Weekend Briefing No. 274

Welcome to the weekend.

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Prime Numbers

90 MM – The budget for season 8 of Game of Thrones was $90,000,000.

38,600 – According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics program, it found that almost all common food industry jobs make less than the median US salary of $38.6k. The 3 exceptions are Head Chef, Service Manager and General Manager.

1 – In 1982, the top 1 percent of music performers took in 26 percent of the total concert-ticket revenue. As of 2017, the top 1 percent (about 109 acts) ate up 60 percent of the revenue.

Startups & Mental Health

While national mental health statistics are troubling, they are downright terrifying for entrepreneurs. According to a study by Michael Freeman, entrepreneurs are 50 percent more likely to report having a mental health condition, with some specific conditions being incredibly prevalent amongst founders. Founders are: 2X more likely to suffer from depression; 6X more likely to suffer from ADHD; 3X more likely to suffer from substance abuse; 10X more likely to suffer from bi-polar disorder; 2X more likely to have psychiatric hospitalization; and 2X more likely to have suicidal thoughts. Building companies is inherently hard mentally, physically and emotionally, but our ecosystem is a toxic one, with dozens of factors all contributing to make it even more so. We are quite literally killing ourselves and thereby sabotaging our long-term competitiveness. There are tangible actions each one of us can take to start fixing this toxicity, but at the end of the day I believe most of those actions boil down to treating each other and ourselves as human beings. TechCrunch (12 minutes)

A Hippocratic Oath for Impact Investing

Last year, sustainable investing assets stood at $30.7tn, up 34 percent in only two years. Everyone is grabbing the mantle of socially and environmentally responsible investment. But I fear the sector is moving off course. The search for scalability and standardization has widened the distance between impact investing professionals, the disadvantaged people and countries we seek to support. The industry has increasingly focused on meaningless, unaudited environmental, social and governance scores. Investing based on categories linked to the UN sustainable development goals is useless, because they do not show whether the money is doing any good. We must re-anchor our industry to its founding values. We need ethical guiding principles — the equivalent of medicine’s Hippocratic oath. All impact investors should, at a minimum, promise “to do no harm” to our planet and its people. Beyond that we should look to Kant’s categorical imperative: to treat each human being as an “end in themselves and never as a means only”. Impact investing should not tolerate the pain of others. It must focus on progress for all, not just the few. Financial Times (9 minutes)

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle is the observation that if people are good at doing their jobs they will be promoted until they reach a role where their performance is mediocre. Alan Benson, Danielle Li, Kelly Shue have put the principle to the test by looking at promotions and performance of some 40,000 sales workers across 131 firms. Sales workers are a good place to look for the principle in action because it seems natural to promote the best sales people yet the best salespeople do not necessarily make the best managers. The best sales people as measured by sales revenue are more likely to be promoted but their value added to the company actually declines. The Peter Principle may be the unfortunate consequence of firms doing their best to motivate their workforce. Promotions often serve dual roles within an organization: they are used to assign the best person to the managerial role, but also to motivate workers to excel in their current roles. If firms promoted workers on the basis of managerial potential rather than current performance, employees may have fewer incentives to work as hard. Marginal Revolution (3 minutes)

Genetics & AI

Azeem Azhar spent a while talking to genomics entrepreneur & theoretical physicist, Stephen Hsu, about the intersection of genetic engineering and machine learning. Stephen has pioneered research—and now commercial business—in polygenic risk scoring. These techniques combine cheap genome sequencing with advanced machine learning to predict the risk, or likely prevalence of severe disease, but also traits like height or general cognitive ability. Genomics is quite the technology. And rapidly improving sequencing and computation are making it cheaper and more accessible. With its power comes some challenging questions: When is it appropriate to select for traits? Where does the boundary between preventing severe disease conditions and selecting for enhancement lie? Who should make those decisions? Exponential View Podcast (36 minutes)


AI professor Stuart Russell urges us to act against the weaponization of AI in a short film called “Slaughterbots”. The idea is that we are now capable of building swarms of tiny, autonomous, lethal drones that could be unleashed on a city and take out targets – from one individual to thousands – with perfect precision. Russell calls these “scalable weapons of mass destruction” – but unlike their nuclear counterparts, there is no Mutually Assured Destruction (or even proof of attribution) to hold back their use. And the upfront capital cost is far lower than for traditional WMD. YouTube (8 minutes)

Play Deficit

For more than 50 years now, we in the United States have been gradually reducing children’s opportunities to play. Beginning around 1960 or a little before, adults began chipping away at that freedom by increasing the time that children had to spend at schoolwork and, even more significantly, by reducing children’s freedom to play on their own, even when they were out of school and not doing homework. Over the same decades that children’s play has been declining, childhood mental disorders have been increasing. Diagnoses such as generalized anxiety disorder and major depression are five to eight times what they were in the 1950s. Over the same period, the suicide rate for young people aged 15 to 24 has more than doubled, and that for children under age 15 has quadrupled. The rise in mental disorders among children is largely the result of the decline in children’s freedom. If we love our children and want them to thrive, we must allow them more time and opportunity to play, not less. Yet policymakers and powerful philanthropists are continuing to push us in the opposite direction — toward more schooling, more testing, more adult direction of children, and less opportunity for free play. Aeon (7 minutes)

Restaurant Ruin

Robert Maxwell owned fancy knives. He photographed his food. He had a subscription to Lucky Peach. He had a well-thumbed copy of Kitchen Confidential and a demi-glace-spattered copy of The French Laundry Cookbook. At work, he had trouble concentrating on spreadsheets and instead found himself scribbling menus on graph paper. He could picture a quaint dining room with wooden tables, scalloped plates and plaid napkins. He was a foodie with a boring day job who figured he could run a restaurant. Then he encountered rats, endless red tape, crippling costs and debt-induced meltdowns, started popping sleeping pills, lost his house, and nearly sabotaged his marriage. He had wagered everything and lost. Toronto Life (15 minutes)


The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole. As the United States celebrates the nation’s “triumph over race” with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status–much like their grandparents before them. In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community–and all of us–to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America. 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 Ellen Qin.

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Weekend Wisdom

There is no health without mental health; mental health is too important to be left to the professionals alone, and mental health is everyone’s business.Vikram Patel