Thursday, December 31, 2009

Closing Out The Year!!

C.K. Prahalad is the Paul and Ruth McCracken Distinguished University Professor of Strategy at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. He has come up with a great list of ideas and values for managers and leaders that one should reflect on as we close out a year and enter into a new one.
  • Understand the importance of nonconformity. Leadership is about change, hope, and the future. Leaders have to venture into uncharted territory, so they must be able to handle intellectual solitude and ambiguity.
  • Display a commitment to learning and developing yourself. Leaders must invest in themselves. If you aren't educated, you can't help the uneducated; if you are sick, you can't minister to the sick; if you are poor, you can't help the poor.
  • Develop the ability to put personal performance in perspective. Over a long career, you will experience both success and failure. Humility in success and courage in failure are hallmarks of a good leader.
  • Be ready to invest in developing other people. Be unstinting in helping you colleagues realize their full potential.
  • Learn to relate to those who are less fortunate. Good leaders are inclusive, even though that isn't easy. Most societies have dealt with differences by avoiding or eliminating them; few assimilate those who aren't like them.
  • Be concerned about due process. People seek fairness - not favors. They want to be heard. They often don't even mind if decisions don't go their way as long as the process if fair and transparent.
  • Realize the importance of loyalty to organization. profession, community, society, and, above all, family. Most of your achievements would be impossible without our families' support.
  • Assume responsibility for outcomes as well as for the the processes and people you work with. How you achieve results will shape the kind of person you become.
  • Remember that you are part of a very privileged few. That's your strength, but it's also a cross you carry. Balance achievement with compassion and learning with understanding.
  • Expect to be judged by what you do and how well you do it - not by what you say you want to do. However, the bias toward action must be balanced by empathy and caring for other people.
  • Be conscious of the part you play. Be concerned about the problems of the poor and disabled, accept human weaknesses, laugh at yourself - and avoid the temptation to play God. Leadership is about self-awareness, recognizing your failings, and developing modesty, humility, and humanity.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Second of Three Women

Zaha Hadid is a Bagdad-born, London-based architect. She is celebrated for her works that include the Vitra Fire Station, in Weil am Rhein, Germany (1994); the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, in Cincinnati (2003) and MAXXI, in Rome (2009). She is known for her abstract drawings and paintings – where abstraction is the best way to capture multiple perspectives in two dimensions, and to bring them together in a “distortion field.” Hadid is a graduate of the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and founder of the 300 person, London based, Zaha Hadid Architects.

The December 21 & 28, 2009 issue of The New Yorker contains an interesting profile of Hadid with the following observation regarding engineering:

Still, there remained the problem of engineering: how to actually build Hadid’s visions. Architects, it has been said, don’t build; they draw. And translating her designs for fabricators and contractors had always been the sticking point in Hadid’s practice. One reason she remained in Britain (she became a British citizen in 1989) was the extraordinary ingenuity of British engineers, a tradition that goes back to the Victorian era, when they created such engineering masterpieces as the Crystal Place (originally erected in Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition in 1851), and Paddington Station (1854). Early in her practice, she realized that civil engineers, who build roads and bridges, had much to offer her, because in civil engineering the materials employed in realizing the design often serve as the supporting structures themselves. (In a concrete roadway, for example, structure, shape, and surface are all created by the same material.) Structural engineers were also important to her, none more so than Peter Rice, the Northern Irish engineer who helped erect the Sydney Opera House and the Centre Pompidou, in Paris, whom she met and collaborated with in the nineteen-eighties. Although their collaboration did not result in any buildings, “he taught me that engineering is essentially common sense.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Four Population Trends

In the January/February 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs, author Jack Goldstone in his article "The New Population Bomb: The Four Megatrends That Will Change the World" outlines four important demographic trends to watch:

  1. The relative demographic weight of the world's developed countries will drop by nearly 25 percent, shifting economic power to the developing nations.

  2. The developed countries labor forces will substantially age and decline, constraining economic growth in the developed world and raising the demand for immigrant workers.

  3. Most of the world's expected population growth will increasingly be concentrated in today's poorest, youngest, and most heavily Muslim countries, which will have a dangerous lack of quality education, capital, and employment opportunities.

