The Princess and the Pea 2.0

800px-edmund_dulac_-_princess_and_peaYou all remember this story from your childhood, right? The Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a little girl who proves she is a princess by having a fitful night unable to sleep because there was a pea under several layers of mattresses. The reason this story comes to mind is that we now have an elite group of people who are so sensitive to misinformation that logic no longer prevails. If you need proof of this, just check out why childhood diseases that we thought were eradicated long ago are returning. The reason is that an irrational fear over autism is causing some parents to avoid childhood vaccinations. The result is tragic.

The highest concentrations of this problem are in the wealthiest US suburbs. That is what prompted me to title this blog The Princess and the Pea to point out how sensitivity to silly things now makes us so fitful that we can no longer focus on what is truly important. Some people have gone off the deep end despite the counsel of medical professionals. It seems that the more the professionals weigh in, the more a sense of conspiracy theory sweeps these folks away with their delusions.

So, what are my latest, silly “peas under the mattress” issues we should ignore besides climate change? Oh, have you noticed that it’s no longer called global warming since the warming has stopped? (By the way, there have been virtually NO hurricanes in the Atlantic this year or last … but why should the media comment on that …) Here is my list in no specific order.

Political Correctness: We are now so polite that we no longer communicate effectively. We are so afraid of offending someone that we get all wound up around the axle with silly wastes of time. Yes, of course it may not sound quite right to call the Washington Redskins by that name. But, we have plenty of important things we need to talk about and they require straight talk. Get over it. Go watch Blazing Saddles if you want to see what we called entertainment just a few years ago.

Energy Efficiency: Sure, it may not make any economic sense to promote load reduction when loads are declining on their own if you only look at it only from a load, revenue, and rates perspective. However, if you look at it from a relational perspective, eliminating EE Programs threatens your hard-earned customer influence channels if you no longer promote customers using your product wisely. You can cut back incentives, but you certainly do not want to lose your opportunity to be of trusted influence to customers. Once customers see your EE efforts as nothing more than self-serving or only driven by regulatory pressures, they will not listen to you on other agendas where you need them engaged.

Silver Bullet Thinking: I just got back from the E Source Forum where I met a bunch of folks in new product development. Many of them use the “Stage Gate” process to sift and sort their ideas. Well, that may sound sophisticated, but let’s all just realize that nothing ever gets through this process. It is the perfect way to sound like you are using good business prudence while you systematically kill each and every idea your organization considers. Please substitute directionally correct incremental thinking for this big idea or no idea method. There are no big ideas with little to no risk. Big ideas carry big risks and require real guts and capital to pursue.

Well, that should get my point across. We are stuck in neutral, sweating the small issues and worrying about the optics. We need to boldly move ahead. Don’t fret over the peas, please.

Political Hand Waving

handwaiving_001Magicians generally rely on one principal for all of their tricks. They distract you with one hand that is moving so you don’t notice what is being done with the other hand that is relatively quiet. I also love the line from the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s dog pulls back a curtain and the man behind the Wizard of Oz is exposed. His phrase says it all: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” You can enjoy the scene here.

Perhaps you haven’t been keeping up with current events. You may not fully realize that we are at war once again. Really? Yes, really! But, now the politicians call this new style of war “no boots on the ground” so, maybe it isn’t really war. The news cycle now makes it more like a video game. All we see are pictures of targets in a cross hair that then disappear. Even the method of bombing seems so clinical: surgical. Somehow that seems so politically correct … as if we weren’t really at war. Just wait till some of our pilots are shot out of the sky like one the Israelis took a few weeks ago.

Yes, we are fighting a truly dangerous group of people. Yet, their gruesome tactics seem to be attracting converts to their cause all around the world, in part because of our news cycle. The more they get under our skin and we attack, and we then brag about how we are doing this or that, the more it seems their story becomes attractive to others. I think we really need to take a closer look. There are lots of terribly important questions here we are not asking. Is anyone else sickened by the recurring TV images of men in orange kneeling beside their executioner in the desert? Maybe we shouldn’t be giving them so much air time in our media? Maybe the news cycle itself is helping incite violence?

