Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Loyalty Program at RecyleBank

Note on an interesting organization - - RecycleBank.  RecycleBank is a business that sees reducing the ridiculous amount of waste in our consumer economy as a profit opportunity and is using market principles to remove some of the distortions of the current system.  In a few short years, RecyleBank has involved over one million people in twenty-six U.S. states and in the U.K. is saving million of dollars, trees, and gallons of oil by dramatically increasing recycle rates in the areas it serves.  The business model is simple but ingenious - - RecycleBank encourages recycling by providing reward points to households based on how much they recycle, then allowing them to trade in their points for rewards at local and national businesses.  It acts like a frequent recycler loyalty program.  By attaching an electronic tag to the bins, the company measures the amount the house is recycling and automatically credits their account on collection.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Pentagon's Operational Energy Strategy

The U.S. Department of Defense released its first first energy plan last week.  Key points - -
  • The plan is about saving lives and saving money.  How the military uses energy on the battlefield will be an increasing concern in the era of energy constraints.
  • The goals - - more energy efficient weapons and demanding more energy conscious behavior.
  • Energy dependence has led to soaring fuel bills for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a reliance on vulnerable fuel convoys to bring fuel supplies to the field.
  • Less energy = more operational resilient.
  • The DOD is the biggest single energy consumer in the U.S. - - roughly $15 billion last year.
  • About 80% of the convoys in Afghanistan are devoted to carrying fuel - - one service member is killed or wounded for every 24 convoys.
  • The new strategy's focus is on operations, including training, deployment and support of military forces in the field.  Those activities account for about 75% of the Pentagon's energy use.  Only 25% of the energy is consumed on bases.
  • Trends are the concern in an energy constrained world - - a soldier in WW II consumed an average of a gallon of fuel a day.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers consume about 20 gallons apiece per day, with 50% of that going to electricity generations (Two points - - (1) When outputs go up in modern organizations, see how much of that output is associated with the input of cheap energy, and (2) Our converged and networked world of large quantities of bits and bytes takes a huge amount of energy to operate and maintain.  I recently read that the NSA is getting into the business of building power plants just to support their energy needs.
  • The cost of energy is going to be a critical part of DOD planning.
  • Diversification is important - - less oil and more renewables are a strategic goal.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Three Environmental Lessons

Robert Verchick is Gauthier-St. Martin Chair in Environmental Law at Loyola University and has a new book, Facing Catastrophe: Environmental Action for a Post-Katrina World (2010).  In the book, he argues for a new perspective on disaster law that is based on the principles of environmental protection.

Regardless of where the next "Big One" might be - - provided below is a brief outline of the three simple commands according to Verchick that can guide policy-makers in preparing for future catastrophes, whether in the U.S. or the rest of the world:
  1. Go Green - - "Going green" means minimizing physical exposure to geographic hazards by preserving natural buffers against them and integrating those buffers into artificial systems like levees or seawalls.  Coastal wetlands, for instance, dampen storm surge and can increase the effectiveness of levees and seawalls.  Healthy first-growth forests help contain the spread of wildfires and protect against floods and landslides.  Going green also means respecting the limits of natural geography by discouraging new development in areas that expose people and assets to unreasonable risk.
  2. Be Fair - - "Being Fair" means looking after the public health, safety, and environmental in ways that promote distributed fairness and that do not increase personal and social vulnerabilities.  In nearly every disaster, it is the poor and other vulnerable groups who suffer most.  Disaster response polices must pay particular attention to the needs of the poor, racial minorities, women, children, the elderly, and the infirm.  Most generally, reforms in health care, housing, employment, and education are needed to reduce the preexisting vulnerabilities of these struggling groups.
  3. Keep Safe - - "Keeping safe" means assessing and managing risk in ways that capture the full spectrum of values at stake in the context of preparing for catastrophic harm.  Too often, important environmental or engineering decisions are made according to economic models that emphasize cost savings or commercial development but downplay public safety.  In designing the New Orleans levee system, for instance, the Army Corps regulations allowed engineers to consider the "benefit" to real estate developers of opening new land for development but not estimates of avoided fatalities.  Had the latter been considered,  a higher standard of safety (and higher government expenditures) could have been justified.  The levees that protect thousands of people in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in California share the same design limitations.  Stronger precautionary ideas should be applied to many areas of disaster preparation, including storm modeling, municipal building codes, and land use planning.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Climate Change and the New Security Environment

The respected British defense think tank the Royal United Services Institute has done a considerable amount of research and thinking on the subject of climate change, national security, and geopolitics.  Consider their language from a 2008 comprehensive review - - "In the next decades, climate change will drive as significant a change in the strategic security environment as the end of the Cold War.  If uncontrolled, climate change will have security implications of similar magnitude to the World Wars, but which will last for centuries."  Note the timescale - - "for centuries."

The United States military is facing an era in which the potential for climate change to reshape security landscapes is an issue rapidly rising on the global political agenda.  The security communities in the U.S. must prepare for these changes - - incorporating climate impacts into planning and operations and generating momentum for institutional change in the face of this new security environment.

