Weekend Briefing No. 381

Welcome to the holiday weekend! I hope you are taking some time to refresh and recharge with friends and family.

A big thanks to the 219 of you who filled out my reader survey last week. I’d love to get 300 more this week. If you didn’t get a chance to complete it last week, please take five minutes to give me your anonymous feedback today. I know it’s a bit annoying, but it’s surprisingly helpful as I contemplate the future of the Weekend Briefing. So, if you get value out of this every week, this is one small thing you can do to help me out. I appreciate it! I’ll follow up next week with some interesting stats about the community.

To kick off summer, here’s my Summer Pop playlist.

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Prime Numbers

30 billion—Under a new plan to increase investments in electric vehicles (EVs) to $30 billion through 2025, Ford expects 40% of its global sales to be EVs by the end of this decade.

32—Hot Girl Summer is back. Or, should we say SHOT Girl Summer (for those that are vaxxed and ready to mingle)? For the week ending on May 1, sales of sexual health products (including condoms) were up 32 percent compared to a year ago.

2—Apparently two bees can open a soda bottle. Pretty impressive. I love bees!

Cancel Culture

People have challenged each other’s views for much of human history. But the internet—particularly social media—has changed how, when and where these kinds of interactions occur. The number of people who can go online and call out others for their behavior or words is immense, and it’s never been easier to summon groups to join the public fray. Over the past several years, Cancel Culture has become a deeply contested idea in the nation’s political discourse. To better understand how the U.S. public views the concept of Cancel Culture, Pew Research Center conducted a survey. The survey finds a public deeply divided, including over the very meaning of the phrase. (1) What is Cancel Culture? The most common responses by far centered around accountability. Some 49% of those familiar with the term said it describes actions people take to hold others accountable. Some 14% of adults who had heard at least a fair amount about Cancel Culture described it as a form of censorship, such as a restriction on free speech or as history being erased. A similar share (12%) characterized Cancel Culture as mean-spirited attacks used to cause others harm. (2) Does calling people out on social media represent accountability or unjust punishment? Overall, 58% of U.S. adults say in general, calling out others on social media is more likely to hold people accountable, while 38% say it is more likely to punish people who don’t deserve it. (3) Are people rushing to judge or trying to be helpful? The most common area of opposing arguments about calling out other people on social media arises from people’s differing perspectives on whether people who call out others are rushing to judge or instead trying to be helpful. One in five Americans who see this type of behavior as a form of accountability think that calling out others can be helpful. They associate this behavior with moving toward a better society or educating others on their mistakes so they can do better in the future. Conversely, roughly a third (35%) of those who see calling out other people on social media as a form of unjust punishment think that it’s rash or judgmental. Some of these Americans see this kind of behavior as overreacting or unnecessarily lashing out at others without considering the context or intentions of the original poster. Others emphasize that what is considered offensive can be subjective. Pew (16 minutes)

Feedback Loop

What do you think about cancel culture? Is it helpful or not? Why? Click here to give your opinion.

Tipping Point

When we look back on May 26, 2021, will it be marked as the tipping point for oil companies? Three of the world’s largest oil companies faced a major reckoning on Wednesday over their part in climate change. (1) First, a Dutch court told Royal Dutch Shell to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 45 percent by 2030 in response to a lawsuit filed by seven environmental groups. Arguing that Shell is bound by an “unwritten standard of care” to human rights and the Paris climate agreement, the court ruled that Shell has the responsibility to “contribute to the prevention of dangerous climate change.” (2) The second reckoning came at Chevron’s unusual shareholders meeting, at which 60 percent voted for a resolution recommending that the company reduce its emissions — not only in its production process but also in the products it sells to consumers. The vote is not binding, but follows a trend from other shareholder meetings this year. (3) Last came an even more unlikely development. At ExxonMobil’s annual shareholder meeting, a small advocacy investment firm called Engine No. 1, which owns just 0.02 percent of the company, staged a coup by winning at least two seats on Exxon’s board of directors. (A third seat is still a toss-up.) The new directors will focus on pushing Exxon to stop drilling for oil so much, and spend more time and money on pivoting to clean energy. The proposal had the support of BlackRock and Calpers, among other large shareholders. A California teachers’ pension fund, for example, threw its weight behind the Engine No. 1 nominees and issued a statement that could be interpreted as a warning for the rest of the industry. “While the ExxonMobil board election is the first of a large U.S. company to focus on the global energy transition, it will not be the last.” These developments would have seemed implausible just a year ago, and so activists and others eager for climate action see this moment as a tipping point. Vox (7 minutes)

The Heat List

Chicago’s predictive policing program told a man he would be involved in a shooting. But it couldn’t determine which side of the gun he would be on. Instead, it made him the victim of a violent crime—twice. Robert McDaniels’s trouble started with a knock at the door in 2013. The cops and social workers told McDaniel something he could hardly believe: an algorithm built by the Chicago Police Department predicted—based on his proximity to and relationships with known shooters and shooting casualties—that McDaniel would be involved in a shooting. He would be a “party to violence,” but it wasn’t clear what side of the barrel he might be on. He could be the shooter; he might get shot. But the data said he was at risk either way. McDaniel had no violent history—no reason, as far as he was concerned, that any police officer should randomly show up to his house and declare him a threat. Unbeknownst to McDaniel, he was a sort of guinea pig, one of the first individuals to be put on Chicago’s “heat list.” But the visit set a series of gears in motion. This Kafka-esque policing nightmare—a circumstance in which police identified a man to be surveilled based on a purely theoretical danger—would seem to cause the thing it predicted, in a deranged feat of self-fulfilling prophecy. McDaniel found himself in a kind of worst-case scenario: police were distrustful of him because of the heat list, while his neighbors and friends were distrustful of him because they assumed he was cooperating with law enforcement—no amount of assurances would convince them he wasn’t. The heat list caused the harm its creators hoped to avoid: it predicted a shooting that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t predicted the shooting. The Verge (16 minutes)