  4. For the first time in history, most of the world's population will become urbanized, with the largest urban centers being in the world's poorest countries, where policing, sanitation, and health care are often scarce.

Goldstone has an interesting idea - reverse immigration. If older residents of developed countries took their retirements along the southern coast of the Mediterranean or in Latin America or Africa, it would greatly reduce the strain on their home countries' public entitlement systems. The developing countries involved, meanwhile, would benefit because caring for the elderly and providing retirement and leisure services is highly labor intensive.

Monday, December 28, 2009

"Don't Play God"

Teresa A. Taylor is the CEO of Qwest - her interesting insight into management and leadership is outlined below:

Over the years, something I really had to learn was how to truely listen. Sometimes people act like they're listening, put they're really formulating their own thoughts in their head. When I would get feedback along the way in my career, people would say, "You're not a very good listener." I would think I was, put somehow I wasn't expressing that.

You also get to a position where everything's filtered when it comes to you. So you have to dig under, and the only way to dig under is to listen. People have to believe you want to listen, otherwise you'll get the corporate gloss-over - "Everything's fine, don't worry."

And we have all had the following experience in one form or another:

"Don't play God." By that I mean I can't fix everything. I'm not responsible for every person and for every single thing. I do take things very much to heart, and I can't part the sea and I can't add a day on. The point was, you can't do everything.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Author Barbara Ehrenreich has written a thought provoking book entitled Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America (2009). The book fundamentally confronts the notion of extreme positive thinking at the expense of rational realism. Ehrenreich addresses this at the individual level (i.e., subprime mortgages with escalating balloon payments) and the national level (i.e, the projected outcome of the Iraq war). She is a strong advocate for realism - in which she writes the following:

Realism - to the point of defensive pessimism - is a prerequisite not only for human survival but for all animal species. Watch almost any wild creature for a few moments and you will be impressed, above all, by its vigilance. The cormorant restlessly scan the water for unexpected splashes; the deer cocks its head to pick up stray sounds and raises a foot in preparation for flight. Many animals - from monkeys to birds - augment their individual watchfulness by living in groups so that many eyes can be on the lookout for intruders, many voices raised in an alarm call, should one approach. In its insistence that we concentrate on happy outcomes rather than on lurking hazards, positive thinking contradicts one of our most fundamental instincts, one that we share not only with other primates and mammals but with reptiles, insects, and fish.

A vigilant realism does not foreclose the pursuit of happiness; in fact, it makes it possible. How can we expect to improve our situation without addressing the actual circumstances we find ourselves in? Positive thinking seeks to convince us that such external factors are incidental compared with one's internal state or attitude or mood. It's true that subjective factors like determination are critical to survival and that individuals sometimes triumph over nightmarish levels of adversity. But mind does not automatically prevail over matter, and to ignore the role of difficult circumstances - or worse, attribute them to our own thoughts - is to slide toward a kind of depraved smugness.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two Types of Problems

If you know how to solve problems, you have a shot of performing at a higher level. You obviously need some subject matter expertise, but most organizations and people would rather have someone who’s really strong at problem solving, and maybe a little less on the subject matter expertise, because most organizations feel they can teach that.

Problems can be lumped into one of two categories – either puzzles or mysteries. Engineering puzzles are defined as problems in which we don’t have enough information. It could be a lack of data, insight or poor communication – we just don't have the complete picture of the problem. A mystery is just the opposite. Mysteries require judgments and the assessment of uncertainty, and the hard part is not that we have too little information but that we have too much.

When you look at a particular problem – make a careful assessment of the general conditions and ask yourself if it is a puzzle or a mystery type problem. The approach, tools, and techniques will vary based on the problem type. You can also change the problem type by your own actions. Taking a puzzle problem and collecting too much additional data and information can turn the problem into a mystery. Filtering too much available information can also turn a mystery back into a puzzle.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Results Matter

Nancy McKinstry, CEO of Wolters Kluwer, the information services company based in the Netherlands, says “Every culture is very different in how people make decisions.” She adds the following:

So the ability to understand how they interpret what you’re said to them, and how, you interpret what they’ve said, and the rules of engagement about how you’re going to make a decision is very important. In the Netherlands, where our company is based, people really want to be heard early on in the process. So if you just go to someone and say, “I want you to go take this product and enter this new market,” most likely the first response they’ll say is, “No, and let me tell you how that won’t work.” What they really want to say is, “I’m not going to commit yet to that objective until we have a chance to really sit down and explore how we’re going to do that, what your expectations are, and how we measure success.”

