Weekend Briefing No. 242

Welcome to the weekend.

Prime Numbers

4:55 Kosmic is the first human to beat Super Mario Bros in 4 minutes and 55 seconds, a time so good it is less than a second slower than the best tool-assisted speedrun.

3:56:00 – It took Alex Honnold 3 hours, 56 minutes to complete the first-ever free solo of El Capitan, climbing the wall via Freerider (VI, 5.13a).

2 Children aged 8-11 who used screens for fun for less than 2 hours a day performed better in tests of mental ability, a study found. Combining this with 9-11 hours of sleep a night was found to be best for performance.

Free Solo

This week National Geographic released a new documentary Free Solo in select theaters across the US. I saw it on opening night. It’s a stunning, intimate and unflinching portrait of the free soloist climber Alex Honnold, as he prepares to achieve his lifelong dream: climbing the face of the world’s most famous rock … the 3,000ft El Capitan in Yosemite National Park … without a rope. Free soloing takes extraordinary commitment because you’re climbing without a safety system to catch you. Simply put, if you don’t perform perfectly, you die. It is the purest form of climbing, and the most dangerous. It’s just you and the rock with no margin for error. Alex Honnold prepares meticulously for his solos and has a specific talent — he can control his fear absolutely. The greatest athletes are judged by how well they perform under pressure. To be able to maintain total composure and execute perfectly for hours at a time when the stakes are life and death the entire time — that’s extraordinary. The choices you have to make to be a free soloist point to some very hard decisions — in a way, to the essence of some of the hardest decisions that a person has to make in life: ambition versus family/relationships, risk versus reward, etc. Watch the trailer and check out local screenings. National Geographic (6 minutes)

Giving Back?

Two companies stepped into the political fray in the last month. Nike “took a knee” with its new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. Levi Strauss released a $1 million commitment to reduce gun violence—calling for “Everytown” business peers to join the campaign. As great as it is to be philanthropic, rather than “giving back,” companies should build business models that create positive impact. The big winners under capitalism can’t balance the score and atone for the social and environmental costs of business-as-usual through good works alone. It’s the company’s own operations that matter the most. Not the decision to donate to a good cause. Both Nike and Levi Strauss—brands exposed to the harsh light of consumers and their agents—have invested in comprehensive codes of conduct that raise the bar on everything from labor standards to human rights to the life cycle of the product. The issues are complex, and the work is never done, as recent events at Nike demonstrate, but decades of investment to shape a healthy supply chain is what gives their leaders real voice in the public square. Quartz (7 minutes)

Shadow Contact

Facebook is not content to use the contact information you willingly put into your Facebook profile for advertising. It is also using contact information you handed over for security purposes and contact information you didn’t hand over at all, but that was collected from other people’s contact books, a hidden layer of details Facebook has about you known as “shadow contact information.” Academic researchers have found that if User A, whom we’ll call Anna, shares her contacts with Facebook, including a previously unknown phone number for User B, whom we’ll call Ben, advertisers will be able to target Ben with an ad using that phone number, which I call “shadow contact information,” about a month later. Ben can’t access his shadow contact information, because that would violate Anna’s privacy, according to Facebook, so he can’t see it or delete it, and he can’t keep advertisers from using it either. Gizmodo (8 minutes)

Islamic Impact Investing

Islamic Finance, based on the strong ethical and moral values, is one of the fastest growing sectors in the global financial industry. In 2016, total Islamic finance assets grew by 7% to reach $2.2 trillion, making it one of the fastest growing segments of the global finance industry. In parallel, impact investing, an investment method that considers social and environmental returns   alongside financial profit, offers a good opportunity to mobilize resources for development. Matching impact investing with its rigorous social and environmental criteria, as well as emphasis on inclusiveness and a broad understanding of business society relations – with Islamic finance, would leverage both industries’ comparative advantage to provide innovative financing solutions for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. To this end, the Global Islamic Finance and Impact Investing Platform (GIFIIP) was developed. Through the platform, stakeholders can join forces to nurture the development of an Islamic finance – an impact investing business ecosystem. UN (9 minutes)

Geothermal Fracking

Bill Gates’s $1 billion clean energy fund just opened up its check-book for the first time. Breakthrough Energy Ventures announced this week that it’s investing in a host of startups developing technology that can confront the growing dangers of climate change. Among the first selected was a Berkeley, California startup that is applying fracking techniques to the geothermal industry, in the hope of converting far more of the planet’s latent heat into a source of clean energy. If Fervo Energy’s technologies work as intended, it could enable existing geothermal sites to boost electricity production, or allow entirely new areas to tap into heat within the earth’s crust. Increasing geothermal generation could ease the broader shift to cleaner energy systems, as it can provide always-on power or ramp-up as needed, unlike variable wind and solar farms. MIT Technology Review (6 minutes)

Innovation on Boards

Corporate directors and executives alike recognize that today’s pace of change continues to accelerate and that firms need to innovate to stay ahead. But are boards doing enough to support innovation, as they should? A new survey of 5,000 directors found that, overall, innovation does not rank as a top strategic challenge for the majority of boards. The widespread lack of board-level engagement in innovation processes could be a major blind spot and a potential liability. Boards’ abilities to foster innovation clearly fall short when compared with their other activities. When we asked directors about the effectiveness of their board’s processes for supporting innovation, 42% rated their processes as above average or excellent. In contrast, 70% of respondents think their boards have effective processes for staying current on the company; 69% for compliance; 66% for financial planning; and 55% for risk management — although we should note that managing risks is a crucial consideration when pursuing innovation. Still, it’s telling that board members rate their boards better on risk management than on innovation. Harvard Business Review (7 minutes)


World happiness levels are at their lowest level in over a decade, with the number of people who say they feel stressed and worried rising, according to a survey published on Wednesday. Gallup surveyed more than 154,000 people in 146 countries on whether they had felt pain, worry, stress, anger or sadness the previous day. It said the global mood was at its gloomiest since the first such survey in 2006. Conflict-hit Central African Republic (CAR) was the world’s unhappiest place last year, with Iraq in second place. Collectively, the world is more stressed, worried, sad and in pain today than we’ve ever seen it. Sub-Saharan Africa led the way, with 24 of 35 countries surveyed reaching a 10-year happiness lows in 2017, often due to civic unrest crippling healthcare systems and causing people to go hungry. Wealthier countries were not immune to the dip in mood. About half the Americans interviewed said they were stressed – roughly the same proportion of respondents as in the CAR. Thomson Reuters (4 minutes)

From the Community

My friend Tyler Schwartz just gave a TEDx Talk on the power of storytelling to teach children a new catalog of subjects that were previously thought to be too complicated for early childhood ages.

Weekend Wisdom

If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.Dale Carnegie

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 Jimmy Chin.