Sunday, October 31, 2010

Energy Return on Energy Invested

Oil has had an enormous impact on the productivity and development of civilization - - especially in the area of transportation. We are where we are mainly due to cheap energy - - BTUs that have easily flowed to the surface or were easily mined. We did the rational thing - - we exploited the cheapest energy sources first.

We have several huge energy problems - - one of them is not running out of energy. The problem is that the new sources of energy are more expensive to exploit. Look for the "Energy Return on Energy Invested" ratio to become an important metric. During the 1930s, our energy return to energy invested was about 100 to 1. We got 100 barrels of oil for every one barrel invested. In the 1970s, the ratio dropped to 30 to 1. Current estimates on the the ratio range from 20 to 1 to a low of 16 to 1. Tar sands and ethanol have a ratio in the single digits. If we were a giant company - - our return on capital would be falling. Energy is roughly 4.5% of the global share of GDP. With higher extraction costs, the energy share of GDP could skyrocket, squeezing other forms of investment, like infrastructure improvements.

We are seeing a future of both surging energy demand and higher extraction costs. The higher extraction costs will have a huge negative impact on productivity - - at the same time of medical cost pressures and changing demographics (What about a world where medical care and energy combine for 30% of GDP?). Not what we need.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Water Footprint

Provided below is an estimate of my water footprint per day during the month of September. There are two components to this estimate. The first is the actual water consumption as measured by the water meter. This includes water for cooking, showering, watering the yard, etc. The second is termed "virtual-water." Virtual-water content is the water embodied in a service or product, not in the real sense, but in the virtual sense. It refers to the volume of water consumed or polluted for producing the product, measured over its full production or service chain.

My estimate per day:
  • Water consumption at the water meter - - 231.35 gallons. September is a large water consumption month in Texas due to landscaping and lawn water needs.
  • Water consumption for food - - 446.56 gallons. Roughly twice the actual consumption. Examples include 1,857 gallons of water required per pound of beef and 400 gallons per pound of eggs. Estimate was based on actual food consumption for three meals.
  • Water consumption for drinks - - 230 gallons. The same as the actual water consumption. Examples include 55 gallons per glass of milk and nine for a cup of tea.
  • Water consumption for electricity - - 2,521 gallons. Electricity for lighting, appliances and air conditioning - - September is a high air conditioning demand month. My electricity comes from a nuclear power plant - - Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, located 60 miles south of Fort Worth. On average, 43,000 gallons of water are required to generate one megawatt-hour at a nuclear power plant. For comparison, a gas combined-cycle plant will require half to a third of the water required at a nuclear plant.
  • Water consumption for driving - - 6.3 gallons. For gasoline only - - roughly 10.50 gallons of water required per 100 miles of travel. For an ethanol vehicle - - the water consumption required is 400 times greater.
  • Water consumption for heat - - 2.5 gallons. Natural gas for heating water during the month of September.

Total water consumption for a day for me is estimated at 3,438 gallons. Basically for shelter, food, drink, and travel - - a trip to Wal-Mart and a purchase of a pair of jeans would have tagged me with another 2,900 gallons. The jeans would have almost doubled my total consumption.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Negotiations Implementing Strategy - - Focus on Process

Consciously change the game by not reacting to the other side. Take steps to shape the negotiation process as well as the outcome.

  • Acting without gauging how your actions will be perceived and what the response will be.
  • Ignoring the consequences of a given action for future as well as current negotiations.


  • Talk not just about the issues but about the negotiation process: "We seem to be at an impasse; perhaps we should spend some more time exploring our respective objectives and constraints."
  • Slow down the pace: "I'm not ready to agree, but I'd prefer not walk away either. I think this warrants further exploration."
  • Issue warnings without making threats: "Unless you're willing to work with me toward a mutually acceptable outcome, I can't afford to spend more time negotiating."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Negotiations Implementing Strategy - - Build Trust First

Deal with relationship issues head-on. Make incremental commitments to encourage trust and cooperation.

