Weekend Briefing No. 374

Welcome to the weekend.

I miss you guys. So, tonight at 7:00PM ET we’re doing a zoom happy hour to discuss any / all the topics in the briefing. If you’re interested, click here to sign up then mix up your cocktail. We’ll probably do at least one more before Summer officially kicks off.

This month I’m trying a little experiment. I’m inviting you to play along if you’re interested. I’ve posted three topics of interest in this public Google doc. Basically, these are just what’s occupying my mind right now. I’ve opened up the doc for anyone to comment. Should be fun to see how these ideas develop through conversation with you.

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Prime Numbers

22 billion—Microsoft will build more than 120,000 modified augmented reality headsets for the Pentagon, in a deal that could be worth nearly $22 billion over the next decade.

29—Forty-two percent of Americans gained weight during the pandemic. The average weight gain was 29 pounds.

9—Right now, over 9 percent of residential customers have rooftop solar.

The Podcast on Everything

This is one of the most epic podcast episodes I’ve listened to, and I listen to a lot of podcasts. When I say epic, I don’t just mean in time—it runs over 3 hours—but also in scope. In this interview, Balaji Srinivasan pontificates on everything from Hardy-Ramanujan, drones in Azerbaijan, crypto oracles, the Treaty of Westphalia, Dodd-Frank, centrifuges, Greater Idaho, Win and Help Win, Little House on the Prairie, ripped mice, Zoltan Vs. Zerzan, Soviet jokes, the Russo-Japanese War, and much more. I’ve loosely followed Balaji for the last few years. I’m sure I’m late to the train here, but this episode has made me respect him so much more. I will be following him closely from now on. I appreciate his viewpoint on the future. It’s a big commitment, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. The Tim Ferriss Show (220 minutes)

Listening

Strong listening skills can make a critical difference in the performance of senior executives, but few are able to cultivate them. Here’s how. (1) Show respect. Our conversation partners often have the know-how to develop good solutions, and part of being a good listener is simply helping them to draw out critical information and put it in a new light. To harness the power of those ideas, senior executives must fight the urge to “help” more junior colleagues by providing immediate solutions. (2) Keep quiet. Adhere to the 80/20 rule: A conversation partner should be speaking 80% of the time while I speak only 20% of the time. Moreover, I seek to make my speaking time count by spending as much of it as possible posing questions rather than trying to have my own say. (3) Challenge assumptions. Good listeners seek to understand—and challenge—the assumptions that lie below the surface of every conversation. McKinsey (12 minutes)

mRNA

Synthetic mRNA, the ingenious technology behind the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, might seem like a sudden breakthrough, or a new discovery. One year ago, almost nobody in the world knew what an mRNA vaccine was, for the good reason that no country in the world had ever approved one. Months later, the same technology powered the two fastest vaccine trials in the history of science. Like so many breakthroughs, this apparent overnight success was many decades in the making. More than 40 years had passed between the 1970s, when a Hungarian scientist pioneered early mRNA research. But mRNA’s story likely will not end with COVID-19: Its potential stretches far beyond this pandemic. This year, a team at Yale patented a similar RNA-based technology to vaccinate against malaria, perhaps the world’s most devastating disease. Because mRNA is so easy to edit, Pfizer says that it is planning to use it against seasonal flu, which mutates constantly and kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year. The company that partnered with Pfizer last year, BioNTech, is developing individualized therapies that would create on-demand proteins associated with specific tumors to teach the body to fight off advanced cancer. The Atlantic (9 minutes)

Green Future

The Green Future Index is a ranking of 76 leading countries and territories by MIT Technology Review on their progress and commitment toward building a low carbon future. It measures the degree to which their economies are pivoting toward clean energy, industry, agriculture and society through investment in renewables, innovation and green finance. Here are the rankings: (1) Iceland. A global leader in geothermal energy for decades, Iceland’s future commitments include constructing the world’s largest direct air capture CO2 capture and storage plant. (2) Denmark. As the largest producer of hydrocarbons in Europe, Denmark has cancelled future licensing rounds for new oil and gas exploration, and pledged to eliminate fossil fuel-related businesses by 2050. (3) Norway. Its green future commitments are far-ranging, including divesting carbon investments from the national pension fund, using electric cars and labeling plastics as “dangerous waste.” (4) France. This global leader in hydrogen production pledged to exceed EU targets for hydrogen-based energy by 2030. (40) United States. With a new administration, the U.S. could reposition itself as a green leader. Greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. industry amounted to 29% of the country’s total in 2018, although they have declined by 16% since 1990. MIT Technology Review (16 minutes)

Middle Ground

A new study by the Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit philanthropic consultant, argues that this is the moment to put more money, time and energy into a middle ground, which it calls impact-first investing. The report, Back to the Frontier: Investing That Puts Impact First, focuses on investments that consider positive impact first and financial return second. It makes the case for how such investments can boost emerging technologies faster than grants or traditional impact investments. These investments, the report says, can help create new markets. “It doesn’t have to be just return-seeking or just philanthropy,” said Michael Etzel, co-head of the impact investing practice at Bridgespan and the lead author of the report. “You can use that tool that sits in the middle.” “We found when we loosened the constraint of financial returns, then the focus became even more about impact,” said Mr. Bannick, who is a co-author of the Bridgespan report. “If you’re getting 5% less on the return, then what are you going to get on the impact? Let’s be more explicit about the intended impact here.” New York Times (11 minutes)

Effective Psychology

Here are some effective psychological tricks for everyday life: (1) Instead of asking, “Do you have any questions?” I ask, “What questions do you have?” The first almost always results in silence, while the second helps people feel comfortable asking questions. (2) To avoid workplace drama and be liked, compliment people behind their back. (3) Saying “You’re right!” instead of “I know” makes you look less arrogant and doesn’t diminish something someone else may have just found out. (4) Put headphones in, and play the music that fits your hoped-for mood. It shifts me over to it mentally. (5) If your kid is in the “Why?” phase, the best way to get them to stop is to ask them, “I’m not sure, what do you think?” It is a godsend. (6) Listen to someone without giving advice or asking for more information. This typically gets me more information than if I were to be pushy about it. BuzzFeed (11 minutes)

Element

This breakdown of Kendrick Lamar’s music video for the track Element has made me appreciate the themes, styling and message in the track. Check it out. YouTube (7 minutes)

Bookshelf

Futureproof by Kevin Roose. In Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation, New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose lays out a hopeful, pragmatic vision of how people can succeed in the machine age by making themselves irreplaceably human. He shares the secrets of people and organizations that have survived technological change and explains how we can protect our own futures. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

ABC Pant—Apparently you all are really interested in my pants. This link last week to my favorite pants had more than twice the clicks of the second-most popular link. In fairness, they are pretty good pants. (Wearing them right now.)

Yo-Yo Moderna—After getting his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at Berkshire Community College, Yo-Yo Ma got out his cello and performed a 15-minute impromptu concert for the other folks at the clinic.

My April Playlist—This music is almost as good as the pants. Ha ha!

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 Madhu Shesharam.

Should We Work Together?

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Weekend Wisdom

I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we’re actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying … I’m talking about the actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything that we can really envisage at the moment. Where the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in simpatico, it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about … The idea that the piece of work is not finished until the audience come to it and add their own interpretation and what the piece of art is about is the grey space in the middle. That grey space in the middle is what the 21st century is going to be about. –David Bowie

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