Weekend Briefing No. 291

Welcome to the weekend. Hello from the French Alps!

Prime Numbers

275,000 – The bartenders at the US Open will use 275,000 melon balls used to garnish the signature cocktail, the Honey Deuce, at the Grey Goose Bar.

16,448 – All told, this year companies have bought 16,448 robots for $869 million, which is 7.2 percent more robots than the first half of 2018

36 Sales of Vodka grew only 1.6 percent in the U.S. last year and just 36 percent over the past decade, trailing the 63 percent sales growth of domestic whiskey and 75 percent growth for tequila.

1619: True Democracy

400 years ago, in 1619, a pirate ship by the name of White Lion sails into Hampton, Virginia in order to trade something of value so that they could get supplies to make the rest of their journey. What they traded were 20 to 30 Africans, and this was the start of slavery in the British North American colonies that would go on to become the United States begins. Years later, when Thomas Jefferson was drafting the Declaration of Independence, while he’s writing these lofty words for liberation, he had brought with him one of the many enslaved people whom he owned in order to serve him and to keep him comfortable. Now that enslaved person was a teenager, and that teenager was the half-brother of Thomas Jefferson’s wife. What that means is Thomas Jefferson’s father-in-law had children with one of the women that he enslaved. So actually, he was Thomas Jefferson’s brother-in-law. And so, as he’s writing these ideals, he knows that they will not apply even to his own family members. At a crucial point in the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln is worried because the war is not going well. And because it’s not going well, he’s feeling like he might have to do something drastic. He’s considering taking this very radical step of liberating all of the enslaved people who are in the Confederate states, and he’s thinking about doing this as a war tactic, understanding that if he takes away the South’s labor force, that might cripple them, or at least the threat of it would force them to remain in the Union. But he’s also concerned about what it might mean to suddenly free four million enslaved people and what the consequences of that might be. He invites five distinguished free black men to the White House. But when they get there, he tells the men that he had gotten funds from Congress to ship black people, once they had been freed, to some other country. And then Lincoln said, “You and we are different races. … Your race suffers very greatly, many of them, by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word,” he said, “we suffer on each side.” We are taught to think of Abraham Lincoln as the great emancipator, and he was. But the truth is, like many white Americans, he was opposed to slavery because it was a cruel and unjust institution in opposition to this nation’s ideals, but he was also opposed to black political and social equality. These and other pieces of our history are covered in episode 1 of the multi-part podcast 1619 from the New York Times marking 400 years since the start of slavery in the US. I’ll be featuring each part as they air. 1619 (43 minutes)

Pyramid Principle

The Pyramid Principle at McKinsey is designed to crisply present a recommendation to busy executives. (1) Start with the answer first. When an executive asked a question — “What should we do?” — you were to start your response with, “You should do X,” very crisply and directly. Only then, after you have answered the question, should you present your supporting reasons. Why? (2)  Underneath the single thought, group and summarize the next level of supporting ideas and arguments. Then, for each supporting idea or argument, break that further into more ideas or arguments until you have formed a pyramid. (3) Logically order your supporting ideas. There are a few different ways of logically ordering ideas that belong in the same group: time order, structural order, or degree order. Medium (5 minutes)


Warren Buffett understood this all too well when he said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” Here are three strategies to help you get better at saying no. 1) Drop the guilt. If saying yes to the request will mean time and attention away from something meaningful that you’ve already committed to, then saying no is the right thing to do. Someone else’s passion or priorities may not be your own, and that’s okay. 2) Does it align with your core values. Next time you get an ask, take a moment to stop and seriously consider whether fulfilling that need speaks to your core values. Time is both precious and limited. It’s essential to choose your commitments carefully and ensure they will move you toward what is most important to you. 3) Give a “good rejection”. A good rejection includes: A personal acknowledgment of the individual making the request. An admission of your own need to focus on other priorities given previous commitments. A clear statement that you cannot help in this matter. A note explaining that you are responding consistently in this way to all requests of this kind. Friday Forward (6 minutes)

Use By

An easy way to cut food waste is to fix the date labels. Stamps like ‘use by,’ ‘expires on,’ ‘best by’ sow consumer confusion and waste; new labeling rules could help. The average American family spends $1,800 a year on food that is ultimately trashed, according to one estimate. But a simple fix could cut household food waste in half: better date labels. There are two myths that drive the confusion over food date labels. First, many consumers believe they are federally regulated, but apart from rules for infant formula, they are not. Second, consumers often assume the labels indicate when food has become unsafe, but until recently, that hasn’t been the case. In many cases, there is no safety issue at stake when food is used after the date on its package, and often a visual inspection and a sniff are better indicators of safety than a date stamp. Wall Street Journal (8 minutes)

Religion & Aliens

What would your priest, rabbi, or imam say if we discovered alien life? For the religious, knowing that life on Earth is not unique may demand radical new ways of thinking about ourselves: How special and sacred are we? Is Earth a privileged place? Do we have an obligation to care for beings on other planets?  Should we convert ET to “my” religion? These questions point to a deeper issue about whether our religions can adapt to the idea that humans are not the only sentient beings in the universe capable of worshiping God. Nautilus (12 minutes)

Marine Turns Actor

Before he fought in the galactic battles of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Adam Driver was a United States Marine with 1/1 Weapons Company. He tells the story of how and why he became a Marine, the complex transition from soldier to civilian — and Arts in the Armed Forces, his nonprofit that brings theater to the military. Because, as he says: “Self-expression is just as valuable a tool as a rifle on your shoulder.” Followed by a spirited performance of Marco Ramirez’s “I am not Batman” by Jesse J. Perez and Matt Johnson. TED (18 minutes)

On Grief

If you haven’t seen Stephen Colbert and Anderson Cooper’s conversation on grief, you should take some time to view it today. Stephen lost his dad and 2 brothers, Anderson recently lost his mother. Stephen talks about growing to love the thing that he most wish hadn’t happened. If you’re grateful for life, then you have to be grateful for all of it. What do we get from suffering? We now have the ability to empathize with the suffering of others and connect with them in their suffering. It teaches us to be fully human – the full range of humanity. What punishments of God’s are not gifts? CNN (21 minutes)


Overthrow by Steven Kinzer. A fast-paced narrative history of the coups, revolutions, and invasions by which the United States has toppled fourteen foreign governments — not always to its own benefit. “Regime change” did not begin with the administration of George W. Bush, but has been an integral part of U.S. foreign policy for more than one hundred years. Starting with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 and continuing through the Spanish-American War and the Cold War and into our own time, the United States has not hesitated to overthrow governments that stood in the way of its political and economic goals. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 is the latest, though perhaps not the last, example of the dangers inherent in these operations. In Overthrow, Stephen Kinzer tells the stories of the audacious politicians, spies, military commanders, and business executives who took it upon themselves to depose monarchs, presidents, and prime ministers. He also shows that the U.S. government has often pursued these operations without understanding the countries involved; as a result, many of them have had disastrous long-term consequences. In a compelling and provocative history that takes readers to fourteen countries, including Cuba, Iran, South Vietnam, Chile, and Iraq, Kinzer surveys modern American history from a new and often surprising perspective. 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 Simon Fitall.

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Weekend Wisdom

It’s a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering. Stephen Colbert