Key issues for U.S. defense policy experts - -
  • How will climate change reshape future approaches to defence and security?
  • What policy initiatives are needed in order to deal comprehensively with climate-driven insecurity, and what steps need to be taken to make these changes?
  • How should security planning proceed within an environment of incomplete information - - regarding the timing and severity of climate changes, and the linkages between climate change and instability?
  • How can the international community mitigate tensions around strategic assets, territorial claims and access to resources in the Arctic?
  • What are the latent assessments from the climate science community, and how can climate modelling be integrated into social science to deliver sound projections of future vulnerabilities?
  • How will climate change affect international relations, security policy, economic relationships, and tensions within and between countries?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Green Acres

Buying farms is a new trend - - but the scale and scope is much more national and global than buying out your local neighbor down the road.  One study by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and international NGOs found that in the five African countries of Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali, and Sudan, about 2.5 million hectares of agricultural land were acquired by foreign investors between 2005 and 2009.  This is equal to almost half the arable land of the United Kingdom.  One estimate by the International Food Policy Research Institute put the total figure at 30 million hectares in 2009.  Another estimate by the Oakland Institute puts the total at 50 million hectares (an area equivalent  to half of all the arable land in China).  China and South Korea have both been big buyers of "green acres" in Africa.

You can view this in two ways.  The first is that all of this is an example of the market working.  The second is that it demonstrates a somewhat chaotic attempt to scramble for key resources.  Several issues need to be watched closely.  Population increases are driving this activity and clearly this could be a long term trend.  The true constraint is land and water in the context of food.  Which (land or water) is the more limiting will be interesting to watch.  How does nationalism play into this?  How do local citizens react to their food source going to others when they themselves have their own supply problems?  The geopolitics of all this - - such as national armies providing security for vast farms operated in distance foreign lands.  Who controls food production where and why might be one of those potential flash points in distance lands.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Public Policies That Prevent Dangerous Climate Change and Catalyze Sustainable Global Prosperity

Hal Havey is a Stanford educated engineer who was an adviser to both Clinton and the first Bush administrations and is now chief executive of the San Francisco-based energy and environmental nonprofit organization, ClimateWorks.

This is a June 2010 lecture at Stanford University by Mr. Harvey.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

7 Keys to Design and Innovation for Government

I received a free magazine in the mail last week.  Typically these end up in the trash.  But this particular magazine, Metropolis ("The Magazine of Architecture & Design"), was really interesting.  The design firm IDEO wrote several articles on design thinking in the context of government reinvention ("IDEO Takes on the Government - - The nimble consultancy brings design thinking to political structures in desperate need of reinvention").  One important thing about IDEO - - if they wrote it, you need to read it.  I have never read anything by any of their people that doesn't cause me to think a little.

The article gave specific examples of their design efforts - - redesigning the online experience for the Social Security Administration; streamlining the work visa process in Singapore; improving voting participation in Peru; monitoring real-time energy utilization at the General Services administration; and improving the housing for U.S. wounded warriors as they return from overseas.

Provided below are seven ideas that IDEO has developed from bringing design thinking to political structures in desperate need of reinvention:
  1. Start With Citizens - - Even in complex problem-solving situations, a human-centered approach can lead to simple steps that encourage change.  Like most organizations we've come across, government groups and agencies want to serve the public better.  But to do so, they need to get better at understanding the people they serve.  What are their needs and aspirations?  Often, a few genuine stories from the people who will actually use or benefit from a service can galvanize even large organizations.
  2. Forget The "Average" - - There's no "average" American, Peruvian, or Singaporean {this is a great point}.  While private-sector businesses pick and choose the people for whom they design, governments can't.  In the end, it's design for all - - and not just the obvious or easy-to-reach people.  Rather than design for the ever-elusive everyman or -woman, search out common types of behaviors that span broad demographics.  There are usually a few dominant behaviors that highlight opportunities.  Target these and a team's efforts to design change will resonate with the maximum number of people.
  3. Visualize Change - - Words are easy, plentiful, and often up for debate and discussion.  In contrast, design drives organizations to demonstrate and envision change faster.  Show tangible expressions of ideas through rich visualizations and prototypes and people will naturally get on the same page more quickly.
  4. Simplify In The Face Of Complexity - - Large-scale systems are complex.  They need to be in order to solve the kinds of problems they've been built around.  Additionally, political shifts add to the complexity, altering processes and goals.  The result?  Systems that feel so burdensome that even simple problems seem impossible to solve.  Fortunately, we've found that looking for the root of an issues helps a team to translate complex systems into simple ideas that allow organizations to debate, accept, or reject paths forward.
  5. Prototype Before Piloting - - Often, political pressure to succeed fast requires releasing a pilot into the world.  Sometimes these solutions succeed, but when they fail, an entire effort may be abandoned until the next year or next administration.  Prototyping in small, quick ways allows for in-the-world trails without the risk of high-stakes failure.  This approach encourages learning - - and even failure - - to happen in a far more manageable way.  And if an idea is truly bad, it's best that if fail on a small scale.
  6. Envision A Future Together - - The scale of government agencies is vast, and often times career employees have tackled large-scale challenges for years.  Delivering complete design solutions doesn't take into account these employees' tremendous expertise around a topic.  Neither does it lead to a future state that everyone can own.  Co-design, or envisioning a future together, does.  It also acknowledges that career employees will be around, working to make the future, long after the design team, advisers, and political appointees leave.
  7. Share The Mission - - Design is an act of optimism {I love this line!!}.  Addressing governmental challenges with the idea of building toward something versus creating a fix to a problem is essential.  Sharing a mission can reawaken hope in both government employees and designers who want to make real change happen.  With this approach, barriers, and boundaries of protocol, hierarchy, and politics fall by the wayside.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Robert Gates and the Boy Scouts

