Weekend Briefing No. 460
A Saturday morning briefing on innovation and society.
Welcome to the weekend.
The first story in the briefing this week is about how the conversation at Harvard Business School is shifting. For decades, the dogma has been that business exists exclusively to maximize profits for shareholders. Now students and professors are considering whether business has a larger role to play in society. They are asking questions like: Should maximizing profits be the only goal? Should business take social and environmental impact into account? Do companies that embrace stakeholder capitalism outperform their peers?
Many of you may not know this, but I used to teach stakeholder capitalism across the river at Harvard Law School. Check out my four-minute lecture on the topic here. (I also wrote a book about it called Profit & Purpose.) When I first started teaching in 2013, the topic felt cutting edge but very niche. People at cocktail parties used to laugh at me and dismiss the idea that business could be a force for good. I’ve been surprised at how quickly the topic has become a mainstream conversation in big business (see: Business Round Table and BlackRock) as well as in the most elite business schools. I’m optimistic that the next generation of leaders will change business for good.
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Capitalism and MBAs
Alongside accounting, finance and marketing, today’s business school students are also learning about corporate social obligations and how to rethink capitalism, a curriculum shift at elite institutions that reflects a change in corporate culture as a whole. Management professors have realized that their students, more than in previous decades, are looking for lessons that go beyond accounting. They want to discuss business’s role in society, how it has created social ills and how it may help solve them. There’s a conscious shift happening with professors asking, “Is profit the only thing corporations should care about? How should businesses use their influence?” New York Times (11 minutes)
I know that everybody is paying attention to Twitter, Tesla and SpaceX, but I believe the Elon Musk company that will actually have the biggest impact on humanity is Neuralink—a company that’s developing high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and machines. (Weekend Briefing No. 168 is focused exclusively on this project.) This week, they announced that within six months, they will implant the first device in humans. The first two human applications targeted by the Neuralink device will be in restoring vision and enabling movement of muscles in people who cannot do so, Musk said. "Even if someone has never had vision, ever, like they were born blind, we believe we can still restore vision." Reuters (5 minutes)
When you need customer support, do you start online or pick up the phone? Either way, you’re probably interacting with something non-human to start. Technology is supposed to save time and make it easier to solve your problem, but customer service AI is still hit or miss - sometimes it’s great, and other times, it can ruin your experience, and perception, of the company. Glance (Sponsored)
Kincardine is the world's largest floating wind farm. It helps solve an engineering riddle. In much of the world, the seabed takes a sudden dive close offshore, ruling out the use of conventional offshore wind turbines.These are built up from the sea floor on concrete foundations and can only be deployed in relatively shallow water, up to about 60m. The solution sounds obvious—installing turbines on floating platforms—but imagine for a moment the fearsome forces these structures must withstand. The turbines at the Kincardine wind farm must stand tall in the heaviest swells and fiercest storms the tempestuous North Sea brings their way. The success of the technology draws on Britain's expertise in offshore engineering, honed as it developed the oil and gas resources in the North Sea. BBC (5 minutes)
There’s an 80% chance that you are time poor: You have too many things to do and not enough time to do them. Time poverty doesn’t arise from a mismatch between the hours we have and the hours we need; it results from how we think about and value those hours. It’s as much psychological as it is structural. We are ceaselessly connected. When free time arrives, we are unprepared to use it so we waste it. Or, we tell ourselves we shouldn’t take a break so we work right through it. The first step to becoming time smart is to identify the time traps in your life such as: 1) Technology interruptions break our hours into confetti. 2) We focus too much on money. 3) We undervalue our time. 4) We regard busyness as a status symbol. 5) We have an aversion to idleness. 6) We think we have more time tomorrow than we actually do. TED (6 minutes)
According to Bertrand Russell, there are four desires driving all of human behavior. (1) Acquisitiveness—the wish to possess as much as possible of goods, or the title to goods. (2) Rivalry—a desire to see your opponents lose. (3) Vanity—“Look at me” is one of the most fundamental desires of the human heart. (4) Power—Love of power is greatly increased by the experience of power, and this applies to petty power as well as to that of potentates. The Marginalia (7 minutes)
This super slow-mo video of dropping objects into liquid is surprisingly stunning and satisfying to watch. Linkedin (2 minutes)
Should We Work Together?
Hi! I’m Kyle. This newsletter is my passion project. When I’m not writing, I run a law firm that helps startups move fast without breaking things. Most founders want a trusted legal partner, but they hate surprise legal bills. At Westaway, we take care of your startup’s legal needs for a flat, monthly fee so you can control your costs and focus on scaling your business. If you’re interested, let’s jump on a call to see if you’re a good fit for the firm. Click here to schedule a 1-on-1 call with me.
The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper. -Bertrand Russell