  • Trying to "buy" a good relationship.
  • Offering concessions to repair breaches of trust, whether actual or only perceived.


  • Explore how a breakdown in trust may have ocurred and how to remedy it.
  • Make concessions only if they are a legitimate way to compensate for losses owing to your nonperformance or broken commitments.
  • Treat counterparts with respect, and act in ways that will command theirs.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Negotiations Implementing Strategy - - Elicit Genuine Buy-In

Use facts and the principles of fairness, rather than brute force, to persuade others. Arm them with ways to defend their decisions to their critics, and create useful precedents for future negotiations.

  • Threats: "You'll better agree, or else . . ."
  • Arbitrariness: "I want it because I want it."
  • Close-mindedness: "Under no circumstances will I agree to - - or even consider - - that proposal."


  • Appeal to fairness: "What should we do?"
  • Appeal to logic and legitimacy: "I think this makes sense, because . . ."
  • Consider constituent perspectives: "How can each of us explain this agreement to colleagues?"

Monday, October 25, 2010

Negotiations Implementing Strategy - - Uncover and Collaborate

Learn the other party's motivations and concerns. Propose multiple solutions and invite your counterparts to improve on them.

  • Making open-ended offers: "What do you want?"
  • Making unilateral offers: "I'd be willing to . . ."
  • Simply agreeing to (or refusing) the other side's demands.


  • Ask "Why is that important to you."
  • Propose solutions for critique: "Here's a possibility - - what might be wrong with it?"

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Negotiations Implementing Strategy - - Get the Big Picture

The cover story on the November 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review covers leadership lessons from the military during combat and reconstruction operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. One story, Extreme Negotiations by Jeff Weiss, Aram Donigian, and Jonathan Hughes, covers the lessons learned by U.S. soldiers in the art of managing high-risk, high-stakes situations. The article has a considerable amount of great information that I will cover over a five day period.

The article focuses on the five highly effective strategies of (1) understand the big picture, (2) uncover hidden agendas and collaborate with the other side, (3) get genuine buy-in, (4) build relationships that are based on trust rather than fear, and (5) pay attention to process as well as desired outcomes.

The first is "Get the Big Picture." The key starts with soliciting the other person's or group's point of view. Use what you learn to shape the objectives of the negotiations and determine how you'll achieve them. In getting the big picture, avoid the following:
  • Assuming you have all the facts - - "Look, it's obvious that . . .'
  • Assuming the other side is biased -- but you're not.
  • Assuming the other side's motivation and intentions are obvious -- and probably nefarious.

Instead, focus on the following:

  • Be curious: "Help me understand how you see the situation."
  • Be humble: "What do I have wrong?"
  • Be open-minded: "Is there another way to explain this?"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Water Barons and Bonds

Global water consumption is doubling every 20-years. Some countries already face grave water shortages. Others have an abundance, but lack the means to deliver it from lakes, rivers, and aquifers to consumers. There is no shortage of press and information on the coming crisis - - this weeks Newsweek has the following cover headline -- "Liquid Asset: Big Business and the Race to Control the World's Water." The article puts it in clear terms - - "The New Oil."

The New York Times today has another twist to the the looming water crisis -- "Water Scarcity: A Bond Risk, Study Warns." Highlights of the article:
  • Municipal bonds backed by water revenue may be riskier than investors realize because of potential water shortages and legal battles over water resources.
  • Bond valuations and the ability to raise money could be impacted as water becomes the new oil.
  • Rating agencies don't reflect the potential vulnerability associated with increased water competition, climate change, and dwindling supplies.
  • Utilities may not be positioned to effectively manage these types of risks.
  • The report was sponsored by a coalition of water investors, environmentalist and public interest groups and prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
  • Energy and water transmission makes water and oil linkage extremely critical in the context of an era where both resources come under supply constraints with increasing demand.
  • Water intensive industries, such as electric utilities (also facing cost pressures from carbon control considerations), are also at risk in the water as the new oil era.
  • A weak economy and poor growth, combined with aging infrastructure adds additional pressure with respect to capital investment needed to meet supply requirements.
  • Municipal bonds are not required to disclose risks associated with climate change vulnerability.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Social Media Must-Dos

