Monday, October 31, 2011

The Engineer as Zombie or Vampire

The Sunday New York Times Magazine has an interesting article for Halloween on segmenting the population into two camps - - the zombies or the vampires (article by Heather Havrilesky, "Steve Jobs: Vampire.  Bill Gates: Zombie").  Provided below is the general overview of the segmentation:

Are you a Zombie?
  • Extroverts
  • Like big rowdy crowds
  • Comfortable in clusters and teams - - love to volunteer
  • The true meaning of life can only be determined by a collaborative crowd
  • Love committees and sub-committees
  • Leaders and fanatics
  • Awkward and clumsy
  • They like a good chase
  • Apparently never sleeping
  • Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are examples 
  • Charlie Sheen is a famous zombie who mistakenly think they're vampires
Are you a Vampire?
  • Smooth and charismatic
  • Solitary and antisocial
  • Masters of seduction
  • Narcissists, the artists, the experts, the loners, moody
  • Workaholics and neurotic
  • Internally directed
  • Aloof and a little bit hedonistic
  • Doodle during meetings
  • Love watching old movies and reading books
  • Steve Jobs and A-rod are examples (it's the New York paper)
  • Bill Clinton is a famous vampire who mistakenly think they're zombies
In a world of either zombies or vampires, we (as engineers in the collective) need to settle into one camp or another.  If we don't - - you just end up as dead meat.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Siri and the road to innovation, sort of

Sometimes innovation starts with a simple question - - "Could you pour me a beer, please?"  In this case, the question is directed to Siri, the voice recognition software recently introduced on the new iPhone 4S.  The video demonstrates a key feature of innovation - - pulling separate technologies to combine into something  new.  At its core, innovation is multidisciplinary - - in this particular case wireless communication, voice recognition software, robotics, structural mechanics, and fluid dynamics.  Beer also helps.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Engineering and the sin of gluttony

Vaclav Smil is distinguished professor in the University of Manitoba's department of environment and geography.  He is the author of countless books and articles.  Smil is one of my favorites in the area of energy policy.

In the November 2011 issue of Foreign Policy (his article is entitled Gluttony in a special section called What Ails America?), Smil writes the following:

"The parallels with America's great public-health epidemic of obesity are inescapable.  Even after throwing away some 40 percent of its abundant food supply, the United States still has the industrialized world's most overweight population.  America similarly produces more energy per capita than any other major rich economy - - so much so that if the United States were to consume that energy at a rate comparable to Germany or France, it would be a massive energy exporter.  Instead, America imports more than 25 percent of its energy, paying more than $2 trillion for the privilege over the past decade - - and still ends up with little to show for it.  The United States now faces the choice of curbing its energy appetite with deliberation, commitment, and foresight, or waiting for the unraveling economy to put it on a painful crash diet."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Building Plan B

With the start of AMC's The Walking Dead and the Occupy (you fill in the blank) movement, a healthy market for "Plan B" activities is developing.  One such fabricator of Plan B structures is Vivos.  California-based entrepreneur Robert Vicino has created the first fallout shelters modeled on a cooperative, building two massive complexes in Indiana and Nebraska, with plans for three more in Wyoming, New York, and the Carolinas.  Each facility will typically house 1,000 individuals - - which includes private quarters with beds, a bathroom, and a kitchen, as well as access to a communal living space.  Prices start at $35,000.  Although the word Vivos is Latin and means alive, the music on the promo-video could be the sound track for a remake of Dr. Strangelove.  They also boil it down to the simplest of marketing messages - - "It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark."

If communal living is not your thing, Radius Engineering offers a backyard Plan B for the starting cost of $112,000 (with the heart of non-communal living being based in Texas, not California).  The backyard version holds eight and includes a kitchen and shower.  Walton McCarthy, the company's president and the author of Principles of Protection, hermetically seals his ovoid pods eight feet below the surface.  Each is equipped with a 400-gallon septic tank, two generators - - one diesel, another operated by hand crank - - and an internal air-filtration system that blocks radioactive gases and agents of chemical and biological warfare.  A custom-dug well supplies fresh water.  Figure on six-months before supplies run out - - or the remaining 99.99999% knock the door down.

And the demand - - Radius reports a 1,500% increase in sales from five years ago.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Our Risky Supply Chains

Recent floods in Thailand have shut down Honda's Thai assembly plant.  This particular plant, where Honda produces 250,000 cars a year (or 5% of the global output) has been down since October 4.  Between the supply disruptions in Japan caused by the tsunami this past spring and that Thai problems, one thing should be very clear - - the overall vulnerability and astonishing complexity of the global supply chain. 

The October 27, 2011 issue of the Financial Times has an excellent article by David Pilling (Why the mad migration of parts for your iPhone matters).  Pilling writes the following:

"There's a revealing story in Gordon Mathew's Ghetto at the Center of the World, a book about Chunking Mansions, the doss-house-cum-trading hub in Hong Kong.  In one example of the low-end of globalization, Australian opals are shipped, via Chunking Mansions to southern China where they are polished, sent back to Australia and sold as souvenirs to Chinese tourists.