AI Making AI

A little stick figure with a wedge-shaped head shuffles across the screen. It moves in a half crouch, dragging one knee along the ground. It’s walking! Er, sort of. Yet Rui Wang is delighted. “Every day I walk into my office and open my computer, and I don’t know what to expect,” he says. An artificial-intelligence researcher at Uber, Wang likes to leave the Paired Open-Ended Trailblazer (POET), a piece of software he helped develop, running on his laptop overnight. POET is a kind of training dojo for virtual bots. So far, they aren’t learning to do much at all. These AI agents are not playing Go, spotting signs of cancer or folding proteins—they’re trying to navigate a crude cartoon landscape of fences and ravines without falling over. But it’s not what the bots are learning that’s exciting—it’s how they’re learning. POET generates the obstacle courses, assesses the bots’ abilities and assigns their next challenge, all without human involvement. Step by faltering step, the bots improve via trial and error. It may seem basic at the moment, but for Wang and a handful of other researchers, POET hints at a revolutionary new way to create supersmart machines: by getting artificial intelligence (AI) to make itself. MIT Technology Review (12 minutes)

Anxiety of Influencers

“Content houses” or “TikTok Mansions” are grotesquely lavish abodes where teens and early twenty-somethings live and work together, trying to achieve viral fame on a variety of media platforms. After spending time in that scene, Barrett Swanson (who also happens to be a college professor) wrote a piece for Harper’s. He says: Mostly what I’m thinking about are my students, those bleary-eyed twenty-somethings in sweatpants and hoodies who frequently appear in the doorway of my office, sad in a way they cannot explain, desperate for something they don’t know how to have—the view of personhood produced by the economy of influence. Whether they’re ordinary undergrads or social-media celebs, they all strike me as unbearably sad, and it’s a sadness that seems more than casually related to the ways in which we’ve defined what it means to be a person. For a moment, I lose all distinction between fact and fiction, between image and substance, between self and other. For a moment, I cannot remember who I am or why I am sitting here amid this sea of beautiful young people, all of them desperate for recognition, their whole lives ahead of them, empty at the absolute center. TikTok is a sign of the future, which already feels like a thing of the past. It is the clock counting down our 15 seconds of fame, the sound the world makes as time is running out. Harpers (22 minutes)

Know Thyself

Ray Dalio, the billionaire founder of Bridgewater Associates, seems to have mellowed in recent years. Bridgewater, of course, still commands respect on Wall Street, and not a small amount of fear. The world’s largest hedge fund is perhaps best known for its fiercely competitive and “radically transparent” office culture, in which employees are encouraged to challenge one another in what Dalio has called “an extreme meritocracy of ideas.” Last month, Dalio announced PrinciplesYou, an online personality assessment that anyone can take for free. “I wanted to pass along the most valuable things that I acquired, to help people,” he said. “[The test helps] individuals understand themselves, understand others, understand their relationships.” Dalio himself is skeptical that most adults can radically change their personalities. Instead, the key to excelling at work, in relationships and in life, according to Dalio, is to know yourself. A devoted practitioner of transcendental meditation, Dalio hopes that deeper understanding of our flaws can help anyone transcend their “ego barrier,” a Bridgewater term for avoiding an emotional reaction when responding to criticism. Fast Company (7 minutes)

Dark Shadow

I love music. More specifically, I love song writing. I’m always curious about the story behind a song. What was the artist processing in their writing? What are they trying to say? So, this week I started a little series on Racket call Story of a Song. You can think of it as a 9-minute behind-the-scenes tour of one song. I kicked off the series with one of my favorite artists and good friend David Gungor from the band The Brilliance. He talks about the story of his song Dark Shadow which is centered in the grief of a parent losing a child. It’s a powerful story. I know you’ll like it. Racket (9 minutes)

Bookshelf

Connect by David Bradford and Carole Robin. The ability to create strong relationships with others is crucial to living a full life and becoming more effective at work. Yet many of us find ourselves struggling to build solid personal and professional connections, or unable to handle challenges that inevitably arise when we grow closer to others. When we find ourselves in an exceptional relationship—the kind of relationship in which we feel fully understood and supported for who we are—it can seem like magic. But the truth is that the process of building and sustaining these relationships can be described, learned and applied. David Bradford and Carole Robin taught interpersonal skills to MBA candidates for a combined 75 years in their legendary Stanford Graduate School of Business course Interpersonal Dynamics (affectionately known to generations of students as “Touchy-Feely”), and have coached and consulted hundreds of executives for decades. In Connect, they show readers how to take their relationships from shallow to exceptional by cultivating authenticity, vulnerability and honesty, while being willing to ask for and offer help; share a commitment to growth; and deal productively with conflict. Filled with relatable scenarios and research-backed insights, Connect is an important resource for anyone hoping to improve existing relationships and build new ones at any stage of life. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

How Wokeness Ends—The whole time I read the post about Corporate America, intersectionality, patriarchy and diversity in the workplace, I kept thinking one thing: “I still wake up black—even when you lose interest.”

UAPs—Navy pilots describe encounters with UFOs.

Yes Then No—Say “yes” until you have to say “no.”

Feedback Loop – Did this 60 Minutes report change your view on the existence of extraterrestrial life?

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 Paul Bulai.

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Weekend Wisdom

He who lives by the crystal ball will eat shattered glass.Ray Dalio

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