Then, when I work with my Italian colleagues and the Spaniard colleagues, what you find is they can’t always tell you how they’re going to get something accomplished, but they manage to get it done.

Ms. McKinstry also points out a key element of leadership – “Results matter. No matter how much somebody respects your intellect or your capabilities or how much they like you, in the end it is all about results in the business context.”

Sunday, December 13, 2009


In these days of overflowing inboxes, 24/7 connectivity, and multitasking as an alternative try "minitasking." Creating an action list with minitasks effectively breaks down "big" jobs into day-to-day achievable ones. Some key ideas are:
  1. When you do nothing, you make inaction a choice.
  2. Every point of contact presents an opportunity to learn and share your knowledge.
  3. Get over stranger danger - small talk opens doors to meatier conversations.
  4. Tackle assignments that provide the opportunity to do what others don't, or can't or won't do.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cultural Greening

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) -, a unit of the U.S. Department of Energy, is designing a 219,000 square foot “net zero” facility in the Rocky Mountain region. The term “net zero” means that it will consume so little energy that it won’t need to draw any electricity from the grid. The building is being planned and designed to utilize 25,000 BTUs per square foot a year compared to a more typical 65,000 BTUs per square foot a year. The NREL requirement is 50% more energy efficient than the new commercial energy code issues by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

To meet the goal, both technology improvements and cultural change must be considered. For example, putting up walls and ceilings to create individual work spaces impedes the flow of daylight and ventilation. So architects banned the traditional office. They did include a few semi-private rooms with walls that reach about halfway toward the exposed struts and girders that pass for a ceiling. Most employees, however, will work in cubicles with low dividing walls. Many aspects of energy efficient have their roots in organizational and cultural change. The NREL building is reducing kitchenettes from one for every 15 employees to every 20 employees. Using Internet-tied telephones rather than standard models while favoring laptop computers over PC workstations reduces energy consumption. Other small changes, like highly reflective interior pant and workstations in neutral hues to enhance daylighting and shutting off lights at night, will also have an impact.

The lack of privacy – not to mention the shortage of storage space, since cubicle walls are too low to hold shelves – has been a bit of a culture shock for NREL employees. The organizational culture is typically one of office, walls, and privacy. Another culture shock is no fixed thermostat – the facility will have no central air or heat and the temperature will fluctuate during the day, though it shouldn't’t go below 68 degrees or above 80.

Temperature is regulated through an age-old concept known as “thermal mass,” which involves sheathing the building in concrete panels nearly a foot thick. In summer, the panels will absorb the sun’s heat, keeping the interior of the building comfortable, much the way an old stone cathedral remains cool inside even on the warmest days. In winter, the building relies on thin sheets of perforated metal that hang down south-facing walls. The metal is painted black, so it heats up quickly in the intense Denver sunshine. Air flowing through holes in the hot sheet metal is also warmed. A fan then sucks the warm air into an underground labyrinth – a crawl space crowded with a maze of concrete blocks. The labyrinth stores the warm air until it is needed elsewhere in the building.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Either Caesar or nothing"

What level of leadership do you aspire to?

To reach higher office and to fulfill its obligations, you must continuously make choices that will affect other people’s money and lives. And you will be doing this in a context where other people will want your position or will be competing with you for the next higher position.

It is easy to criticize the competence of those with greater responsibilities than ourselves, and even easier to fantasize about how we would do the job better. A useful exercise: Look at your immediate boss’s job and ask yourself if you could do it well, or better – honestly. Then, stretch even further and consider the most senior leader in you line of sight – perhaps the chief executive. Learn about what that person must deal with. Get a feel for the time, energy, and capabilities required doing those jobs. What would those jobs require you to do that you can’t do now, or that you don’t enjoy now, but would have to give up? People need to realistically assess the role they are pursuing in comparison to their true capabilities.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Stumble Safely

Web-sites and mobile applications are increasingly bringing together citizens and governments. The focus of the integrative efforts involves turning governmental data into usefully and meaningful public information. For example, a big pile of city crime reports is not all that useful to the general public. But what if you are out late one night and you turn on a mobile application – combining crime data with information on bars, sidewalks, and subway stations to find the safest route home. In Washington DC, a Web site called Stumble Safely ( makes that possible.

