Weekend Briefing No. 310

Welcome to the weekend. 

A big thanks to everybody who sent me philosophy book recommendations. I’m compiling my reading list now. But before I start to dig into Plato and Aristotle, I’m spending the first part of the year reading about meta-learning, that is… I’m learning how to learn better. This week I read The Art of Learning (see below), I have Moonwalking with Einstein and The Great Mental Models in the queue, any other suggestions? 

Prime Numbers

1 T– Google parent Alphabet Inc. became the fourth U.S. company ever to achieve a $1 trillion market value Thursday, punctuating a powerful rally in shares of large internet stocks to start 2020.

3.77 MM The average price of a newly listed condo in New York rose from $1.15 million in 2011 to $3.77 million in 2019.

28 A new study found that planes boarded 28 percent more efficiently when slower passengers were boarded ahead of faster passengers.

BlackRock & Climate Change

In a letter to their clients this week, CEO of BlackRock Larry Fink announced a number of initiatives to place sustainability at the center of their investment approach, including: making sustainability integral to portfolio construction and risk management; exiting investments that present a high sustainability-related risk, such as thermal coal producers; launching new investment products that screen fossil fuels; and strengthening their commitment to sustainability and transparency in their investment stewardship activities. Climate change has become a defining factor in the companies’ long-term prospects. Will cities, for example, be able to afford their infrastructure needs as climate risk reshapes the market for municipal bonds? What will happen to the 30-year mortgage – a key building block of finance – if lenders can’t estimate the impact of climate risk over such a long timeline, and if there is no viable market for flood or fire insurance in impacted areas? What happens to inflation, and in turn interest rates, if the cost of food climbs from drought and flooding? How can we model economic growth if emerging markets see their productivity decline due to extreme heat and other climate impacts? Investors are increasingly reckoning with these questions and recognizing that climate risk is investment risk. BlackRock (7 minutes) 

Climate & Action 

Despite that fervor, progress on climate change remains elusive. This just might be the world’s greatest collective action problem, which is when rational, self-interested decisions of individuals make the circumstances of the group worse, and vice versa. Thus, we are the first generation of humans to start paying the price for a warmer world, and we are also the first to face costs as we try to address it. Enacting policies today to cut greenhouse gas emissions won’t have a discernible impact on global warming for decades, if not centuries. That’s because we have already locked in significant warming due to our historical emissions. This makes it a tough sell, but especially in our 2- to 6-year election cycles. Axios (8 minutes)

Purpose & Business

Fast Company published a list of 10 ways business will evolve in 2020. Here are a few of my favorites: (1) Consumers will be purpose experts. Millennials and Gen Z, especially, are educating themselves on what it means to be a purpose-driven company. They invest the time in researching how products are made, how employees are treated, what the supply chain looks like, and weigh these options against price and convenience. (2) Purpose will be directed at employees. A core reason for activation of purpose is the war for talent. People of all generations want to work for more than a paycheck. Organizations that link purpose to their employer brand strategy will attract and retain the strongest talent. Check out the rest of the list. Fast Company (7 minutes)

Teachers & Tech

McKinsey research suggests that 20 to 40 percent of current teacher hours are spent on activities that could be automated using existing technology. That translates into approximately 13 hours per week that teachers could redirect toward activities that lead to higher student outcomes and higher teacher satisfaction. The area with the biggest automation potential is one that teachers deal with before they even get to the classroom: preparation. Effective use of AI could cut their prep time from 11 hours/week to 6. Further advances in technology could push this number higher and result in changes to classroom structure and learning modalities, but are unlikely to displace teachers in the foreseeable future. Many of the attributes that make good teachers great are the very things that AI or other technology fails to emulate: inspiring students, building positive school and class climates, resolving conflicts, creating connection and belonging, seeing the world from the perspective of individual students, and mentoring and coaching students. These things represent the heart of a teacher’s work and cannot—and should not—be automated. McKinsey (15 minutes)

Big Tech & Banking

Big tech is getting into finance. Facebook is creating its own currency. Google is about to launch checking accounts. Apple launched a credit card. Why? (1) Data. Unsurprisingly… big tech wants to know more and more about us. Seeing exactly how, when and where we spend money is the holy grail for their advertising partners. (2) Extending reach. The more a tech company can keep you in their ecosystem of products and, thereby capture your attention and cash, the more power they are able to wield in the marketplace. Check out this video on big tech in finance. Wall Street Journal (3 minutes)

Racism & Parenting

A new study from Rutgers University that found that Black teenagers, on average, experience racism more than five times a day. The study made by my friend Suzanne McKechnie Klahr thinks of her experiences working with Black teenagers from low-income communities over the last two decades and how much that’s impacted her parenting. Has she done enough? Sometimes as a parent, one becomes complacent about these conversations and our responses are less robust and present when we are busy managing a household. Maybe this study can be a starting point for how those of us who have the ability to influence a change in our homes, schools and communities. We should start talking about, and then acting out, change through crucial conversations — even when inconvenient. Medium (4 minutes)

47 & Unhappy

It’s a good-news, bad-news thing. The bad news first: Statistically speaking, according to a new study and companion paper, if your 47th birthday was 73 days ago, this is the worst time of your life. (That means you’re 47.2 years old in case you’re too depressed to do the math.) The good news: Things can only get better. Then even better news: If you’re doing well these days, lucky you, though if you live in the developing world, you’ve got another year until things bottom out. It seems that the middle-aged have had particular difficulties in adapting during the years of slow growth since the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. The interaction between a nadir for happiness among the middle-aged along with a major downturn has had major social, political and health consequences that have reverberated around the world. Big Think (6 minutes)


The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. Waitzkin’s name may sound familiar—back in 1993, his father wrote about Josh’s early years as a chess prodigy in Searching for Bobby Fischer. Now 31, Waitzkin revisits that story from his own perspective and reveals how the fame that followed the movie based on his father’s book became one of several obstacles to his further development as a chess master. He turned to tai chi to learn how to relax and feel comfortable in his body, but then his instructor suggested a more competitive form of the discipline called “push hands.” Once again, he proved a quick study, and has earned more than a dozen championships in tournament play. Using examples from both his chess and martial arts backgrounds, Waitzkin draws out a series of principles for improving performance in any field. Chapter headings like “Making Smaller Circles” have a kung fu flair, but the themes are elaborated in a practical manner that enhances their universality. Waitzkin’s engaging voice and his openness about the limitations he recognized within himself make him a welcomed teacher. The concept of incremental progress through diligent practice of the fundamentals isn’t new, but Waitzkin certainly gives it a fresh spin. 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 Petya Boyadzhieva.

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Weekend Wisdom

Lots of companies don’t succeed over time. What do they fundamentally do wrong? They usually miss the future.Larry Page

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