Key points from the June 20, 2011 edition of The New York Times (Basic Training: How Gates Grew) regarding Gates' four-and-a-half years as defense secretary:
  • Gates has earned a reputation as an adept manager in a department long resistant to change.
  • He has never read a management book - - but is planning to eventually write a book about managing and reforming large public institutions, such as the Pentagon and Texas A&M University.
  • Showing respect to the professional who staff and help lead an institution is critical.  Without that respect, top managers will quickly find their ideas ignored, or actively resisted.
  • Symbols and symbolic gestures are important.
  • Holding people accountable is critical.
  • In the context of the Pentagon - - "This place is too gigantic to expect that {knowing everything}.  What created the problem {mishaps involving the military's stewardship of the U.S. nuclear arsenal} was not taking it seriously enough once they were apprised of the situation."
  • Gates has joked that the only management training he received was with the Boy Scouts when he was 14 years old.
  • The appropriate management style can be a function of the time period.
  • Gates has an open leadership style and doesn't dominate meetings - - but relishes making decisions at their conclusion.  He encourages participation, so people have a lot of say, until the decision is made and then, like all good leaders, he expects people to toe the line.
  • Gates has said he has become too cautious as the years have gone by.
  • Gates worked hard to ensure his ideas were embraced not just by the top generals, but also mid-ranking and junior military officers, teaching classes at the service academies and giving speeches to the various war colleges.

The Killing

As a fan of AMC's The Killing, I love sportswriter Bill Simmons commentary on the show.  The link to his column is - -


Certain greatness to Simmons - - supposedly he had a Tweet that was never sent - - "bin Laden and Lakers killed in the same week?"

Monday, June 20, 2011

BP's Statistical Review of World Energy

Provided below are several interesting points from BP's 2011 Statistical Review of World Energy - -
  • Global oil production posted its biggest increase since 2004 last year.
  • Oil production grew by 2.2% in 2010, while oil consumption grew by 3.2%
  • Demand across the energy board grew by 5.6% - - the biggest annual gain since 1973.
  • Growth was above the long-term trend in every region of the world and almost every fuel reached record levels of use.
  • Coal consumption - - up 7.6%.
  • Natural gas consumption - - up 7.4%.
  • Hydroelectric consumption - - up 5.3%.
  • Renewables consumption - - up 15.5%.
  • Uranium consumption - - flat.
  • Part of this is cyclical - - energy demand tends to fall faster than GDP when things go wrong, and grows faster when the situation improves.
  • But some of this structural - - growth in the developing world is driving energy consumption.
  • The developing world is less efficient in terms of energy utilization than the developed world.
  • Coal was up so much because of the developing world.
  • Energy related carbon dioxide grew by 5.8% - - the highest level since 1969.
  • Gas production in the U.S. - - 23% from shale formations.
  • Global LNG production capability has increased by 58% - - global LNG trading has increased from 23% to 31% as a share of the international market.
  • Gas's share of energy provision overtaking coal's in less than 20 years.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The 21st-Century Workplace - Forces and Essential Skills

This is from an advertisement I recently read by the University of Phoenix that identified six future disruptive forces and ten essential skills.

The Disruptive Forces
  1. Extreme Longevity - - increasing global lifespans change the nature of careers and learning.
  2. Rise of Smart Machines and Systems - - workplace robotics nudge human workers out of rote, repetitive tasks. (Note #1 and #2 produce the paradox of the 21st century - - the desire to work longer, but potentially fewer opportunities.)
  3. Computational World - - massive increases in sensors and processing power makes the world a programmable system.
  4. New Media Ecology - - new communication tools require new media literacies beyond text.
  5. Superstructured Organizations - - social technologies drive new forms of production and value creation.
  6. Globally Connected World - - Increased global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operations.
The Ten Essential Skills
  1. Sense-Making (good way to say this!!)
  2. Transdisciplinary
  3. Social Intelligence
  4. Novel and Adaptive Thinking
  5. Computational Thinking
  6. New Media Literacy
  7. Design Mindset
  8. Cognitive Load Management (another good one!!)
  9. Cross Cultural Competency
  10. Virtual Collaboration

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Ken Banks (who was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer last year) uses cheap - - but powerful - - technology to change the lives in the developing world.  Ten-dollar cell phones are easier to obtain than Internet access in many parts of the developing world.  Cheap phones have become the platform for making the Internet unnecessary in those places.  NGOs and aid groups are exchanging vital information from laptop to cell phone in areas the Internet doesn't reach.  Banks's FrontlineSMS text messaging software, which he offers for free, is used in more than 70 countries - - from monitoring local elections, to running rural health-care, to obtaining commodity prices - - the software has been downloaded more than 14,000 times.

It's software you install on any computer.  Then you connect the computer to a mobile phone using a cable.  Finally, with even just one bar of mobile phone signal, you can send test messages to communities and groups in the most rural areas.  It leapfrogs into where digital communication didn't exist.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Engineering and the Quest for the Holy Grail

In his bestselling treatise on globalization, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of The Twenty-First Century, author Tom Friedman coined the term Triple Convergence.  In his book, Friedman outlines the ten forces that have helped to flatten the globe - - from the collapse of the Berlin Wall, to work flow software, to global supply-chaining - - all allowing people to collaborate, compete, and share on a global stage.

