Fortune and Wallpaper hosted a fascinating dinner last night at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art with designer-entrepreneur Yves Behar, who talked about some of the products he’s working on. One was a baby bed called Snoo that uses AI to gently rock a baby back to sleep when it awakens, saving shut-eye for new parents. Another was a social robot that encourages activity and fights loneliness among the elderly.
Behar’s broader point was that “the next frontier is integrating technology as just an everyday tool” that serves human needs, rather than an end in itself. “The technologies that are changing us these days don’t come from big engineering labs, they don’t come from technologists,” he said. “The cool stuff is coming from humanists. Technology is just a tool.”
The dinner was part of the run up to Fortune, Wallpaper and Time’s second annual Brainstorm Design, which explores the growing role of design in shaping today’s business, and is being held in Singapore next March. (Details here.)
Separately, on the plane to San Francisco yesterday I finished John Carreyrou’s excellent book, Bad Blood, which tells the inside story of Elizabeth Holmes and her Theranos hype machine. (Behar, coincidentally, had a bit role in that drama.) The book should be read by every business leader, not just as the story of a sociopathic young entrepreneur determined to achieve greatness at any cost, but as a cautionary tale for all leaders impatient to embrace change. The most chilling takeaway of the book is the number of smart people who bought her aspirational story, in spite of ample warning signs that it was a fraud—a group that included top leadership of Walgreens and Safeway, former Secretary of State George Shultz, current Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and, sorry to say, Fortune.
Bad Blood will become to this disrupt-or-die decade what Too Big to Fail and Smartest Guys In the Room were to the last decade, The New New Thing was to the 1990s, and Barbarians at the Gate and Den of Thieves were to the 1980s. A must read.
Comcast vs Disney
Comcast’s bidding war with Walt Disney for most of 21st Century Fox is finally on, in the wake of the ruling that cleared AT&T’s takeover of Time Warner (Fox’s board had previously been wary that antitrust regulators might nix a Comcast takeover.) Comcast made its $65 billion cash offer yesterday, at a premium of 20% to Disney’s all-stock offer. The Wall Street Journal reports that Disney is organizing financing in case it needs cash to counter Comcast’s offer. WSJ
President Donald Trump says he will hit China with punitive tariffs “in the coming weeks.” “China could be a little bit upset about trade because we are very strongly clamping down,” he said in an interview on board Air Force One. The final list of Chinese goods that will incur hefty tariffs on importation into the U.S. will be revealed tomorrow. South China Morning Post
Rolls-Royce is about to undergo a major reorganization that will see the loss of 4,600 jobs. The engineering giant expects to make around a third of those cuts by the end of this year, and it anticipates the reorg will cost it around $672 million to carry out. At the same time, it hopes to be saving $537 million a year by the end of 2020. Rolls-Royce will be focusing on its civil aerospace, defense, and power systems businesses. BBC
Microsoft is, like Amazon, working on technology that would eliminate checkout lines in stores. That’s according to a Reuters exclusive that says Microsoft has been showing off its automated grocery store technology to retailers around the world and has had discussions with Walmart. Amazon’s testbed “Go” store opened to the public in January in Seattle, and will soon expand to Chicago and San Francisco. Reuters
Around the Water Cooler
Whole Foods Truth
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey says sales are booming since the Amazon takeover, but “I’m sure that Amazon has probably gotten more disagreement from me than any other single person and possibly more than everyone else combined.” That’s per a leaked recording of an internal companywide meeting. It’s not clear what the disagreements were about, but he added: “Amazon has listened, and they have been very respectful, and they have backed off.” Business Insider
Jeff Bezos has crowdsourced two ideas for his big venture into the world of philanthropy, and will reveal them later this summer. We know little about them apart from the fact that they’re designed to make an impact in the short term. Given Amazon’s well-known antipathy towards official homelessness programs in Seattle, and the way it’s been criticized for not paying workers a real living wage in many places, there are certainly lots of social impacts Bezos’s $140 billion fortune could make. Fortune
Scientists reckon Antarctica is melting at three times the rate it was a decade ago, due to global warming. The melt is causing sea levels to rise to a point where they might be six inches higher by 2100—enough to cause havoc in coastal cities such as New York. Unless countries can make swift progress on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, of course. Fortune
Unilever, having opted to consolidate its headquarters in the Netherlands rather than the U.K., now says it is “extremely unlikely” to stay listed on London’s FTSE 100 stock index. That nugget came as the consumer good behemoth gave a muted sales outlook, predicting growth in the first half of this year that’s lower than the 3-5% full-year forecast. Bloomberg