Weekend Briefing No. 247

Welcome to the weekend. I’ll be speaking at The Atlantic’s Power of Purpose Summit on Thursday. If you’re attending, please say hello.

Enjoy some fresh tunes on my November playlist.

Prime Numbers

600,000 – Air pollution caused the premature deaths of 600,000 children in 2016, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report released Monday. The report found that a staggering 93 percent of people under 15 years old—some 1.8 billion children and teenagers—are breathing toxic air.

94 –20 top US corporate lawyers with decades of experience in corporate law and contract review were pitted against an AI. AI achieves an average 94% accuracy rate, higher than the lawyers who achieved an average rate of 85%. It took the lawyers an average of 92 minutes to complete the NDA issue spotting, compared to 26 seconds for the AI.

3.3 – Space flight reduces brain mass by as much as 3.3 percent. Though some grey matter had been recovered by the 200-day follow-up, the loss was still detectable because preflight volumes of grey matter had not yet been reached.

Job Creation

When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a deal to build a Foxconn plant in the state on November 2017, it was famously jotted on the back of a napkin. The state promised a $3 billion state subsidy if the company invested $10 billion in a plant that created 13,000 jobs (a subsidy of $230,000/job). The size of the subsidy has steadily increased to a jaw-dropping $4.1 billion. Instead of the promised Generation 10.5 plant, Foxconn now says it will build a much smaller Gen 6 plant, which would require one-third of the promised investment. Furthermore, it now it looks like about 10% of the jobs will be assembly line workers, 90% knowledge workers. Almost all the actual assembly line work will be done by robots. This deal reveals a backward-looking view of manufacturing. Politicians are clinging to a fantasy that low-skilled American workers will be able to make a living wage in manufacturing. In my opinion, the sooner we let go of that fantasy, the better. Manufacturing will return to the US, but when it does, it will be mostly robots and engineers.  The Verge (12 minutes)

Design ROI

After analyzing 2 million pieces of financial data and 100,000 design “actions”–deliberate attempts to make design a more prominent part of business–for 300 public companies over a five-year period, McKinsey found that companies with the strongest commitment to design and the most adept execution of design principles had 32% more revenue and 56% more total returns to shareholders. This finding held true across three separate industries: medical technology, consumer goods, and retail banking. So… yeah… design matters. Companies that prioritize design: 1) Tracking design’s impact as a metric just as rigorously as you would track cost and revenue. 2) Put users first by actually talking to them. 3) Embed designers in cross-functional teams and incentivizing top design talent. 4) Encourage research, early-stage prototyping, and iterating. Fast Company (7 minutes)

Disrupting Law

I try to spend most my time in the briefing focusing on how innovation is impacting society in general. This week, I wanted to give you a little update on how we’re trying to do that at our law firm – Westaway. We’ve been disrupting the practice of law for the last decade by adopting an innovative structure, embracing automation and offering transparent pricing. For the last 2 years we’ve been beta testing a new service called General Counsel – a flat monthly fee that covers all your day-to-day legal needs. It covers stuff like: unlimited calls / emails with me, contract drafting / review, employment agreements, trademarks, terms of service and more for $750/month. Typical clients see a 30% reduction in annual legal spend.  This month as we’re moving out of beta testing, I wanted to first invite you to check it out before we open it up to the public. We’ve only got a few slots available, so if you are growing startup that isn’t yet big enough to have your own legal team: 1) check out the link to learn more, 2) reply to this email and we can set up a time to discuss. Westaway (3 minutes)

Eudaimonia Machine

How can architecture help us get into deep work? Eudaimonia Machine (EM), a precise work space layout based on Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia, meaning the epitome of human capability. The EM is a multipart floor plan that effectively funnels employees through various spaces with the intention of triggering different mental states. The layout consists of 1) an entry gallery – get inspired and apply the right amount of peer pressure to create good work, 2) a social salon – low pressure space for socializing, 3) a multi-person office – the space to write emails and do that other work that is still important, but can be a distraction from deep work, 4) an archival library – a technology free space chocked with books for reading and thinking, and 5) the chamber—a site for deep work. Architectural Digest (10 minutes)

Seeking Alpha

That magic number, called the fine structure constant, is a fundamental constant, with a value which nearly equals 1/137. Or 1/137.03599913, to be precise. It is denoted by the Greek letter alpha – α. What’s special about alpha is that it’s regarded as the best example of a pure number, one that doesn’t need units. It actually combines three of nature’s fundamental constants – the speed of light, the electric charge carried by one electron, and the Planck’s constant. Appearing at the intersection of such key areas of physics as relativity, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics is what gives 1/137 its allure. Why does nature insist on this number? It has appeared in various calculations in physics since the 1880s, spurring numerous attempts to come up with a Grand Unified Theory that would incorporate the constant since. So far no single explanation took hold. The brilliant physicist Richard Feynman called it “one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man”. Big Think (7 minutes)


These 4 books make Bill Gates feel optimistic: 1) Energy and Civilization: A History – looks at world history not through rotating names of kings and queens but through how humans have harnessed energy from caveman days to the most sophisticated cultural and social advancements. 2) Enlightenment Now – a comprehensive look at progress in world history. It puts data in context to show how health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge and happiness are on the rise worldwide. 3) Factfulness – Instead of making decisions based off of facts and data, humans are largely influenced by unconscious biases. The book explores ten instincts that keep humans from putting the world into perspective, such as how we’re more likely to pay attention to things that scare us or topics with impressive size and scale. 4) Sapiens – condenses the last 70,000 years of human history into stories to explain how Homo sapiens came to dominate the Earth and what’s ahead for our species. CNBC (6 minutes)

30 Lessons from 30 Years

One woman discovered 30 simple truths about life at her 30th college reunion. My favorites are: 1) No one’s life turned out exactly as anticipated, not even for the most ardent planner. 6) They say money can’t buy happiness, but in an online survey of our class just prior to the reunion, those of us with more of it self-reported a higher level of happiness than those with less. 7) Our strongest desire, in that same pre-reunion class survey—over more sex and more money—was to get more sleep. 28) Those who’d lost a child had learned a kind of resilience and gratitude that was instructive to all of us. “Don’t grieve over the years she didn’t get to live,” said one of our classmates, at a memorial service for her daughter, Harvard class of 2019, who died last summer. “Rather, feel grateful for the 21 years she was able to shine her light.” 30) Love is not all you need, but as one classmate told me, “it definitely helps.” The Atlantic (10 minutes)

Weekend Wisdom

The ultimate end of human acts is eudaimonia, happiness in the sense of living well, which all men desire; all acts are but different means chosen to arrive at it. – Hannah Arendt

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 Krys Amon.