Look Ma… No Hands!

handsfreeMaybe you were a daredevil child and would ride your bike without holding the handlebars. I eventually was to be able to do that after years of riding … still couldn’t do it when the bike went through soft sand though. The idea was to show off a bit and ask your mother to notice.

We now have people who try to drive their cars the same way, using their hands to fumble with the phone or worse yet to text. The chilling adage here is a bumper sticker that says, “Honk if you love Jesus. Text if you would like to meet him!” We all need to focus when we are driving and even when we are walking. The internet is alive with illustrations of people walking into things when they are distracted.

When we toured Italy last year, the guide gave us a list of driving tips that started with this one: When entering a traffic circle, close your eyes … it makes merging much less terrifying. Also, drive with your knees. This leaves both hands free to hold a cell phone, a cigarette, and to gesture at other drivers. Of course, this really is no laughing matter, but I have to say we did observe these rules in common practice.

But, perhaps the days when we need to keep our hand on the wheel are ending. Self-driving cars are here. They will be operational this year. The car will literally go to your destination and even find a parking spot and park itself. This will certainly be interesting to watch.

What struck me this week was the contrast to the way fighter aircraft were flown just a few years ago and the dependence upon the pilot to fly the plane. I still love watching Top Gun. I have known several Top Gun pilots. These are very special people. They have to be a bit over the top to do what they do. At least, that was then. Perhaps not now. Here is a conversation snippet about just one difference:

“With a conventional fighter radar, the pilot must direct the radar beam to search in specific areas and he must command the radar to lock on to a detected target. In the F-22, the pilot does neither of these tasks. The radar is one contributor to a knowledge base of information about the air and ground space surrounding the Raptor. The radar is self-cueing and continuously searches all available space within its field of regard. It can also perform multiple tasks at one time such as searching and tracking multiple targets. The radar does this with no pilot interaction and inputs its findings to the core avionics which, in turn, sorts and sifts this information along with inputs from the other sensors to formulate a complete picture of enemy aircraft, friendly aircraft and ground threats in the vicinity of the Raptor.” (Excerpt from Top Gun script.)

I think you all know that the idea of firing at enemy aircraft using your hands is also outdated.

So, this leads me to a grand idea. Almost all great innovations in everyday life started out as technology first for the military. These ideas are proven out in environments demanding the utmost and eventually are simplified and cost reduced through mass production such that we can all afford them.

In past blogs, I talked about the Amazon Echo. Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, has the American household clearly in his sights. And Tesla’s visionary leader, Elon Musk, seems to have the power supply to these homes in his sights. Where are the big ideas? Where are the dreamers? I guess I still love Steve Jobs’ adage: “The future is only limited by the size of your ideas and the degree of your dedication.”

Ah, if I only had the money to play with all this that Robert Downey Jr had in Iron Man.

The Internet of Things…the IoT


This latest three-letter acronym really captures the imagination. Just about everything will be digitally interconnected to everything else that is digital. Theoretically, your refrigerator will tell you what is spoiling and remind you what might be getting a bit old in the freezer. Your phone of course will become your personal servant issuing orders or taking requests for just about everything in the home. And all along, you can of course be sure that the government is simply ignoring all this information. After all, we do insist on our privacy … but let’s leave that alone and the subject of another blog.

Here is my latest thought about this concept. The keyboard as you now know it may become a buggy whip. Take a look at this upstart (a company called CICRET)

I suspect the concept we currently hold dear using a phone may be gone shortly. What a silly idea to carry that around; worry about where it is, etc. There is now a whole array of almost holographic presentation formats. Watch the Ironman movies carefully. This is not far off.

Of course, the reason we will tolerate this digital intrusion is that our lives will be somehow made easier, simpler, and perhaps less expensive. Our cars are about to drive themselves. Our electric vehicles will call us to tell us they are ready to get us to the next destination. My son starts his car to warm it up remotely on cold winter mornings and I can tell if he ever exceeds a speed limit. There is no point in anyone stealing the car. I can shut it down and alert the police about its whereabouts. And, this car is less than $20k brand new.

Meanwhile the utility industry keeps thinking customers are captive and uninterested in energy issues. What will it take to upend that world? Jawbone is keeping track of your personal fitness and is now talking to the NEST about your comfort. It seems like our technologies haven’t heard about our disinterest. It seems like they may be conspiring to upend the business.

Maybe this is because all these technologies just don’t bother talking to the energy utilities. Maybe these free market companies simply do not believe utilities are relevant to this evolutionary movement.

Abraham Lincoln was right of course. Things may come to those who wait, but only those things left by those who hustle.


Networking Minds

Creator's Code

This is the last in my series of blogs about the wonderful book, The Creator’s Code. It is about how we can all collaborate … even as competitors … to bring about the new world of energy engagement.

First, let me point out that the chapter on networking is in stark contrast to today’s seeming preoccupation with consensus decision making. The chapter is all about the productive creative tension that diverse groups and the social discomfort these create have on productive change.

“Homogeneous groups found it more comfortable to work with those from the same background. They became entrenched in their point of view and overconfident in their assumptions. Diverse groups, by contrast, experienced an upset of the status quo and felt insecure, but were motivated to reconcile opposing opinions.”