San Francisco recently unveiled DateSF (, a Web clearing house of raw government data that the public can download. The data sets include seismic hazard zones, street sweeping schedules, and campaign finance filings. The Web site called CleanScores (, tracks restaurant inspection scores in various cities and explains each violation.

There is significant evidence that governments’ attitude toward publishing data is changing. In the fall of 2008, Washington DC’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer asked iStrategyLabs ( how it could make DC’s data catalog more useful for the citizens, visitors, businesses, and agencies. The data catalog contains all manner of open public data featuring real-time crime feeds, school test scores, poverty indicators, and is most comprehensive of its kind in the world. The solution was to create an organization, Apps for Democracy – and organize and manage a contest that cost Washington DC $50,000 and returned 47 iPhone, Facebook, and Web applications with an estimated value in excess of $2,600,000 to the City.

“It will change the way citizens and government interact, but perhaps most important, it’s going to change the way elected officials and civil servants deliver programs, services, and promises,” said Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco. “I can’t wait until it challenges and infuriates the bureaucracy.” The infuriating is real and present – Paul J. Browne, a deputy commissioner of the NYC Police Department stated recently “We provide the public information, not data flow for entrepreneurs.” More correctly – providing the public data when they are really interested in is information (useful and meaningful) is the heart of the issue. The availability of data, the influence of mobile technology, public need and acceptance – these are the variables and factors that will allow innovative entrepreneurs the opportunity to fill voids created by budget constrained governmental agencies.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Thomas Cromwell

Hilary Mantel is the author of Wolf Hall (2009), the Man Booker Prize winner of 2009. The novel traces the period of English history in which Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The king’s quest for freedom destroys his advisor, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and creates a years-long power struggle between the Church and the Crown.

Into this impasse sets Thomas Cromwell (The Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell was Thomas’ great-great-grandnephew), a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, an idealist and an opportunist, astute is reading people: Cromwell is a consummate politician, hardened by years abroad and his personal losses. In a passage, Cromwell is counseling Henry on war with France:

“No ruler in the history of the world has ever been able to afford a war. They’re not affordable things. No prince ever says, “This is my budget, so this is the kind of war I can have.” You enter into one and it uses up all the money you’re got, and then it breaks you and bankrupts you.”

To which Henry replies:

“When I went into France in the year 1513 I captured the town of Therouanne, which in your speech you called – “

“A doghole, Majesty.”

“A doghole,” the king repeats. “How would you say so?”

He shrugs. “I’ve been there.”

A flash of anger. “And so have I, at the head of my army. Listen to me master – you said I should not fight because the taxes would break the country. What is the country for, but to support its prince in his enterprise?”

“I believe I said – saving Your Majesty – we didn’t have the gold to see you through a year’s campaign. All the bullion in the country would be swallowed by war. I have read there was a time when people exchanged leather tokens, for want of metal coins. I said we would be back to those days.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Dullest Bits

Like most people, I have a collection of power adapters. These are the little boxes that sit between the plug and the device, or are sometimes integrated with the plug. Their function in life is to convert high-voltage alternating current from the mains into low-voltage direct current for mobile phones, laptops, iPods, and a host of other electronic gadgets.

Some five billion devices are in use worldwide – about 0.80 devices per person. The world’s largest individual mobile operator is China Mobile with over 500 million mobile phone subscribers. The global growth rate for cell phone ownership is 24%. Assuming only a modest future growth rate of 15% for all worldwide electronic devices – it would translate into 75,000,000 additional power adapters per year.

Historically, the power conversion was made using copper wire. Typically, half the power they drew from the wall, and sometimes as much as 80%, would be lost in conversion. As a result, electricity bills and carbon emissions were both higher than necessary – to the tune of $2 billion a year.