Friedman also acknowledges that the ten factors or forces could not have flattened the world all on their own.  He credits the spread of a rich flattening environment to the creation of complementary software, the Internet, and political factors that caused several developing countries, including China, Russia, India and Latin America, to open their borders at this time with the creation of the perfect storm that let to the rapid-fired pace of globalization.

We have another perfect storm - - the Triple Convergence of social, sustainability, and global economic loops and feedback loops.  Storm is the correct word - - from the Middle East to Europe - - the streets are full of fronts and pressure zones, impacting the social fabric of society (and very old societies - - like Egypt and Greece).  In his June 7, 2011 New York Times column (The Earth's Full), Friedman gives us a view of the new Triple Convergence:

"We will not change systems though, without a crisis.  But don't worry, we're getting there.

We're currently caught in two loops.  One is that more population growth and more global warming together are pushing up food prices, rising food prices cause political instability in the Middle East, which leads to higher food prices, which leads to more instability.  At the same time, improved productivity means fewer people are needed in every factory to produce more stuff.  So if we want to have more jobs, we need more factories.  More factories making more stuff make more global warming, and that is where the two loops meet."

The new Triple Convergence of reinforcing feedback loops - - jobs (not enough of them in spots), sustainability (demand is outpacing supply of certain critical resources), and globalization (a multi-speed growth world of developed versus developing) places engineers at the sharp end of the new Triple Convergence.  Engineering is fundamentally in search of the holy grail.  A holy grail of market-focused technology that will avoid a global sustainability crisis by decoupling material and energy growth from global economic growth.  Our collective engineering futures, in some form or fashion, will involve work on this decoupling process.  If engineering, science, and economists cannot decouple a global looping system of 5% global economic growth from a world of 5% energy consumption growth for an additional three billion people and a new rising global middle class - - we are in very big trouble.

Good luck with the quest.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

No Discipline At All

Larry Page of Google is fond of saying that looking at things from a different perspective could lead to unexpected solutions.  Sometimes in engineering you look at things with tunnel vision and need a broader perspective.  Page has stated that those individuals that produce significant change are individuals that are not uber-specialists but broad thinkers with broad experiences.

Frank Moss is the former head of The Media Lab at MIT.  The term "media" in this case has unbounded meaning that allows the lab to look at broad range of technologies.  One part of the lab in the Smart Cities group, where the ultra-compact CityCar electric automobile has been developed.  The team that developed the car consisted of groups in architecture, urban planning, mechanical engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, systems engineering, medicine, neuroscience, visual arts, business management, science, and sociology.  Moss has suggested that one of the most important disciplines in the twenty-first century will be no discipline at all.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Happy Birthday IBM!!!

IBM will celebrate its 100th birthday on June 16.  The current issue (June 11-17, 2011) of The Economist has a special section for the birthday - - 1100100 and Counting.  The article is a great history lesson on IBM, while covering the recent changes regarding the focus of the company.  Since 2002, the success of IBM has been a function of three strategic elements - - (1) Maintain its connection to its customers.  This is one of the dominant features of IBM for the last 100-years, (2) IBM has become much less hierarchical and more open.  IBM is a champion of open standards and open-source software, and (3) IBM tries to ensure that the output of its 3,000-strong research division remains relevant to its business.

Consider the closing of the article - - a nice summation for a birthday card:

IBM, 100 years after its incorporation, appears to be fairly well in control of its destiny.  Yet its history can read as the result of business constraints as much as of managerial genius.  From the beginning, as a maker of complex machines IBM had no choice but to explain its products to is customers and thus to develop a strong understanding of their business requirements.  From that followed close relationships between customers and supplier.

Over time these relationships became IBM's most important platform - - and the main reason for its longevity.  Customers were happy to buy electric "calculating machines", as Thomas Watson senior insisted on calling them, from the same firm that had sold them electromechanical predecessors.  They hoped that their trusted supplier would survive in the early 1990s.  And they are now willing to let IBM's service division tell them how to organize their businesses better.

The human platform has an important drawback: it is expensive to maintain and to extend, says Carl Claunch of Gartner, a market-research firm.  That also means, however, that it is costly for others to replicate or invade.  And given the complexity of the world and how much of it is still to be digitized, IBM's human platform looks unlikely to reach its limits soon.  Perhaps not for another 100 years.

One a year IBM produces a technology outlook - - you can access the 2011 version at IBM Global Technology Outlook 2011.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Summer Reading List

Think about these 10 books (and think Kindle or similar) when you put your summer beach reading list together - -
  1. Living in the Endless City by Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic
  2. India: A Portrait by Patrick French
  3. The Great Disruption by Paul Gliding
  4. Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Harford
  5. Disaster Law and Policy by Daniel Farber
  6. The Culture of Military Innovation: The Impact of Cultural Factors on the Revolution in Military Affairs in Russia, the US, and Israel by Dima Adamsky
  7. Facing Catastrophe: Environmental Action for a Post-Katrina World by Robert Verchick
  8. The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom
  9. In The Plex by Steven Levy
  10. Inside Steve's Brain by Leander Kahney

Monday, June 13, 2011

Failure As "What" Versus "Who"

Failure typically has a "who" response - - who do you blame for a failure?  Who was at fault?  An accident or unexpected event seems to always have the moral overtones of who to blame and who to punish.

