Weekend Briefing No. 369

Welcome to the weekend.

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Prime Numbers

70 million—An individual shipment of coronavirus vaccines can be as high as $70 million per load, and freight haulers are putting only their very best, most experienced and trustworthy drivers on the case. Interpol is bracing for an increase in armed robberies of vaccine shipments.

62—In 2016, an average of 13.9 out of 10,000 job postings on the service ZipRecruiter offered a four-day work week. In 2019, it was 40 jobs out of every 10,000; this year so far, it’s 62 jobs.

10—Airport convenience legend Hudson opened its first Amazon-powered cashierless store, so you can grab Cheetos mid-sprint to the gate. Now open at Gate 10 at the Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL), the new Hudson Nonstop is a freestanding 500 sq. ft. store that has a single point of entry and exit.

The American-Dream-as-a-Service

The core of the American Dream is social mobility. One myth about social mobility is that you just need to get educated and be a hard worker, and you’ll be upwardly mobile. But Austen Allred, the founder of Lamba School, would beg to differ. The hiring process is not just a filter for skills, it’s also a filter for class. Breaking into tech if you’re outside the system (lower income / minority) can be challenging because there’s no charm school for tech jobs. Austen tells a story to exemplify the issue: When one of our first students got hired at Uber, he showed up with his laptop. They tell him, “You’re a mobile developer.” And he’s like, “I can’t be a mobile developer, I don’t have a phone.” He didn’t have a smartphone. So he called me, freaking out. “What am I gonna do!? Uber wants to hire me. I don’t have a smartphone.” I told him, “Uber does not care about that. Uber’s gonna have a thousand phones. That’s the least of Uber’s worries. They’re gonna give you a laptop too.” Then he shows up to work on day one, and they tell him, “All right, you know, put in your bank account information here to get direct deposit.” He’s like, “No, just cut me a check and I’ll run to the check-cashing store.” The Uber people reached out to me and said, “We don’t know if this is going to work.” I was like, “He’s a smart guy. It’s just that he doesn’t have a bank account.” So now we set up bank accounts for every student that doesn’t have a bank account. The best way I think to describe Lambda School is the American-Dream-as-a-service. The Pull Request (16 minutes)

Nailed the Landing (Kinda)

On Wednesday, SpaceX’s Starship pulled off a successful high-altitude flight—its third in a row. Unlike in the first two missions, the spacecraft stuck the landing. Then, as in the last two, the spacecraft blew up. At around 5:14 p.m. Central Time, the 10th Starship prototype (SN10) was launched from SpaceX’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas, flying about 10 kilometers into the air before falling back down and descending safely to Earth. About 10 minutes later, the spacecraft blew up, from what appears to have been a methane leak. Still, the actual objectives of the mission were met. This is the first time Starship has landed safely after a high-altitude flight. SN8 was flown on December 9 and went up 12.5 km into the air before it crashed in an explosive wreck when it hit the ground too fast. SN9, flown February 2 to 10 km in altitude, experienced virtually the same fate during its attempted landing. Both missions attempted to use only two of the spacecraft’s three engines to land. SN10, on the other hand, utilized all three, nailing the vertical landing, albeit ending up a little lopsided. MIT Technology Review (6 minutes)

The Feynman Learning Technique

The Feynman Learning Technique is a simple way of approaching anything new you want to learn. Devised by Richard Fenman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, it leverages the power of teaching for better learning. Why use it? Because learning doesn’t happen from skimming through a book or remembering enough to pass a test. Information is learned when you can explain it and use it in a wide variety of situations. The Feynman Technique gets more mileage from the ideas you encounter instead of rendering anything new into isolated, useless factoids. (1) Pretend to teach it to a child or a rubber duck. Take out a blank sheet of paper. At the top, write the subject you want to learn. Now write out everything you know about the subject as if you were teaching it to a child or a rubber duck sitting on your desk. It turns out that one of the ways we mask our lack of understanding is by using complicated vocabulary and jargon. (2) Identify gaps in your explanation. Areas where you struggle in Step 1 are the points where you have some gaps in your understanding. Identifying gaps in your knowledge—where you forget something important, aren’t able to explain it, or simply have trouble thinking of how variables interact—is a critical part of the learning process. Filling those gaps is when you really make the learning stick. Now that you know where you have gaps in your understanding, go back to the source material. Augment it with other sources. Look up definitions. Keep going until you can explain everything you need to in basic terms. (3) Organize and simplify. Now you have a set of hand-crafted notes containing a simple explanation. Organize them into a narrative that you can tell from beginning to end. Read it out loud. If the explanation sounds confusing at any point, go back to Step 2. (4) This transmitting part is optional, but it’s the logical result of everything you’ve just done. If you really want to be sure of your understanding, run it past someone (ideally someone who knows little of the subject). The ultimate test of your knowledge is your capacity to convey it to another. Farnam Street (11 minutes)