Copper-wired power adapters cost around $2 or less – adapters with integrated circuits run approximately 30% more while having only 20% power loss. In a world and industries of intense price competition, where a fraction of penny is important, it will be highly interesting to see how economics and energy efficiency collide in one of the “dullest bits” of the marketplace.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"The journey has been enjoyable and well worth making - once!"

According to famed historian Paul Johnson, Winston Churchill of all the towering figures of the twentieth century, ‘ . . . was the most valuable to humanity, and the most likable.” Soldier, parliamentarian, prime minster, orator, painter, writer, husband, and leader – all of these facets combined to make Churchill one of the most complex and fascinating personalities in history. His immense adaptability joined with his natural pugnacity to make him a formidable leader for the better part of century.

Winston Churchill’s life is better documented than any other in the twentieth century. He is joy to read about. His leadership lessons are still important and valuable today as they will be in a thousands’ year time. Johnson has written a new short and sharp addition to the Churchill library – Churchill (2009). The tail end of the book outlines five lessons we can all learn from a Churchill life – its amplitude, variety, and success on so many fronts.

The first lesson is: always aim high. As a child Churchill received no positive encouragement from his father and little from his mother. He was aware of failure at school. But he still aimed high. Conscious of his ignorance, he set himself to master English history and to familiarize himself with great chunks of literature. Once his own master, he played polo in win the top award in the world. He sought power and got it in growing amplitude. He never cadged or demeaned himself to get office. But obtained it on his own terms. He did not always meets his elevated targets, but by aiming high he always achieved something worthwhile.

Lesson number two is: there is no substitute for hard work. Churchill obscured his moral by his (for him) efficient habit of spending a working morning in bed, telephoning, dictating, and consulting. He also manifestly enjoyed his leisure activities, for him another form of hard work, to keep himself fit and rested and to enable himself to do his job at the top of his form. He worked hard at everything to the best of his ability – Parliament, administration, geopolitics and geostrategy, writing books, painting, creating an idyllic house and garden, seeing things and if possible doing things for himself. There was an extraordinary paradox about his white, apparently flabby body, and the amount of muscle power he put into life, always.

Third, and in its way most important, Churchill never allowed mistakes, disaster – personal or national – accident, illnesses, unpopularity, and criticism to get him down. His powers of recuperation, both in physical illness and psychological responses to abject failure, were astounding. He had courage, the most important of all virtues, and its companion, fortitude. These strengths are inborn but they can be also cultivated, and Churchill worked on them all his life. Those uncertain of their courage can look Churchill for reassurance and inspiration.

Fourth, Churchill wasted an extraordinarily small amount of his time and emotional energy on the meannesses of life: recrimination, shifting the blame onto others, malice, revenge seeking, dirty tricks, spreading rumors, harboring grudges, waging vendettas. There is nothing more draining and exhausting than hatred. And malice is bad for the judgment. Nothing gave him more pleasure than to replace enmity with friendship, not least with the Germans.

Finally, the absence of hatred left plenty of room for joy in Churchill’s life. His face could light up in the most extraordinarily attractive way as it became suffused with pleasure at an unexpected and welcome event. Joy was a frequent visitor to Churchill’s psyche, banishing boredom, despair, discomfort, and pain. He liked to share joy, and give joy. It must never be forgotten that Churchill was happy with people. He was emotional, and wept easily. But his tears soon dried, as joy came flooding back. He drew his strength from people, and imparted it to them in full measure

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Medici Effect

The December 2009 edition of Harvard Business Review has a special issue with a spotlight on innovation. In the article “The Innovator’s DNA” – authors Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen look at the five “discovery skills” that separate true innovators from the rest of us. The five skills are: (1.) Associating – the ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated questions, (2.) Questioning – the ability to find the right questions, (3.) Observing – acting like anthropologists and social scientists, (4.) Experimenting – mulling and tinkering, and (5.) Networking – testing ideas in a diverse set of individuals.

Per the article, the skill of associating encompasses the following:

Associating, or the ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas from different fields, is central to the innovator’s DNA. Entrepreneur Frans Johansson described this phenomenon as the “Medici effect,” referring to the creative explosion in Florence when the Medici families brought together people from a wide range of disciplines – sculptors, scientists, poets, philosophers, painters, and architects. As these individuals connected, new ideas blossomed at the intersections of their respective fields, thereby spawning the Renaissance, one of the most inventive eras in history.