But pull out the dictionary and look up the word "reliability" - - "what one can count on not to fail while doing what is expected of it."  When I get up in the morning to start my car and go to work, reliability and three questions intersect as I turn the key:
  1. What do people count on?
  2. What do people expect from the things they count on?
  3. In what ways can the things people count on fail?
The answers to these three important failure and reliability questions provide clues about what it is that could go wrong and what it is that you don't want to go wrong.  The key word in all three questions is "what" one can count on, not "who".  A preoccupation with failure is a preoccupation with maintaining reliable performance (i.e., periodic maintenance of you car so it gets you to work).  And reliable performance is a system issue (the reliability of my car is fundamentally a "what" issue), not an individual issue (a "who").  Failures are connected.  Small events that are the outcome of earlier, more distant conditions predispose subsequent events to deviate from the expected.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Modeling the Mississippi

After this years spring rains and runoff in the Mississippi River Basin, a key question is - - "Will climate change tip flood flow rates beyond the 20th-century predictions?

Like almost everything associated with climate change, there is no clear or easy answer.  Dr. Eugene Takle of Iowa State University in Ames is studying how climate change will influence the water flowing through the Upper Mississippi River Basin, but making predictions here is difficult: the area is very sensitive to change as it lies a the intersection of the Pacific and Arctic air masses and those from the Gulf of Mexico.

One of Takle's models, built in 2004, suggested flow at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers could increase by 50% with climate change, but a follow-up study last year failed to produce such a clear result.  Also, the much larger Ohio River contributes by far more to flooding in the southern United States than the Upper Mississippi River - - look for the Ohio River to gain more attention in the context of flooding and climate change research and modeling.

Check out Climate Change Impacts on Iowa - January 2011 - - Report to the Governor and the Iowa General Assembly.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Many Faces of Innovation

Tom Kelley of IDEO has a new book out - - The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO's Strategies for Defeating the Devils Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization.

The ten faces of innovation can be divided into three different personas.  The Learning Personas (#1, #2, and #3) are driven by the idea that no matter how successful a company currently is, no one can afford to be complacent.  Individuals and organizations need to constantly gather new sources of information in order to expand their knowledge and grow.  The Organizing Personas (#4, #5, and #6) focus on organizing roles, played by individuals who are savvy about the often counterintuitive process of how organizations move ideas forward.  The Building Personas (#7, #8, #9, and #10) are building roles that apply insight form the learning roles and channel the empowerment from the organizing roles to make innovation happen.

The ten faces of innovation are as follows:
  1. The Anthropologist brings new learning and insights into the organization by observing human behavior and developing a deep understanding of how people interact physically and emotionally with products, services, and spaces.
  2. The Experimenter prototypes new ideas continuously, learning by a process of enlightened trial and error.  The Experimenter takes calculated risks to achieve success through a state of "experimentation as implementation."
  3. The Cross-Pollinator explores other industries and cultures, then translates those findings and revelations to fit the unique needs of your enterprise.
  4. The Hurdler knows the path to innovation is strewn with obstacles and develops a knack for overcoming or out smarting those roadblocks.
  5. The Collaborator helps bring eclectic groups together, and often leads from the middle of pack to create new combinations and multidisciplinary solutions.
  6. The Director not only gathers together a talented cast and crew but also helps to spark their creative talents.
  7. The Experience Architect designs compelling experiences that go beyond mere functionality to connect at a deeper level with customers' latent or expressed needs.
  8. The Set Designer creates a stage on which innovation team members can do their best work, transforming physical environments into powerful tools to influence behavior and attitude.
  9. The Caregiver builds on the metaphor of a health care professional to deliver customer care in a manner that goes beyond mere service.  Good Caregivers anticipate customer needs and are ready to look after them.
  10. The Storyteller builds both internal and morale and external awareness through compelling narratives that communicate a fundamental human value or reinforce a specific cultural trait.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Acronym of the Week - - D.I.Y.

D.I.Y. stands for "Do-It-Yourself" - - as in D.I.Y. manufacturing, D.I.Y. drones, and D.I.Y. biotech.  In an open-source and decentralized world of global collaboration, D.I.Y. is an interesting trend to follow.

All scientists and engineers start as amateurs.  Bill Hewlett and Dave Pachard started their information technology behemoth is a garage.  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were part of the original group of hackers in the Homebrew Computer Club when they built their first Apple in the 1970s.  Sergey Brin and Larry Page invented Google in a friend's garage.  Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in his dorm room.

We have always been a nation with a dominant D.I.Y. gene.  In fact, the new thing is, in fact, things.  In recent years, a nationwide movement of do-it-yourself aficionados has embraced the self-made object.  Take one model radio controlled airplane and a Lego Mindstorms Robotics Kit - - put the two together and you end up with a Lego robot that can fly a plane.  In our open-sourced and decentralized global world, you can count on Internet instructions and a YouTube video to show you the steps (Note - - Building an air force of Lego based drones with GPS capabilities will probably get you on a list that the NSA has).

Other DIYs have a focus on manufacturing.  Within this group is a quixotic band (40,000 factories have shut down in the last decade) of soldering, laser-cutting, software-programming types who, defying all economic logic, contend that they can reverse America's manufacturing slump.  America will make things again, they say, because Americans will always make things - - not in factories but also in their own homes, and not because it's artisan or faddish, but because it's easier, better for the environment and more fun.

