Weekend Briefing No. 360

Welcome to the weekend. And welcome to 2021! 2020 is officially behind us. Phew! I’m hoping that this year will be much better for you and your family.

Here’s my January playlist to start your new year on a good note. The first track is about the promise of a new year. Track 2 has a chorus that says, “I am over you,” which is my ode to 2020. Track 3 is about a date night in quarantine. Track 4 is a new song from Bob Dylan. Track 5 is from U2. Hope you like it.

Quick favor: Every week, I get a few people replying to the briefing to let me know how much they like it. It occurred to me that I should probably put some of these on the Weekend Briefing website. I’m looking to collect testimonials for the Weekend Briefing to add to our website. If you love the Weekend Briefing, please take one minute to click here and tell me why. The best ones will make it onto weekendbriefing.com. Thanks.

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Prime Numbers

64 B—NASA says it generated an economic output of $64 billion in the 2019 fiscal year. The agency received $21.5 billion, or 0.5 percent, of the overall federal budget.

148 MM—By 2025, 148 million “jobs of the future” (software development, cloud, AI, privacy, etc.) will be created.

19Nineteen percent of U.S. adults have bought or tried a VR headset.

The Year in Search

In times of uncertainty, people seek understanding and meaning. This year, the world searched “why” more than ever. See how the year played out on Google’s Year in Search page. Google (11 minutes)

A Nation Divided

An economy is its people. Alongside the 19 million infected and more than 330,000 killed because of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., there are millions more whose lives have been upended by the economic collapse that has come with it. Hit the streets of Cleveland’s east side, log onto a Facebook group that helps the unemployed secure benefits or pick up the phone to talk to members of the rural working class newly dependent on food aid, and you encounter an economy emerging from a crisis more unequal than it was. People once in the middle class are struggling to secure food, shelter and a decent income. At the same time, others are enjoying rising home prices, new models of work and the pleasures of baking bread. This is America in 2020—here are some faces and facts that tell the story. Bloomberg (16 minutes)

Tech for Good

In March, as COVID-19 began spreading across the country, a group of tech workers assembled in Slack rooms and on Zoom calls to figure out how they could use their tech expertise to help with the crisis. The result was the U.S. Digital Response, now a network of more than 6,000 coders, data scientists and researchers who are helping local and state governments respond to COVID-19. So far, the group—led by Raylene Yung, a former Facebook and Stripe executive, and includes volunteers from most of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies—has taken on pro bono projects in dozens of states. It helped Pennsylvania’s Health Department set up an online data dashboard to track the number of available hospital beds and ventilators. It helped Seattle health officials set up an online testing hub and rebuilt a Kansas Department of Labor website that was used to file for unemployment benefits. Ideally, cities and states would have enough money and technical expertise to do these things themselves. But until that happens, we’re lucky that the USDR is stepping in to fill the gaps. New York Times (11 minutes)

Location and Pay

Tech workers and employers alike are beginning to question location-focused pay scales. A handful of companies are moving to abandon them altogether. Some big tech firms, including Facebook Inc., were clear early on in the pandemic that people moving away from the Bay Area to less expensive cities would see a pay cut. Payment platform Stripe Inc. offered one-time bonuses for workers who moved out of San Francisco, Seattle or New York—and agreed to a pay cut of up to 10 percent. In setting pay without regard for location, tech companies, including Reddit and Zillow, are making a potentially expensive gamble to retain talent and gain a hiring edge. The move can entail maintaining relatively high salaries of employees who are relocating and adopting a revised scale for new hires. Though it is early, the move challenges a long-held, but not universal, notion that where people live should determine what they make. Wall Street Journal (9 minutes)