To grasp how associating works, it is important to understand how the brain operates. The brain doesn’t store information like a dictionary, where you can find the word “theater” under the letter “T.” Instead, it associates the word “theater” with any number of experiences from our lives. Some of these are logical (“West End” or “intermission”), while others may be less obvious (perhaps “anxiety,” from a botched performance in high school). The more diverse our experience and knowledge, the more connections the brain can make. Fresh inputs trigger new associations; for some, these lead to novel ideas. As Steve Jobs has frequently observed, “Creativity is connecting things.”

The world’s most innovative companies prosper by capitalizing on the divergent associations of their founders, executives, and employees. For example, Pierre Omidyar launched eBay in 1996 after linking three unconnected dots: (1.) a fascination with creating more-efficient markets, after having been shut out from a hot internet company’s IPO in the mid-1990s; (2.) his fiancĂ©e’s desire to locate hard-to-find collectible Pez dispensers; and (3.) the ineffectiveness of local classified ads in locating such items. Likewise, Steve Jobs is able to generate idea after idea because he has spent a lifetime exploring new and unrelated things – the art of calligraphy, meditation practices in an Indian ashram, the fine details of a Mercedes-Benz.

Associating is like a mental muscle that can grow stronger by using the other discovery skills. As innovators engage in those behaviors, they build their ability to generate ideas that can be recombined in new ways. The more frequently people in our study attempted to understand, categorize, and store new knowledge, the more easily their brains could naturally and consistently make, store, and recombine associations.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Grand View

Murray Gell-Mann, Robert Andrews Millikan Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology, was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics. In 1984, he helped establish the Santa Fe Institute, where he now works. He is close friends with writer Cormac McCarthy.

In his book The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and Complex (1994), Gell-Mann writes about his many intellectual passions – natural history, biological evolution, the history of language, and the study of creative thinking. He also discusses systems thinking in the following paragraphs:

Why should anyone try to think on such a grand scale? Shouldn't one plan a more manageable project that concentrates on a particular aspect of the world situation?

We live in an age of increasing specialization, and for good reason. Humanity keeps learning more about each field of study: and as every specialty grows, it tends to split into sub-specialties. That process happens over and over again, and it is necessary and desirable. However, there is also a growing need for specialization to be supplemented by integration. The reason is that no complex, nonlinear system can be adequately described by dividing it up into subsystems or into various aspects, defined beforehand. If those subsystems or those aspects, all in strong interaction with one another, are studied separately, even with great care, the results, when put together, do not give a useful picture of the whole. In that sense, there is profound truth in the old adage, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”

People must therefore get away from the idea that serious work is restricted to beating to death a well-defined problem is a narrow discipline, while broadly integrative thinking is relegated to cocktail parties. In academic life, in bureaucracies, and elsewhere, the task of integration is insufficiently respected. Yet anyone at the top of an organization, a president or prime minister or a CEO, has to make decisions as if all aspects of a situation, along with the interaction among those aspects, were being taken into account. It is reasonable for the leader, reaching down into the organization for help, to encounter only specialists and for integrative thinking to take place only when he or she makes the final intuitive judgment.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Home Area Network (HAN)

A global movement is afoot to make electric grids “smart.” This means adding all kinds of information technology, such as sensors, digital meters, and a communications network akin to the Internet, to dumb wires. Among other things a smart grid would be able to avoid outages, save energy, and help other green undertakings such as electric cars and distributed generation. The hope is for greater efficiency – outages cost the American economy $150 billion a year. The goal is more mouse clicks and less repair trucks and ringing door bells.

The smart grid “applications” market has the potential to be an innovation center just as the mobile phone applications market. The “home area network” or HAN is the technology in the home, the network and applications behind the smart meter. There is general agreement that it will include things such as the household’s power consumption at that instant, thermostats that are connected to the meter and smart appliances that can be switched on and off remotely. The big question is how all these devices will be connected and controlled. Will HAN be dedicated to regulating electricity consumption for instance, or will it also control home security or stream music through the room.

