Weekend Briefing No. 292

Welcome to the weekend! Hello from Sintra, Portugal. I’m here celebrating the marriage of my sister with my family and friends.

Prime Numbers

95.7 B – In 2018, about $95.7 billion worth of gift cards were sold, and somewhere between $2 billion and $4 billion this year will just sit there unspent.

424 MM 424 million PSLs are sold worldwide. That figure is astounding: assuming a 16-fluid ounce grande size, that’s 53 million gallons of Pumpkin Spice Latte. That would fill a fleet of nearly 5,900 semi-truck tankers.

48.4 – Today, Amazon delivers 48.4 % of their packages, compared to 30.9% for USPS, and a steady 18.1% for UPS. At the start of 2017, the U.S. Postal Service delivered about 61 percent of Amazon’s parcels.

1619: Slave Economy

The cotton gin changed the game for cotton production in the US. Previously, the amount of cotton a plantation could sell was limited by the tedious and slow process of de-seeding the cotton. With this new invention, that bottleneck was removed and cotton fever began. The only limitation now was how much land you could get and how many slave hands you could put to work. Sophisticated data tracking and performance management systems were put in place. Cotton output soared and put the US on the map as a strong global economy. In order for planters to expand their operations, they needed capital to buy more slaves to work the cotton fields. They went to banks and took out mortgages to buy more slaves. The collateral for those loans were their existing slaves. The banks took these mortgages, bundled the debt and sold those pools of debt to investors around the world – essentially securitizing slave mortgages. Years after Britain abolished the slave trade, they were the primary financiers of the US slave economy through these securitized mortgages. At the height of the slavery the combined value of all enslaved people was more than that of all the railroads and all the factories in the nation combined. 1619 (33 minutes)

Profit & Purpose

Because I focus on organizations that blend profit & purpose, I do help a lot of non-profits spin out a for-profit company – either as a subsidiary or a separate entity. If you’re contemplating this, I’d love to hear from you. I’ve noticed a significant uptick in these requests over the last two years. That’s why it was cool to see to see this article in Entrepreneur Magazine. If you have a business and start a nonprofit, no one thinks twice. But if you start a nonprofit and then start a business, people have serious hesitations. That’s beginning to change. As for-profit entities embraced the non-profit world, a movement also started in the opposite direction. Non-profits are adopting some of those entrepreneurial principles and exploring new products and markets to make our impact more sustainable. Entrepreneur (11 minutes)

Future of Work

A new report on the future of America’s labor landscape by McKinsey & Co. found: (1) While automation phases out some jobs, the US economy will continue generating others. Net job growth is likely to be concentrated in urban areas, while thousands of rural counties could experience a decade of flat or even negative job growth. (2) Automation will affect some of the largest occupational categories in the US economy, phasing out jobs in office support, food service, production work, customer service and retail sales. At the same time, healthcare, STEM occupations, creatives and arts management, and business services could add jobs. (3) People with no postsecondary education could account for more than three-quarters of automation-related displacements. They are four times as likely to be in a highly automatable role than individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher. (4) Because educational attainment and race are correlated, minority groups with more limited access to quality education are at higher risk of displacement. Today’s Hispanic workers are more likely to work in slow-growing or declining sectors, while Asian-American workers are more heavily represented in fast-growing fields. McKinsey (27 minutes)

Wealth Distribution

If you like good charts, you’ll dig this article. The decade-long economic expansion that has showered the U.S. with wealth has passed many by. Households in the bottom half, as measured by wealth, have only recently regained what they lost in the 2007-09 recession. Compared with 2003, they are down 32%, adjusted for inflation—while the top 1% are up more than 100%. If another recession arrives, it could be devastating for people who have only just recovered from the last one. Skewed wealth distribution is common around the world, but U.S. wealth inequality has grown faster than income inequality in the past decade, making the current wealth gap a postwar record. We’ve heard a lot about income inequality but not so much about the inequality of wealth. The numbers are remarkable. That’s because the wealthiest tend to keep most of their wealth in financial assets, which have benefited from the long stock-market boom. The rest of us have more of our net worth tied up in our houses, which have been slower to appreciate. Wall Street Journal (10 minutes)

Robot Picker

In California, 40% of farmers have not been able to find enough laborers over the past 5 years — and a similar story has taken root across the rest of America, as well. As a result, 56% of Californian farmers have started automating their farming processes in the past 5 years, and most of them say they are turning to robots due to labor shortages. But agricultural robots have struggled to pick ripe berries, given the fragility of the berries and their tendency to hide beneath leaves. Advanced Farm Technologies, a California developer of strawberry-harvesting robots, today announced $7.5 million in venture capital funding led by Yamaha Motor Ventures & Lab. Berries in winter were a luxury item back [in the mid-1970s]. And that’s where we’re headed again, unless we can solve our labor problems. Axios (3 minutes)

Robot Pilot

A robot pilot is learning to fly. It has passed its pilot’s test and flown its first plane, but it has also had its first mishap too. Unlike a traditional autopilot, the ROBOpilot Unmanned Aircraft Conversion System literally takes the controls, pressing on foot pedals and handling the yoke using robotic arms. It reads the dials and meters with a computer vision system. This could be retrofitted into existing fleets and effectively turn them into drones. A recent conversion of US military F-16 fighter jets into drones cost more than a million dollars each. ROBOpilot can be inserted into any aircraft and just as easily removed afterwards to return it to human-controlled operation. New Scientist (6 minutes)

Partner Track

Being named a partner once meant joining a band of lawyers who jointly tended to longtime clients and took home comfortable, and roughly equal, paychecks. Job security was virtually guaranteed and partners rarely jumped ship. That model, and the culture that grew up around it, is all but dead. As firms compete to keep profits rising for those at the top, lawyers further down the ladder are sometimes getting left behind. Promising associates who could once expect to be named a partner within seven or eight years are waiting 10 years or more. Firms have created new steppingstones along the way to appease them—and keep them grinding. A popular title is non-equity Partner. In 2000, 78% of partners held equity in their firms, according to American Lawyer’s ALM Intelligence. Last year, 56% did. The changes have pushed the spread between Kirkland’s highest- and lowest-paid partners to 43-to-1. Traditionally, the best-paid partner made no more than three or four times the most junior at the nation’s top law firms. Wall Street Journal (12 minutes)


Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Designers create worlds and solve problems using design thinking. Look around your office or home—at the tablet or smartphone you may be holding or the chair you are sitting in. Everything in our lives was designed by someone. And every design starts with a problem that a designer or team of designers seeks to solve. In this book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how design thinking can help us create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling, regardless of who or where we are, what we do or have done for a living, or how young or old we are. The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise. 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 Lieselot. Dalle.

Should We Work Together?

This newsletter is my passion project. I hope it helps you gain deeper insight and equips you to create meaningful impact in the world. Many readers have asked about how we can work together. I run a law firm for startups. We try to keep it simple by structuring our engagements in two ways: (1) On-Demand Counsel – Flat fee, per project engagements. No billable hour means no surprise legal bills. (2) General Counsel – A simple monthly fee for all your day-to-day legal needs. It’s like getting a subscription to your own general counsel. If you’re interested, let’s jump on a call to see if you’re a good fit for the firm. Click here to schedule a call.   

Weekend Wisdom

Many people operate under the dysfunctional belief that they just need to find out what they are passionate about. Once they know their passion, everything else will somehow magically fall into place. We hate this idea for one very good reason: most people don’t know their passion. Bill Burnett and Dave Evans