If something as straightforward as an opal can make such a circuitous journey, imagine what goes on with sophisticated electronics.  Apple's gadgets, such as the iPad and iPhone, are produced in southern China in a factory owned by Taiwan's Hon Hai.  But inside each shinny product are dozens of components made in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the US and Europe.  These wing their way around the world like deranged migratory birds.

At its best, the complexity serves to raise the quality and bring down the cost of each part, hence that of the final product, by ensuring it is made in the best location.  But such a tangled chain is prone to strains, particularly when it is paired with the just-in-time practices pioneered by Japan.  Just as banks sought to become more profitable by reducing their capital to an absolute minimum, so companies seek to cut their inventory to a minimum."

Consider the following additional facts from the article:
  • Approximate 40% of the world's microcontrollers came from an area in Japan impacted by the March tsunami.  The average car contains 50 of these little microcontrollers.
  • Spreading production around the globe, to minimize the risk of failure at one particular location, makes for a more complex supply chain.
  • Europe and the US cannot match production of electronics during periods of Asian disruptions - - the US has lost the ability to produce basic components like capacitors and connectors.
  • Specialization and supply chain risks are doubly problematic - - consider an aluminum capacitor where you need to make holes one micron deep in a sheet of aluminum 100 microns thick.  Not too many places in the world with the resources to do something akin to drilling 300,000 holes into a grain of rice.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Defining the word SOCIAL

Tom Friedman had an interesting point in his column last Sunday in the New York Times (One Country, Two Revolutions).  Sort of the tale of two cities - - Wall Street is being rattled by a social revolution.  The 99% have become rather openly upset with the remaining 1%.  The other city, Silicon Valley, is being transformed by another revolution - - a techno-revolution taking the world from connected to hyperconnected and individuals from empowered to superempowered.

Friedman quotes Marc Benioff, the founder of - - Benioff describes the current phase of our techno-revolution with the acronym SOCIAL.  Which stands for:
  • S is for speed.  Everything is now happening so much faster.
  • O is for open.  If you don't have an open environment inside your company or country, these new IT tools will blow you wide open.
  • C is for collaboration.  This allows people to organize themselves within companies  and societies into loosely coupled teams to take on any kind of challenges.  From engineering a new product to engineering the takedown of a government.
  • I is for individuals.  People are able to reach around the globe to start something or collaborate on something farther, faster, deeper, cheaper than ever before.  Not as a component in an organization, but as an individual.
  • A is for alignment.  Per Benioff - - "There has never been a more important time to have all you ships sailing in the same direction.  The power of social media is that it is easier than ever to both articulate and reinforce, the vision and values that create and inspire alignment."
  • L is for leadership.  Leadership in the techno-revolution is a mix of bottoms-up and top down.  Leaders need to inspire, enable and empower everything coming up from below in a company or a social movement and then edit and sculpt it with a vision form above into a final product.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Engineering Storage

A 2011 remake of the 1967 classic The Graduate would probably have the revised memorable line - -

Mr. McGuire, to Benjamin.  "I want to say one word to you.  Just one word . . . Are you listening? - Storage."

From plastics in 1967  to storage in 2011.  In this case storage is storage to store electricity generated from alternative energy sources such as wind and solar.  Consider the article (It's Not Enough to Harness the Wind) in the October 24, 2011 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek:

"Arguments for solar and wind power are enticing (endless availability, no pollution, and so on) that it's easy to see why the idea of transitioning the world economy to alternative energy over the next 40 years keeps gaining favor.  Public discussion often makes it seem as if the only obstacles are efficiency and cost.  Photovoltaic solar cells and offshore wind farms can provide power at about $160 A megawatt hour.  That's far costlier than coal-fired plants, which deliver power at about $70 a megawatt hour.  that price gap keeps narrowing; it may close completely in a decade or two.

Recent events in Germany, though highlight a less discussed, but equally crucial, challenge.  German energy prices have began careening in the strangest ways.  Sunny, gusty days generate so much alternative energy that utilties pay industrial customers to take it away.  Cloudy, calm weather creates shortages that can send wholesale prices as high as $220 a megawatt hour.  Zigzagging energy prices aren't just a short-term annoyance.  They distort budgets and spending  priorities, forcing utilties to spend billions on fossil-fuel plants that are used only part-time to ensure steady power when wind and solar are in short supply.

The most elegant solution would be to improve grid-level storage of solar and wind power, so yesterday's sunshine can continue to yield power during today's storms.  Achieving next-generation storage will take years.  False starts will abound.  Partial breakthroughs will need to be freely shared.  Such long-horizon projects are anathema to the private sector, but well-suited to government support.  The U.S. Energy Dept. took a step in the right direction last month when it issued a slew of $3 million or smaller grants to labs exploring projects as varied as molten batteries, nanomaterials, high-temperature salts, and compressed vapor.