Neil Gershenfield, a M.I.T. physicist who is an intellectual godfather to the D.I.Y. maker movement, has suggested that the new tools would over time change the global industry as we know it.  He predicts a wave of new competitors for the megacorporation that designs, makes, and sells products all under one brand.  Instead, Gershenfield imagines a consumer of the near future downloading a design for a mobile phone through an iTunes-like portal; buying an add-on from another firm that tweaks the design; and having it printed at a neighborhood shop in a plastic shell of your choice.

It is important to understand the potential of D.I.Y. in the context of printing - - as in 3D printing.  Three-dimensional printing from digital designs will transform manufacturing and allow more people to start making things.

Using 3D printers as production tools, has become known in the industry as "additive" manufacturing (as opposed to the old "subtractive" business of cutting, drilling, and bashing).  The additive process requires less raw material and because software drives 3D printers, each item can be made differently without costly retooling.  The printers can also produce ready-made objects that require less assembly and things.

How would this translate to D.I.Y. manufacturing?  Most obviously, it changes the economics of making customized components.  If a company needs a specialized part, it may find it cheaper and quicker to have the part printed locally or even to print its own than to order one from a supplier a long way away.  This is more likely when rapid design changes are needed.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of additive manufacturing is that it lowers the cost of entry into the business of making things.  Instead of finding the money to set up a factory or asking a mass-producer to make something for you, 3D printers will offer a cheaper, less risky route to the market.  An entrepreneur could run off one or two samples with a 3D printer to see if his or her idea works.  He or she could make a few more to see if they sell, and take in design changes that buyers ask for.  If things go really well, they could scale up - - with conventional mass production or an enormous 3D print run.

The most interesting area of D.I.Y. is on the biotech front.  As one D.I.Y. biotech fan stated, "Biology is really fundamentally no different from cooking, most of the time."  (Note - - It is one thing to burn a hole in the kitchen table with a soldering iron putting together your latest gizmo - - it is another thing to "wipe out" your subdivision with some new strain of swine flu.  D.I.Y. Biotech manuals point out that pets are really good safety officers.)  Many in the biotech D.I.Y. crowd come from backgrounds in bioengineering - - the convergence of open-source and biotechnology.  Home-brew DNA dicers and slicers with sophisticated homemade equipment - - with the potential to engineer bacteria to produce malaria medicine in their kitchens.

D.I.Y. meets the world of open sourcing in the context of an increasing flow of global ideas.

Check out the following - -

Adafruit Industries
Digital Forming
DIY Garage Biotech

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The ABCs of Negotiating

Harvey Mackay is the author of Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.  In the June 3-9, 2011 issue of the Dallas Business Journal, Mackey provides an alphabetical lesson in business negotiations.

The Mackay ABCs of business negotiating:

A is for authority.  Always, before you start any negotiation, look beyond the title and make sure that the person you're dealing with is in a position of authority to sign off on the agreement.

B is for beware of the naked man who offers you his shirt.  If the customer can't or won't pay what the deal is worth, you don't need the sale.

C is for contracts.  The most important term in any contract isn't in the contract.  It's dealing with people who are honest.  Whenever someone says, "Forget the contract, your word is good enough," maybe yours is, but his or hers usually isn't.

D is for dream.  A dream is always a bargain no matter what you pay for it.

E is for experience.  When a person with money meets a person with experience, the person with the experience, the person with the experience winds up with the money, and the person with the money winds up with the experience.

F is for facts.  Gather all the facts you can on both sides of the negotiation.  Remember, knowledge does no become power until it is used.

G is for guts.  It takes plenty of guts to hold firm on your position, just an many to know when to make concessions.

H is for honesty.  Not only is it the best policy, it is the only policy.  Your reputation for honest dealings will keep doors open and get slammed in others' faces.

I is for information.  In the long run, instincts are no match for information.

J is for judgement.  If a deal sounds too good to be true, it is.

K is for know about no.  If you can't say yes, it's no.  Period.

L is for leaks.  The walls have ears.  Don't discuss any business where it can be overheard by others.  Almost as many deals have gone down in elevators as elevators have gone down.

M is for maybe - - the worst answer you can get.

N is for never say no for the other person.  Make them turn down the deal, not you.

O is for options.  Keep your options open, because the first negotiations isn't usually the only negotiation.

P is for positioning.  They can always tell when you need the sale more than they need the deal.

Q is for questions.  Question every angle, motive, and outcome.  Not out loud necessarily, but so that you are satisfied that you understand the opposition's strategy and can respond.

R is for reality check.  In any negotiation, the given reason is seldom the real reason.  When someone says no based on price, money is almost never the real reason.

S is for smile - - and say no, no, no until your tongue bleeds.  If the deal isn't right for you, stay calm, stay pleasant and just say no.

T is for timing.  People go around all their lives saying, "What should I buy? What should I sell?"  Wrong questions: "When should I buy?  When should I sell?"  Timing is everything.

U is for ultimatum.  Never give an ultimatum unless you mean it.

V is for visualization.  If you can visualize you presentation, the objections that will be tossed back at you and your response to those means you are already ahead of the game.  Everyone should come out winning something.

W is for win-win.  A negotiation doesn't have to have a winner and a loser.  Everyone should come out winning something.

