Weekend Briefing No. 370

Welcome to the weekend.

I get a number of kind emails from readers every week. Every once in a while, I feel compelled to share one. Today is such a day.

You may remember that I shared a video of a boat navigating the canals of the Netherlands last week. Well, a friend and reader Rick saw it and sent it to his wife’s aunt, Yoka, who was a hidden child in World War 2 in Holland. Here is what she wrote back to him:

“Wow, this is fantastic. We pass the house where I was in hiding. At 4:58, you see the church of Woubrugge. At 5:05, you see an orange roof on the right side where my best friend Minny lived. A little further, just behind the long white roof, is a house with a thatched roof. I slept right under that roof in the attic from January 1943 until the summer of 1945.”

I just thought that was the coolest, sweetest and most unexpected reaction to essentially a video about infrastructure. I love pleasant surprises. Thanks for sharing, Rick.

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Prime Numbers

90 billion—Coinbase shares recently traded in secondary markets at an implied valuation of $90 billion.

90—There are 90 percent of millennial investors who want the ability to tailor their investments to their values.

77—Traffic delays in Washington decreased 77 percent—the most of any major metro area in the United States, according to the 2020.

$10 B

This week Goldman Sachs announced that it was committing $10 billion (that’s billion with a B) to directly invest in Black women and an additional $100 million in philanthropic capital to address the dual disproportionate gender and racial biases that black women face. In 1962, Malcolm X said, “The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” Now, almost 60 years later that statement unfortunately still rings true for millions of Black women across the country. Despite being the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S., more educated than any other group by percentage of degrees earned, 81 percent of the breadwinners driving their families’ economic security and the community leaders working for justice at the intersection of racism and sexism, Black women have not been commensurately acknowledged, appreciated or rewarded for their contributions. Still today, for example, despite their achievements, Black women make 63 cents for every dollar paid to White, non-Hispanic men. The initiative is named for and guided by the organization’s goal of impacting the lives of at least one million Black women by 2030. By investing $10 billion in support of Black women, Goldman Sachs will narrow opportunity gaps and contribute to the advancement of racial equity. By reducing barriers to growth for Black women, this will drive economic progress for the U.S. as a whole. Essence (11 minutes)

Afrofuturism

Afrofuturism is a fun and interesting subgenre of science fiction and philosophy. But in reality, all futurism is actually Afrofuturism. Africa is literally the future of the entire world. By the end of the century, Africa’s population is just about equal to Asia. But if we were to only look at the younger population, Africa would have a clear majority here. So, the future welfare of humanity depends crucially on whether Africa can make big strides against poverty—in other words, whether African countries can achieve substantial economic growth. Continued economic progress will almost certainly depend on industrialization—i.e., on African countries moving away from economies based on agriculture, mining, oil drilling and other commodity-based activities. So African industrialization is one of the huge, central questions of the 21st century. I don’t want to say it’s the central question—climate change is up there, too. But African industrialization gets far less attention in the developed world than climate change, or than most other issues. That needs to change. There are competing theories on what industrialization will / should look. But economists, leaders, policymakers, business people and international organizations need to be focusing on this challenge more than they are. The fate of humanity in the 21st century and beyond hinges on whether African countries can figure out the riddle of industrialization. Noahpinion (18 minutes)

Indie

Last week, Bryce Roberts announced that Indie.vc was shutting down. This was a huge bummer to me. I have so much respect for Bryce and his vision. Indie.vc is the only thing I’ve been consistently excited about in VC over the last five years. A managing partner at O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures (OATV), Roberts launched Indie.vc in 2015 as a pilot fund focused almost entirely on helping bootstrapped companies reach profitability. Indie first operated within OATV’s $85 million third fund and saw its investments increase revenues 100% in 12 months and 300% in 24 months, on average. But we’re living in a world where unicorns are seemingly born overnight, and there weren’t any overnight unicorns in Indie’s portfolio because Indie was designed to be methodical, not fast. So, when OATV announced a fourth fund completely focused around the Indie model, 80% of its investor base dropped out—and that meant the end for Indie. If only those LPs had some patience. I’d love to see this model re-emerge. I’d love to be a part of it this time around. If anybody is working on that, let me know. The Hustle (4 minutes)