This reminds me all too much of the battle for cleanliness in hospitals. In the 1970s I served as Deputy Director of the Hospital Association of New York where I helped hospitals in the greater New York City area cope with a myriad of hospital operational problems ranging from staffing (RNs were getting very hard to find and others skills needed to pick up the slack), to scheduling (when do you admit certain patient types so you didn’t overload the staff on weekends or weekdays), to waste disposal. It was then that I learned that that the more we scrub and the tougher the chemicals we use to clean hospitals, the tougher the bugs become we are trying to kill. They mutate into forms that are immune to the methods we use. So, we make stronger chemicals and thereby create stronger bugs. This is, ironically, one of the many reasons we should not go to hospitals if we don’t have to … we expose ourselves to mutant ninja germs!

We talk of kinder and gentler ways to live in this world. Can we have a dialogue with those who have truly different points of view? Or, are we going to simply wave our arms in anger, attempt to control them with our technological prowess, only to watch them mutate and get stronger?

I want you to watch this terribly important news conference and notice how many are in attendance. Watch this right up to the end. There were more people presenting than listening in the audience!

What these men offered were serious comments to open a very serious dialogue. It is about time that leadership in Islam speaks out and condemns this. But, almost no one heard it. Am I the only one who is alarmed by this? It seems the news cycle would rather spend time commenting on whether the POTUS has a latte in his hand when he gets off Air Force One and salutes the marines.

Lots of hand waving going on … maybe all this hand waving is not what we should be watching at all.

Atmospheric Extraction Using the Wagner Method

177422218Seeing opportunities clearly is always a challenge when convention, tradition, and consensus discourage innovation. We hear that utilities are seeking new ideas, yet they vet them against people who do not like change, only want silver bullets, and who are not really all that excited about the future.

I remember one very large utility facing deregulation asking me for projects that were bigger than $10 million, would yield better than 20% return on equity, and had no completion risk. Yeah … right!

Of course, there is always the rightful need for someone to prepare a business case for any new idea, yet the fact that it is a new idea will almost always require the person preparing that business case to make some pretty wild and crazy assumptions. If these pass the sniff test for the senior executives, they might buy into it and give it a try.

I understand you want the proof to the business case. I get that. Yet how can you prove a business case for a business that has not yet built? My personal favorite innovator is Steve Jobs who also said, “For something this complicated, it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

One of our friends who ran a state energy office has a phrase for this that I love. She calls the process atmospheric extraction – making something appear reasonable out of thin air. Then, she refers the underlying mathematical rigors as methods using the Wagner approach. When she presented plans and their justification, she would have a footnote that said something like, estimates of this or that were provided by John Smith via telecom on such and so a date. He indicated his source was the Wagner research method.

So, you ask, what is this WAGNER approach? It stands for Wild Ass Guess … Not Easily Refuted. I love that.

What more can I say this week. I am ready to move forward on just that.

Life is Not Fair.

fair_000I am sure you have said it. We all have heard it. Let’s just face it, it is true. I have been told all my life that there are only two types of fair: State Fair and County Fair. Everything else is unfair. This week has been a lesson in fairness to me. Everywhere I turned, I saw things that were just unfair. It was tempting to shrink from doing what I know needs to be done and simply cry foul, but I knew that would only frustrate me further. Plus I also know people who have committed mistakes do not change behaviors when you point them out.

I guess my patience is running thin these days. Patience may be a virtue, but as I get older, I find I simply have less of this vital human dynamic. Scripture admonishes us to be patient and to love one another. I am finding that very hard to do that when others cheat, lie and steal, especially when they get away with all this because they have money and the majority of the others who should object are willing to look past their misdeeds. Yep, it is just like the NFL problem … when the flow of money is high enough, people seem to want to look the other way, even the victims.

Why hasn’t the news media covered the changes in Australia’s carbon policy? You did see that they killed the carbon tax legislation completely. Why won’t more scientists cry foul on climate change? Of course there are some who do. This is probably not going to help their careers much, but I do admire it. With all the hoopla over the global warming protesters this week, I thought this article was very interesting.

