Logo

    About this Episode

    Kick the conventional wisdom. In this episode of Rapid Response, Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera sit down with Bob Safian to discuss their book, The Big Fail: What the Pandemic Revealed About Who America Protects and Who It Leaves Behind. The pair faced blowback for their damning investigation of business leadership in the wake of COVID. They share how lockdowns may have miscalculated risk versus reward, the pros and cons of a market-based society, and the era’s parallels to the Enron debacle. Plus, they share vital leadership lessons about adapting to new information instead of relying on precedent, and why no decision should be made out of panic.

    Read a transcript of this episode: https://mastersofscale.com/

    Subscribe to the Masters of Scale weekly newsletter: https://mastersofscale.com/subscribe

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • The pandemic has exposed the flaws in our traditional beliefs and the necessity for thoughtful leaders who understand the tradeoffs and adapt to the post-pandemic era.
    • Political leaders should consider both risks and benefits, rather than relying solely on expert advice, when implementing lockdown measures. The Great Barrington Declaration's approach of protecting the vulnerable while allowing society to continue may offer a more balanced solution in future crises.
    • The pandemic has highlighted the negative impact on underprivileged children, the hindrance of political partisanship, the consequences of relying solely on experts, and the disadvantage of small businesses in government aid.
    • The pandemic has taught us the importance of independent thinking, open dialogue, and strong leadership in navigating crises and preparing for future challenges.
    • Politicians must embrace leadership qualities and prioritize access to healthcare. Scientific understanding and flexibility are essential in developing tailored responses to the pandemic, while panic-driven decisions hinder effective adaptation.
    • Balancing the profit motive with the provision of necessary support and resources is crucial in the healthcare system. Openness to unconventional ideas is essential for sustainable growth.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    Revealing the Flaws and Need for Thoughtful Leadership

    The pandemic has revealed the flaws in our conventional wisdom and the need for more thoughtful leadership. While many believed that a strict lockdown would make the virus disappear, this proved to be wishful thinking. Meanwhile, essential workers like delivery drivers and meat packers were risking their lives to serve the community. The pandemic has shown us that we're all in this together and we need to acknowledge the tradeoffs involved in high-risk situations. Authors Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera emphasize the importance of a clear-eyed, fact-based approach, and highlight the failings of capitalism that were amplified during the crisis. By learning from these lessons, business leaders can navigate the post-pandemic era more effectively.

    Assessing the effectiveness and consequences of pandemic lockdowns and highlighting the importance of a balanced approach in future crises.

    The pandemic-related lockdowns had severe financial consequences and exacerbated income inequality, yet their effectiveness is questionable. The Zoom class, those who could afford to work remotely, touted the virtues of the lockdown while others, such as essential workers, risked their lives to provide essential services. Moreover, the comparison between countries that locked down and those that didn't shows little discernible difference in outcomes. The authors emphasize the importance of political leaders weighing the risks and rewards, instead of solely relying on expert advice. The Great Barrington Declaration's approach of protecting the vulnerable while letting the rest of society continue appears to be a more balanced solution. Going forward, it is crucial to approach future crises with a clearer perspective and avoid unnecessary panic.

    Uncovering societal issues and inequalities during the pandemic.

    The pandemic has exposed underlying societal issues and inequalities. It revealed that underprivileged children suffer greatly when they miss school, highlighting the need for a closer examination of who bears the consequences of certain decisions. The excessive political partisanship hindered effective problem-solving and hindered our ability to listen to each other. Additionally, leaders often hide behind others, whether it's relying solely on epidemiologists or prioritizing the interests of shareholders over public health. From a business perspective, the crisis demonstrated that government aid tends to favor big businesses, leaving small businesses, like independent restaurants, at a disadvantage. Furthermore, it showed that expert advice isn't always foolproof, as the world moves quickly and wisdom can quickly become outdated.

    Rethinking conventional wisdom and embracing new perspectives in the face of uncertainty.

    We should be cautious about relying on momentary trends and conventional wisdom. The pandemic has shown us that experts can be wrong, and things can change quickly. We shouldn't blindly follow what others say, but instead think for ourselves and consider new information. Additionally, we need to be more thoughtful and avoid panic in decision-making processes. It is important to engage in open dialogue with different perspectives, especially when facing crises. Furthermore, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of leadership. We need leaders who can navigate uncertainties, make informed choices, and prioritize the well-being of society. Ultimately, by being mindful of these lessons, we can better prepare and respond to future challenges.

