Chris McKnett: The investment logic for sustainability

Speaker

Chris McKnett is a Vice President of ESG Investing at Boston-based State Street Global Advisors, the world’s largest institutional investment manager

Summary

Sustainability is the investment logic looking at social, environmental and governance (ESG) issues. The main players to influence this are institutional investors, and Chris promises to prove sustainable investments are easy, and high performing. Investors currently tend to focus on economic metrics, but with depletion of natural resources, increasing pollution and an increasing population, it is hard to ignore the economic impacts of sustainability metrics.

The private sector is also seeing the need: 80% of CEOs see sustainability as an innovative, competitive advantage, while 93% see it as important for the future of their business. On the share market, stocks with good sustainability (ESG metrics) perform as well as other stocks, and the large blue chip stocks with high ESG outperform their low-ESG rivals.

Some institutional investors are taking ESG into account in the investment process, for example Calpers is the second largest investment fund in the US and moving towards 100% sustainable investment. The philosophy is that value comes from a combination of financial, human, and physical capital. On the flipside, plenty of other funds claim they are focussed only on high returns, or don’t want to use the fund to make political statements. Chris counters that returns are compatible with sustainability, and it doesn’t need to be seen as a trade-off.

Institutional investors hold 8 times more money than the US GDP, so have plenty available. If we could channel that towards companies that improve social and environmental causes it could have a huge impact towards solving problems such as hunger, or access to clean water.

John F Kennedy stated “There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction”. It makes sense to invest sustainably so that we can retire wealthy, but also into a better world.

My Thoughts

I thought this talk was a little light on details, especially examples of what a sustainable company is. It didn’t seem clear whether sustainability had to be a core product of the company (eg delivering water infrastructure to developing world), or whether it could be a bank / resources company with a strong sustainability culture. I tend to think the latter, but a lot of the benefits seemed like they only made sense if the company actively solved ESG issues.

Morgana Bailey: The danger of hiding who you are

Speaker

Morgana Bailey is a human resources activist who wants to see the diversity of society reflected in the workplace

Summary

Morgana is a lesbian who came out during this TED talk, but doesn’t want to be defined by that. She grew up in Kansas and was not afraid to be seen as odd, but when she realised she was ‘different’ she worked harder to conform. She was paralysed by the fear of not being accepted. However, she is not the only person wanting to conform: 61% of the general population change an aspect of themselves to fit in at work, and 83% of gays do the same. They believe conformity is the path to career advancement.

Morgana changed when she realised that gays in non-accepting communities have 12 yrs less life expectancy compared to more inclusive communities – driven by heart disease, violence and suicide. When Kansas voted on a bill that would allow businesses not to serve gays, she neglected a chance to come out to an old friend who could tell her story to a congressman. This congressman voted in favour of the bill, and she realised that her silence was making the issues worse.

She moved to a company renowned for it’s social inclusion, and promised herself she would come out to such an accepting institution, but still did nothing. “There are more scary things inside than outside” – by confronting her fears, Morgana realised she can change the outside world. By coming out she can influence the data, and also to help others who feel different be more accepted and fulfilled.

My Thoughts

An emotional call to be yourself, or else see yourself being destroyed by others.

There’s something strange about a majority of workers feeling they have to change themselves to conform: the ‘majority’ they are conforming to might have no real members.

Kevin Allocca: Why videos go viral

Speaker

Kevin Allocca is YouTube’s trends manager.

Summary

Over 48hrs of video are uploaded every minute, and only a tiny fraction of a percent get more than 1 million views. Going viral requires 3 things

  1. Tastemakers: influential people enjoying the video and reposting it
  2. Unexpectedness: With so much video out there, the viral videos have to be different.
  3. Participation: Others want to be a part of this, create parodies and meta-references.

He talks through examples of videos with these features:

  • Double-Rainbow’s views spiked massively when it was retweeted by Jimmy Kimmel (tastemaker)
  • Rebecca Black’s Friday went big when a few people (tastemakers) started posting about it. From there plenty more people referenced it or parodied it – within days there was a parody for every other day of the week (participation).
  • Nyan Cat is extremely strange (unexpected), but also very easy to remix with different background music, set it in a different place, or post meta-references such as a cat watching a cat watching nyan cat (participation).
  • A cyclist riding on the street protesting a ticket for not riding in the bike lane Because his funny video had an unexpected twist, 5 million people (at time of TED talk, now 13 million) saw his protest.

