Monthly Rounds (November 2020) - Good People and Bad Companies

Hi friends,

Below is my favorite content from November.

(1) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2020-11-11/what-went-wrong-at-quibi-jeffrey-katzenberg-meg-whitman-and-self-sabotage

There are few forces as powerful as social proof - the phenomenon of normative social influence. When several of your most trusted, well-regarded, and successful peers engage in a certain action (such as funding a destined-to-succeed startup), you can't help but be compelled to do the same. But the irony of social proof is that while it seems to suggest that the underlying action (e.g. investing in a certain company) has been vetted by many, the opposite is often true -- it has been properly vetted by none. Theranos was a prime example of this phenomenon. Is Quibi another?

"By September, Quibi’s user base had crept to about 400,000, putting it far behind the company’s internal projections of 7.4 million viewers by the end of 2020. That same month, Whitman and Katzenberg considered raising more money or selling the company. They pitched Apple Senior Vice President Eddy Cue, Facebook app chief Fidji Simo, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, and NBCUniversal, none of whom bit on either option, according to people familiar with the meetings. With $350 million left, the co-founders abruptly decided to shut down the service. “As entrepreneurs, our instinct is to always pivot, to leave no stone unturned—especially when there is some cash runway left—but we feel that we’ve exhausted all our options…”

(2) https://blog.doist.com/remote-first/

As the Covid-19 pandemic enters a new inflection point, marked by rising cases but also the allure of a soon-to-be mainstream vaccine(s), companies must think deeply about if and how to continue the experiment of remote work. For those who choose to invest in remote work (and do se effectively), the returns could be enormous -- a broader talent pool, increased productivity, reduced attrition, and clearer communication. I've always enjoyed Doist's blog on remote and asynchronous work, particularly this piece on the delineation of remote-first and remote-friendly organizations.

"Unfortunately, remote-ish teams confront even more communication and collaboration challenges than fully remote ones. In these hybrid teams, information gets siloed in offices while remote employees are left in the dark. The result is an unintended hierarchy where office workers are naturally heard, recognized, and promoted –– while remote workers are left out. Though remote-friendly companies allow remote work, they don’t optimize for it. Instead office employees and remote employees are not properly integrated and exist on two different, often unequal, tiers. "

(3) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/18/sports/baseball/kim-ng-miami-marlins.html

On November 13, 2020, Kim Ng was named as the General Manager of the Miami Marlins making her the first ever female GM in MLB history. According to people in the industry, there are few who are as qualified for the job as she is. This is a feel-good piece about good things happening to deserving people.

"“She had great people skills, and that was the thing that stood out to me,” Oppenheimer said. “She was probably the smartest person in the room and never had to make everybody feel that way.”

(4) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/27/business/mckinsey-purdue-oxycontin-opioids.html

I was deeply disappointed to read this account of McKinsey's involvement in advising Purdue Pharma on how to increase sales of Oxycontin, a dangerous medication that has fueled the opioid epidemic and ruined millions of lives. In healthcare, there are unfortunately countless ways to generate significant wealth at the expense of others. It's disheartening that some of the most well-regarded organizations do not possess a stronger moral compass to guide their actions.

"“This is the banality of evil, M.B.A. edition,” Anand Giridharadas, a former McKinsey consultant who reviewed the documents, said of the firm’s work with Purdue. “They knew what was going on. And they found a way to look past it, through it, around it, so as to answer the only questions they cared about: how to make the client money and, when the walls closed in, how to protect themselves.”

(5) https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/nov/21/michael-j-fox-every-step-now-is-a-frigging-math-problem-so-i-take-it-slow

Diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's at the age of 29, Michael J Fox is known for many things but two stand out -- his iconic acting roles and his iconic optimism. This piece offers great insight into how he has coped with this devastating illness, and how it is gratitude (not optimism) that may actually be the way forward.

"What is the middle ground between optimism and despair? Before talking with Fox, I’d have suggested pragmatism, but that gets dangerously close to despair when you’re having to be pragmatic about a degenerative disease with, as yet, no cure. So Fox found a different path. “When I broke my arm, it was relatively minor, but that was the thing that destroyed me. I thought, what further indignity do I have to suffer? What have I done? Maybe I was wrong to think I couldn’t complain before, maybe optimism doesn’t work,” he says. There were, he says, some dark days spent lying on the sofa, but after a while he got bored. “Then I came to a place of gratitude. Finding something to be grateful for is what it’s about,” he says. Optimism is about the promises of the future, gratitude looks at the present. Fox has retrained his focus from running towards what will be, to seeing what is."

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As always, I would love to hear updates about your life and what you have enjoyed reading, watching, and engaging with over the last month. If you are free to catch up or reconnect, please reach out. And if you know anyone who else would enjoy receiving these content, feel free to direct them here.

Regards,

Muthu