    Leadership, Science, and Adaptability in Pandemic Planning

    Politicians need to rediscover what leadership is. We need to recognize that we're all in this together, as the lack of access to healthcare for many years exacerbated the effects of the pandemic. The ongoing arguments on platforms like Twitter only highlight the need for more scientific understanding of what truly works and what doesn't. Flexibility is crucial in pandemic planning, as each situation is unique and requires a tailored response. It's important to embrace the evolving nature of science and make decisions based on new evidence. The initial nimbleness shown during lockdowns should have been sustained, with a continuous reevaluation of strategies. However, panic-driven decisions during the early stages hindered the ability to adapt effectively. Despite previous calls for change, there is growing cynicism about the actual realization of positive transformations.

    The negative impact of private equity in the healthcare industry and the need for thoughtful consideration of market control.

    The healthcare system should not be controlled by the market or private equity. The focus on making profits can hinder the ability to provide necessary support and resources for entities like nursing homes and hospitals. The pandemic highlighted the negative impact of private equity in the healthcare industry, leading to efforts by the FTC to limit their influence. However, there is still room for differing perspectives. While some argue for greater scrutiny of market structures and alignment of incentives, others believe in the potential benefits of capitalism with caution. The key is to approach these discussions with thoughtfulness and an openness to challenging our own assumptions. Ultimately, growth requires humility and a willingness to consider unconventional ideas.

    Recent Episodes from Masters of Scale

    Rapid Response: What campus protests mean for business, w/Ken Frazier and Ken Chenault

    Rapid Response: What campus protests mean for business, w/Ken Frazier and Ken Chenault

    Amid college campus protests over Palestine and Israel, stark US political divides, and legal challenges to diversity initiatives, business leaders face new pressure on whether to speak out and take action on issues of our time. Ken Frazier, former CEO of Merck, and Ken Chenault, former CEO of American Express, offer their unfiltered advice, as board members of the Harvard Corporation and two of America’s most prominent Black executives. It’s a candid conversation about the most controversial topics in American business, from DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) to January 6th.

    Subscribe to the Rapid Response podcast feed: https://listen.rapidresponseshow.com/Subscribe

    For more info, visit: www.rapidresponseshow.com

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Grit-scaling with Angela Duckworth

    Grit-scaling with Angela Duckworth

    Success looks different for everybody. But author and psychologist Angela Duckworth has found that whether we achieve success, or even seek it, may hinge on a characteristic that she calls “grit.” Angela’s 2016 bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance quickly became a must-read for business leaders. On Masters of Scale she describes her unlikely path to scaling the impact of her work, through becoming a public intellectual. We hear why she studied commonalities among high-achieving individuals, her top advice for founders, and why grit alone is not enough. Plus we get the scoop on Angela’s next book!

    Angela discussed her inspiration for distilling complex ideas into accessible wisdom: psychologist William James and his Talks to Teachers

    Read a transcript of this episode: https://mastersofscale.com

    Subscribe to the Masters of Scale weekly newsletter: https://mastersofscale.com/subscribe

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Rapid Response: Airbnb reimagined (Part 1), w/CEO Brian Chesky

    Rapid Response: Airbnb reimagined (Part 1), w/CEO Brian Chesky

    As Rapid Response begins a twice-weekly cadence, Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky returns to reveal how the company’s new Icons initiative points toward a surprising new chapter ahead. Host Bob Safian gets Chesky to open up about the mental struggles of being a high-profile CEO, plus the inside story behind Airbnb’s recent ad campaign targeting hotels. The pair cover so much, we’ve split the episode into two parts. Part 2 drops this Friday exclusively in the Rapid Response podcast feed. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out!

    Subscribe to the Rapid Response podcast feed: https://listen.rapidresponseshow.com/Subscribe

    For more info, visit: www.rapidresponseshow.com

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Trendspotting with Ron Shaich: Panera, Cava, and Beyond

    Trendspotting with Ron Shaich: Panera, Cava, and Beyond

    Some business leaders have a seemingly psychic ability to spot trends, and take them mainstream at just the right moment. Ron Shaich is one of those. As a pioneering force behind fast-casual dining, Shaich saw that a growing number of Americans craved higher quality food in a relaxed yet speedy setting. His first major company, Au Bon Pain, paved the way for the meteoric rise of Panera Bread, with more than 2,000 locations nationwide. An accidental start running a convenience store first showed Ron the power of business to enact change. And his curiosity about trends and pattern recognition has fueled the growth of his businesses for decades. These forces have led to Ron Shaich upending how we eat like few others. 

    Read a transcript of this episode: https://mastersofscale.com

    Subscribe to the Masters of Scale weekly newsletter: https://mastersofscale.com/subscribe

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Caitlin Clark and the new WNBA, w/Commissioner Cathy Engelbert

    Caitlin Clark and the new WNBA, w/Commissioner Cathy Engelbert

    We’ve reached a radical inflection point in the growth of women’s sports, particularly the WNBA. As college stars like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese enter the league, fans are clamoring for tickets and on social media, generating unprecedented excitement and business potential. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert joins Rapid Response host Bob Safian to share how she plans to capitalize on this newfound buzz, and how NIL deals have transformed the business of sports for players and owners alike. Plus, Engelbert peels back the curtain on how she led the league through the Brittney Griner crisis and the tumult of COVID. 

