The Insider - June 2023

On what needs to change, AI & the job market, climate fintech research, and Fes, Morocco.

The Insider - June 2023
Photo by Erol Ahmed / Unsplash

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the June edition of the Insider. Do you know someone who would enjoy the Insider? Forward this email to them and they can subscribe here.

On strategic planning

“All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they get.” This quote—attributed to Arthur Jones, an organizational design expert—has always hit me hard when I’m setting ambitious goals or developing a new strategic plan for the team. We often spend too much time asking “what are our new goals?” and not enough time asking “what needs to change about how we work to achieve these new goals?” The sooner we accept that our organizations are currently designed to continue reproducing the status quo, the sooner we’re able to make structural changes to the organizational dynamics that lead to different outcomes.

On AI & the job market

I can’t figure out what’s more remarkable: that 60% of the jobs in America today didn’t exist in 1940 or that 40% of the jobs in 1940 still exist today. There are new jobs like TikTok influencers and solar panel installers, but there are also so many professions that have endured through times of technological and societal change.

A report from McKinsey estimates that generative AI could “automate work activities that absorb 60 to 70% of employees’ time today.” I am skeptical: between 2010 and 2019—a decade that saw major technological advancements—productivity in the US grew more slowly than in any other decade of the post-World War II era, at only 1% per year.

Few things are actually disruptive. Many credit the expansion of railroads in the 19th century to be transformational for America’s industrial revolution, but the economist Robert Fogel found that had railroads never been invented, the economic output per person actually wouldn’t be much different. In 1892, the automated telephone switching system was invented and foretold the imminent loss of jobs for telephone operators, but by the late 1940s, the number of telephone operators in the US peaked at 350,000.

Perhaps it’s simply a question of attention: the more we obsess about all the ways things will change, the more we might miss all the things that don’t. The more we’re excited about what’s new and flashy, the more we forget what’s tried and true.

On climate fintech research

Over the last few months, I’ve been working with the immensely talented Mairi Robertson at Ezra Climate to lead the research and prototyping of new climate fintech companies at Ezra. Mairi leads research at Ezra, and she and I (along with the rest of the team) have begun publishing market analyses, insights, and research into climate tech, climate finance, and opportunities to build companies and funds that deploy climate technologies in this decisive decade. Here is a sampling, with more research being published every month.

Can you help?

  • Have you read Tim Urban’s book What’s Our Problem? It’s changed the way I think about a spectrum of ideas. I’m planning to write about it in future Insiders and am looking for an intellectual sparring partner.
  • Who in your network works in lower-middle market private equity and would be willing to connect to talk about climate-positive companies?


What I am reading

  • In just seven decades, humans have brought about greater changes than they did in more than seven millennia. We’ve entered a new geologic chapter, as told by the rare chemistry of one lake in Canada. From an extraordinary article in the Washington Post.
  • Today’s internet media landscape is like nothing we’ve seen before. The internet has democratized the opportunity for creators to become a “media of one.” But it’s also given rise to niche propaganda. From Noema Magazine.
  • The US labor market has changed since COVID, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with some surprises (the pay gap between richest and poorest shrunk) and some inevitable changes (more solar installers, fewer servers).
  • The rewilding movement is audacious and radical, stopping at nothing short of repairing our relationship to nature and reversing the domestication of the earth. Its movement is growing. From MIT Technology Review.
  • Racial gamification in college admissions. A nuanced take on how affirmative action gave rise to racial gamification, and how its absence will only make it worse. The New York Times.

Something personal

The narrow, winding streets in the old city of Fes, Morocco are too small for cars. This inner city—dating back to the 8th century—remains immune to many of the forces of sprawling modernity. Its life and commerce are tightly packed in a labyrinth of streets where looms are still operated by hand, families bring their homemade dough to communal bakeries to bake, donkeys pull carts up cobblestone streets, and old men sit outside their shops to play cards. Just outside the old city is the new city of Fes, established in the 20th century and defined by wide streets, modern city planning, rows of apartment buildings, and master-planned neighborhoods.

Our tour guide, whose family has lived in the old city for 500 years, told us that the differences in city planning translate into differences in the relational dynamics and behavior of the city’s people. People are more individualistic in the new city, he told us; they keep to themselves, they’re less concerned with their neighbor. But in the old city, those same people (who often travel back and forth) show up differently. The physical intimacy of narrow streets, the walking proximity of friends, the unhurried pace—all cultivate a sense of kinship and warmth.

There is a narrative that personal change is often this intense, inner work done by an individual, so it’s refreshing to be reminded that sometimes all we need to do is to choose the environments that shape us into the people we want to become.