From the November 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review - - What's Your Personal Social Media Strategy by Soumitra Sutta. A list of must-dos for the connected world:
  • Google Yourself - - It sounds obvious, but do it regularly and then compare your results with those you get from searching your peers.
  • Protect Your Identity - - Purchase an Internet domain in your name and use it to open accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.
  • Create a Business Profile - - Choose a broad network such as Linkedin or an industry-specific one. Join relevant groups and communities.
  • Use What You Have At Work - - Contribute to platforms set up by your employer. Reach out to colleagues.
  • Post Public Content - - Update your Facebook and Linkedin pages; participate in a discussion group thread; tweet; upload a presentation to YouTube.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nolan for Governor

The State of Texas started early voting for Governor this week. The political ledger has Rick Perry on one side and Bill White on the other. The ballot has the option for write-ins - - anyone that you might have the patience to write-in utilizing that wheel thing on the ballot box contraption.

What about Nolan Ryan? Hall of Fame, fighter, businessman, President of the Texas Rangers, part owner of the same - - the very image of Texas, leadership, success, strength, and excellence. Think about it!

Monday, October 18, 2010

How We Interact

Alan Page Fiske is a U.C.L.A. educated anthropologist who thinks that people utilize one of four different models when they interact with one another. The four are:
  1. Communal Sharing - - An example would be a group of roommates in a house who are free to read another's books and wear one another's clothes.
  2. Equality Matching - - If I drive your child to school today, you drive my child to school tomorrow.
  3. Market Pricing - - The terms of an exchange are open to negotiation, or subject to the laws of supply and demand.
  4. Authority Ranking - - Paternalism in which superiors appropriate or pre-empt what they wish.

One is not better than another - - but, and this is very important but, the model chosen in any situation have a profound effect on the nature of the interaction.

Why do investment bankers get pay checks with six zeros? Because they were able to change the nature of the model and thus the interaction. They were able to move from a Authority Ranking model to a Market Pricing model (engineering has never been able to make this switch, yet)- - they were able to change a vast social history of being just an agent and were able to become a principal. The worldly interaction of investment banking is superstar based where the perceived forces of Talent are greater than the forces of Capital. Histoically, engineers have worked in Capital industries (e.g., Ford or GM) versus Talent industries (e.g., Apple). The superstar attitude of Market Pricing of the "talented professional class" has become one of "how much can I get versus how much is enough." Market Pricing for superstars fundamentally ignores the idea of vertical pricing (i.e., where do I rank performance and salary wise in the context of my peers in the company) and solely concentrates on horizontal pricing - - what is the market like outside the boundaries of the organization.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Chicken Farm

Thinking about the egg business? Over this century, our current global population will make a jump from six billion up to nine billion. I think it is a good business and humanitarian opportunity to somehow feed the new three billion with a good source of protein. What about one egg per day for all three billion people?

So how many hens am I looking at? At 264 eggs on average annually per hen - - I am going to need 4.25 billion hens. I don't want ten of thousands of chicken farms, I want one big one (with one really big sign "The Billion Hen Farm - - Feeding One-Third The Planet"). I also want something quasi-humanitarian - - no stacking of the hens. I will need two square feet per hen -- roughly 215,000 acres (an additional 5,000 acres for logistical and support structures, including my operations center). The size of the operation needs something on the order of one-half the acerage of Denton County in Texas.