Alternative energy's potential goes well beyond the approaches being commercialized today.  The sooner major advances in areas such as storage can be found, the easier it will be to save billions by shrinking the need for backup plants."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Older Than Jesus

We have no shortage of bottled water - - but MaHaLo Hawaii Deep Sea Drinking Water takes the cake.  Taken from three thousand feet beneath the Pacific island of Kona, Hawaii.  There Koyo USA, a Japanese company, pumps seawater, desalinates, and sells it for $5.50 a bottle.  Koyo claims that MaHaLo Deep Sea Drinking Water is the purest, most nutritious beverage on earth - - one that is "older than Jesus."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Think through the assignment

Great new book by George Anders - - The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent (2011).  Finding talented people - - talented people that are 10 times better than the next level - - should be one of those things that managers and leaders wake up in the middle of the night thinking about. 

Talent searches and talent alignment is much more about mismatches, blind spots, and false hopes than success.  Finding the right people for the right job at the right time is an exhausting process.  Consider the following from the book:

"That's the real talent problem in America.  It's not that we don't know enough about candidates.  Today's dossiers on serious contenders for a CEO's job frequently surpass what the U.S. Senate knew about Supreme Court nominees a few decades ago.  It's not that there are too few talented people to fill crucial openings.  This is a country in which talent proliferates.  It isn't even that competition for the most capable people is unbearably intense.  Many great talent discoveries of recent years involved overlooked prospects such as author J.K. Rowling and baseball pitcher Mariano Rivera, who attracted almost no interest from anyone at the time.  The real problem is that even some of the most diligent, ambitious organizations have built talent-scouting systems that don't work.

Peter Drucker, the legendary business-strategy scholar, spent much of his career studying the ways that organizations hire.  His advice always flowed from the same starting point.  Before you do anything else, he wrote, "Think through the assignment."  That sounds painfully simple.  It seems so obvious that many leaders dash past that step.  They prefer to get started right away on the high-stakes drama of grilling candidates and slotting them into a scoring system.  Yet Drucker was right."

Getting the "right people on an off the bus" is an overly simplistic view of the process and a underlying issue (The "bus" metaphor is rather silly in the context of a IBM or GE - - they can fill a large city).  Take the case of Rivera - - let's put him on the bus as a starting pitcher.  He fails at that - - does that mean Rivera is on the wrong bus?  Could be - - it could also mean that someone put Rivera in the wrong seat on the right bus.  Someone looked at Rivera and forgot to think broadly and clearly about context.  When picking starters and relievers - - someone forgot to ask "What is this job all about?"  The other key point, and Rowling is a good example - - we have a tendency to define people by "what they are not" versus "what they are".  A whole bunch of people never even ask Rowling to get on the bus, and that was a trillion dollar mistake (she found her spot not on another bus, but on an ocean liner).

If you cannot answer the "What is this job all about?" question at the start and get it properly resolved in correct context - - your bus is going to be a mess.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Moving Water

This year has seen a large number of books on water issues being published.  All point out the growing issues of global water resources in the context of population increases and climate change.  Too much water in some areas - - not enough in others.  Grossly undervalued in some cities - - not available in others.  Water resources is probably the most important, challenging, and interesting issue that engineers will face this century.

The latest of the books is The Ripple Effect (2011) by Alex Prud'homme.  He provides the tour deforce on global water topics.  One chapter covers the linkage between water and energy.  Prud'homme writes the following about the future of getting water from Point A to Point B:

"The water industry itself uses a lot of energy.  The collection, transportation, treatment, and distribution of water by the nation's sixty thousand water systems and fifteen thousand wastewater treatment account for about 4 percent of America's total electrical use, according to the Sandia National Laboratories.  In a 2007 study at state agencies, California found that "water-related energy use" - - i.e., moving the state's water supply across great distances, through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and over mountain ranges - - consumes about 19 percent of the state's electricity, 32 percent of its natural gas, 88 billion gallons of diesel fuel a year.  Energy was required for each step of the value chain, from storage to conveyance, treatment, distribution, and wastewater collection.  As more long-distance aqueducts are planned, regulators will have to factor in the power needed to build and operate them and the water costs associated with that power."

Texas recently published their draft water plan for public comment (2012 Water for Texas).  It is an interesting read - - look at in the context of the interconnection between water and energy requirements and constraints

Friday, October 21, 2011

Climate Investment Update

The London-based bank HSBC has an interesting report - - Climate Investment Update.  The United States seems to be the significant outlier in terms of investment, emissions control, and market changes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

U.S. Africa Command

Our recently formed U.S. Africa Command is beginning to make the news.  From "advice and assist" missions in Libya and Somalia - - to the 100 advisors that President Obama recently sent to help the Ugandan government, against insurgents for the "Lord's Resistance Army".  The research center thinks that most of the 100 advisors heading toward central Africa are from the 3rd Special Forces Group (airborne) tasked to the U.S. Africa Command.

The mission statement of AFRICOM is as follows:

"Africa Command protects and defends the national security interests of the United States by strengthening the defense capabilities of African states and regional organizations and, when directed, conducts military operations, in order to deter and defeat transnational threats and to provide a security environment conducive to good governance and development."

