Today in Kickstart: Better networking through ignorance, Bitcoin’s forking craze

You can’t break out of small-talk prison if you’re afraid of looking dumb. PLUS: how to make your own cryptocurrency

This is Kickstart—the daily morning management briefing on innovation, leadership, technology and the economy from the editors of Canadian BusinessSign up to get it directly to your inbox each weekday at 6 AM Eastern.

Good morning! Here’s what’s on our radar at the moment:

Better networking through ignorance

For some of us, networking comes naturally. For the rest, it’s a skill that takes practice. For people not instinctively wired for the kind of interactions that make for good networking, it can feel unnatural and stilted, to the point that they clam up entirely. Mike Stieb, a former exec at both NBC and Google and a seasoned networker, has a raft of practical advice on how to flex your networking muscles. For instance, it’s key to get past small talk and into a meaningful conversation; the only way to do that is to take the manageable risk of asking questions you don’t already know the answers to:

We are often afraid to have deeper conversations because we don’t want to look ignorant about things we don’t know about.

“Todd, you said you work at a Swiss bank — what do you do there?”
“Debt capital markets.”
“Oh, cool.”

And then you spend the rest of your life not knowing what debt capital markets are and what your new friend does for a living because you’re too afraid to ask. But if Todd is worth getting to know, he won’t care that you’re not familiar with his work. He will probably take your silence to mean you’re not interested in him. So why should he bother getting to know you? Liberating yourself from this fear will open the door to thousands of fascinating conversations.

Link: First Round Review

Workers want to re-skill

Automation is the all-purpose bogeyman of today’s workforce: millions of jobs could be taken over by machines in the next few years, experts say, and the big question is what to do about all the humans left behind. “Retraining” tends to be the vague answer, but a new study from the World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting finds a notable difference in the way top execs and the rank-and-file see the issue:

These executives say only 26% of their work force is ready to learn new skills for new jobs, and about one in four of these business leaders say a key obstacle is that their employees are resistant to such training. Only that appears to be false: 67% of workers said they consider it important to develop skills to work with intelligent machines in the next three to five years. Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s chief leadership and human resources officer, tells Axios that executives may not have surveyed their workers directly, and may wrongly assume that coming automation is “making people nervous.” Workers are consumers, too, she said, and so are excited by what technological changes may bring.

Link: World Economic Forum

Industry is the next hacker battleground

When you think about malicious software, the first thing that probably comes to mind is hackers stealing your credit card number or email address—such attacks are widespread and widely reported. The highly digitized knowledge economy is a natural target for hackers, but now malware is a rising threat in another part of the economy. Recently, parties unknown performed a sophisticated attack called “Triton” against an industrial control system—only the third such incident ever reported, but that could have dire and far-reaching consequences. You don’t want hackers reading your email; you definitely don’t want them accessing, overriding, and manipulating industrial equipment used by manufacturers, utilities and critical infrastructure. As digital technology creeps into every part of the physical plant, the risk of such attacks is steadily growing:

[N]ewly revealed details of how [Triton] works expose just how vulnerable industrial plants—and their failsafe mechanisms—could be to manipulation. At the S4 security conference on Thursday, researchers from the industrial control company Schneider Electric, whose equipment Triton targeted, presented deep analysis of the malware—only the third recorded cyberattack against industrial equipment. Hackers were initially able to introduce malware into the plant because of flaws in its security procedures that allowed access to some of its stations, as well as its safety control network.

Link: Wired

Finance has gone forking crazy

Back in August, some dissident members of the bitcoin community initiated a “hard fork,” splitting off from the main blockchain that underpins the digital currency, and establishing their own, the confusingly named Bitcoin Cash. That was the first and most prominent example, but “forking” has now become a bit of a fad in its own right, with dozens more such schisms expected this year. There’s even an online service that provides ready-made software to fork your own altcoin:

They’re just a few of the growing stable of so-called forks — a type of spinoff in which developers clone Bitcoin’s software, release it with a new name, a new coin and possibly a few new features. Often, the idea is to capitalize on the public’s familiarity with Bitcoin to make some serious money, at least virtually. Some 19 Bitcoin forks came out last year — but up to 50 more could happen this year, according to Lex Sokolin, global director of fintech strategy at Autonomous Research. Ultimately, the number could run even higher now that Forkgen, a site enabling anyone with rudimentary programming skills to launch a clone, is in operation.

Link: Bloomberg


  • Bombshell sexual misconduct allegations against Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader Patrick Brown last night, which he denied in a brief public appearance. Several of Brown’s senior staffers resigned. Other party figures publicly called for Brown to step aside; a resignation/ouster looks inevitable today. No direct business angle to this story, but sure to affect Ontario’s June 2018 provincial election campaign. Another provincial party leader, Jamie Baillie of the Nova Scotia PCs, was forced out just yesterday, following an investigation initiated by the party into “inappropriate behaviour.” (CTV, Twitter, CBC)
  • There is an epic battle for market share brewing in the US$40 billion soybean business. (Reuters)
  • Cargo is a startup that allows Uber drivers to sell snacks to riders on the go. The company tracks sales and automatically delivers packages to restock. It says it’ll be in 20,000 cars by the end of the year. (WP)
  • Google’s US$30 million Lunar XPrize—an award for a private lunar landing intended to boost the space sector—will not be awardedbecause none of the companies will launch by the March 31, 2018 deadline. (Xprize)
  • Researchers discovered they could reconstruct audio by filming a nearby potato chip bag and scrutinizing its vibrations on video. The technique also works on pop cans, house plants and chocolate bar wrappers. (IEEE)
  • A faster, cheaper method for capturing an actor’s performance digitally: just a green screen and a green lycra suit. The rest is software. (Stiller Studios via Vimeo)

Thanks for reading! Have a truly excellent day.