What about the other inputs needed to support my 4.25 billion hens? Water for example. We will need approximately 250 ml per hen per day - - roughly 1,122,000 gallons per day. On an annual basis - - 409 million gallons, 21,000 swimming pools the size of mine. Food, the hens have to eat. The 4.25 billion hens will need grain and feed on the level of 365 billion pounds per year. This will require 78 million acres of cropland - - about the size of New Mexico. What goes in one end must come out the other - - 100 billion pounds of manure annually. So how efficient is my proposed chicken farm - - for every 100 food calories I produce 20 egg calories. Which is really not that bad, especially if you look at beef production.

The most critical input that makes my chicken farm work hasn't yet been mentioned - - it is cheap energy (we have low cost food because we have low cost energy). From buildings to crop production to water transmission to logistics to processing to waste treatment - - cheap energy is the one input that makes this viable. Remove cheap energy from the equation - - no 4.25 billion hens and no one egg per day per the three billion new members of our planet.

Next to my 215,000 acre chicken farm, look for my wind and solar farm. The future is about both types of farms.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Idle Capacity

Broke and green - - two attributes that are starting to define consumers in the global economy. What does mobility look like when you are broke and green? It looks like Zipcar -- a U.S. company with 400,000 members who pay an annual fee and can then rent cars by the hour. I noticed several Zipcars in lots around the Georgia Tech campus on my last visit - - around college campuses and urban environments are probably target markets. Broke and green produces a collective impatience with waste. The average American spends 18% of his or he income on running a car that is usually stationary - - I have three such stationary objects in the garage as I write this. Idle capacity equals waste equals a desire for greater efficiency.

Renting, in the context of broke and green, could become one of the byproducts of a sustainable economy. In some respects, the Internet and social networking makes renting easier - - from clothes to toys to cars to electric drills - - why buy something with embedded idle capacity when you can rent it?

Sustainability equals collaborative consumption, especially in the context of brokenness and greenness.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

HIghly Regarded

NASA recently came up with a list of six characteristics and behaviors associated with top performing system engineers. In general, the study stated that successful executives are inquisitive, curious, patient, and organized. They have a passion for learning and keep an open mind.

The detail on the six is provided below:
  1. Leadership - - Top executives are capable of creating organizational structure by defining roles and responsibilities, identifying and acquiring the resources needed for a project, and drawing on the expertise of others and involving them in the process. They are flexible and responsible in addition to being self-aware.
  2. Attitudes and Attributes - - Successful executives are inquisitive, curious, patient, and organized. They have a passion for learning and keep an open mind. They are conscious of creating a safe environment with a calm and positive attitude, but maintain an "executive presence" to affirm self-confidence and courage when difficult issues arise.
  3. Communication - - Top executives are good communicators and good listeners. They are communication chameleons capable of tailoring a conversation to a variety of audiences (for example politicians, within the organization, and other agencies). Linking people, ideas, and organizations in addition to making themselves available to others were common traits within the study group.
  4. Problem Solving and Systems Thinking - - Highly effective executives look at a problem from multiple perspectives. Having a breadth of knowledge across technical disciplines is a greater asset than a depth of knowledge in a single discipline.
  5. Political Savvy - - Successful executives know how the political system works while knowing how to work the system. Knowing who makes decisions, when they make them, and what they need is critical to maintaining political power. They know how to communicate consequences and implications of decisions and can integrate historical perspectives and lessons learned to provide a context for decisions.
  6. Strategic Thinking - - Successful executives see the big picture. They maintain an agency-wide view, balancing decisions across portfolios, programs, and projects. They seek to build relationships nationally and internationally by building informal networks and connecting with organizations and individuals that might otherwise remain isolates.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Writing

Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper or blank computer screen until drops of blood form on your forehead. Joking aside - - you don't have to be the world's greatest writer, but engineers need to be able to put their words on paper in a way that is readable, grammatically correct, and gets the idea or point across. In the age of the written word - - the ability to communicate in writing effectively is a critical survival skill.

