The Right Stuff


We respect Edison for many of the right reasons. Most of us though do not know the back-story to his inventing the electric light. The driver behind his research was that he got angry with the local gas company for the way they treated him, so he shifted his laboratory’s research priorities to get even. Yep, the gas company was going to cut him off for late payment. Many electric utilities now honor his legacy with his name as a part of theirs. So, maybe it is also time to honor him more widely by following his lead.

Rather than just lament the way things are … do something. Don’t do it by consensus. Do it by letting individuals try ideas, make mistakes, and then learn from them.   But, do it quickly. Learn from what doesn’t work so you can apply it to what can work.

My latest read is a fabulous new book written by Amy Wilkinson on the six essential skills of extraordinary entrepreneurs called The Creator’s Code. If your company wants to adjust to the shifting landscape of regulatory realities, legislative issues, and customer attitudes, this is a must read.

The key is what Amy describes as the OODA loop. I will cover this in my next blog, but the key advice she offers about failing wisely is my point in this article. Edison had the right attitude about failure. Does your company embrace failure this way and encourage trying new ways of solving old problems using the latest discoveries from other industries? Does it reward people for stepping up, sharing their ideas, and trying new approaches better suited to our rapidly changing environment? As Edison points out, you don’t get to the one idea that works perfectly without taking some risks and failing along the way.


I really do not like lawyers

There are many professionsRats where one person can eke out a life in a small town. One physician … one car mechanic … one painter, etc. There is one, where that is impossible: one lawyer. The one lawyer would starve to death.

It seems to me that lawyers are trained to argue so they need someone to argue with. Perhaps that is part of the problem in our politics today. We have mostly lawyers as politicians. Maybe we should be voting pastors and rabbis into office. Maybe we should consider more psychologists and teachers. What we don’t need any more of are lawyers.

I am reminded of all this because of an article I read in the Wall Street Journal today where mice were being used to decide the benefits of a time-based diet where eating at certain times of the day was better than eating at others. One of the comments was a question about why humans weren’t used in the study … it certainly seems safe enough to try this on humans. After all, there were no restrictions on calories or even food type. It was only about when you ate during the day.

That reminded me of a similar question asked by some: why don’t they use lawyers for these medical experiments. The justification for using lawyers was based upon three arguments:

  1. There are far too many lawyers in the US,
  2. Researchers are far less likely to form an emotional bond with lawyers, and finally
  3. There are some things even a rat will not do.

Seems reasonable to me.

Big Data – Big Noise

bigdataIt seems like the topic of big data is all the buzz these days. Somehow, the hope is that if you put enough big data in a barrel, stir it all around with some secret statistical sauce, you get magical results. Yeah, right… Dream on!
I have been at this way too many years to put up with such nonsense. Face it. Big data by itself simply results in big noise. If you want to find the gold nuggets buried in that big data, you need noise reduction algorithms and analytics operating on the filtered data.
Right now, I am sitting in a room filled with people talking and with a lot of ambient noise while listening to some beautiful classical music on Pandora … but the reason I can do that is that I am listening to it on Bose noise-canceling headphones. I can tell there are people talking … but I can still hear the clear sounds of the music. The noise has been reduced so much that I can truly enjoy the music.
Therefore, if big data is on your agenda, invest in some good noise reduction technology. Otherwise, you won’t be able to differentiate Beethoven from Bon Jovi. And, you won’t enjoy it either.
We have been experimenting to see what can be extracted from simple utility billing data combined with weather information and run through our analysis engine. The results are staggering. Would you like to know which of your customers are likely to have demand response potential because they keep their homes in winter at a toasty 72°F and which ones hold a chilly 70°F in the summer? How about which have gas water heating, and which are using far more or far less energy than engineering estimates would predict? Those criteria would identify the best targets for energy efficiency programs, demand response offerings, or sales prospects.
We are currently researching the possibilities with one of our utility clients and will be sharing the results on an Apogee Institute Webinar on March 25th at 2PM Eastern. Technology is advancing at warp speed and what was impossible just a year ago is now at our fingertips. We can deliver prospects with laser beam focus as opposed to expensively broadcasting an offer to the masses.
The combination of the best noise reduction and analytics can take big data to a big financial payoff in your world. Join us on the Webinar by signing up on our website:  Seating is limited register today.