We’re building a new type of culture where everyone has access and the audience decides popularity. This will define the entertainment of the future.

My Thoughts

Entertaining and light, but with an interesting perspective on Youtube.

Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work

Speaker

Shawn Achor is the CEO of Good Think Inc., where he researches and teaches about positive psychology.

Summary

As a child, while playing a game with his little sister she fell from a bunk bed and landed on all fours. Shawn made her better by telling her she looked just like a unicorn – instead of crying she immediately got back on the bunk bed happy.

When studying people, we tend to look for excuses to discard ‘outliers’, and focus only on the average to find a line of best fit. This is the cult of the average – we look only at the baseline. Instead we should look more at the positive outliers: what makes them different? If we study outliers, we can move the ‘average’ upwards.

Shawn is an advocate of ‘positive psychology’: studying the positive side rather than focussing on the negative. For example studying happy people on why they are happy, rather than on how to make depressed people happier. “The absence of disease is not health”: you can’t talk about wellness by only focussing on alcoholism, risky sex, bullying.

Looking at someone’s surroundings only explains 10% of their happiness levels. 90% is based on how your brain sees the world around it. Only 25% of job performance is based on intelligence, with 75% based on support networks, positivity, and ability to perceive stress as a challenge.

Currently most people believe that if they are successful they will become happy. This is flawed because:

  1. When you achieve success, you immediately shift the goal posts further. If you get good grades, you need to get better grades next time. So you will never achieve success and always push it over the horizon into the future.
  2. Happiness makes someone more successful. “The Happiness Advantage” means you are better at getting a job, 31% more productive, more resilient.

In 21 days you can rewire your brain to see things more positively. Shawn suggests writing down 3 things you are grateful for, perform random acts of kindness, meditate to clear your mind.

My Thoughts

Shawn speaks well, with plenty of clever stories. However this is a talk that makes me a little wary: it often sounded a lot like a sales pitch rather than purely informative. There’s a few numbers mixed in, but they are vague percentages without a clear source. Some of the ideas are well established: Happiness does make people more successful and people never really see themselves as ‘successful’. However the rest feels like an eclectic mix of ideas to help sell his books or consulting.

It is worth watching, I’m curious if others got the same vibe I did…

Avi Reichental: What’s next in 3D printing

Speaker

Avi Reichental is the CEO of 3D Systems, which has been a major force in the field of rapid prototyping, turning a design from a CAD file into a solid object.

Summary

3D printing is going to enable a craftsmanship and local manufacture that was killed by the industrial revolution. It will allow personalised medical objects, such as

  • glasses that fit perfectly to you without hinges
  • a more feminine robot leg for a paralysed woman
  • hearing aids are being 3D printed to correct size
  • ventilated sclerosis splints
  • knee replacements.

Industrially

  • GE is designing the next generation of engine, which uses 15% less fuel
  • a small startup is designing space probes using 3D printing – they weigh less, are cheaper, and quick to manufacture.

In food, we can ‘print’ food to embed the correct flavours, nutrients and structure.

The power of 3D printing is that complexity is free: it is as simple to make a complicated object as a simple one. It puts this power in the hands of anyone – and to help this there are tools that assist on the 3D modelling side to make it more intuitive.

Avi’s grandfather was a cobbler, and Avi can now design hybrid leather-plastic shoes that honour the craftsmanship and quality of his ancestors.

My Thoughts

This was a quick flick through a lot of examples.

Ray Kurzweil: Get ready for hybrid thinking

Speaker

Ray Kurzweil is an American author, computer scientist, inventor, futurist, and is a director of engineering at Google.

Summary

200 million years ago mammals evolved the neocortex. This allowed them to learn and think around problems, to develop new behaviour. Previous reptiles needed to ‘evolve’ new behaviour over thousands of years, but these early rodents could do so instantly. This helped mammals survive the cretaceous extinction event, and since then the neocortex has gotten larger and larger to enable high level thinking.

The brain is a series of ~300 million modules in hierarchies to work on patterns of data: to recognise, learn, implement a pattern. For example a series of modules might look for the crossbar part of an “A”, then a higher module would decide it is an “A”, then the word, sentence etc. It can also work in reverse, using context of higher levels (the rest of the word) to lower thresholds as if asking “I think it is: could this letter possibly be an A?”. This is similar to a Hierarchical Hidden Markov Model, being used in AI to understand language.

