ANNUAL BRIEFING 2014
Welcome to the weekend. This weekend, we’re looking back at 2014. I tried to review the whole year and pull out the stories I think you would find the most interesting. Typically I like to keep the Weekend Briefing… well… brief. However, that’s tough to do when you’re reviewing an entire year. There is a ton of content in this email and it’s been designed for you to read when you have a chance over the next few days. So feel free to read a bit now and come back to it later.
So, here was your 2014…
Events in Ukraine overshadowed 2014 with a sense of cold war déjà vu. Russia drew international condemnation when it reacted by taking control of Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine and backing separatists there. In response, Western governments imposed sanctions on Russia and a subsequent drop in oil prices devastated its economy. ISIS took the world by surprise this year by crossing into Iraq and grabbing control of large swathes of land, eventually sparking retaliatory Western air strikes. Boko Haram continues to create fear and chaos in Nigeria and the 250 girls abducted in May, we are still waiting to #bringourgirlsback. On a positive note, though you wouldn’t know it from the headlines, statistically, we are living in the most peaceful time in history… so, we got that going for us.
An Ebola epidemic that spread rapidly in west Africa was the world’s worst outbreak of the disease making 2014 the most deadly year for the disease in history. MH370 mystified us all, and left us asking, “How can a plane just disappear?” Though we may never know, here is a surprisingly simple explanation. Alibaba’s IPO was the world’s biggest to date, raising $25 billion on the New York Stock Exchange, Facebook snapped up WhatsApp for a cool $21.8 billion, and Uber hit a $40 billion valuation in its latest funding round (though it’s had it’s share of issues this year as governments push back against it). The European Space Agency nailed a nearly impossible task, landing a spacecraft on a comet. Launched in 2004, the Rosetta spacecraft successfully reached Comet 67P and landed the Philae module.
See what we searched for this year with a recap video from Google, and check out the good the bad and the ugly cultural moments all in one poster from Fast Company.
INNOVATION IN 2014 //
Collaborative consumption went mainstream this year. Air BnB is valued more than Hyatt Hotels and Uber is valued more than Hertz. These “sharing economy” companies are based on trust, focused on use rather than ownership and committed to exemplary customer experience. But this new type of business is pushing against existing regulations and experiencing growing pains. Is this boom going to bust?
Elon Musk also went mainstream this year. Tesla’s stock look poised to end the year about 50% higher than where they finished 2013, and his visions for space exploration and colonization are starting to be taken a bit more seriously.
The B Corp movement continues to pick up steam. This year we crossed the threshold of 1,000 B Corp certified companies, and according to our best estimates there are now over 1,000 Benefit Corporations in 27 states across the US. Though we didn’t have the first benefit corporation go public (as some predicted we would in 2014), we did see the first public company has become B Corp certified.
Water. Clean fresh water is the most essential and increasingly scarce resource on our planet. China is moving more water than the River Thames across the country to deal with water scarcity, and emerging technologies are helping business overcome the scarcity of clean, fresh water.
The most important material you don’t know about. Graphene at one atom thick, is the thinnest material known and may be the strongest may be the most remarkable substance ever discovered, but we’re still trying to figure out what it can be used for. In early 2014, IBM announced that its researchers had built the first graphene-based integrated circuit for wireless devices, which could lead to cheaper, more efficient cell phones… but the potential for this material is so much greater.
The Robots are not taking our jobs. Since the creation of the computer there has been great anxiety that automation will result in lower employment. As robots are becoming more ubiquitous and multi-talented the fear is only increasing. But so far companies that implement robots are actually adding jobs. A recent study shows 76 companies that implemented industrial or factory/warehouse robots actually increased the number of employees by 294,000 over the last 3 years.
SOCIETY IN 2014 //
The Africa question. Depending on your inclination, 2014 was either a bad year or a great year for Africa. Check out Africa for pessimists and Africa for optimists.
Should the internet be an even playing field? Let’s be honest… net neutrality can be a confusing topic. But this is probably the federal legislation that has the biggest affect on your daily life. Think about how much time you spend on the interwebs. This video from Vi Hart is a clear explanation of net neutrality that even I can understand. Major League Baseball is also chiming in to make a compelling argument for net neutrality in its compelling comments to the FCC. On the flip side of the coin, Comcast outlines its perspective here.