Every document should tell somebody something - - it should tell a story. As the writer, you have to decide what to tell and how best to tell it to your audience. Who will be the reader? Considered these three ideas:
  • What they already know affects what you can leave out.
  • What they need to know determines what you include.
  • What they want to know suggests the order and emphasis of your writing.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Design for Sustainability

Engineers have become very good at designing for operational feasibility - - which implies that a particular system will perform as intended in an effective and efficient manner for as long as necessary. We have accomplished this requirement with a total engineering design effort as outlined below:
  • Design for Reliability - - Four elements are embedded in the concept of reliability. They are probability, satisfactory performance, time, and specified operating conditions. Reliability as an inherent characteristic of design, must be an integral part of the overall system engineering process.
  • Design for Maintainability - - Maintainability is a design characteristic dealing with the ease, accuracy, safety, and recovery in the performance of maintenance functions. In an environment where resources are becoming scarcer, it is essential that system maintenance requirements be minimized and that maintenance cost be reduced.
  • Design for Supportability -- System support is viewed as the composite of all considerations needed to assure the effective and economic support of a system throughout its life-cycle. Activities include maintenance planning, supply support, logistical support, training, facilities management, and computer/information management.
  • Design for Economic Feasibility - - The focus must be on total system costs over the entire life-cycle from design cost to construction cost to operation/support cost to retirement/disposal cost - - future infrastructure systems will need to be planned, designed, produced, and operated under extremely limited fiscal constraints.

What then is "Design for Sustainability?" I would argue that the term is still in a state of flux - - where definitions and metrics are being considered, developed, and debated. Some elements of sustainability will interface directly and closely with the broad issues of reliability, maintainability, supportability, and economic feasibility. Other elements of sustainability will require new ways of thinking and professional cultural shifts. In general, a more holistic approach to design will be required, where the following elements will need consideration in the age of "Design for Sustainability" - -

  • Climate Science and Change
  • Moves Toward Increased Urbanization
  • Energy Systems and Consumption
  • Alternative Energy Sources
  • Water Consumption
  • Food and Agricultural Production
  • Eco-Industrial Consideration
  • Material Ecology
  • Green and Net-Zero Buildings
  • Public Transportation Systems
  • System Interdependences
  • Ecosystem Impacts
  • Earth Systems Engineering

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Three A's of Engineering

Engineers need to learn from history what we can and cannot predict. Increasing our comfort level with uncertainly will require us to combine engineering with psychology with statistics. It also involves our utilization of the three A's - - Accept, Assess, and Augment. The following explores and explains the three A's in greater depth.
  1. Accept that you're operating in an uncertain world - - this should be a natural for most engineers. The really historical difference is the degree and breadth of uncertainty we face. From earthquakes to climate change driven hurricanes to energy prices to political stability - - you can't be realistic about assessing the chances of a given event occurring unless you first confront all the other possibilities that might come true instead.
  2. Assess the level of uncertainty you face - - look at your statistical models. Have you considered the high level of uncertainty we face in our uber-connected world? Read widely and deeply - - are your assumptions valid and reasonable. Historically, a model with a 95% confidence interval would have been appropriate - - we may be looking at a world were 90% or 80% become the givens for confidence intervals.
  3. Augment the range of uncertainty - - chances are you were not very good at #1 or #2. Our brains are not wired for estimating the range of uncertainty we face. Most people consistently underestimate uncertainty - - their powers of imagination are unusually worse than their power of mathematics. Come up with your own rules of thumb when trying to make sense of small data sets - - double the difference between the largest and smallest observation. If you have a huge data set - - look at multiplying by 1.5.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Weekend Quotes and Comments

Three for the weekend

From Elizabeth Diller, Architect in the firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Her husband is Ricardo Scofidio - - they are the only husband and wife team to win a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant.

When coming up with the design for the High Line, an urban park on an abandoned section of elevated railroad in New York, architect Elizabeth Diller and her colleagues started with a question: What would failure look like?