In the future hybrid thinking will evolve: combining human and computer thinking. Google will understand language more than just series of keywords, and could anticipate user problems and keep them up to date on research of interest to them. Ray also predicts that nanobots could interface with out neocortex and connect it to ‘the cloud’ – to massively expand our brainpower using an external computer network. This will expand our neocortex: and remember how powerful it was last time mammals developed their neocortex… This time we will not be restricted by the architecture of our heads – there could be no limit.

My Thoughts

The history of the neocortex is one of the better descriptions I have heard. The models he describes are easy to understand for the layman and also useful enough to apply to reality.

His comments on the future seem a bit too sci-fi though. It isn’t that this won’t happen, but he doesn’t really describe how or why. Thoughts of the AI singularity and similar ideas have been knocking around human culture for 50 years, constantly just around the corner. We are no doubt closer now than before, but the nanobots and ‘brain extension’ he talks about are a long way away. Even if AI is ready for this advancement, medical understanding of the brain is still too far away to connect us into computers.

Tom Wujec: Got a wicked problem? First, tell me how you make toast

Speaker

Tom Wujec studies how we share and absorb information. He’s an innovative practitioner of business visualization — using design and technology to help groups solve problems and understand ideas.

Summary

Asking people to draw how to make toast can reveal a lot.

  • Most people draw a flow chart: images (nodes) connected with arrows (links). We intuitively know how to break a drawing down in this way.
  • The details people go to can reveal more about them: whether the supply chain of bread, or engineers drawing the inner workings of a toaster
  • people from different countries see toasters differently (Americans draw an electric toaster, Europeans a fry pan, or some draw fire).
  • Number of nodes is usually around 5, and 5-13 is the best to describe the process. Fewer nodes are too simple, but more than 13 difficult to understand

The second step is to draw the nodes on sticky notes or cards. This lets you rapidly rearrange or change the nodes, to make it better faster. These diagrams tend to have more nodes than one drawn on a sheet of paper – making them richer.

The third step is for a group to draw on sticky notes and rearrange them together. This results in more nodes again, but map shock isn’t an issue because they all saw the process come together. They group automatically organises the nodes to group similar nodes or deal with contradictions.

Managers can use this simple process to map out their organisation or strategy – to break a very complicated entity into the working parts. They simply draw the nodes, then organise or refine them until the patterns emerge. These models can extend to hundreds or thousands of nodes. An executive team for a publishing company spent 3 days organising post-its, and their newfound understanding let them reclaim $50million of revenue and customers now rank them as an “A” – from a “D”.

Next time you are confronted with a complicated problem, try breaking it down in terms of visibly nodes – it is fun, simple and powerful.

My Thoughts

A simple exercise, and definitely worth trying to understand a problem. However, having seen the exercises in business a few times, I’m not sure they always yield results. Ones I have been a part of tend to be too structured and quick (~1/2hr) – rather than the random self-organisation and iteration Tom suggests. These exercises tend not to result in an answer or clarity at all.

Having had the logic explained through this talk, I will try it alone though. Take an idea or problem and break it down, then see if it can be re-organised in a useful way.

Ben Saunders: Why bother leaving the house?

Speaker

Ben Saunders is a pioneering polar explorer and a record-breaking long-distance skier, covering more than 6,000km (3,730 miles) on foot in the polar regions since 2001.

Summary

Ben was posed the question: with constant information supply nowadays – why bother leaving the house? He uses a quote from George Mallory – possibly the first man to reach the top of Everest (he died near the summit, with conflicting evidence about whether he had reached it or not).

“People ask me, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is of no use.’There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron… If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”

Ben relates his own experience on a solo arctic expedition, disagreeing with Mallory’s quest for “joy”, and instead saying he felt only terror before his own journey. However, in his 10 weeks he saw a shifting and unique arctic landscape that noone will see again. He cannot explain it to us, we’d need to be there ourselves.

He also talks about another Mallory quote – about being driven by the challenge of climbing the mountain. Ben feels this – he is drawn to complete Scott’s walking journey to the South Pole and back to the Antarctic coast- a feat that has never been completed on foot. He will be blogging an reporting on the journey every step of the way- so people will be able to experience the journey to some extent through his eyes.

However, true inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and challenge – by stepping away from what is comfortable and familiar and into the unknown. We could all benefit from stepping out of the house if only we could find the courage.

Heather White: It’s Not About ‘Working the Room’

Speaker

Heather White is the founder of Smarter Networking, which has been operating since 2001.