As Fred Kaplan wrote in his October 20, 2011 Slate column (The new interventionism: How Obama is changing the way the United States wages war) regarding our role in Africa:

"In the past few years in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Special Forces groups have become quite proficient at tracking bad guys, then killing or capturing them.  It's a lot easier to do that than to help build a new society.  In this case, the society-building won't have to be part of the mission.  If it did, my guess is Obama wouldn't be going there."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The EMMA of Municipal Bonds

The Pennsylvania State Capital of Harrisburg recently filed for municipal bankruptcy.  Total defaults in the municipal bond market for this year stand at $511 million.  Keep in mind that 99.97% of all the Aaa-and Aa-rated municipal bonds have generated coupon payments and redemptions as promised over the past 40 years without a single missed or even late payment.  We have had only 54 defaults since 1970 out of more than one million outstanding issues. 

Defaults of the highest-rated issues are rare - - but as we have seen with our housing mess, low-risk does not mean riskless.  Transparency has always been an issue in the municipal bond market.  Now it is possible to do extensive background research into an issuer on your own.  The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, the obsure regulator of municipal bonds, has created a system that allows for more transparency.  The Web service, called EMMA (, permits any investor to see filings like disclosure documents from the issuer and pricing information.  Just type in the name of the bond or its unique Cusip number and you can gain access to a wealth of data on the bond you are considering.

For additional information - - see John Wasik's article in the October 19, 2011 issue of The New York Times (In Uncertain Times, Municipal Bonds Call for Caution).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Koomey's Law

Named after Stanford University professor Jonathan Koomey - - Koomey's Law states that electrical efficiency of computing has doubled every 1.6 years since the mid-1940s.

The key point - - for a fixed amount of computational power, the need for battery capacity will fall by half every 1.6 years.  Very good news for a future that will be dominated by mobile devices, sensors, and controls.

The Economist has more at A deeper law than Moore's?.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pinsent Masons Water Yearbook 2010-2011

Pinsent Masons LLP is a full service law firm with around 280 partners, a total legal team of 1,100 and more than a 1,800 person staff in the UK and internationally.  The firm's Water Group has extensive experience on a world-wide basis of water, wastewater, desalination, and industrial water resuse projects, many of them procured on a BOT basis or on a Public/Private Partnership basis.  Thr firm also engages in water resources management, environmental, and corporate issues encountered by water utilities and other entities involved in the water industry.

The Pinsent Masons Water Yearbook is in its twelth year.  A link is available at Pinsent Masons Water Yearbook 2010-2011.  The yearbook is divided into four parts - - Part 1 takes a look at trends noted in water and wastewater services worldwide over the past 12 months, and considers how these are set to evolve.  Part 2 covers countries of interest in Asia and the Americas to those involved in providing water and wastewater services.  Part 3 covers companies providing these services that are wholly or partly in the private sector; firstly the major international players and then companies based in Asia and the Americas.  Part 4 is the glossary of terms and abbreviations.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Freese and Nichols, Inc.

Freese and Nichols, Inc. is a Texas-based multidiscipline consulting firm that offers services in engineering, architecture, environmental science, planning, construction services, and program management.  Founded in 1894, they recently won the 2010 Malcom Baldridge National Quality Award in the small business category.  They are the first architecture/engineering consulting firm to win the award.

A summary of their application is available at 2010 Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award Application.  The document provides an excellent view into the inner workings of a privately held corporation.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Five Pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution

Jeremy Rifkin lays out the path of what he refers to as "The Third Revolution" in his The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World (2011) .  A path that combines Internet technology and renewable energy - - imagine hundreds of millions of people producing their own green energy in their homes, offices, and factories and sharing it with each other in an "energy Internet," just like how we now create and share information online.

Rifkin sees five pillars in The Third Industrial Revolution - -
  1. Shifting to renewable energy.
  2. Transforming the building stock of every continent into micro-power plants to collect renewable energies on site.
  3. Deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies  in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies.
  4. Using Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy-sharing intergrid  that acts just like the Internet (when millions of buildings are generating a small amount of energy locally, on site, they can sell surplus back to the grid and share electricity with their continental neighbors).
  5. Transitioning the transport fleet to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell electricity on a smart, continental, interactive power grid.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What Good Listeners Do

From The Trusted Advisor - - what do good listeners do that make them good listeners?  They:
  1. Probe for clarification
  2. Listen for unvoiced emotions
  3. Listen for the story
  4. Summarize well
  5. Empathize
  6. Listen for what's different, not for what's familiar
  7. Take it all seriously (they don't say, "You shouldn't worry about that")
  8. Spot hidden assumptions
  9. Let the client "get it out of his or her system"
  10. Ask "How do you feel about that?"
  11. Keep the client talking "What else have you considered?"
  12. Keep asking for more detail that helps them understand
  13. Get rid of distractions while listening
  14. Focus on hearing you version first
  15. Let you tell your story your way
  16. Stand in your shoes, at least while they're listening
  17. Ask you what you've thought of before telling you what they've thought of
  18. Look at (not stare at) the client as he or she speaks
  19. Ask you how you think they might be of help
  20. Look for congruity (or incongruity) between what the client says and how he or she gestures and postures
  21. Make it seems as if the client  is the only thing that matters and that they have all the time in the world
  22. Encourage by nodding head or giving a slight smile
  23. Are aware of and control their body movement (no moving around, shaking legs, fiddling with a paper clip)
Things that will not get you in the Listening Hall of Fame:
  1. Interrupt
  2. Respond too soon
  3. Match the client's points ("Oh, yes, I had something like that happen to me.  It all started . . .")
  4. Editorialize in midstream ("Well, that option's a nonstarter")
  5. Jump to conclusions (much less judgments)
  6. Ask closed-end questions for no reason
  7. Give you their ideas before hearing yours
  8. Judge you
  9. Try to solve the problem too quickly
  10. Take calls or interruptions in the course of a client meeting (it seems so obvious but watch how often it happened)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