I love that - - What would failure look like?

From Patricia Urquiola, the chief designer of Studio Urquiola - - currently working on a Marriott hotel in Barcelona with Ian Schrager, a line of award-winning bath fixtures for Axor, sets for a Monteverdi opera in Spain, and interiors for the fashion fair Pitti Uomo, in Florence.

"To work in sustainability is to work in complexity," says Urquiola her hands wide, imploring understanding. "You don't get all the solutions. It gives you a sense of humility. But we have to take care. We have to give the example. We need to see the right side of the moon."

I love that - - But we have to take care.

From Yuri Milner, CEO of DST, Russian investor in social networking companies - - including a $800 million investment in Facebook.

Milner has been studying Facebook closely for years. He had a theory he has come to call "Zuckerberg's Law": Every 12 to 18 months the amount of information being shared between people on the web doubles. The business implications for this are tremendous. Over time people will bypass more general websites such as Google in favor of sites built atop social networks where they can rely on friends' opinions to figure out where to get the best fall handbag, how to change a smoke detector, or whether to vacation in Istanbul or Rome. "You will pick your network, and the network will filter everything for you," Milner explained.

I love that - - You will pick your network.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Do What We Can - - Do What We Must

We, as in individuals and organizations, seem to get can and must mixed up. It starts in the third grade - - you can get a C, the attitude really needs to be you must get an A. You can make the eighth grade football team, the attitude of you must work hard and excel to start gets side tracked. You can go to your local community college - - I must work hard and I must go to a top tier college gets neglected. We have collectively become much more comfortable with "Can" while refusing to stretch goals and attitudes while considering "Must."

Our problems with can and must show up in some of our more troublesome national problems. We can control health care costs - - we really must control health care costs. We must fix our Social Security benefit foundation - - we go decades thinking we can. Our energy problems have been a national security problem since the 1970's - - we have 40-years of thinking can versus must.

Read your company's strategic plan sometime - - is it written in the context of the very comfortable "Can" - - or is it more reflective with stretch goals with a sense of urgency highlighted with "Must"?

Think about your own propose in life - - one of can or one of must.

Managing in Turbulent Environments

Read the paper, watch the news, listen to people talk - - the words uncertainty, ambiguity, and turbulence come across loud and clear. Change, at much greater speed, breadth, and depth - - has individuals and organizations on edge. In these turbulent environments, data and analyzed information are either not readily available or are no longer valid.

Leaders are having to focus their time and energies on three different approaches in this difficult and uncertain world:
  1. Taking an Ecological Perspective - - I cannot stress this enough. We live in a world of increasing interconnectivity between organizations, sectors and markets across the world's economies. The U.S. subprime housing disaster produces a collapse in dry cargo vessel rates - - that is the level of interconnectivity that is present. You need to have the ability to look beyond your particular sector and boundary - - and you need to do this quickly. Waiting can be too late and too risky. In the context of organizational and business life, the adoption of a more holistic perspective requires a shift from the left brain to right brain thinking, a trusting of the intuitive, emotional aspects of leadership; and their integration with the rational, logical side. External relationship management becomes critical - - sharing of information and ideas with suppliers, customers, clients, competitors, etc. Concentrate on scenario thinking and planning - - think possible, probable, and unlikely in a holistic manner.
  2. Making Sense of Rapid and Abrupt Change - - People look to their leaders with a simple question. What is happening? This is a normal social and psychological response to people in crisis. Your response goes back to Listen, Learn and Lead - - the key is helping your organization develop a shared understanding of our new world. This involves enabling people to share their perspectives, hunches and opinions and also listen to the perspective of others. Interactive exchange becomes an important process -- help people to create space to stand back and share their experiences and reflect on what they are noticing and how their interactions are changing with customers, suppliers, and shareholders. Invest time in establishing networks beyond the limits of the organization and recognize the importance of these networks for making sense of the extended environments.
  3. Working Positively with Anxiety - - Our historical daily "givens" are at risk of unraveling. You really cannot count on very much anymore. This has produced tremendous individual and collective anxiety. This can have problematic or even disastrous consequences, because the necessary process of sense-making is averted. Anxiety also produces an environment of looped blame and attack. People want and look for connection and social support from others. Leaders who bring people together and appeal to a sense of community can help people manage their fears and anxieties. Leaders have several roles - - being "fully present" and sympathetic are fundamentally important. Providing clear direction and boundaries to the organization which highlights where action needs to be taken and providing clarity about how individuals can contribute is also important. The most basic goal is developing trust in people by being visible, open, showing a concern for people, being transparent and congruent.

