Weekend Briefing No. 304
Welcome to the weekend. As mentioned last week, I’ll be including a brief weekly summary on our on-going adventure in New Zealand. Look for it toward the bottom in the Dispatch section.
7.4 B – Online sales hit $7.4 billion on Black Friday, up from $6.2 billion last year. Foot traffic in American stores on Black Friday fell 6.2 percent compared to last year.
738.6 MM – Frozen 2 made $125.7 million over the course of the five-day Thanksgiving weekend, a new record. It’s now made $287.6 million domestically and $738.6 million globally.
85 – 85 percent to 99 percent of alarms don’t actually require any intervention. That alarm fatigue means physicians may miss out on actually consequential alarms.
Roger McNamee made a fortune as one of Silicon Valley’s earliest champions. Now he’s one of its most fervent critics. As Russian election interference became increasingly apparent, McNamee published a series of op-eds—in the Guardian, USA Today, Time, and elsewhere—arguing that the social-media business model thrived on divisive rhetoric: the more extreme the content, the more users shared it; the more the algorithms amplified it, the more ad revenue was generated. McNamee also scheduled meetings with policymakers, investors, and Silicon Valley executives. He argued that piecemeal regulation would never get to the root of the problem: mining users’ private data for profit. Among some skeptics, however, the profit McNamee has accrued from the technology that he now urges us to renounce makes him difficult to trust. One view of McNamee is that he has the gravitas of a man willing to admit that he was wrong. (“Shame on me,” he told one interviewer.) Another is that, having successfully ridden one wave, he is trying to ride another. New Yorker (19 minutes)
Few co-founder relationships survive the pressure — research shows that 65% of startups fail because of interpersonal tensions within the founding team. Acclaimed couples therapist Esther Perel gives the following advice to co-founders to help improve their relationship and improve their odds of success. Our overt arguments don’t matter as much as the broader themes that are underneath those plot lines. Tune out the noise of what you’re bickering over and dig deeper to find out what’s going on underneath the surface. I often see three categories of hidden issues: power and control, care and closeness, and respect and recognition. First Round Review (17 minutes)
Management @ Amazon
This year, Amazon topped the list of Best-Managed Companies, an annual ranking by the Claremont Graduate University’s Drucker Institute. Amazon catapulted to the top of the list this year by earning an off-the-charts ranking in innovation. Its score in that dimension of performance is more than double that of any other company. Amazon outpaces others in patent applications, trademark registrations and spending on research and development. It also abandons patent applications at a higher rate than others, a sign of its commitment to move past obsolete technology. Amazon culture, set from the top down by founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos, has long shunned lengthy slide presentations. Instead, employees present a memo that can be no longer than six pages and that is silently read at the start of a meeting by everyone present. Mr. Bezos praised the memo process in one of his letters to investors: “Some have the clarity of angels singing,” he wrote. “They are brilliant and thoughtful and set up the meeting for high-quality discussion.” Wall Street Journal (9 minutes)
The paths that lead to new ideas tend to look unpromising. If they looked promising, other people would already have explored them. How do the people who do great work discover these paths that others overlook? The popular story is that they simply have better vision: because they're so talented, they see paths that others miss. But if you look at the way great discoveries are made, that's not what happens. Darwin didn't pay closer attention to individual species than other people because he saw that this would lead to great discoveries, and they didn't. He was just really, really interested in such things. When you look at the lives of people who've done great work, you see a consistent pattern. They often begin an obsessive interest in something that would have seemed pointless to most of their contemporaries. One of the most striking features of Darwin's book about his voyage on the Beagle is the sheer depth of his interest in natural history. His curiosity seems infinite. Darwin couldn't turn it off. He didn't discover the hidden paths that they did because they seemed promising, but because they couldn't help it. That's what allowed them to follow paths that someone who was merely ambitious would have ignored. Interest is much more unevenly distributed than ability. If natural ability is all you need to do great work, and natural ability is evenly distributed, you have to invent elaborate theories to explain the skewed distributions we see among those who actually do great work in various fields. But it may be that much of the skew has a simpler explanation: different people are interested in different things. If the recipe for genius is simply natural ability plus hard work, all we can do is hope we have a lot of ability, and work as hard as we can. But if interest is a critical ingredient in genius, we may be able, by cultivating interest, to cultivate genius. Perhaps the recipe for genius into one sentence, that might be it: to have a disinterested obsession with something that matters. Paul Graham (11 minutes)
Career in Beta
Ken Liu is best known as a Hugo Award winning Sci-Fi writer and English translator of the hit book Three Body Problem. But I’m actually most impressed by how he followed his interest and has continued to iterate on his career until he’s found a sweet spot of success and significance. When he graduated college in 1998, Liu worked as a software engineer, first at Microsoft, and then at a start-up called Idiom Technologies. He went into programming because he liked rules and systems, so he decided to try another rules-based trade and went to Harvard Law School. After graduating, he clerked for a federal judge, then worked as a corporate lawyer specializing in international tax planning and real estate. It was demanding, and not particularly stimulating. Liu, who at that point had two young daughters, and had grown up apart from his own parents, didn’t want to be an absent father. He became a litigation consultant specializing in patent infringement and technology cases — a job that brought him close to machines again, examining source codes and disassembling smartphones and tablets to study the underlying mechanics. Throughout his shape-shifting professional odyssey, Liu wrote fiction, though he never imagined he could make a living from it. New York Times (11 minutes)
In this video for Wired, physicist and origami master Robert J. Lang demonstrates the 11 increasingly complex levels of origami. From a simple, traditional cicada to an extremely intricate one, watch how Robert J. Lang demonstrates and breaks down everything that goes into the art of origami. Seeing how all the legs and antennae and other small features are designed at the more complex levels is fascinating. YouTube (16 minutes)
What a fun first week of New Zealand. After 27 hours of travel, we arrived in the North Island. Sunset on black sand beach and dinner in Auckland were a great start. Given my Lord of the Rings obsession, we had to hit Hobbiton – the amount of detail the creators put into that place is impressive. After the Shire, we hiked the Tongariro Crossing, otherwise known as Modor, where we nearly got blown off the mountain by heavy winds. Did you know glow worms were a real thing? I didn’t, but I saw them in Waitomo Caves. Wellington has a very SF vibe to it – great food and coffee. Sea kayaking was a little more work than I expected, but we really enjoyed seeing Abel Tasman park from the water. Now we’re on one of New Zealand’s Great Walks called the Heapy Trek – 78km in 3 days. This month I’ll put together a comprehensive guide of the trip including specifics on our activities as well as cocktail, coffee and dining recommendations such as where to find the best mussels in Golden Bay. Stay tuned for that. Cheers!
Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision. Amazon
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He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom. -Gandalf
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