Weekend Briefing No. 300

Welcome to the weekend. This issue marks the 300th issue of the Weekend Briefing, it also happens to coincide with my 40th birthday. Both have caused me to do a bit of reflection. I’m mostly grateful for these two things: (1) the people that have stuck with me and (2) doing work that I love. Thanks for coming along for the ride and allowing me to do what I love doing. 

Prime Numbers

1,000 More than 1,000 Google employees called on company management to ditch cloud deals with oil and gas companies and asked Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat to release a company-wide climate plan that commits to cutting carbon emissions entirely.

71.1 – Chicago is the greenest place to work. 71.1% of Chicago’s office space is certified green

30 – Ships are constantly exposed to wind, and the installation of mounted turbines on fishing vessels could supplement bunker oil engines and add efficiency without sacrificing the ability to navigate. A wind-aided ship is calculated to cut fuel use and emissions by 30 percent.

Dolly

My current obsession is a new podcast called Dolly Parton’s America. This new nine-part series goes big on Dolly Parton’s life with an emphasis on her unique status as a universally (conservative, liberal, gay, straight, American or Kenyan) beloved icon. The further you get into the series the more multi-faceted and human she becomes. The series moves beyond Dolly as a walking boob joke to a symbol of empowerment. Her songwriting abilities have never been taken as seriously as her male counterparts, but she’s prolific. I will always love you was a number 1 in 3 different decades! Dolly doesn’t take herself too seriously, but has portrays depth and wisdom. WNYC (46 minutes)

Purpose & Autonomy

There are some jobs where raw ability and IQ are predictors of success, however, it is a very small subset. The reason why many people and organizations will only hire people from top schools with the best grades reflects a form of cognitive dissonance; a self-justification about their own path to success instead of acknowledging it may have been greatly enhanced by their parent’s income and the resources available to them. Historically, Google was a company known for hiring only the top people from the top schools. However, Google also loves data and when they analyzed their own in an effort to discover what makes Google employees successful, they ultimately found that grades were, in the words of one leader at Google, “worthless.” In many cases, GPA was an inverse predictor of innovation. Google is now moving away from requiring employees to have post-secondary education— as are companies such as Hilton, Apple, Nordstrom, IBM and Bank of America. What Google’s discovered is that its best employees are those who have a strong sense of mission about their work and who also feel that they have much personal autonomy. Robert Glazer (7 minutes)

4 Day Week

What’s one way for a tech company to boost sales, increase employee satisfaction and cut overhead costs? Switch to a four-day workweek. That’s the takeaway of a new report from Microsoft Japan, which recently wrapped up its experimental “Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019.” The experiment involved giving employees five consecutive Fridays off with pay, limiting meetings to 30 minutes or fewer, and encouraging online messaging as opposed to face-to-face chats. Microsoft Japan compared data on sales performance and other metrics from this summer to the same months last year. Compared to August 2018, the results showed: (1) Number of pages printed in August 2019: -58.7%, (2) Rise in sales per employee in August 2019: +39.9% (3) Amount of “30 minute meetings” in August 2019: +46%. Big Think (6 minutes)

Interview Questions

(1) Tell me about a time you went out of your way to help a coworker achieve a goal with no benefit to yourself. (2) What’s an example of a time when you didn’t have the answer to something? What did you do? Looking back now, do you think there was a better/faster/easier path to the answer? (3) Tell me about something you love doing that you’re terrible at and something you really don’t like doing that you’re great at. (4) In the interviewer debrief, what do you think we will say about you? Get 40 more great interview questions in this library. First Round Review (8 minutes)

Debt Crisis

The world has gone mad and the system is broken, so says Ray Dalio. This is his reasoning: (1) Money is free for those who are creditworthy because the investors who are giving it to them are willing to get back less than they give. (2) Large government deficits exist and will almost certainly increase substantially, which will require huge amounts of more debt to be sold by governments—amounts that cannot naturally be absorbed without driving up interest rates at a time when an interest rate rise would be devastating for markets and economies because the world is so leveraged long. (3) Pension and healthcare liability payments will increasingly become due while many of those who are obligated to pay them don’t have enough money to meet their obligations. (4) At the same time as money is essentially free for those who have money and creditworthiness, it is essentially unavailable to those who don’t have money and creditworthiness, which contributes to the rising wealth, opportunity, and political gaps. Linkedin (4 minutes)

Tech-Enabled Startups

Although growth solves many problems at startups, unit economics is not one of them. When you’re losing money on every transaction, you can’t make it up in volume. In fact, the more revenue that a business with negative unit economics generates, the more money it loses. This is the main problem for “tech-enabled” startups that operate like pure software companies. So what are the lessons if you’re a tech-enabled startup — one whose product has a meaningful physical-world component? (1) First, you’re going to need a proficiency in cost attribution from the beginning. You’ll need to know your unit costs at a much more detailed level than a typical SaaS startup (which doesn’t have meaningful COGS). (2) Prioritize 0 to 1 problems like establishing positive unit economics and a culture valuing operational excellence before going from 1 to N. Get the operation working at small scale, in one geo, with the right teamwork and culture, before expanding into lots of markets. Trying to re-engineer the unit economics or culture of a business that is already operating at massive scale is brutally hard. Searching for the scalable model when you’re already at scale is a contradiction in terms. Craft (5 minutes)

Stakeholder Performance

Does more ethical behavior correlate with higher long-term growth in stock prices? A study by the Torrey Report seeks to answer that question by examining the long-term historical performance of different sets of companies including the S&P 500, Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” companies, Raj Sisodia’s stakeholder-focused “Firms of Endearment” and Ethisphere’s 2019 “Most Ethical Companies.”  After comparing these 4 sets of companies’ financial performance on the NASDAQ and NYSE over the past 20 years, they found that while Ethical Companies do enjoy a higher level of stock price growth (50% higher than that of the S&P 500 over the same period), stakeholder-focused companies (Sisodia’s Firms of Endearment) had the highest growth of all in stock price (100% higher than that of the S&P 500 over the same period). This leads to two conclusions. (1) Ethical business behavior correlates with high financial returns.  (2) Companies who take things one step further and adopt a stakeholder-focused model (that explicitly serves employees, customers, suppliers, business partners, investors, local communities, the environment and society) have historically shown even higher returns than standard ethical companies. Torrey Project (8 minutes)

Bookshelf

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. From a powerful new voice on racial justice, an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female in middle-class white America. Austin Channing Brown’s first encounter with a racialized America came at age 7, when she discovered her parents named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man. Growing up in majority-white schools, organizations, and churches, Austin writes, “I had to learn what it means to love blackness,” a journey that led to a lifetime spent navigating America’s racial divide as a writer, speaker and expert who helps organizations practice genuine inclusion. In a time when nearly all institutions (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claim to value “diversity” in their mission statements, I’m Still Here is a powerful account of how and why our actions so often fall short of our words. Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice, in stories that bear witness to the complexity of America’s social fabric–from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations. For readers who have engaged with America’s legacy on race through the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michael Eric Dyson, I’m Still Here is an illuminating look at how white, middle-class, Evangelicalism has participated in an era of rising racial hostility, inviting the reader to confront apathy, recognize God’s ongoing work in the world, and discover how blackness–if we let it–can save us all. 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 Sean Stratton

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Weekend Wisdom

At twenty years of age, the will reigns; at thirty, the wit; at forty, the judgment. – Benjamin Franklin