Power is changing. Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures. New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it. Learn more in this Harvard Business Review article and this TED Talk. Part of Uber’s recent problems may be that it’s a new power company operating on an old power mentality.
Parenting & marriage. Parenting is killing American marriages. Parenthood became a religion in America. As with many religions, complete unthinking devotion is required from its practitioners. Nothing in life is allowed to be more important than our children, and we must never speak a disloyal word about our relationships with our offspring. Children always come first. We accept this premise so reflexively today that we forget that it was not always so.
Religion & the internet. Not sure if there’s correlation without causation here, but a recent study is showing that as internet usage increases, religious affiliation decreases. Back in 1990, about 8% of the U.S. population had no religious preference. By 2010, this percentage had more than doubled to 18%. That’s a difference of about 25 million people, all of whom have somehow lost their religion.
First… let me take a selfie. Kirsten Dunst’s short film critiquing the selfie generation called Aspirational is a pretty sad / accurate view of the selfie culture.
STARTUP LIFE IN 2014 //
Creativity. This essay On Creativity, posits that for good ideas to happen, what is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected.
Productivity. Looking to be productive in 2015, you may want to check out how Ira Glass, Alexa Von Tobel and Stephen Dubner and other extremely productive people work.
Startup story. The most Fascinating Profile you’ll ever read about a guy and his boring startup.
Marc Andreessen finally joins Twitter and takes it by storm.
Unicorns or ponies. This in-depth article by Jerry Neumann, Betting on Ponies: the non-Unicorn Strategy describes a practical and doable angel investment strategy… and it also has a bunch of laughs. If you are an investor or ever want to be, read this!
BOOKS IN 2014 //
The Hard Thing about Hard Things is a well written, honest and thoughtful book about how hard it is to make a startup work.
The Second Machine Age is a fascinating look at how, like the first machine age (the industrial revolution), transformed labor, society, security and wealth, the second machine age will do the same.
Innovators is a well-rounded view about how innovation actually happens. It focuses on the intersection of industry, academia and military wee powerful forces in shaping modern computing as well as debunking the myth that innovation happens by a lone inventor in a room with a “Eureka!” moment.
Profit & Purpose is definitely the best book I published this year… but seriously, it’s a great behind the scenes look at how 13 social entrepreneurs went from concept to scale.
MUSIC IN 2014 //
Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour took the world by storm this year. His smooth vocals and beats are both addictive enough to gain major radio play, but deep enough to keep going back to.
JohnnySwim is my favorite new band of the year. Their album Diamonds is full of bold harmonies and well-written lyrics.
Made in Heights self-titled album can be played on repeat. Their mellow and ambient music is complimented by a soft female vocal.
Noah Gundersen’s Ledges is the best singer/songwriter album of the year. It’s deeply personal and reflective. A great winter album.
Kishi Bashi’s Lighght is the most fun album of the year. Part ballads part psychedelic rock, always orchestral, this album has been on heavy rotation all year for me.
Best songs of 2014. And here is a playlist of the best songs of 2014. (hyperlink)
THINGS I LIKE //
The year in pictures. Here are the best of the best photos from New York Times, TIME, & Magnum.
Macguyver. This year we learned that LEGO figures are perfect cable holders, Linux is great for a lot of things you may not have thought of, you can check batteries by bouncing them, and that you can get a stuck ring off your finger with some string. Check out this useful collection of life hacks.
If I had a nickel for every time someone said “If I had a nickel,” how much money would I make in a year? Find out the answer on FiveThirtyEight.
The best TV show you haven't heard of. 7 reasons you should watch Peaky Blinders.
Wait, Wait, don’t tell me. Think you were up on events this year? Take this quiz of 2014 new to see how you stack up.
ABOUT THE WEEKEND BRIEFING //
The Weekend Briefing is a selection of the best stories from around the web about innovation and society curated by Kyle Westaway – author of Profit & Purpose and Managing Partner of Westaway & Co.
Follow me on twitter and instagram for updates throughout the week.