Kids Say the Darndest Things!

kidsPerhaps you are old enough to remember this show originally hosted by Art Linkletter and later by Bill Cosby. It was hilarious how kids see the world around us, and how differently. Well, I have one situation like that just came to mind I wanted to share.

As I have looked over my years of raising four daughters and now a son who is finishing high school, it struck me how entertaining their perspective can be when they apply what they know to situations they have not yet experienced and are indeed much more complex than they understand.

Raising our son Stephen has been an absolute joy, but balancing parenting against the stresses of running a business as a husband and wife team leaves few hours in the day that have not been committed. Today, this past Sunday, after playing a concert at one church, attending Sunday School at another and then the worship service and answering a bunch of emails. I turned to my wife Susan and said … I really don’t have anything I have to do this afternoon. Then, as I was sitting there eating lunch with her, I told her I had to recount the short story as follows.

I was traveling a lot in those early years. I would come home and Stephen would ask me to help with his homework, play duets on recorder, or go hiking with his Cub Scout group on the weekend. Sometimes I could participate, but sometime I would have to tell him I was too tired from the day or had too much work remaining to do that evening or before leaving town Sunday afternoon.

After having to turn down three or four of his invitations in a row, when I arrived home and started sharing how much I still had to do, Stephen seemed confident he knew what I should do. Applying what he had seen done at his school when students struggled, he suggested, “Dad, they need to put you in a slower group.”

There’s the answer … slower groups. Is that funny, or is that tragic?

Maybe we have gone too far. Back when I was in high school, there were two tracks: college bound and not. There were no exceptions to the college bound group. Either you made the grade or you didn’t. There were four-year comprehensive tests you had to pass … period.

When I was at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute during orientation, they told me to look to my left and right and that one of us was not going to make it. They were right. I did. It wasn’t easy. That is what gave me the training I needed to tackle some of the big problems I did.

Now we have T Ball where everyone runs the bases and no one strikes out. No wonder we are losing our status in the world. We have lowered expectations and adjusted the game down to the laziness of the masses. No wonder we won’t tackle the big problems any longer.

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.