SOPs

I’m spending a lot of energy this year in the infrastructure of my firm. I’ve been investing heavily in process automation and standard operating procedures (SOPs). Basically, SOPs help you transfer those best practices you developed inside your head into documented processes. Once documented, the standard operating procedures allow someone else to complete those tasks with the same standard and care as if you were doing it yourself. They feel a bit rigid and awkward at first and many entrepreneurs resist them because they don’t want to be “corporate.” But here are some of the benefits: (1) Enable growth. SOPs also help your team grow. They’re no longer bogged down mentally, wondering if they’re doing things right. Instead, they can execute quickly and focus on growing their skills. (2) Process improvement. Standardizing will help you see where every process fits in, how well they fit and if there isn’t a better way to do things. You’ll begin to see how each process improves your business—or not. It’s not only about documenting your processes; it’s also about making sure those are the right processes to begin with. Plus, once processes are standardized and documented, it’ll be easier to find technologies available to automate those processes. (3) Vacation. If you run a company and you feel guilty about taking a vacation, that’s not because you are so dedicated to your work; it’s because you have a process, delegation and empowerment problem. If you feel like things will fall apart in your absence, figure out what needs to happen to change that. This should be enough motivation to get those SOPs in place. Zapier (12 minutes)

Feedback Loops

Systems Thinking assumes that everything is interconnected. There are constant feedback loops and flows between elements of a system. We can observe, understand, and intervene in feedback loops once we understand their type and dynamics. The two main types of feedback loops are reinforcing and balancing. What can be confusing is a reinforcing feedback loop is not usually a good thing. This happens when elements in a system reinforce more of the same, such as population growth or algae growing exponentially in a pond. In reinforcing loops, an abundance of one element can continually refine itself, which often leads to it taking over. A balancing feedback loop, however, is where elements within the system balance things out. Nature basically got this down to a tee with the predator/prey situation—but if you take out too much of one animal from an ecosystem, the next thing you know, you have a population explosion of another, which is the other type of feedback—reinforcing. Disruptive Design (6 minutes)

Low Expectations

Strive for excellence, by all means. My God, please strive for excellence. Excellence alone will haul us out of the hogwash. But lower the bar, and keep it low, when it comes to your personal attachment to the world. Gratification? Satisfaction? Having your needs met? Fool’s gold. If you can get a buzz of animal cheer from the rubbishy sandwich you’re eating, the daft movie you’re watching, the highly difficult person you’re talking to, you’re in business. And when trouble comes, you’ll be fitter for it. We’re all half-finished humans, always building and collapsing, rigging up this and that, dropped hammers and flapping tarps everywhere. Revise your expectations downward. Extend forgiveness to your idiot friends; extend forgiveness to your idiot self. Make it a practice. Come to rest in actuality. The Atlantic (3 minutes)

Canals

This is a captivating 4K time-lapse video of a boat navigating the canals and waterways of the Netherlands. Infrastructure nerds will appreciate all of the bridges, locks, piers, signals, etc. Kottke (11 minutes)

Bookshelf

Second Foundation by Isaac Asmov. This is the third novel in Isaac Asimov’s classic science-fiction masterpiece, the Foundation series. The Foundation lies in ruins—destroyed by a mutant mind bent on humanity’s annihilation. But it’s rumored that there’s a Second Foundation hidden somewhere at the end of the Galaxy, established as insurance to preserve the knowledge of mankind. Now a desperate race has begun between the survivors of the First Foundation and an alien entity to find this last flicker of humanity’s shining past—and future hope. Yet the key to it all might be a 14-year-old girl burdened with a terrible secret. Is she the Foundation’s savior—or its deadliest enemy? Unforgettable, thought-provoking and riveting, Second Foundation is a stunning novel of adventure and ideas writ huge across the Galaxy—a powerful tale of humankind’s struggle to preserve the fragile light of wisdom against the threat of its own dark barbarism.

Most Read Last Week

Attention Economy—Michael Goldhaber is the internet prophet you’ve never heard of.

Perseverance—Check out the video of the Marrs rover landing with live play-by-play from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Can People Really Change?—I just started listening to Bill Gates and Rasheeda Jones’ podcast. I really love this episode about whether people can really change and whether societal change is possible.

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 Unsplash.

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Weekend Wisdom

I was born not knowing and have had only a little time to change that here and there. Richard Feynman

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