X is for (e)xit strategy.  Decide in advance when you will withdraw from negotiating, when you can no longer achieve what you need or when the other side cannot be trusted to negotiate fairly.

Y is for yield.  What will this deal yield you?  What will you have to yield to make it work?

Z is for zero in on what what you want, what you need and what you are willing to concede.

And always let the other person talk first.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Engineering and What People Love About Showering

Genevieve Bell is an anthropologist with Intel (She holds a PhD in cultural anthropology and is one of the authors of Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing).  She had the following comments in the May 28-June 3, 2011 issue of the magazine New Scientist:

"Engineering tends to start with what is technologically possible.  Part of my job is about how you talk about experiences as a starting point instead.  Taking a shower, for example: you don't need to know how plumbing works, but what people love about showering.  This approach creates very different solutions.

To design for real people, you've got to think of messy apartments where everything is plugged into the same electrical outlet.  As an engineer you tend to imagine you're designing into a blank space.  It's a different problem to think about how to create a technology so compelling that a person is willing to give something up, to unplug it to plug your thing it."

Companies are full of great problem-solvers.  But you have to know what problem to solve.  Rare is the person that is extremely good at reframing the problem in a new way - - informed by their insights from the field - - so that the right solution can spark a breakthrough.  The rare engineer, willing to set aside what they "know," looking past tradition and even their own preconceived notions.  They have the wisdom to observe with a truly open mind.  They don't judge, they observe - - because creativity has much to do with experience, observation, and imagination.  Picking up on the smallest nuances of your customers or clients can offer tremendous opportunities.

The bottom line - - the key to coming up with game-changing innovations lies not in finding novel solutions to known questions but, rather in posing novel questions.  This requires removing barriers and approaching the world with an anti-disciplinary ethos.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Siemens and Megacites

The May 9, 2011 issue of Forbes has an interview with Siemens CEO Peter Loscher.  The article highlighted the projected growth in the global megacities and where and how a firm like Siemens would fit into this huge market.  Key points from the article - -
  • By 2050 demographers think cities will hold 70% of the planet - - roughly 6.2 billion people.
  • By 2100, the U.N. estimates, Europe's share of the world's population will be cut in half to 6%, while Africa's will double to 20%.
  • The developed nations, with their massive industrial infrastructure and huge consumer markets, still account for 70% of Siemens' sales - - but in the context of incremental growth, more than 50% of it will happen in emerging markets.
  • Siemens has a new division - - Infrastructure and Cities, with 81,000 employees and $24 billion in revenue.
  • Competition for Siemens - - GE, ABB, Alstom, and Schneider.
  • World infrastructure market is estimated at $2.8 trillion a year, with $435 billion of that in products that Siemens sells.
  • Approximately 50% of the world's GDP is generated in the 645 cities with populations above 750,000, the largest 40 cities represent 20% of global GDP.  The momentum is firmly in emerging markets.  While Germany has three cities with a population over one million, India has 46 and China has 160.
  • 70% of Brazil's power flows form Siemens generators, the first of which was installed in 1894.  Siemens is working with Brazil's national grid operator to install "smart grid" technology to balance the flow of the 33,000 gigawatt hours of electricity Sao Paulo swallows a year.
  • The cost of upgrading Brazil's electrical grid in time for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro has been estimated at $260 billion.
  • Siemens has 34,000 employees and $8.3 billion in revenue in China.
  • A Siemens-commissioned study of more than 500 city managers, municipal employees, and private company executives around the world and found that transportation was rated the highest priority for investment, ahead of environmental protection and even education.
  • Siemens is involved in high-speed rail projects in China and subway systems in Brazil.
  • The business is changing - - there's simply not enough government money in most countries to pay for needed infrastructure.  So Siemens increasingly must find private partners and financing sources like development funds.
  • Siemens is targeting 400 midsize global cities -- from Hangzhou to Chennai to Florianopolis.
  • Siemens claims the world's largest water treatment business with revenue of about $2 billion a year.  The bulk are industrial users.
  • Siemens has a "Sustainability Center" in London.
  • Water happens to need a lot of electricity - - 3% of the U.S. load goes to water and wastewater treatment.  That produces demand for turbines and transmission lines.  It's one reason GE's Immelt loves the business.  "I like it, too," says Loscher.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The First Global Virtual Water Network Model

Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe of Princeton University and Samir Suweis of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have built the first mathematical model of the global virtual water trade network using the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization's data on trade in barley, corn, rice, soya beans, wheat, beef, pork, and poultry in 2000 (Structure and Controls of the Global Virtual Water Trade Network)

The model shows that a small number of countries have a large number of connections to other countries, offering them a steady and cheap supply of virtual water even if some connections are compromised.  A much larger number of countries have very few connections and so are vulnerable to market forces.  Most importantly, the model illustrates that almost 80% of the water flows over only about 4% of the links, which Rodriquez-Iturbe calls the "rich club phenomenon".  In total, the model shows that in 2000, there were 6,033 links between 166 nations.  Yet 5% of global water flow was channelled through just one link between two "rich club" members - - the U.S. and Japan.

