Weekend Briefing No. 217

Welcome to the weekend. Hello from Hello, Kristoff – my new favorite coffee shop in Lisbon. I hope to see some of you at the Skoll World Forum next week. If you’re attending please say hi! Enjoy some fresh tunes this weekend with my April Playlist.

Prime Numbers

200,000,000,000 – Last year was the eighth in a row in which global investment in renewables exceeded $200 billion – and since 2004, the world has invested $2.9 trillion in these green energy sources. Overall, China was by far the world’s largest investing country in renewables, at a record $126.6 billion, up 31% on 2016.

5,342 –There are just 300,000 Thai-Americans—less than 1 percent the size of the Mexican-American population. Yet there are 5,342 Thai restaurants in the United States, compared to around 54,000 Mexican restaurants; that’s ten times the population-to-restaurant ratio. So, why are there so many Thai restaurants in the US?

35 – Black Panther will be the first movie screened in Saudi Arabia in 35 years.

Boring but Important

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new regulation passed by the European Union that goes into effect on May 25th. It sets new rules for how companies manage and share personal data. In theory, the GDPR only applies to EU citizens’ data, but the global nature of the internet means that nearly every online service is affected, and the regulation has already resulted in significant changes for US users as companies scramble to adapt. First, the GDPR sets a higher bar for obtaining personal data than we’ve ever seen on the internet before. By default, any time a company collects personal data on an EU citizen, it will need explicit and informed consent from that person. Users also need a way to revoke that consent, and they can request all the data a company has from them as a way to verify that consent. Second, the GDPR’s penalties are severe enough to get the entire industry’s attention. Maximum fines per violation are set at 4 percent of a company’s global turnover (or $20 million, whichever is larger). It signals how serious the EU is taking data privacy. Google and Facebook could withstand a fine like that (they have before), but it would be enough to sink a smaller firm. If the new consent rules ask companies to reshape their data policies, the proposed fines give them the motivation to make it happen. If you are looking to update your Terms of Service / Privacy Policy to become compliant with this new regulation, shoot me an email, our firm can help. The Verge (8 minutes)

Economies of Unscale

Business in the century ahead will be driven by economies of unscale, in which the traditional competitive advantages of size are turned on their head. Economies of unscale enabled the emergence of platforms and technologies that can be rented as needed. These developments have eroded the powerful inverse relationship between fixed costs and output that defined economies of scale. Now, small, unscaled companies can pursue niche markets and successfully challenge large companies that are weighed down by decades of investment in scale — in mass production, distribution, and marketing. Because companies can stay nimble and focused by easily and instantly renting scale, they can adjust more quickly to changing demand and conditions at a much lower cost and with far less effort. Thus, scaled companies find themselves beleaguered by unscaled competitors.  MIT Sloan Management Review (6 minutes)

New Power

For most of human history, the rules of power were clear: power was something to be seized and then jealously guarded. This “old power” was out of reach for the vast majority of people. But our ubiquitous connectivity makes possible a different kind of power. “New power” is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It works like a current, not a currency–and it is most forceful when it surges. The battle between old and new power is determining who governs us, how we work, and even how we think and feel. My friends and clients Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms provide insight on this shift in their new book New Power. It shines fresh light on the cultural phenomena of our day, from #BlackLivesMatter to the Ice Bucket Challenge to Airbnb, uncovering the new power forces that made them huge. In an era increasingly shaped by new power, this groundbreaking book offers us a fresh way to see the world–and our role in it. I’ve been reading an advanced copy and I think it’s going to be the best business book of the year. Required reading for anyone wishing to make an impact. Amazon (15 hours) 

Financially Resilient Startups

Funding your startup is, of course, only one part of making it work, but even though most entrepreneurs do not do it for the money, the money preoccupies them every single day. Money is a source of not just organizational viability and growth, but also mental and emotional well-being. Here are some lessons from my friends at Amani Institute about starting and building a financially sustainable organization in emerging markets. 1) Keep your day job as long as possible. 2) Prototype your business model as much as your product. Doing so will give you invaluable customer data on your actual value proposition. 3) Scrimp and save until you build a reserve. Set a goal of attaining a financial buffer of 18 months salary for all staff. So, when we have a bad day, or even several bad months, you can sleep at night knowing everybody’s jobs are safe in the short term. Stanford Social Innovation Review (7 minutes)

AI Master Plan for the US

If the US were to draw up a new Artificial Intelligence master plan, what should it aim to do? 1) Invest more. Government should be funding basic research. If you don’t fund the universities, you run the risk of starving the goose that lays the golden egg. 2) Prepare for job loss. Preparing for the workforce disruption must start now before we have a huge unemployment issue. 3) Nurture talent. The US has a long history of drawing the top academic talent, and this has fed directly into industry. The academics most associated with the field of deep learning, for example—Geoffrey Hinton, Yann LeCun, Yoshua Bengio, and Andrew Ng—were all born in other countries but came to universities and companies in the US. Current immigration policies could send the next generation to other countries. MIT Technology Review (10 minutes)

Wisdom of Experience

When Marc Chernoff’s grandmother was diagnosed with terminal cancer on her 90th birthday, he sat with her and she calmly and passionately relayed 19 truths about life. Some of my favorites are: 1) The willingness to do hard things opens great windows of opportunity. The best things are often hard to come by, at least initially.  And if you shy away from difficulty and discomfort, you’ll miss out on them entirely. 2) Small, incremental changes always change everything in the long run. We want what we want, and we want it now!  Remind yourself: you can’t lift a thousand pounds all at once, yet you can easily lift one pound a thousand times.  Tiny, repeated efforts will get you there, gradually. 3) The biggest disappointments in life are often the result of misplaced expectations. When we are young our expectations are few, but as we age our expectations tend to balloon with each passing year.  The key is tempering expectations of how something “should be”, it will greatly reduce unnecessary stress and frustration.  4) Sensitivity can be a super power. Although sensitivity is often perceived as a weakness in our culture, to feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness; it is the characteristic of a truly alive and compassionate human being. There is zero shame in expressing your authentic feelings.  Those who are at times described as being “too emotional” or “complicated” are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more thoughtful, caring and humane world.  Never be ashamed to let your feelings, smiles and tears shine a light in this world. 5) Most of the time you don’t need more to be happier,you need less. When things aren’t adding up in your life, begin subtracting.  Life gets a lot simpler and more enjoyable when you clear the emotional and physical clutter that makes it unnecessarily complicated. Marc & Angel (10 minutes)

How to Be Lucky

What do lucky people have that the rest of us don’t? It turns out that having an open mind is the key. It makes sense. The more observant you are of your surroundings, the more likely you are to capture a valuable resource or avoid tragedy. Lucky people don’t magically attract new opportunities and good fortune. They stroll along with their eyes wide open, fully present in the moment (a problem for people glued to phone screens). This also means that anything that affects our physical or emotional ability to take in our environment also affects our so-called “luckiness”—anxiety, for one. Anxiety physically and emotionally closes us off to chance opportunities. Nautilus (6 minutes)

From the Community

Gabe Brodbar at NYU Social Entrepreneurship Program is launching a $1.5 million competition for innovative uses of artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality in education.

Weekend Wisdom

“The sea is dangerous and its storms terrible, but these obstacles have never been sufficient reason to remain ashore… Unlike the mediocre, intrepid spirits seek victory over those things that seem impossible… It is with an iron will that they embark on the most daring of all endeavors… to meet the shadowy future without fear and conquer the unknown.”  -Ferdinand Magellan

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 Ilsang Moon