Many of today’s thought leaders condemn consensus decision making. Why then is that the mantra for so much of what we hear in thoughts about the relationships of energy companies and customers?

Perhaps we need to encourage dissenting, dissimilar, and uncomfortable thoughts?

Could there be even bigger truths we might discover? Or, are we just so perfectly satisfied with the things we think are true that we don’t want to work that hard to discover they are incomplete?


Open the Pod Bay Doors HAL


A few blogs ago in one titled, “The ODDA Loop,” I commented on one of the scariest moments in my professional career.  A senior officer jumped from his seat during my presentation protesting my comment that utilities move too slowly … sometimes being characterized as “moving in geologic time frames.”  He ended his outburst protest about me exaggerating by stating that “utilities did not move that quickly!”  Besides my relief at his clever and obvious humor, he was certainly agreeing with me.  In life, I often find that these subtle reversals in expressive thought can trigger new insights and approaches.  That is what this blog is about.

A recent article in Energy Central on cyber security suggesting utilities are burying their heads in the sand like ostriches prompted me to check out that phrase for its veracity.  Do ostriches really burry their heads in the sand?  The popular statement implies ostriches bury their heads in the sand when they’re scared or threatened.

According to National Geographic, the reason for the comment starts with an optical illusion.  Ostriches are the largest living birds, but their heads are pretty small. “If you see them picking at the ground from a distance, it may look like their heads are buried in the ground,” says Glinda Cunningham of the American Ostrich Association.  But they do dig holes in the dirt to use as nests for their eggs. Several times a day, a bird puts her head in the hole and turns the eggs. So it really does look like the birds are burying their heads in the sand!

So, lighten up on all those IT folks who are now searching for the perfect way to stop bad guys from doing bad things in a system so complex that no one can truly get their arms completely around it.  As I think about this challenge, maybe they have it all backwards.  Instead of trying to stop those bad guys from getting into their nests and breaking eggs they should hide those eggs.

The analogy here is very simple. Any security expert will tell you that any system can be hacked if someone really wants to get into it.  Often, the biggest threat is the person who designed the security system in the first place and has been fired or been paid by those bad guys enough money to compromise the company they work for. HAL

Maybe then we should follow the design objective made famous in the line in movie 2001: Space Odyssey. Click here to watch.  Here is the full conversation:

Dave Bowman: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?

HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.

Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

HAL: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Dave Bowman: What’s the problem?

HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

Dave Bowman: What are you talking about, HAL?

HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

Dave Bowman: I don’t know what you’re talking about, HAL.

HAL: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.

Dave Bowman: [feigning ignorance] Where the hell did you get that idea, HAL?

HAL: Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.

Dave Bowman: Alright, HAL. I’ll go in through the emergency airlock.

HAL: Without your space helmet, Dave? You’re going to find that rather difficult.

Dave Bowman: HAL, I won’t argue with you anymore! Open the doors!

HAL: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.

Perhaps then there is another approach to cybersecurity and the related grid hardening.  Perhaps we need artificial intelligence in the subsystems to detect “intent” and rationalize that instead of hoping we can put enough locks on the doors.  Bad guys still seem to be able to pick those locks or simply blow them off the wall if they want to.


Dick Tracey Would be Impressed


I am sure you have all heard the buzz about Apple’s newest gadget: the smart watch. I am also sure you heard the startling news that it may become the most expensive product Apple has ever launched with a price targeted over $10,000 for those who are fashion conscious. This will certainly be fun to watch and to see how it sells. After all, Apple fans are almost addicted to wanting the latest and greatest. Some sign up to be the first for whatever Apple launches as a new product.

I first heard of the concept of a watch that could do more than tell time when I was a youngster and read the Dick Tracey comic strip. He had a watch that could act as a phone. I also remember the series Get Smart, where the bumbling Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, had a phone in his shoe. Seemed pretty silly to put one there, but phones were big and bulky, so I guess a shoe made sense. Apple has certainly revived some memories and made a statement with this latest gadget.

However, there are others who may be a bit fleeter afoot, and who might just upset the apple cart (pun intended). Take a look at this link to see Pebble Time, who just raised almost $20 million to compete with Apple on what appears to be a far more functioning watch and at a compelling price point compared to Apple’s.

Click Here to view the Kickstarter campaign. Keep an eye on this.

Those of you who have followed me for a while know I have been alerting the incumbent utilities to new entrants that can upset their business. If you want to know how, just read the intriguing book I recommended back in 2013, Digital Disruption.

A few weeks ago, I focused on the OODA loop because it seems these companies have mastered it and to compete in this new world, you have to master it too. It is going to be really interesting to see if Apple can pull this new watch off, or if they will pivot quickly using the OODA loop to gain some ground on the upstarts. But, they no longer have a Steve Jobs to frantically drive organizational innovative at top speed.

We ordered some Pebble Time watches just to see how good they are. They are due out this summer, so those of you who run into me may want to see it up close and personal because I will be wearing one. Or, maybe you want to truly run on the wild side and get one yourself, seems like a few others have.