    Read a transcript of this episode: https://mastersofscale.com

    Subscribe to the Masters of Scale weekly newsletter: https://mastersofscale.com/subscribe

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Local veggies, national scale: Sweetgreen co-founders

    Local veggies, national scale: Sweetgreen co-founders

    What started with three college friends looking for a healthy lunch in D.C. grew into Sweetgreen, a fast-growing restaurant business focused on salads and grain bowls. From a tiny 500-square-foot storefront to more than 220 locations nationwide, the Sweetgreen journey includes booking The Strokes for a "salad festival," adopting cutting-edge technology, and proving that fast food can include locally-sourced, farm-fresh ingredients. Listen to co-founders Jonathan Neman, Nathaniel Ru, and Nicolas Jammet share how they have scaled the business in alignment with its core values, to a public company valued at $2.5 billion.

    Read a transcript of this episode: https://mastersofscale.com

    Subscribe to the Masters of Scale weekly newsletter: https://mastersofscale.com/subscribe

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Meet your kid’s new AI tutor, w/Khan Academy founder and CEO Sal Khan

    Meet your kid’s new AI tutor, w/Khan Academy founder and CEO Sal Khan

    Khan Academy first rocked the education world with online video. Now Khan Academy CEO and founder Sal Khan has gone all-in on AI, convinced that it has immense potential to democratize and improve education. Khan tells Rapid Response host Bob Safian how an early outreach from OpenAI led Khan Academy to create an AI assistant called Khanmigo, which is already being used by thousands of students and teachers. Khan shares lessons from this real-world experiment, plus the inspiration behind his new book, Brave New Words, and why the most educated among us tend to avoid the risks worth taking.

    Pre-order Sal Khan’s new book, Brave New Words: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/740806/brave-new-words-by-salman-khan/

    Read a transcript of this episode: https://mastersofscale.com

    Subscribe to the Masters of Scale weekly newsletter: https://mastersofscale.com/subscribe

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Fighting media's reality distortion, w/Axios CEO Jim VandeHei

    Fighting media's reality distortion, w/Axios CEO Jim VandeHei

    Every day we’re inundated with news and opinion pieces about America’s hopeless division — but is this really true? Axios CEO Jim VandeHei joins Rapid Response host Bob Safian to bust what he sees as myth, plus share his seemingly counterintuitive AI play. VandeHei also makes a case for why the era of business leaders speaking out on political issues may be behind us, and he weighs-in on the state of Buzzfeed, NPR, and where the future of news media is inevitably headed.

    Read a transcript of this episode: https://mastersofscale.com

    Subscribe to the Masters of Scale weekly newsletter: https://mastersofscale.com/subscribe

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Preserve start-up spirit at scale: Techstars’ Maëlle Gavet

    Preserve start-up spirit at scale: Techstars’ Maëlle Gavet

    Maëlle Gavet is the CEO of Techstars, a pre-seed investor focused on early-stage entrepreneurs. It boasts a market cap of $111.6 billion, and supports founders in programs that span from Tokyo to Lagos to Alabama. Maëlle champions hard work, gratitude, and a questioning nature, qualities her grandfather imparted while she was growing up in France. She has carried her curiosity through a wide-ranging international career, in start-ups and scaled corporations. We hear lessons drawn from her vast experience, including the transformation of Ozon — the "Amazon of Russia" — in the early 2010s, to leadership roles in global travel and real estate. And we get a sample of the advice she often shares with Techstars’ founders, about how to balance their values and the needs of their company, always with an optimism about entrepreneurship as a force for good.

    Read a transcript of this episode: https://mastersofscale.com

    Subscribe to the Masters of Scale weekly newsletter: https://mastersofscale.com/subscribe

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    How Star Trek prospers against Netflix and Disney+, w/Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman

    How Star Trek prospers against Netflix and Disney+, w/Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman

    The streaming wars have reached a new inflection, as Netflix and Disney+ jostle for position, and in the process disrupt post-strike Hollywood. Paramount+ invested heavily in blockbuster veteran Alex Kurtzman to turn Star Trek into a distinguishing franchise. Now Kurtzman talks with Rapid Response host Bob Safian about the future of streaming, the end of TV’s golden age, and how courting Trekkies offers lessons for all customer engagement. Plus, Kurtzman shares behind the scenes stories of Star Trek’s past, present and future.

    Read a transcript of this episode: https://mastersofscale.com

    Subscribe to the Masters of Scale weekly newsletter: https://mastersofscale.com/subscribe

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.