Read more in the Fall 2010 issue of Rotman (Developing Leaders for a World of Uncertainty by Andrew Day and Kevin Power)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Crowdsourcing Lessons

Four lessons for an opensouring strategy - -
  1. Get Ideas Out Early - - Too much polish leads contributors to simply vote yea or nay rather than engage in dialogue that generates true insight.
  2. Share The Raw Data - - Contributors may see different patterns in the data or do their own analyses, leading to big "ahas."
  3. Give People Time - - Engage contributors at various points, allowing time for reflection. Tight deadlines don't respect their time constraints and inhibit dialogue.
  4. Recognize When A Crowd Is Just A Crowd - - Contributors can help on many strategy issues, but some - - such as resource allocation trade-offs - - benefit from C-suite engagement.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Measuring Your Life

The July-August 2010 issue of Harvard Business Review has a wonderful article by Professor Clayton Christensen (How Will You Measure Your Life?). The article has been quoted and referenced in several national publications - - including the David Brooks column in the New York Times. Christensen looks at several big picture questions - - How can I be happy in my career? How can I be sure that my relationship with my family is an enduring source of happiness? And how can I live my life with integrity?

A summary of my takeaway points are as follows:
  • It's not money - - it's the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognized for achievement - - that is what motivates people. (Probably a billion words have been spoken and written along these same lines - - management just doesn't seem to get it).
  • Management offers people the opportunity to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team - - few other professions offer this.
  • Having a clear purpose in life is essential.
  • Clarity of purpose will trump technical knowledge.
  • The choice and successful pursuit of a profession is but one tool for achieving your purpose. But without a purpose, life can become hollow.
  • Your decisions about allocating your personal time, energy, and talent ultimately shapes your life's strategy.
  • You have a limited amount of time and energy and talent. How much do I devote to each of these pursuits?
  • If you mis-invest your resources, the outcome can be bad - - avoid the short-term perspective.
  • Think in terms of investing time and energy in relationships - - spouse and children.
  • People driven to excel have an unconscious propensity to under invest in their families.
  • Think in terms of creating a long-term family culture linked to your purpose.
  • It is easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.
  • It's critical to take a sense of humility into the world.
  • If your attitude is that only smarter people have something to teach you, your learning opportunities will be limited.
  • A lack of self-esteem is a source of why people act in a abusive, arrogant, and demeaning manner.
  • Don't worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

End-To-End Responsibilty

The role of the professional engineer is one of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Historically, two limits have always been implicit in the boundaries of our collective responsibilities. The first is a limited time frame. Our responsibility was the present or short-term - - rarely do we examine the long-term consequences of our decisions. By long-term, I mean the multi-generational aspects of our projects and products. The other boundary historically has been limited to just our particular segment of the supply chain. For example, in the case of concrete, our concern was the concrete placed in our new roadway project. The carbon footprint of the cement manufacturing process for our new concrete and the future recycle ability of the concrete roadway has never been a concern.