H20 by the numbers

The Chartist (which is a great column) in the October 17, 2011 Fortune covers the world of water. 

Price of Tap Water (per 100 gallons)
  • Buenos Aires - - $0.01
  • Mumbai - - $0.04
  • Shanghai - - $0.07
  • Mexico City - - $0.03
  • Hong Kong - - $0.17
  • Moscow - - $0.24
  • Las Vegas - - $0.32
  • New York - - $0.39
  • Tokyo - - $0.46
  • Los Angeles - - $0.50
  • Boston - - $0.52
  • Phoenix - - $0.59 (water is cheaper in the desert than by the ocean!)
  • London - - $0.73
  • Oslo - - $1.35
  • Paris - - $1.48
  • Copenhagen - - $3.03
Water Consumption (agricultural, industrial, and domestic daily water consumption per capita in gallons)
  • United States - - 2,057
  • Peru - - 787
  • Argentina - - 1,163
  • Sweden - - 1,033
  • Congo - - 400
  • South Africa - - 900
  • China - - 775
  • Russia - - 1,340
  • Australia - - 1,675
Increase in Annual Water Demand (2005 - 30)
  • North America - - 43%
  • South America - - 95%
  • Europe - - 50%
  • India - - 100%
  • China - - 47%
  • Sub-Saharan Africa - - 283%
Total Global Market 2010
  • Total - - $508 billion
  • Bottled Water - - $59 billion
  • Industrial Water - - $28 billion
  • Retail Products - - $15 billion
  • Irrigation Equipment - - $10 billion
  • Utilities - - $396 billion (water $226 billion + wastewater $170 billion)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Israeli Desalination Enterprises (IDE)

The Israeli Desalination Enterprises (IDE) is equally owned by Israel Chemical Ltd. and the Delek Group.  IDE was established in 1965 and is a pioneer and leader in the delivery of sophisticated water management solutions.  IDE specializes in research and development of saline water desalination processes, concentration and purification of industrial streams, wastewater treatment, heat pumps and ice/snow machines.  Look for IDE to continue development efforts in pre-treatment reverse osmosis, energy recovery, and input water uptake.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bail out of a business (or industry) that isn't growing

Fortune magazine has a great little book - - Secrets of Greatness: Advice from the World's Top CEO's and Entrepreneurs.  Retailer legend Mickey Drexler and CEO of J. Crew offers the following advice on working in a non-growth business:

"It was 1980.  I had been working at a department store (Bloomingdale's) for 12 years, and I knew I had to get out.  There wasn't really a future there for me.  I was offered the job of president at Ann Taylor.  I thought about it - - and when you are changing jobs, you think of all the reasons you should not do it.  Then you get a little nervous.  I said no.

That night I having dinner with someone who was older and wiser, Arthur Levit (then chairman of the American Stock Exchange), and I told him about the offer.  He said, "I would grab that position at Ann Taylor.  Department stores are a non-growth business."

He was right.  The next morning I told the corporation I was interested after all.  I resigned the next week.  That was by far the best advice I gotten in my life.  If I didn't have dinner with him that night, I don't think I would have called back and said I wanted the job.  And I am not sure I'd be where I am today."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Map of Grand Challenges

Software legend Bill Joy of venture capital legend Keiner Perkins developed and utilizes something he calls the "Map of Grand Challenges."  The map is an enormous matrix of some forty squares reflecting major opportunities for future demand growth in areas like energy storage, water, electricity generation, transportation, and others.  The key to the map in the context of venture capital - - there are many blank spots on the map, denoting ideas that should be possible and could generate huge positive changes in the market.

The map has one primary purpose - - to help Kleiner Partners partners know what to look for.  Others outside the VC world could also benefit from a "Map of Grand Challenges."

Stakeholder Mapping

Good example of the ideas behind stakeholder mapping from a paper by Bob Prieto of Fluor - - Stakeholder Management in Large Engineering & Construction Programs.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Trusted Advisor

Engineers, especially consulting engineers, come with several universal titles.  Ones like "Professional" or "Expert' come to mind.  But another title might be just as appropriate - - "Trusted Advisor".

Authors David Maister, Charles Green, and Robert Galford have written The Trusted Advisor (2001), which appears to be the handbook on the subject.

