Now That’s a Fact!!

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

An article in USA Today struck me as extremely relevant to our journey toward a sustainable and efficient world.  I don’t think there is a single professional I know that would disagree with that goal … the only disagreement would be how we pay for it.

Getting anything changed requires the art of negotiation and navigation of complex politics.  That requires winning the votes to get things done.  And, if any recent voting comes to mind, I am sure you will agree with me that perceptions are seldom based upon solid facts.  One of my recent blogs pointed out that even the assumption that the world is round has its critics.

So, this article on how people think of life’s issues seems relevant.

How can it be that a world dominated by the internet and with information as freely available as it is that we can be this misinformed?  Could it be that we have a world view and filter what we see and hear to support that point of view?

Critical thinking seems to get a bad rap when it points out how silly things we hold dear really are once you really look at them.  Some of my religious progressive friends like to taunt others with the seasonal assumption that a star literally stopped in its progression in the heavens to point to the birth of Jesus.

Sorry if I offended any of you … remember, I couched that as a progressive friend of mine.  That would seem safe, right?  What if I told you that I believed the story of a star or even a planet if you prefer stopped in its path?

See the pattern?  Our son’s favorite play is Wicked.  My favorite part of this is the soliloquy by the Wizard in the song Wonderful where he states: “Where I come from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it history. A man’s called a traitor or liberator. A rich man’s a thief or philanthropist.  Is one a crusader or ruthless invader? It’s all in which label is able to persist.  There are precious few at ease with moral ambiguities, so we act as though they don’t exist.”

Memory Hacks

Photo Courtesy AJC

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that there are three things that become really challenging in our lives as we get older.  The first is that we lose our memory.  I can’t remember the other two.

The internet seems awash in things to make our lives simple.  Using everyday household items in ways we never thought about.  They are called “Hacks” because someone unlocked a now obvious secret to life through creative uses of things.  Some are downright dangerous and could qualify for the Darwin Awards.

When I moved to the South about 35 years ago I was told about all the ways food was served at Waffle House and taken to one as a part of my indoctrination.  I have blogged about the wonderful employee culture at these places.

It is amazing all the ways people order their breakfast.  How can the cook remember all the specifics?  They have an official hack posted in the restaurant and the short order cooks memorize it.  They need to. I have seen the cheat sheet on the wall near the grill.   Here is a picture of it someone took.

I love these breakfast places compared to regular sit down restaurants.  There is something incredibly social about being right in the midst and across from all the action.  So, one morning I got there very late and decided to order lunch: a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich on plain white bread … not toasted.

The waitress took my order and blurted: One BLTNT … and I thought … hmmm … clever shorthand.

Unfortunately, the tomato was so fresh and juicy it leaked through the bottom slice of bread so when I got it I could not get it off the plate.  I chirped:  SOB and she looked at me … and then I explained:  Soggy On the Bottom.

In her heavy southern accent and with her shoulders thrown back in utter disgust she says: Well S .. H .. I .. T!

I looked at her quizzingly … so she explains: “Should Have had It Toasted!”



That Invisible Hand

Almost everyone attending college takes an economics course and hears at least one lecture on the “law of supply and demand” in which the phrase the invisible hand will be ascribed to a legend in the field: Adam Smith as expressed in the Wealth of Nations.  The energy industry has a long history of a love-hate relationship to this invisible hand.  We invented demand response to limit the price spikes when demand exceeded supply and we came up with incentive rates to increase demand when supplies were in excess of that.

I am wondering what Adam Smith might say if he were brought up to date about the state of affairs in the American energy situation now that solar has both stopped the growth of energy use while also destroyed the load factor in ways few imagined.  Our brilliant engineers and accountants crafted all sorts of cost allocation and cost recovery mechanisms based upon the past … and they are not up to the challenges of the near term and the future.

But, while the electric utilities are still just now preparing to think this through with their legislators, regulators, and communities the petroleum industry seems to be taking the gloves off.  Here was an article/advertisement/opinion piece from the USA Today.  

It seems another Politics makes strange bedfellows. This saying is adapted from a line in the play The Tempest , by William Shakespeare: “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”

Misery … yep … that’s it.

Does Marketing Matter?

Photo Courtesy ADWeek

Payless, the discount shoe retailer, just did a wonderful test of how packaging can convince people to spend way more money than they need to.  They opened a luxury store with all the trimmings and flash upscale shoppers consider appropriate in high end retail stores and gave it a flashy name: Palessi along with fancy shopping bags to show off your purchases.

See the results for yourself and watch the interviews.  They tell us a great deal about how marketing and sales dress makes a difference in customer’s perceptions of value. Read the ADWeek article here. 

It was clearly an experiment … a bit of a stunt, and Payless handled the situation with great tact and grace.  However, I am not sure the average person sees what this experiment really tells us.

Perhaps the flip side says more.  Joshua Bell played in a Washington DC metro station and almost no one paid attention.  He is one of the best violin musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.  Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people.

If you are facing competition … marketing matters … a lot.

Conservation vs. Sales

The latest emphasis on beneficial electrification reminds me of when I first entered the electric utility sector almost 35 years ago.  Cogeneration and gas cooling had the electric utilities flummoxed.  They simply did not know how to “compete” with low natural gas prices and a seemingly endless supply of manipulative wheelers and dealers who made it easy for customers to switch.

As some of you know, I became very popular because I seemed to be able to dissuade customers from these ideas.  Very few of my clients took my techniques to heart … they were just glad to be rid of what they thought was a distraction on the part of customers.  After all, customers should not be interesting in being in the utility business.  So they thought.

When I wrote the book, “Cogeneration Issues and Options,” for the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) I illustrated that customers were simply trying to solve operational and financial problems and that cogeneration was nothing more than one of the ways they could do that.  Project developers made it easy for them, that’s all.

The key attribute that was most difficult was the attitude of the electric utilities at the time.  They viewed the idea of self generation as competition … somehow wrong in the spirit of the customer-electric utility relationship.  They didn’t see it as an opportunity to partner with customers.  They saw it as a “win-lose” battle and that stance put them at odds with the customer.

I would show them the famous scene from Miracle on 34th Street where Santa when speaking to a small child and then that child’s parent told her she could get the toy that child wanted from Gimbles … the arch rival of Macy’s just across the street.  The toy manager wanted to fire the Santa … but the parent’s raving about the Santa’s helpfulness stopped him.

Why be “for or against” any customer idea.  Be “for” the customer and their success.  Let the chips fall where they may.  And, just like that scene in the movie, your customer will always want to shop first at Macy’s.