Moving from Anecdotes to Analytics

analyticsHave you noticed how many conversations you have each day that are based upon anecdotes? It probably started with “how did you sleep last night?” Today’s fitness monitors are changing all that. You can now see your sleep pattern, how quickly you fall asleep, how deep your sleep is, etc. Sure, the engineers on this blog will say that the analytics are not precise, but they are certainly a lot more precise than the anecdotes they are replacing.

The energy industry is facing a similar transition. It is moving way past segmentation and personas (which are even less personal than anecdotes) to personalized messaging methods. But, the next big wave will be the transition to business analytics platforms. Here are just a few examples:

Home Performance Analytics – Consider not just the age and size of the home, but the actual operating energy performance. How would you like to know which homes are the most efficient and the least efficient without talking to the customer at all? While it is obvious from the electric bills which homes have gas heat, why not pick out the homes that are using space heaters as well? Why not pick out homes that have significant air distribution losses. Spot those old heat pumps before they fail and help customers see the benefits of replacing them with new ones while also finding customers running space heaters and show them the benefits of the new through-the-wall high-efficiency heat pumps?

Home Behavior Analytics – We have proven we can now identify how homeowners are setting their thermostats just from the same billing histories we have always used in the past! Yes, you read that correctly. So, perhaps you might like to target customers who are holding cool temperatures for your demand response program for this next summer. Use your creative side to think of all the ways this might help you target customers for all types of programs and services. In addition, our math lets you compare each and every home to itself in the past … M&V on a home-by-home basis.

Home Progress Reports – Offer all your customers year-on-year and even month-to-month progress reports showing them how their energy use is really changing. Otherwise, customers get fooled into thinking that their savings efforts are in vain when their improvements are blunted by colder than normal winters and then hotter than normal summers.

It is time to replace the stories about how energy is used in the home with real, reliable analytics. Give us a call to see how we can make this a reality in your company.

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Expanding Energy Efficiency to Economic Efficiency

CRMThe utility industry seems to have reached a watershed moment on EE … it has done such a good job that load growth has been halted, but customers are still not doing all that well.  We all seem to agree that the basic problem is the economy is not growing and where it does; it is not producing the jobs that have been lost.  So, we all seem to agree that growing the local economy is important and beneficial.

Then how about making that a priority in our local relationships?  If you have a key account program, do you have an extension to small business?  That is where we all know the growth comes from.  In addition, what are your purchasing practices?  Do you buy local where you can?  And, if you don’t because you feel the local supplier prices is higher, do you consider any premium over the lowest price being justified because the money stays in the community?

Economists all understand the trickledown theory and it has a lot of intuitive and relational value.  Money spent in the community not only helps preserve the companies directly, but also tends to support many other goods and services in the community.  This can obviously support and create jobs.

Sure, that may not help the general economy across the country, but let’s face it.  A utility’s relationship to its communities is local.  Maybe it is time that we made that more of a priority.

I remember when I came into this industry and started working with Georgia Power.  The industrial marketing reps wore special red ties that indicated Georgia Power supported the textile industry.  That represents big industry, but I also remember when I bought my first typewriter directly from IBM.  Their representative came to my house and helped me select one.  After it arrived, he checked in with me to be sure it was working well.  A few months later, he called to see if I would like another typeface and some new ribbons.  He stopped by every six months to visit and I asked him how we could justify that.  To this day, I cherish his perspective when he offered this explanation:

“Joel, I can tell that you are going to be a successful entrepreneur.  And, when you need other things to help your company succeed, I want you to always come to me for help.  One of these days, you might place an order for 100 or even 1,000 typewriters.  The relationship I have with you is everything to me.”

Relationships and helping people succeed through serving others in those relationships is pretty good advice for any business these days. secure web browser .