Weekend Briefing No. 336

Welcome to the weekend.

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Prime Numbers

63—About half of S&P 500 companies have a chief diversity officer, and a 2019 study found that 63 percent of them had been in that role for three years or less.

18Eighteen percent of U.S. adults reported seeing the digital film Hamilton that dropped on Disney+ on July 3.

0—This week, NYC had its first day with zero coronavirus deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Canceling Cancel Culture

Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which extreme right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides. The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We must refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us. Harpers (5 minutes)

Pandemic Pivot

The nearly instantaneous economic recession triggered by the COVID-19 shutdown has wreaked havoc on businesses large and small. The reality of how companies are dealing with the crisis and preparing for the recovery tells a very different story, one of pivoting to business models conducive to short-term survival along with long-term resilience and growth. Pivoting is a lateral move that creates enough value for the customer and the firm to share. Three conditions are necessary for such lateral moves to work. First, a pivot must align the firm with one or more of the long-term trends created or intensified by the pandemic, including remote work, shorter supply chains, social distancing, consumer introspection and enhanced use of technology. Second, a pivot must be a lateral extension of the firm’s existing capabilities, cementing—not undermining—its strategic intent. Third, pivots must offer a sustainable path to profitability, one that preserves and enhances brand value in the minds of consumers. The economic crisis triggered by the pandemic does not necessarily spell the end of entire industries or companies. It does weed out business models that fail to pivot toward the new reality characterized by shorter value chains, remote work, social distancing, consumer introspection and enhanced technology use. Harvard Business Review (9 minutes)

Supply Chains

The main narrative of globalization—that of a so-called flat earth—concealed the problems of systemic fragility and state exploitation. Now, both have emerged and threaten to reinforce each other. When powerful states suddenly realize how frail global supply chains are, they are tempted to use their coercive power to redirect supplies to themselves at the expense of others. This tempts other states to retaliate, weakening the entire system. It’s hard to get things done when key parts of the global economy suddenly seize up. It’s even harder when they become key battlegrounds in a tacit economic war. The coronavirus dramatically increases the demand for some goods at the same time as it damages supply. This explains the extraordinary shortages of medical supplies that plagued states in the wake of the pandemic. Suddenly, everyone wanted masks, test kits and ventilators. However, some of these goods relied on complex supply chains that have been thrown into disarray. The immediate consequence was that a politics of “sicken thy neighbor” flourished around the world. Globalization’s current dysfunction is a product of market forces, and will not be solved either by economic nationalism or a naive return to the open market liberalism that created it. Instead, the current crisis opens up an opportunity to create a different approach to globalization, one that recognizes its tendency to generate problems that it cannot solve itself and also one that prioritizes people’s safety and prosperity. Our lives depend on it. Foreign Policy (21 minutes)

American Decline

Coronavirus brings American decline out in the open. When writers speak of American decline, they’re usually talking about international power—the rise of China and the waning of U.S. hegemony and moral authority. To most Americans, those are distant and abstract things that have little or no impact on their daily lives. But the decline in the general effectiveness of U.S. institutions will impose increasing costs and burdens on Americans. And if it eventually leads to a general loss of investor confidence in the country, the damage could be much greater. The consequences of U.S. decline will far outlast coronavirus. With its high housing costs, poor infrastructure and transit, endemic gun violence, police brutality, and bitter political and racial divisions, the U.S. will be a less appealing place for high-skilled workers to live. That in turn will exacerbate some of the worst trends of U.S. decline—less tax money means even more urban decay as infrastructure, education and social-welfare programs are forced to make big cuts. Anti-immigration policies will throw away the country’s most important source of skilled labor and weaken a university system already under tremendous pressure from state budget cuts. Bloomberg (8 minutes)

French Elites

This is a fascinating article on the making of French elites. I learned so much about what French society values (and doesn’t). There are too many good nuggets in here to name them all, but here are a few: (1) The French school system is based on a simple rule: ruthless selection of the best and the brightest at every stage, mostly through mathematics. French officials think that because we have the best training in math worldwide, we might have a shot at excelling in building startups in fields like artificial intelligence. But scientific excellence rarely translates into entrepreneurial excellence. (2) French people excel at operating centralized systems at a large scale. And indeed, that’s what was required to prosper from the Industrial Revolution to the 20th century. The French came out on top in the age of steam and railways, the age of steel and heavy engineering, and the age of the automobile and mass production. (3) France being a mid-size country, it really needs its tech startups to expand beyond its borders. Policy should concentrate resources on companies that have proven their product at a small scale, then help them expand in other European countries, Africa, and maybe in Asia and the U.S. This would turn the current system upside down, as today it rewards entrepreneurs who spend their time in Parisian salons. European Straits (24 minutes)

Work Hard. Be nice?

In a tweet on Wednesday, Kipp Charter School Network said: “We are retiring ‘Work hard. Be nice.’ as Kipp’s national slogan; it diminishes the significant effort to dismantle systemic racism, places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future they want.” Is this woke nonsense? Kipp has succeeded when so many traditional public schools fail precisely because it has high expectations for students. One hopes Kipp isn’t abandoning its rigorous instruction or standards, though the line about “the illusion of meritocracy” sounds a lot like what George W. Bush called the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” The surest way to guarantee failure is to tell students that their effort and behavior don’t matter. A good contrast with Kipp was the statement last week by Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of Success Academy charter schools in New York. Ms. Moskowitz announced measures to address concerns about racial diversity and prejudice, but she also reaffirmed the schools’ mission and values. “We seek to reverse racial inequity and upend power dynamics by equipping children of color with a world-class education,” she wrote. The worst result for children would be for charters to abandon the high achievement goals that spur success in school and life. Wall Street Journal (4 minutes)

In New York, You Can Be A New Man

Just because I love Hamilton and because you’ve been on Zoom all week, here’s the best Zoom call ever for one young Hamilfan. YouTube (4 minutes)

Bookshelf

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is an intimate tale of three generations, from the Civil War to the 20th century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart. In the words of Kirkus, it is a novel “as big as a nation, as quiet as thought and moving as prayer. Matchless and towering.” Gilead tells the story of America and will break your heart. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

Fashion—Hermes men’s fashion show this season (digital of course) was surprisingly intriguing and intimate. It was much more engaging than a typical runway. See for yourself.

Cost of Living— Facebook just announced that starting next year it will pay people working remotely on an adjusted basis depending on the cost of living where they are located. Basecamp, a software company that’s been remote for years, has a different approach.

The Everyday PhilanthropistThe Everyday Philanthropist by Dan Pallotta demystifies giving, charity, impact, overhead ratios and philanthropy for generous people of all ages and abilities.

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway—Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose. Photo Zach Dyson.

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Weekend Wisdom

The inquiry constantly is what will please, not what will benefit the people. In such a government, there can be nothing but temporary expedient, fickleness, and folly. Alexander Hamilton

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