Weekend Briefing No. 348

Welcome to the weekend.

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Prime Numbers

10.2 T—The world’s billionaires “did extremely well” during the coronavirus pandemic, growing their already-huge fortunes to a record high of $10.2 trillion. A report by the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) found that billionaires increased their wealth by more than a quarter (27.5 percent) at the height of the crisis from April to July.

350,000—Last year, the U.S. solar power industry employed 350,000 people, more than coal nuclear and wind combined.

11—Manhattan renters have never had this many apartments to choose from. And it’s been seven years since rent was this low. Median rent tumbles 11 percent while the vacancy rate reaches 5.75 percent compared to last year.

CEO of No

Andrew Wilkinson is a partner at Tiny, where he starts, buys and invests in internet businesses. Over the last few years, he’s built it into a thriving collection of companies—more than 30 with about 600 employees collectively. But here’s the conflict: Even though his job is all about people, he doesn’t like to be on the phone with them too often. He only likes to do two to three meetings a day, which is surprisingly few for a guy with 600 employees. He has templates with 100 different polite ways to say, “No.” But this habit of saying “no” spreads beyond his inbox. He’s really set up his whole life by saying “no.” He’s said “no” to venture capital. He’s said “no” to living in Silicon Valley. And at his company, he’s used delegation to say “no” to anything that will require him to do work that he doesn’t want to do. In short, he’s said “no” to anything that doesn’t fit into his vision of success—and it’s working pretty well. He’s the CEO of No, which seems to leave a lot of room for the life he’s said “yes” to. Learn how he does it in this interview. Superorganizers (11 minutes)

Data Driven Decisions

Legions of fans are taking their cues from Emily Oster, a data-obsessed, best-selling Brown University professor who’s teaching them how to make better decisions. Oster, an economics professor, has built a thriving career applying the tools of her discipline to everyday life. Now she is using those principles to help people think about two of the most vexing issues of the COVID-19 era: how to stay safe, and how and when to reopen day care and schools so America’s 74 million children, their parents, and the economy can reclaim some semblance of normalcy and productivity. Her economic framework for making decisions in uncertainty is: (1) Frame the question. Clearly define two or three options, instead of trying to evaluate infinite or indistinct possibilities. (2) Mitigate risk. What’s the safest way to execute those options? (3) Evaluate risk. (4) Evaluate benefits. Don’t overlook these. (5) Decide. The point of the exercise, Oster says, isn’t to feel sure. The goal is to feel good about the process you used to arrive at a decision, so you can move on to the next fire you need to put out. Bloomberg (11 minutes)

Frameworks

A successful framework distills the complex, and in that synthesis, gets to a timeless insight. This article is a list of frameworks on a range of topics. Some of my favorites are: (1) “10x and Cheaper”: What do Airbnb, Amazon, Netflix, Uber and WhatsApp all have in common? They created a 10x better product and made it cheaper by recasting cost structures of incumbents. (2) “Rocks, Sand, Water”: We know that consumer companies fight a zero-sum game for a user’s attention, but some companies find it easier to get that daily active user (DAU) than others. How? Here’s a framework for thinking about how consumers divide their time up in a day. (3) Listen to your users, and ignore them too: Your loudest users—the users who complain when you ship something they don’t like, and post in your Facebook Group their feature requests—are a blessing and a curse. Without them, you wouldn’t have a company. But to reach your next 100 million users, you need to be willing to ignore them. Medium (3 minutes)

Goat Power

Farm Africa’s revolving goat scheme involves setting up women’s livestock groups, formed of mothers with young children. Half of the group receives two or three does (female goats) with the understanding that they pass on two or three does to another woman in the group once their herd has grown. Photographer Chris de Bode teamed up with Farm Africa to tell the story of how owning goats is transforming women’s lives in Ethiopia and Uganda. The Guardian (7 minutes)

On Endurance

How do you settle into an endurance challenge (whether it be launching a startup, surviving a pandemic or parenthood) with no idea when it will end? Perhaps there are lessons from an unlikely place—long-distance dog sledding. One of the most surprising things about long-distance dog sledding is the need to front-load rest. You’re four hours into a four-day race and the dogs are charging down the trail, leaning into their momentum, barely getting started—and then, despite their enthusiasm, it’s time to stop to eat and rest. And you keep doing that every four hours, no matter how much your dogs want to keep going. In fact, if you’re diligent from the start, they’ll actually need less rest at the end of a trip—when their muscles are stronger and their metabolisms have switched from burning glycogen to fat—than at the beginning. It’s far easier to prevent fatigue than to recover from it later. But resting early, anticipating your dogs’ needs, does something even more important than that: It builds trust. A sled dog learns that by the time she’s hungry, her musher has already prepared a meal; by the time she’s tired, she has a warm bed. If she’s cold, you have a coat or blanket for her; if she’s thirsty, you have water. And it’s this security, this trust, that lets her pour herself into the journey, give the trail everything she has without worrying about what comes next. You can’t make a sled dog run 100 miles. But if she knows you’ve got her back, she’ll run because she wants to, because she burns to and she’ll bring you along for the ride. New York Times (8 minutes)

Industrial Literacy

Understanding where our modern standard of living comes from, at a basic level, is a responsibility of every citizen in an industrial civilization. Let’s call it “industrial literacy.” Industrial literacy is understanding: (1) That the food you eat is grown using synthetic fertilizers. That before we had modern agriculture, more than half the workforce had to labor on farms, just to feed the other half. That if synthetic fertilizer were suddenly lost, a mass famine would ensue and billions would starve. (2) That before 20th century appliances, housework was a full-time job, which invariably fell on women. That each household would spend almost 60 hours a week on manual labor. (3) That plastics are produced in enormous quantities because, for so many purposes—from food containers to electrical wire coatings to children’s toys—we need a material that is cheap, light, flexible, waterproof and insulating, and that can easily be made in any shape and color (including transparent!). That before plastic, many of these applications used animal parts, such as ivory tusks, tortoise shells or whale bone. (4) That many people you know over the age of 5 are alive today only because of antibiotics, vaccines and sanitizing chemicals in our water supply. That before these innovations, infant mortality (in the first year of life) was as high as 20 percent. With industrial literacy, you can see the economy as a set of solutions to problems. Then, and only then, are you informed enough to have an opinion on how those solutions might be improved. Roots of Progress (6 minutes)

Rocket Launch

This is a stunning video of what a rocket launch looks like from space. Just cause. NASA (2 minutes)

Bookshelf

Check out “Middlesex” by Jeffery Eugenides. “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smog-less Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license records my first name simply as Cal.” So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, “Middlesex” is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic. “Middlesex” is the winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

Stakeholder Capitalism Policy—In a white paper containing draft legislation and regulations, B Lab and The Shareholder Commons propose substantial amendments to federal law that would establish new fiduciary obligations for corporations and institutional investors, and impose related substantive requirements on investors as part of implementing what the paper describes as Benefit Governance.

Consumer Shift—How is COVID-19 shaping how we shop?

Nuclear Fusion—Scientists developing a compact version of a nuclear fusion reactor have shown in a series of research papers that it should work, renewing hopes that the long-elusive goal of mimicking the way the sun produces energy might be achieved and eventually contribute to the fight against climate change.

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 Bernal Fallas.

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Weekend Wisdom

The oldest, shortest words“yes” and “no”are those which require the most thought. Pythagoras

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