Startup Cynicism

There were millions of bets made in the tech industry last year. Some of those bets involved actual venture capital dollars. Others involved individual decisions about where to live: Do you bet on the future of San Francisco or do you want to partake in the growth of some other startup hub? Are you going to launch this new feature in your product or improve one of your existing ones? Do you switch jobs or stay and double down? Yet, for all those bets, just three seem to have achieved a collective and hysterical frenzy in the industry as we close out this year: a bet on the future of media, a bet on the future of (audio) media and a bet on the future of one of America’s greatest cities. Substack, Clubhouse and Miami as a major tech hub are compelling bets. They are early bets, in the sense that most of the work to actually realize each of their dreams still needs to be proven. All three are bets of optimism: Substack believes it can rebuild journalism. Clubhouse believes it can reinvent radio with the right interactivity and build a unique social platform. And Miami is a bet that you can take a top global city without a massive startup ecosystem and agglomerate the talent necessary to compete with San Francisco, New York and Boston. Yet, that optimism is not broadly endorsed by the tech commentariat, who see threats, failures and barriers from every angle. TechCrunch (9 minutes)


The Kielburger brothers courted celebrities, became voluntourism pioneers and built a Davos-friendly model of philanthrocapitalism. 2020 was the year that brought WE Charity to its knees, and the Kielburgers would be facing an unfamiliar level of scrutiny. First, the novel coronavirus halted big gatherings and international volunteer trips, two pillars of the brothers’ business model. Then their talent for courting elites backfired, following a June announcement by Trudeau’s government that WE would be the sole administrator of a $544 million COVID relief program offering grants to support student volunteers. It soon came to light that WE had been awarded the deal uncontested, and had previously paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees and expenses to Grégoire Trudeau and other Trudeau family members, setting off a controversy that would help unseat Canada’s finance minister and trigger an ethics investigation into the prime minister himself. Journalists, opposition politicians and others started taking a closer look at WE. They found that beneath its virtuous messaging lay a complex corporate structure that mixed philanthropy with for-profit activities and featured a dense web of political connections that held the potential for conflict of interest. Former employees also stepped forward with allegations of racism and exploitative behavior. The organization quickly backtracked from the government contract, but the damage was done. By fall, the brothers were on TV, tearfully announcing the shutdown of their main philanthropic endeavor in Canada. Bloomberg (22 minutes)


With Germany in tatters and his small business bankrupt, Oskar Speck got into his kayak in 1932 for what would become an epic, 7.5-year paddle—30,000 miles, packed with hero’s welcomes and near-death escapes, all the way to Australia. But as Speck battled sharks, hostile locals and malaria, Hitler rose to power and World War II began. This is the story of Speck’s voyage, an adventure nearly lost to history. Vanity Fair (26 minutes)


Influence by Robert Cialdini. In this highly acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Dr. Robert B. Cialdini—the seminal expert in the field of influence and persuasion—explains the psychology of why people say yes and how to apply these principles ethically in business and everyday situations. You’ll learn the six universal principles of influence and how to use them to become a skilled persuader—and, just as importantly, how to defend yourself against dishonest influence attempts: (1) Reciprocation: The internal pull to repay what another person has provided us. (2) Commitment and Consistency: Once we make a choice or take a stand, we work to behave consistently with that commitment in order to justify our decisions. (3) Social Proof: When we are unsure, we look to similar others to provide us with the correct actions to take. And the more people undertaking that action, the more we consider that action correct. (4) Liking: The propensity to agree with people we like and, just as important, the propensity for others to agree with us, if we like them. (5) Authority: We are more likely to say “yes” to others who are authorities, who carry greater knowledge, experience or expertise. (6) Scarcity: We want more of what is less available or dwindling in availability. Understanding and applying the six principles ethically is cost-free and deceptively easy. Backed by Dr. Cialdini’s 35 years of evidence-based, peer-reviewed scientific research—as well as by a three-year field study on what moves people to change behavior—Influence is a comprehensive guide to using these principles effectively to amplify your ability to change the behavior of others. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

Bookshelf—Every book I read in 2020 rated and ranked.

Managing Remote Teams—If you’re a first-time manager of a remote team, or a manager who’s transitioning to work from home, this free guide—with 60-plus pages based on a survey of 297 remote managers and employees’ research—may be worth checking out.

CEO of No—Andrew Wilkinson is a partner at Tiny, where he starts, buys and invests in internet businesses. He’s really set up his whole life by saying “no.”

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 Jason Briscoe.

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Weekend Wisdom

There are two great days in a person’s lifethe day we are born and the day we discover why.William Barclay

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