Consider the traits the authors consider important for the role of trusted advisor from the context of the advisee:
  1. Seem to understand us, effortlessly, and like us.
  2. Are consistent (we depend on them).
  3. Always help use to see things from fresh perspectives.
  4. Don't try to force things on us.
  5. Help us think things through (it's our decision).
  6. Don't substitute their judgment for ours.
  7. Don't panic or get overemotional (they stay calm).
  8. Help us think and separate our logic from our emotion.
  9. Criticize and correct us gently, lovingly.
  10. Don't pull their punches (we can rely on them to tell us the truth).
  11. Are in it for the long haul (the relationship is more important than the current issue).
  12. Give us reasoning (to help us think), not just their conclusions.
  13. Give us options, increase our understanding of those options, give us their recommendations, and let us choose.
  14. Challenge our assumptions (help us uncover the false assumptions we've been working under).
  15. Make us feel comfortable and casual personally (but they take the issues seriously).
  16. Act like a real person, not someone in a role.
  17. Are reliably on our side and always seem to have our interests at heart.
  18. Remember everything we ever said (without notes).
  19. Are always honorable (they don't gossip about others, and we trust their values).
  20. Help us put our issues in context, often through the use of metaphors, stories, and anecdotes (few problems are completely unique).
  21. Have a sense of humor to diffuse (our) tension in tough situations.
  22. Are smart (sometimes in ways we're not).
Those professionals who apply trust most successfully are those who are at ease with concepts like:
  • Do well by going good.
  • What goes around comes around.
  • You get back what you put in.
  • Use it or lose it.
They have a predisposition to focus on the client, rather than themselves - -
  • enough self-confidence to listen without pre-judging,
  • enough curiosity to inquire without supposing an answer,
  • willingness to see the client as co-equal in a joint journey,
  • and enough ego strength to subordinate their own ego.
Key characteristics of trust are:
  • Grows, rather than just appears.
  • Is both rational and emotional.
  • Presumes a two-way relationship.
  • Is intrinsically about perceived risk.
  • Is different for the client than it is for the advisor.
  • Is personal.
The trusted advisor is a master of Socratic teaching - - examples of key questions are:
  • Why do you think we have this problem?
  • What options do we have for doing things differently?
  • What advantages do you foresee for the different options?
  • How do you think the relevant players would react if we did that?
  • How do you suggest we deal with the following adverse consequences of such an action?
  • What can we do to prevent such things occurring?
  • What benefits might come if we tried the following approach?
The key principals of relationship building - -
  1. Go first
  2. Illustrate, don't tell
  3. Listen for what's different, not for what's familiar
  4. Be sure your advice is being sought
  5. Earn the right to offer advice
  6. Keep asking
  7. Say what you mean
  8. When you need help, ask for it
  9. Show an interest in the person
  10. Use compliments, not flattery
  11. Show appreciation
And finally - - the Trust Equation

T = (C + R + I) / S

T= Trust
C = Credibility
R = Reliability
I = Intimacy
S = Self-orientation

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hassle Map

Adrain J. Slywotzky is the author of Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It (2011).  The book looks at the complex idea of demand and how it is created.  Creating demand involves solving a puzzle that is a quirky combination of anthropology, psychology, technology, design, economics, infrastructure, and a host of other elements.

Brilliant demand creators map the everyday hassles that make life painful, inconvenient, wasteful, even dangerous.  Then they fix those hassles by developing products that people can't resist and competitors have a very hard time replicating.

The idea of a "Hassle Map" is an interesting one - - Slywotzky offers the following definition:

(Ha-sul map) noun  1. a diagram of the characteristics of existing products, services, and systems that cause people to waste time, energy, money  2.  (from a customer's perspective) a litany of the headaches, disappoints, and frustrations one experiences  3. (from a demand creator's perspective) an array of tantalizing opportunities.

Friday, October 7, 2011

You Don't Change The World By Playing Nice

From the online version of The Atlantic in a story relating to Steve Jobs:

Last year a former Apple employee related his favorite Steve Jobs story to me. I have no way of knowing if it is true, so take it for what it's worth. I think it nicely captures the man who changed the world four times over. When engineers working on the very first iPod completed the prototype, they presented their work to Steve Jobs for his approval. Jobs played with the device, scrutinized it, weighed it in his hands, and promptly rejected it. It was too big.  The engineers explained that they had to reinvent inventing to create the iPod, and that it was simply impossible to make it any smaller. Jobs was quiet for a moment. Finally he stood, walked over to an aquarium, and dropped the iPod in the tank. After it touched bottom, bubbles floated to the top.  "Those are air bubbles," he snapped. "That means there's space in there. Make it smaller."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs 1955 - 2011

“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have." [Wired, February 1996]

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

That is what it is

General Martin E. Dempsey assumed command as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last week.  During Dempsey's term, a significant challenge will be how to best care for the military and protect the United States' national security interests with drastically fewer Defense Department dollars.

Economics could be the most important subject to master in the coming decades.  General Dempsey seems to think so.  As reported in the Dallas Morning News (October 3, 2011) - - Dempsey to Study Up on the Economy.  Dempsey traveled to West Point and the social sciences department to get a crash course on economics.  Dempsey had the following comments:

"I have to confess, I paid no attention to this [economics] as a cadet and have done nothing to increase my awareness of economic issues between age 22 and 59," he said.  "And here I am, back as the prodigal son, saying, "I should have paid attention."  The economic factors exist.  They will inform my tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  To use the old cliche: That is what it is."