See my previous October 30, 2010 posting for an introduction to the idea of virtual water - - My Water Footprint.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Influence Versus Power

Bing Gordon is a partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.  He offers his thoughts on the different types of leadership - - 

Early on, I learned that I'm better with influence than power.  And, in fact, I'm not power-hungry.  My sense is that to be a good operator you need to be power-hungry.  You need to care more about power than prestige, and probably more about power than money, and more about power than intellectual stimulation.  And people who are good operators tend to want power so they can get stuff done.  They want to wield it.

And there's a cost to having power, which is that the people you have sway over actually own you, especially if you're in a business where there are more jobs than there are good people.

I like having influence.  I like being with interesting people and helping them become better and being part of the flow of ideas.  And that's a little bit uncomfortable as a boss.  It doesn't make sense to people that the boss, who is kind of a figurehead and maybe a confidence-giving parent figure, just wants to be an experienced helper.  As a person of authority, I'm kind of teacher-consultant more than wielder of power.

The fitness function of a venture capitalist - - meaning the metrics of performance, the report card - - is pretty pure.  You show up with money and one way or another more money has to come back than goes in.  So I just do stuff I've learned over time and work with people who I like who are really motivated, who want to listen to me most of the time and take feedback and then make it their own.  And I work in areas that I want to learn about, areas that are fascinating, because fascination is a good thing.

It's better to work with people you would pay to be able to work with.  So if you're working with someone in an area that fascinates you, with people you can add value to and have good conversations with, who are capable and really motivated and you would pay to hang out with them, I'm pretty confident good things would happen.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sustainability and the humble bottle of liquid laundry detergent

This is a great story and observation that illustrates the dynamics of sustainability.  Where waste and inefficiency run into cultural norms and limited consumer education.  A story that starts in most laundry rooms.

Consider the bottle of liquid laundry detergent.  The industry standard always came in a 120-ounce container (I just checked mine, it is 172-ounce) close to the size and weight of a gallon milk jug (heavy enough for my wife to complain about carrying in to the house from the car), but it was made in an ultraconcentrated version - - same brand, same soap, just concentrated so it fit into a container the size of a large ketchup bottle.  Both versions wash the same amount of clothing with the same effectiveness, and both sell for the same prize - - but the ketchup bottle uses 1/4 the packaging, weighs 1/4 as much, costs 1/4 to ship, and takes up 1/4 the space on ships, trucks, and shelves.  The larger bottle had one ingredient in greater supply in comparison to the smaller bottle: extra water.  That's all.  The ketchup bottle version is better for the bottom line, more convenient for the customer, more profitable to sell, and way better for the environment.

Yet - - and this is a a huge yet, most of the billion or so bottles of laundry soap sold each year in the United States were the big ones.  Waste and habit on one side of the ledger - - profit and sustainability on the other side.  Both sides of the ledger are surrounded by a culture of "Bigger has to be better for me, doesn't it?", poor product labeling, and poorly educated consumers (including me and my family) in the context of sustainability.

Put Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green Revolution by Edward Humes on your summer beach reading list.  The book explains how Wal-Mart came to view profitability and greenness in the light of a strategic sustainability vision.  Also check out Blu Skye Sustainability Consultants - - the firm that helped Wal-Mart down their sustainability path.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Infrastructure of Conundrums

From anthropologist Constance Perin - - By "infrastructure of conundrums", she means that paradoxes, dilemmas, and contradictions appear often enough in technology-driven enterprises to warrant being re-understood as expectable outcroppings of complexity.  To manage a complex system is to keep untying the the knots it can get itself into.  The main problem in complex systems is that designers and operators know much about the technology's inner workings and its operating environment, but they also know that they have not imagined, deduced, or experienced all of the ways it can generate unexpected events.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tom West 1939 - 2011

Tom West passed away on May 19.  West, a shy computer engineer who became an unlikely symbol of high tech to multitudes of general-interest readers as leader of the engineering team protrayed in Tracy Kidder's Pultizer Prize winning book "The Soul of a Machine."

His daughter told The New York Times that her father was driven "to understand everything."  "He knew a million things - - it didn't matter: worms, plumbing, literature.  He could give you a discourse.  It seemed he could never rest until he had a sense of control over things around him."

I have a previous post on West - - Tom West + Paul Farmer from September 20, 2009.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Saying GRACE Over Groundwater

GRACE in this case is Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment.  Hydrologists have used a pair of gravity sensing satellites to measure changes in the amount of groundwater in the Sacramento and San Joaquin  basins of California.  GRACE relies on the interplay of two nine year-old twin satellites that monitor each other while orbiting the Earth.  The two satellites, each the size of a small car, travel in polar orbits about 135 miles apart.  Each bombards the other with microwaves calibrating the distance between them down to the intervals of less than the width of a human hair.

If the mass below the path of the leading satellite increases - - because, say, the lower Mississippi basin is water logged - - that satellite speeds up, and the distance between the two grows.  Then the mass tugs on both, and the distance shortens.  It increases again as the forward satellite moves out of range while the trailing satellite is held back.  The measurements of the distance between the craft translate to a measurement of surface mass in any given region.  GRACE sees all of the change in ice, all of the change in snow and water storage, all of the surface water, all of the soil moisture, all of the groundwater.

Recent findings indicate that from October 2003 to March 2010 aquifers under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley in California were drawn down by 25 million acre-feet - - almost enough to fill Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir (the estimate is not without controversy among water managers in California).

GRACE is under the management of Dr. Jay S. Famiglietti of the University of California Center for Hydrologic Modeling.