Thursday 28th May 2020
  • SpaceX's Secret Weapon Is Gwynne Shotwell

    She launches spaceships, sells rockets, and deals with Elon Musk.

    54-year-old engineer Gwynne Shotwell has worked with Musk since SpaceX's founding in 2002, longer than almost any executive at any Musk company. She manages about 6,000 SpaceX employees and translates her boss's far-out ideas into sustainable businesses - whether it means selling customers on a rocket or telling them not to read too much into @elonmusk.

    She's succeeded remarkably. In fact, SpaceX, the business, might be as impressive as SpaceX, the showcase for Muskian wizardry. The company is privately held - Musk owns a majority stake, alongside investors such as Google, Fidelity Investments, and Founders Fund - and doesn't disclose revenue. But last year its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket reached orbit 18 times, more than any other launch vehicle in the world. SpaceX, which now has more than half of the global launch market, has signaled it would do about 30 launches in 2018, including at least one more Falcon Heavy launch later in the year.

    Shotwell has rarely taken credit for any of this.

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  • U.S. Economy May Not Help Win a Cold War With China

    The American system was superior to the Soviet Union's. The same advantage doesn't hold against a new adversary.

    An increasing number of policy makers and pundits argue that the U.S. is heading for a new Cold War. With tensions rising between the U.S. and China, the possibility of an extended great-power struggle is all too real. But would-be 21st-century cold warriors should remember how and why the U.S. prevailed in its 20th-century contest with the Soviet Union. It was a strong economy and effective institutions that allowed the U.S. to outlast its mighty foe.

    The U.S. and the USSR never went to war directly. They did engage in a series of proxy conflicts and interventions, but ultimately the Cold War wasn't decided on a third-world battlefield. Nor was it James Bond-style spycraft that ultimately made the difference or soaring speeches about liberty. Simply put, the U.S. won the Cold War because its economic and political system produced broadly shared prosperity and the USSR's system did not.

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  • President Obama's Advice for Leaders in a Crisis

    Figuring out how the coronavirus spreads and how your business should respond is incredibly complex. But when it comes to responding to the current crisis, President Obama's basic advice for leaders is simple: tell the truth.

    The former president spoke to leaders from 300 municipalities on Thursday at a virtual gathering organized by Bloomberg Philanthropies. His message, which he also shared via Twitter, was straightforward but powerful:

    "Speak the truth. Speak it clearly. Speak it with compassion. Speak it with empathy for what folks are going through. The biggest mistake any [of] us can make in these situations is to misinform, particularly when we're requiring people to make sacrifices and take actions that might not be their natural inclination."

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  • Want to Be More Productive? Try Doing Less.

    We've been taught that if we want more - money, achievement, vitality, joy, peace of mind - we need to do more, to add more to our ever-growing to-do list. But what if we've been taught wrong? What if the answer to getting more of what we want isn't addition at all, but subtraction?

    As it turns out, evidence supports that if we want to ramp up our productivity and happiness, we should actually be doing less. David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, found that we're truly focused on our work a mere six hours per week, which starkly contrasts our collective buy-in to the 40-hour workweek. When you stop doing the things that make you feel busy but aren't getting you results (and are draining you of energy), then you end up with more than enough time for what matters and a sense of peace and spaciousness that constant activity has kept outside your reach.

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  • Why Don't Women Self-Promote As Much As Men?

    Since self-promotion is a pervasive part of work, those of us who do more self-promotion may have better chances of being hired, being promoted, and getting a raise or a bonus. As researchers interested in gender gaps in earnings, negotiations, and firm leadership, we wondered whether gender differences in self-promotion also exist and might contribute to those gaps.

    We found a large gender gap in self-promotion - with men rating their performance 33% higher than equally performing women. To understand what's driving this gap, we looked at two factors that might influence one's level of self-promotion: confidence (you may be unsure of your actual performance) and strategic incentives (you may talk up your performance to get a raise or promotion).

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  • Mental Models I Find Repeatedly Useful

    Around 2003 I came across Charlie Munger's 1995 speech, The Psychology of Human Misjudgment, which introduced me to how behavioral economics can be applied in business and investing. More profoundly, though, it opened my mind to the power of seeking out and applying mental models across a wide array of disciplines.

    A mental model is just a concept you can use to help try to explain things (e.g. Hanlon's Razor - "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by carelessness."). There are tens of thousands of mental models, and every discipline has their own set that you can learn through coursework, mentorship, or first-hand experience.

    There is a much smaller set of concepts, however, that come up repeatedly in day-to-day decision making, problem solving, and truth seeking. As Munger says, "80 or 90 important models will carry about 90% of the freight in making you a worldly‑wise person."

    This post is my attempt to enumerate the mental models that are repeatedly useful to me.

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  • We studied the best way to actually make a new habit stick

    Participants in our study tried out 23 different techniques designed to support a behavior change. One method really outperformed the rest

    Whether you're hoping to exercise more, eat healthier, or pick up a new skill, maintaining your New Year's resolution is famously easier said than done. There's no shortage of advice out there for picking up positive new habits, but high failure rates persist. It seems that just 8% of resolutions last for a whole year, and barely half survive the month of January. What's the secret for making these well-intentioned habits stick? We embarked on a scientific mission to find out.

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  • Google's 7-Step Process to Delegating Tasks That Any Manager Can Use

    The best Google managers empower their teams and do not micromanage.

    This idea came in at No. 2 on Google's top 10 list of effective manager traits. If you haven't heard the story, Google in an effort to prove that bosses weren't necessary, ended up finding the exact opposite -- managers not only matter, but they can significantly influence the performance of their teams. But they didn't stop there. After realizing that managers were important, they embarked on a quest to uncover all the behaviors that made some more effective than others. The initiative became known as Project Oxygen.

    Although the other nine behaviors are important, I would argue that empowering teams (without micromanaging) is the most crucial. Without a sense of ownership and connection to their work, it won't matter if employees have the right skills, access to coaching, or collaboration opportunities. They need the motivation to perform before these other aspects will come into play.

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  • Beware of Bosses Handing Out "Crap Sandwiches"

    If you've ever taken a management class - or been managed - you've probably come across the concept of the "feedback sandwich." Known more colloquially as the "crap sandwich," the idea is that when giving criticism, managers should sandwich it between two pieces of positive feedback: open with some praise, then offer the criticism, then close with some more praise to leave the person feeling good. It's based on the idea that it's easier for people to accept negative feedback when they also hear about what's going well.

    Unfortunately, the crap sandwich is fraught with problems. Once your employees recognize what you're doing, they might start bracing for criticism every time you open a conversation with praise. It can also make the praise itself seem insincere.

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  • The No. 1 Thing a New Business Needs: Tough Love

    Entrepreneurs are being hoodwinked and led astray by the very people who are supposed to be helping them. That's my biggest takeaway two years after launching an investment company to take ideas and help turn them into long-term, successful brands.

    Every week at Unorthodox Ventures, we meet smart men and women who have graduated from entrepreneurship programs at top schools but have never been taught the basics of manufacturing prototypes or testing products. They think that effective marketing begins and ends with Facebook. Because they've received only positive feedback from mentors and professors--not to mention well-meaning friends and family members--they're convinced they have winning concepts. Their days are spent imagining the perfect influencers to promote their products; at night, visions of acquisition dance in their heads.

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