Dempsey is not alone.  We, especially engineers, need a crash course on economics.  Economics will impact all of our tenure.  I would recommend the following two guides as a start.  Start with a complete understanding of bonds - - bond yields, yield calculations, and the yield curve.  Remember that 99% of economics is common sense - - when data show diaper sales are slowing and sales of diaper-rash ointment rising (which they currently are) - - you don't need to go to West Point to figure out which way the economy is headed.  

Guide to Economic Indicators: Making Sense of Economics 7th Edition by The Economist

Guide to the 50 Economic Indicators That Really Matter by Simon Constable and Robert E. Wright of The Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Government

Jeffrey Sachs is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University - - he is renowned for his contributions to solving some of the world's most daunting economic and social crises.  He has a new book, The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity (2011).  The book has a great opening line in Chapter 2 - Prosperity Lost.  "There can be no doubt that something has gone terribly wrong in the U.S. economy, politics, and society in general.  Americans are on edge; wary, pessimistic, and cynical." 

Sachs, like many others, points out that our declining net national savings rate has meant a decline of funds available for domestic investment to build capital stock.  Or stated another way, our public infrastructure gets a grade of "D" - - with an estimated five-year bill of $2.2 trillion to correct deficiencies in basic systems.  Few Americans fully understand the need for public infrastructure in a world of global markets and supply chains.  Washington's retreat from public purpose has produced an environment in which paying for civilization is an abstraction.  Economic fairness has become over-shadowed by the fallacy of the free-market.  Disregard for fairness and sustainability has produced roads that are worn out; bridges and dams vulnerable to collapse; and levee and river systems in need of major upgrades.

Sachs ends his book with seven ideas for improving government (Engineers should remember Oscar Wilde's line that an idea that isn't dangerous is hardly worth calling an idea at all.):
  1. Set Clear Goals and Benchmarks - - We need clear goals.  We need a strategic vision of our infrastructure - - it needs to be defined in terms of our long-term economic, social, and environmental goals.  Great countries have great goals - - and in a mindful society, such goals ought to be widely known.
  2. Mobilize Expertise - - How many engineers are in elected positions in Washington?  Not enough.  The problems we face are global, interconnected across many areas of politics and policy, and often highly technical.  Take energy policy - - could one imagine a problem less easily handled by a layman and legal Congress operating on a two-year election cycle?
  3. Make Multiyear Plans - - Complexity is a huge problem, even without the mix of short planning cycles.  Some of our most pressing problems - - infrastructure, energy development, health care reform - - you just don't solve these types of problems in 18-months.
  4. Be Mindful of the Far Future - - Think two generations ahead.  Medicare looks dreadful.  Social Security is broke.  We are two degrees on average warmer.  The solution to a known problem in 2060 starts in 2011 - - it doesn't start in 2055.  Don't kick the can down the road - - don't assume some future technology will come into being in 2050 to stop climate change.  Maybe or maybe not - - but without R&D investment today, the risk of not having a solution in 2055 goes way up.
  5. End the Corporatocracy - - Political fund raising and lobbying have created a very corrupt system.  Too much money chasing too much influence.  Think about it - - if the public provided campaign financing, the media provided free time, campaign contributions from lobbying firms were banned, and you stopped the revolving door - - campaigning stops being an investment.  And just maybe - - fairness, honesty, and foresight once again become the foundations of our democracy.
  6. Restore Public Management - - No matter how you slice it, we are going to have very limited fiscal resources to deal with our national problems.  We will need very talented individuals in public service.  Mindful democracies do not sub-contract out the core functions of government.  Distracted societies do - - and you end up with things like Blackwater in very distance lands.  Our goal ought to rebuild public management, not turn it over to private management.
  7. Decentralize - - Policy problems should be addressed at the most local level of government that is capable of providing a solution.  Education, health, roads, water treatment - - all could be addressed at the local level.  Decentralization allows for active participation by engineering - - at the level we can have the greatest impact.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Design by Caballero

Innovation and invention are fueled by demand (actual or anticipated).  The important thing about demand to remember, it doesn't always have a boundary.  Take bulletproof clothing - - you can actually buy bulletproof polo shirts, safari jackets, kurtas, and ecclesiastical investments.  We are seeing the intersection of technology, couture, and risk management in the context of globalization while at the golf course or the cocktail hour.