The times are changing - - look for "End-to-End" responsibility to become more embedded in our collective responsibilities to the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Build me a carbon neutral building requires a whole new set of discussions and approaches. Climate change and sustainability concerns will expand our responsibilities throughout the entire project/product supply chain and life-cycle. Where something came from and where something is going will give engineers broad responsibilities over suppliers and distributors. Obsolete systems of sequential processes, in which each group performed just one step, with no responsibility for what happened before or after, will give way to more integrated, simultaneous planning and management. All the various process stakeholders will have shared responsibility - - where professional engineers will play a key influence role among businesses and organizations in a collaborative business ecosystem.

This clearly is a higher standard for professional engineers - - and runs directly into the limits of "That's not my job." But a new age is approaching - - one driven by sustainability mandates and climate change requirements. Once the new performance metrics for supply chains and life-cycles are out of the box, there will be no turning back. So be thinking about what our professional obligations should be in a world of "End-to-End" responsibilities.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Which Type Are You?

Paul Maritz, president and CEO of the software firm VMware, thinks leadership teams need to have four personality types. He explains his view in the following:

At the risk of oversimplifying, I think that in any great leadership team, you find at least four personalities, and you never find all four in a single person.

You need to have somebody who is a strategist or visionary, who sets the goals for where the organization needs to go.

You need to have somebody who is the classic manager - - somebody who takes care of the organization, in terms of making sure that everbody knows what they need to do and making sure that tasks are broken up into manageable actions and how they're going to be measured.

You need a champion for the customer, because you are trying to translate your product into something that customers are going to pay for. So it's important to have somebody who empathizes and understands how customers will see it. I've seen many endeavors fail because people weren't able to connect the strategy to the way the customers would see the issue.

Then lastly, you need the enforcer. You need somebody who says: "We've stared at this issue long enough. We're going to make a decision. We're going to deal with whatever conflict we have."

You very rarely find more than two of these personalities in one person. I've never seen it. Great teams have a group of people who provide those functions and respect each other and, equally important, know who they are and who they are not. Often, I've seen people get into trouble when they think they're the strategist and they're not, or think they're the decision maker and they're not.

We need a degree of humility and self-awareness. Really great teams have members who know who they are and who they're not, and they know when to get out of the way and let the other team members make their contributions.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Defining Failure

I had a problem with my bank, Wells Fargo, last week that took way too may calls to fix (and it never did get resolved). Too many organizational and individual failures in this particular case. Organizations constantly need to be examining their definition and boundaries associated with failure. Provided below is a good start:
  • Design Failure - - If your product or service is badly designed, people don't understand it, don't purchase it or may even harm themselves when they use it, and you have failed.
  • Failure of Opportunity - - If your assets are poorly deployed, ignored or decaying, it's as if you are destroying them, and you have failed.
  • Failure of Trust - - If you waste stakeholders' goodwill and respect by taking shortcuts in exchange for short-term profit, you have failed.
  • Failure of Will - - If your organization prematurely abandons important work because of internal resistance or a temporary delay in market adoption, you have failed.
  • Failure of Priorities - - If your management team focuses on work that doesn't create value, that's like sending cash directly to your competitors, and you have failed.
  • Failure to Quit - - If your organizations sticks with mediocre ideas, facility or team too long because it lacks the guts to create something better, you have failed.
  • Failure of Respect - - If you succeed without treating your people, your customers and your resources with respect and honesty, you have failed.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

From Monologues to Dialogues

The Internet has produced a shared power structure - - between the speaker and the audience. Historically, especially in the context of technology, the message and relationship between company and customer was one way. The communication flow was "Talk at" - - company to customer. The Internet, especially in the context of new platforms and social media, has produced a relationship that is two-way. "Talk with" is the new foundation of communication. "Talk with" produces a much more equable sharing of power between the two parties.

People's habits are ever-changing - - engineering in combination with marketing departments need to pay close attention to customers' ongoing discussions and behavior. Companies can try to guide customers to the forum or platform they believe has the best chance of helping their bottom line. Sometimes this will be over lunch or at a baseball game. Other times it will be on your blog or Facebook page. Ultimately, customers will choose which they prefer.