previously considered impossibly complex for machines.  Instead of thinking about machine intelligence in terms of humans vs machines, we should consider the system that integrates humans and machines – not artificial intelligence but extended intelligence. Instead of trying to control or design or even understand systems, it is more important to design systems that participate as responsible, aware and robust elements of even more complex systems. We must question and adapt our own purpose and sensibilities as observers and designers within systems for a humbler approach: humility over control. Wired (9 minutes)

Walmart & AI

This week Walmart unveiled a new “store of the future” and test grounds for emerging technologies, including AI-enabled cameras and interactive displays. The store, a working concept called the Intelligent Retail Lab — or “IRL” for short — operates out of a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Levittown, N.Y. Similar to Amazon Go’s convenience stores, the store has a suite of cameras mounted in the ceiling. But unlike Amazon Go, which is a grab-and-go store with smaller square footage, Walmart’s IRL spans 50,000 square feet of retail space and is staffed by more than 100 employees. Plus, in Walmart’s case, these AI-powered cameras are not being used to determine which items customers are buying in order to automatically charge them. It still has traditional checkout stations. Instead, the cameras will monitor inventory levels to determine, for example, if staff needs to bring out more meat from the back-room refrigerators to restock the shelves, or if some fresh items have been sitting too long on the shelf and need to be pulled. TechCrunch (6 minutes)

Chinese Consumer

Luxury is a powerful form of social capital for young Chinese consumers, as a lifestyle choice that marks them as part of a distinct and exclusive community. This represents a new growth opportunity for global brands. McKinsey recommends five takeaways for brands to engage young Chinese consumers’ attention: 1. Chinese consumers are set to contribute to almost two thirds of global growth in luxury spending. 2. The luxury consumers –  the post 80’s and 90’s generations – power the Chinese market. 3. Promoting iconic brand-product combinations is key, including developing a Chinese nickname to increase the likelihood of going viral on social media. 4. Everything is media. Social is everywhere. 5. While discovery is omnichannel, purchases are influenced and made in store. McKinsey & Co (6 minutes)

Work Got Greedy

American women of working age are the most educated ever, yet it’s the most educated women who face the biggest gender gaps in seniority and pay. Economists and sociologists are now converging on one driver that doesn’t have to do with gender: the returns to long working hours and inflexible hours have increased. Forty years ago, people who worked at least 50 hours a week were paid 15 percent less, on an hourly basis, than those who worked traditional full-time schedules. By 2000, though, the wage penalty for overwork became a premium and they now earn disproportionately more. This is particularly true in what social scientists call ‘greedy professions’ like finance, law, and consulting. These time-intensive jobs often require a flexible partner, and that flexibility often falls to women. New York Times (11 minutes)

Aristotle on Friendship

Aristotle outlined two types of friendship: “accidental” friendship, and friendship of the good. Accidental friendship is friendship of utility (each person receives a benefit from the other) or pleasure (friendship grounded in the emotion they feel at a given time or certain activity). Friendship of the good is based on a mutual appreciation of the virtues the other person holds dear. It’s this type of friendship that he values, as they take time and trust to build and depend on mutual growth. These friendships also include the rewards of accidental friendship, but with the added benefit of depth and strengthening over time. Medium (4 minutes)

Bookshelf

Measure What Matters by John Doerr. In Measure What Matters, Doerr shares a broad range of first-person, behind-the-scenes case studies, with narrators including Bono and Bill Gates, to demonstrate the focus, agility, and explosive growth that OKRs have spurred at so many great organizations. This book will help a new generation of leaders capture the same magic. Wherever the process was faithfully practiced, it worked. In this goal-setting system, objectives define what we seek to achieve; key results are how those top-priority goals will be attained with specific, measurable actions within a set time frame. Everyone’s goals, from entry level to CEO, are transparent to the entire organization. The benefits are profound. OKRs surface an organization’s most important work. They focus effort and foster coordination. They keep employees on track. They link objectives across silos to unify and strengthen the entire company. Along the way, OKRs enhance workplace satisfaction and boost retention.Amazon

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 Jennifer Chen.

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Weekend Wisdom

Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.Theodore Isaac Rubin