David Owen writes about this in the Dept. of Invention column in the New Yorker (Survival of the Fitted, September 26, 2011).  Owen covers Miguel Caballero - - he is founder and CEO of a Colombian based firm that specializes in "personal protection."  Consider the following points in the article - -
  • Popular items include a three-button blazer, a V-necked wool sweater, a Nehru vest, and a polo shirt.  The polo shirt actually "promotes a compact golf swing." 
  • The author was shot with a .38 calibre revolver while dressed in a black suede jacket.  Quality control is rather straightforward - - "After firing, Caballero lifted my shirt to check my abdomen for bruising and found none.  (One has to admire a good reporter and writer - - "After shooting me, Caballero took me to lunch.  The food was terrific.")
  • The customer base is concerned more about comfort and discretion than about cost (quality figures in somewhere also).
  • Caballero has a hybrid of nylon and polyester that is thinner, and more flexible than comparably protective versions of Kevlar.
  • The warranty is for five years - - ballistic materials and also guns improve.  We basically have a race between two innovative technologies.  Be sure and keep your warranty and remember your date.
  • Arabs prefer the MC Black Collection - - a white linen tunic (a tunic is good - - lots of room for bulletproof panels).
  • The classic "American wife beater" is very popular - - one can wear it with anything.  The "wife beater" and "urban hoodie" would make an excellent protective combination.
  • They also make a religious line - - for the Latin American priest caught between drug traffickers (it is also available with a large bulletproof Bible).  See - - true innovation really doesn't have pre-set barriers.
  • Underpants are problematic - - more pampers than Under Armour (but innovation will always fill the demand void).
  • This is very important to remember (and the first time I have heard about this issue) - - the type of protection and clothing is a function of geography.  London for example - - stab and knife protection are important.  India - - combination of both knife and gun.  Malaysia - - only knife.  Latin America - - think Uzi before Bowie.  Russia - - huge problems on this one.  They have something called a Tokarev round - - it is armour-piercing and you will require a special golf shirt in Russia.  The key point - - you might think that protecting people from stabbing would be easier than protecting them from shooting.  Wrong - - the surface area, as with an ice pick, is important.  So depending our your travel plans - - you might need several different types of golf shirts.
Innovation is a race - - more marathon than sprint.  Borders was in a race against Amazon.  Netflix chased Blockbuster down.  Everyone is trying to catch-up with Apple.  Bulletproof couture is just the latest in a very long run of races.  This one is just more basic and historic - - protection and killing.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Engineering Moneyball

I had the opportunity to see the movie Moneyball a couple of weeks ago.  Good movie based on a great book by Michael Lewis.  It is not just a great sport's book - - it is a great business book.  The New York Times today discussed the movie and book (When Data Guys Triumph) in terms of the broad business and social impact both have and are having.  Consider the points in the article and the interface with engineering and the role of engineers in society.
  • The basics of Moneyball are simple - - the foundation is the creative use of data.
  • Moneyball isn't about baseball or statistics.  Rather, it's about challenging conventional wisdom with data.  Engineers are trained empirical evangelists - - we also have the ability and responsibility to be challengers of the conventional with hard data.  Almost all engineers and engineering managers have a little Bill James or Billy Beane in them - - or they should.
  • Engineering Moneyball should look to other problems and opportunities - - from web analytics to behavioral economics to health care reform to technology. 
  • Moneyball and engineering are the same thing - - a reliance on data to exploit inefficiencies, allocate resources and challenge conventional wisdom.  Our future is full of Moneyball-type problems - - energy transformation, sustainability, climate change, etc.  Even how city hall is managed has a huge Moneyball potential.
  • Engineering and the Oakland A's face a similar issue in the context of Moneyball.  The road from modeling problems to influencing organizational decisions is a long one.  This is especially true for those engineers working in and for the public sector - - analysts don't even have a seat at the table.  Generation Moneyball is not yet in charge of city hall.  But remember the words of Max Planck - - "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
As you watch post-season baseball, remember that engineers are the original Moneyball profession and that we have a very bright Moneyball future.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Rain, Wind, and Fire

Climate change will require engineers to change their management of rain, wind, and fire.  The dry may become wet while the wet may become dry is just one scenario that engineering will be concerned with.  We will be engaged in a global rebalancing of these three forces - - as part of our energy transformation.  The net increase in rain, wind, and fire (if managed correctly and within certain limits) could be a huge positive for the planet.  Consider what Bruce Buenot  de Mesquita wrote in his 2009 The Pedictioneer's Game:

"Climate change due to global warming will add to our supply of rain, wind, and fire, and if it raises the oceans, kicks up fierce storms, and bathes us in massive quantities of BTUs, then it also adds to our urge to exploit these ancient forces just as their increased power makes us worry more.  As climate change would generate more of these sources of energy, it would also create a beautiful synergy which would in turn prevent global disaster.  How could this be?

There is an equilibrium at which enough global warming - a very modest amount more than we may already have, probably enough to be here in fifty to a hundred years - will create enough additional sunshine in cold places, enough additional rain in dry places, enough additional wind in still places, and, most important, enough additional incentives for humankind that windmills, solar panels, hydro-electricity, and as yet undiscovered technologies will be the good, cheap, evenly distributed and clean mechanisms to replace the fossil fuels we use today.  Global warming, in other words, induces a self-solving dominant strategy in which everyone elects some mix of wind, rain, and fire technologies (and maybe even some fossil  fuels in moderation) precisely because the abundance of these forces, and the attention drawn to them, will make them affordable solutions to arrest further warming - long before we all roast, drown, or are blown beyond the moon, beyond the stars, and all the way to Oz."