Climate Science Is Not Settled, Steven E. Koonin, Wall Street Journal.

Climate change is real enough, but the question that remains is how much you and I can do about it. We have halted the load growth in the US through codes, standards and energy efficient technologies. We have done our part. It is now up to the rest of the world to shoulder their responsibilities as well. Not quite true of course. The rest of the world is jealous and wants us to do more since we have so many good things here and they don’t. They need to get over it and get on with their own responsibilities.

We have so many incentives in place to encourage wind and solar energy right now that need to be re-evaluated in light of the fact that loads are no longer growing. Even the incentives for energy efficiency will need to be rethought. After all, the cost effectiveness tests we use are predicated on avoiding the building of or operation of a power plant. We need to rethink the way we perform energy planning if we are only going to replace old inefficient plants with new, lower carbon footprint plants. Hmmm. These are very different questions. Why is no one asking them but me? Take a wild guess.

And, it is time to take a fresh look at the climate change narrative and stop pointing to things that are not a result of climate change at all.
Here is just one example. We all hear that the water levels in the City of Venice Italy are rising and we are being told that it is due to sea level rise, yet that is not the truth. The City of Venice is sinking and for many reasons … none of which are due to global warming. We visited Venice last June. It is indeed sinking and it is also now more vulnerable to tides than it was when it was originally built … they opened up access to the sea out of fears they wouldn’t be able to escape if attacked … gee … the city was never built high enough to accommodate high tides when it was built. Do you ever hear any of that? Nope, it is all about global warming. We could stop all global warming and even reverse it and the City of Venice would continue to go further under water.

The earth’s crust is moving as you all know. We get continually further away from Africa. Not by much, but it adds up over millions of years. The sea floor moves. Have we been keeping track of that? We visited the area around Naples where the sea level is falling relative to the land because the land in that area is being pushed up by geological forces. I think you get my point.

Why have the arguments raised by been ignored? Money! Big money … the people who raise animals for human consumption want this to go away. Follow the money and you will see just how unfair life is these days to you and me.

But, we can’t let that stop us from being true to ourselves. So, keep up the good fight. Dream the impossible dream. Go where few have dared to go before. As Winston Churchill commanded us: “Never, never, never give up!”

Thanks … I needed that.

The Cost of Raising Customer Satisfaction

elecmanRecent news coverage from around the world certainly points out how good we have it here in this country. Yet, despite that, people are getting less and less tolerant of even the smallest inconveniences. For example, take a look at this recent article on mobile applications in the US by .

Utilities Enter the 21st Century with Mobile Apps

Sarah Battaglia | Aug 05, 2014
Picture this: you’re in the kitchen assembling a tasty sandwich. You pull out the turkey, unscrew the mayo jar, and start to slice the tomato. Just as you begin to un-twist the bag of bread, your electricity goes out, leaving you utterly ravenous and perhaps a bit frightened. You should be making your way to check the fuse box, but all you can think is, “Damn you, power companies. I didn’t toast my bread!”

We have become an entitled society. We don’t want to wait, work, or even earn our rewards. We now expect them in real time and for free. The brief Facebook interruption recently had people calling 911!

Watch how intolerant people around you have become when the Internet is slow. See how long you can go without the electronic feedback in your life. Try to put your phone down and avoid being on your computerized devices for a day … all of them. You probably will feel like you are in withdrawal from a drug like caffeine or something. If you think you are strong, stop watching TV as well. Just sit somewhere without the electronic bombardment. Hard, isn’t it!?

All of this reminded me of a comment I heard about 20 years ago from a senior electric utility executive at a national utility conference who pleaded with the audience that we really needed to teach customers to expect less. Otherwise, we were going to get on a steep upward costing slope. Perhaps he was right. We are locked onto that path for sure.

Do we dare to confront this entitled generation or are we going to continue a hands off role? Do we think the next generation is going to get better or that any of these trends will reverse? I am beginning to think we are happy about all this … yet will we be happy when the bill arrives?

Maybe it’s time for a bit of tough love on customer satisfaction … to keep future costs in line.