Summary

Heather consults about how to ‘work a room’ during networking events, and is constantly asked 3 things

  • How to break into a group
  • How to start a conversation
  • How to escape from someone

During networking, plenty of people try to look busy and hope not to be approached. Heather gives advice on how to talk to strangers – because at many points in our lives we need to be able to speak to strangers, and it’s good to have the ability to do so.

You can practise talking to people in queues, rather than awkward silence. You can talk to people behind you when shuffling in and out of a lecture theater, or waiting for the toilet, or waiting for food.

The three questions you should keep in the back of your head when talking to a stranger are

  • So what do you do?
  • What has happened? Talk about a shared experience (lecture or talk or presentation – the reason you are at the event)
  • What is about to happen that you could talk about?

To escape when stuck with someone, you can excuse yourself to go and get a drink or go to the toilet.

Heather’s networking has got her private tours of Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing St. While not every conversation will end so exceptionally, it is still helpful to be warm and easy to talk to. Try to talk to a random stranger, and see ‘how deep the rabbit hole goes’ (to quote Morpheus from The Matrix)

My Thoughts

This is a TedX talk, but an interesting topic. It looks like an introductory talk to a university event, and covers things at a very basic level. Nonetheless, her ‘3 questions’ guide to talking with someone is useful. As is the encouragement to try talking to strangers. As she alludes to in the end – only by trying will we work out the benefits.

Looking deeping into Heather’s work, I found a quote from an interview here: http://www.wearethecity.com/inspirational-women-heather-white/

Can you share any tips for any members for improving their careers through networking?

Educate yourself through reading, observing and testing what you have learnt.  Be patient because networking isn’t going to provide all the answers immediately – it takes time.  Be disciplined to do something for someone everyday.  Get clear about what you want your networking to do for you AND for others.  Know that you have an imagine/brand if you like within your community, know what it is and if you don’t like it, change it. Write down everything that you hate about networking, what scares you or takes you out of your comfort zone.  Then challenge your thinking about networking and instead become the type of networker you would feel proud of.  And everything that scares you, take it on, practice getting good at it.

Michael Pritchard: How to make filthy water drinkable

Speaker

Michael Pritchard is an inventor and entrepreneur – the founder of LIFESAVER systems.

Summary

Half the people who drink unsafe water will suffer from diarrhea, and plenty of people die. In the aftermath of a major hurricane or tsunami the main focus is on restoring water, and building camps to provide it. Even during Hurricane Katrina in the USA, it took 5 days to get fresh water to the camps – people were shooting each other to get water until then. Disaster camps also spread disease quickly – forcing tens of thousands of people to stay so close together. Instead of congregating in one place, people would be better off staying near home and rebuilding their life.

To solve this problem, Michael built a hand powered filter – it looks like a bike pump built into a water bottle. Michael ran a demonstration – creating some disgusting water by mixing Thames water with algae from a pond, sewage effluent, and rabbit droppings. After filling and pumping a few times, a spray of clean water came out which he drank.

It filters down to 15nm – which is enough to remove viruses such as polio. Previous hand filters filtered to 200 nm – the same size as bacteria. This meant it was possible for bacteria to get through. It runs for 6,000 L, and then stops working (to protect users).

By shipping these to disaster sites, people can stay put and focus on their own home. Outside of disasters, this will reduce the need for building expensive water infrastructure. Michael estimates that everyone can have access to fresh drinking water for 20 billion dollars, and millennial goals can be achieved for 8 billion dollars.

My Thoughts

I am skeptical of a sales pitch dressed up as a TED talk, and disappointed this didn’t go more into the design or distribution side of things. The costs were also glossed over – at one point he said half a cent per day, but I’m unclear if that is an ongoing running cost (chemicals, cleaning, electricity) or the cost of the filter divided by its lifetime. As he didn’t detail the design of the filter, it’s hard to judge if other infrastructure or consumables are needed.

While it seems like a great idea for disaster relief, we’d need more details on the costs outside of this – I get the impression it could be high. There are also issues of distribution – disaster relief agencies that took 5 days to respond to hurricane Katrina would still need to distribute the bottles. Looking into his profile http://www.lifesaversystems.com/michaelpritchard it looks like his current main clients are UK disaster relief, the military, and Malaysian government.

While I’m sure this is a worthy invention, it is disappointing that so little detail came from this talk. Did I learn anything from it? not much – it raises more questions than real ideas.