ESG

The push in recent years for companies to commit to environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts is commendable. But so far, those efforts have yielded scarce results. For companies to be held accountable to these efforts, the authors suggest three accountability mechanisms: (1) Companies should be required to publicly report on their social and environmental impact with clear, standardized and easy-to-understand metrics; (2) Consumers, employees and investors all have a role to play in holding companies accountable; and (3) Companies who are serious about becoming more sustainable, inclusive and socially responsible should consider becoming certified as benefit corporations. Harvard Business Review (10 minutes)

NFTs

The thing that has been hard for me to wrap my head around with Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs) is that in the digital world copies are indistinguishable from originals. In a trivial sense, this is true. Let’s say you copy digital artwork; you will now have exactly the same bit sequence as the original. But in a much more profound sense, it is not. To understand that, it helps to follow a thought experiment. Put yourself 100 years ahead. We have made further progress in sensors and in 3D printing. You make an atom-by-atom exact copy of the Mona Lisa. Do you now own the Mona Lisa? No, you have a copy of it—even though your copy is now identical to the original. Imagine for a moment trying to sell it. As long as a buyer can easily call up the Louvre and ask them if they still have the Mona Lisa and they can credibly assert that they do, your copy will be worth very little. Now note something even weirder. In the middle of the night, the curators from the Louvre break into your place and swap their Mona Lisa for yours. So you now have the one that Leonardo painted, but which courtesy of advanced technology described above, is indistinguishable from the one you reproduced. Would your chances of selling it for more money be any better than before? This is what NFTs do for digital content. They let someone assert “I am the Louvre” (for that piece of content). Continuations (8 minutes)

Sitcom

Sitcom startup ideas are not the outright stupid ideas, they are the ones that are just plausible enough for an ambitious entrepreneur to sync a lot of time into. So, how do you avoid sitcom startups? (1) Vitamins v. painkillers. A social network for pets falls into this category. It’s nice to have, like a vitamin capsule. No one needs it, like the root canal patient who’ll pass out without a painkiller. If people just “want” what you’re building but don’t “need” it, tread with caution. You may be onto a bad idea that sounds good. Instead of focusing on cool things people could use, try and solve a real problem. (2) No competition. If you hear a startup founder say that they have no competitors, run. It’s usually a sign of a lack of depth of knowledge in their market. Competition is actually important. Many players trying to solve a problem demonstrates a strong need. But to succeed, you still need to differentiate. You need to have an “unfair advantage” in startup parlance. Whether industry experience, critical partnerships, etc.—you must have a secret sauce in your recipe for success. So It Goes (15 minutes)

Scorpions

It’s 1990. The Berlin Wall has just come down. The Soviet Union is on the verge of collapse. A heavy metal band from West Germany, the Scorpions, releases a power ballad, “Wind of Change.” The song becomes the soundtrack to the peaceful revolution sweeping Europe—and one of the biggest rock singles ever. According to some fans, it’s the song that ended the Cold War. Decades later, New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe hears a rumor from a source: the Scorpions didn’t actually write “Wind of Change.” The CIA did. This is Patrick’s journey to find the truth. Among former operatives and leather-clad rockers, from Moscow to Kiev to a GI Joe convention in Ohio, it’s a story about spies doing the unthinkable, about propaganda hidden in pop music and a maze of government secrets. The story behind “Wind of Change” became an offbeat, eight-part investigation. I’m totally captivated by the story. I’m going on the record with this prediction: “Wind of Change” will be the best podcast series of 2021. Crooked Media (41 minutes)

Bookshelf

Think Again by Adam Grant examines the critical art of rethinking: learning to question your opinions and open other people’s minds, which can position you for excellence at work and wisdom in life. Intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn. But in a rapidly changing world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn. In our daily lives, too many of us favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. We listen to opinions that make us feel good instead of ideas that make us think hard. We see disagreement as a threat to our egos rather than an opportunity to learn. We surround ourselves with people who agree with our conclusions when we should be gravitating toward those who challenge our thought process. The result is that our beliefs get brittle long before our bones. We think too much like preachers defending our sacred beliefs, prosecutors proving the other side wrong, and politicians campaigning for approval—and too little like scientists searching for truth. Intelligence is no cure, and it can even be a curse: Being good at thinking can make us worse at rethinking. The brighter we are, the blinder to our own limitations we can become. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

Canals—This is a captivating 4K time-lapse video of a boat navigating the canals and waterways of the Netherlands.

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.

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.

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 Babatunde Olajide.

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Weekend Wisdom

“The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.”  James Baldwin

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