More than three dozen firms are marketing products for the HAN future. One is Control 4 (, based in Salt Lake City – it aims to provide the dominant underlying software in its part of the smart grid. The startups’ devices allow consumers to control almost everything in a house that runs on electricity. A Silicon Valley rival, iControl ( which recently raised $23 million from venture capital firms, comes at the HAN market from a different direction. Its gear – cameras, sensors, wireless hubs – it’s mainly used to keep burglars out, but can also be put to work managing energy consumption.Cisco, Microsoft, and Google will probably have intense interest in the HAM market potential.

The iControl approach highlights the potential for technology convergence. The interface of demographic shifts (i.e., the aging global population) and interested awareness and demands for energy conservation illustrates the need for a singular piece of equipment and software – something that can provide interactive home security, energy management, and home health care support tools. Access is important – web, mobile, iPhone, and in-house touch screen access. Monitoring capabilities should include the ability to review energy usage in real-time to track and compare daily, weekly, and monthly trends to pre-set energy and expenditure goals. Home health care has the primary focus of allowing customers the ability to monitor the safety and well being of elderly family members via web portals, iPhones, and other mobile applications.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Disagreement and Dissent

In his play, Two Thousand Years, author Mark Leigh has the following lines:

Four guys are standing on a street corner . . .
An American, a Russian, a Chinese man, and an Israeli . . .
A reporter comes up to the group and says to them:
“Excuse me . . . What’s your opinion on the meat shortage?”
The American says: What’s a shortage?
The Russian says: What’s meat?
The Chinese man says: What’s an opinion?
The Israeli says: What’s “Excuse me?”

Dov Frohman, the founder of Intel Israel made the following observations about leaders – “The goal of a leader should be to maximize resistance – in the sense of encouraging disagreement and dissent. When an organization is in crisis, lack of resistance can itself be a big problem. It can mean that the change you are trying to create isn’t radical enough - or that the opposition has gone underground. If you aren’t aware that the people in the organization disagree with you, then you are in trouble.”

Culture can play a significant role in management activities and leadership styles. A typical meeting in an Israeli firm will involve no texting, no surfing, or dozing off - - you will find intensive engagement. The intensity can increase during the open discussion periods – penetrating questions with many unconventional observations – one after the other. No inhibitions about challenging existing logic. This shows up in all aspects of Israeli culture – in the way university students speak with their professors, employees challenging their bosses, sergeants questioning their generals, and clerks second-guessing government ministers. Employees with unvarnished, unintimidated, and undistracted attitudes. The Hebrew word (really German Slavic) chutzpah – has the meaning and context of innovative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit – gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, and incredible guts.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Price of Water

The availability of clean water is not a global issue; it is a series of very different local issues spread around the globe. Local conditions – such as rainfall patterns, landforms and plant species along with human demands for agricultural irrigation, industrial and municipal uses – determine whether a watershed is being used sustainably.

Moving water across watersheds has been going on for thousands of years (like the Port du Gard in central Spain near Madrid), but people are now starting to understand the true costs and environmental impacts of such diversions. Transporting water over long distances requires significant investments in infrastructure and ongoing expense for energy and maintenance. A 2009 report for the River Network ( estimates that 13 percent of all electricity used in the United States is for pumping, heating, and treating water. As greenhouse gas regulations become law in the coming years, it is clear that reducing the energy demand of water will be a key component of climate change policy.

In addition, many of the pipes and values that make up the water infrastructure of the United States are overdue for repair and replacement. The American Water Works Association estimates that up to $1 trillion needs to be spent to maintain existing infrastructure in the next 20 years. While a portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 stimulus funds are dedicated to this, it falls short of what is needed. Meanwhile, approximately 15 percent of all municipally supplied water leaks out of pipes before it reaches end users.

The net result of water’s scarcity, energy intensity and leaking infrastructure is that the cost of water is likely to increase significantly in the coming years. Sextus Julius Frontinus, master of the Roman aqueduct system and author of De Aquaeducta, made the comment that “Water should be as free as air and always supplied by government.” The convergence of climate change, aging infrastructure, and governmental budget constraints are taking both “free” and “government” out of Frontinus’ thinking.