Somewhere Over the Rainbow


I still remember the first time I saw the movie, the “Wizard of Oz,” staring Judy Garland. About five minutes into the film, Dorothy sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” after failing to get her aunt and uncle to listen to her relate an unpleasant incident involving her dog, Toto, and the town spinster, Miss Gulch. Dorothy’s Aunt Em tells her to “find yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble.” Doesn’t that sound and feel like the corporate agenda for the utility industry today?

This prompts Dorothy to walk off by herself, musing to Toto, “‘Some place where there isn’t any trouble.’ Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by a boat, or a train. It’s far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain…” at which point she begins singing the title song. Seems like the wish many in the utility industry seek these days.

Rainbows form a significant part of human culture. They occur frequently in mythology, and have been used in the arts. One of the earliest literary occurrences of a rainbow is in Genesis 9, as part of the Noah flood story, where it is a sign of God’s covenant to never again destroy life on earth with a global flood. The Irish leprechaun’s secret hiding place for his pot of gold is usually said to be at the end of the rainbow. It is interesting to read the litany of scientists and others who have tried since earliest times to explain the phenomenon.

This place is impossible to reach, because the rainbow is an optical effect which depends on the location of the viewer. When walking towards the end of a rainbow, it will appear to “move” farther away.
So, if your organization is still looking for the gold at the end of the rainbow, perhaps the ending of the movie sums it up best. It is right here, now and all around you. You just haven’t noticed.

Training Wheels Don’t Work


While it may seem counterintuitive, training wheels don’t teach a sense of balance. They may make you feel you are riding a bicycle but, in fact, they fail to build the muscle memory needed to ride the bike correctly without them. That is why we as parents may feel good watching our children ride around with training wheels, but they simply do not work. We shouldn’t use them … ever.

It is interesting to see how quickly children or adults can learn to ride a bike if you take the pedals off and just let them learn to coast for a few feet at a time. They will learn to ride within minutes. That is how fast your body learns balance … but you have to take the pedals off or they get in the way of learning. I think this has many applications in other areas where we need to learn balance.

We have many other training wheels we use in life. We start children out with simple ideas that for a time seem to be helpful … until they backfire later in life. We do this in religious training, math, science, and the list goes on. We think we are building skills when in fact we are simply conditioning children to “spit back” what they have memorized rather than what they have truly learned. Worse yet, we may poison the well of reasoning and learning in life as children become disappointed with just how poorly their training wheels prepared them for life.

As a result, we raise a population that has probably been fed inadequate and unhealthy bits of information that people cling to as if they were absolute truth. Then, as we face the really tough adult choices we must make as a society, we are lost in a seemingly irreconcilable battle of ideologies, dogmas, doctrines, and politics riddled with soundbite answers to truly deep questions.

When are we going to stop the nonsense and correct all this? I think we need to heed Albert Einstein’s famous line: “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.” Unfortunately, we are living with the consequence of Henry Louis Mencken quotes: “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”

Carpe Diem


I became aware of this Latin phrase when the movie Dead Poet’s Society came out. It is attributed to a poem by Horace in 23 BC. In the 1989 movie, English teacher John Keating, played by Robin Williams, famously says, “Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

I don’t need to write another word in this week’s blog, now do I? Why do so many go through life just happy to get through another day? Is it that we really don’t think we are candidates for extraordinary things? Maybe there is a bit more to think about when you look further into the meaning.

In the poem by Horace, the phrase is part of the longer “carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero,” which can be translated as “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow (the future).” The ode says that the future is unforeseen and that one should not leave to chance future happenings, but rather one should do all one can today to make one’s future better. I also like the related phrase in Hebrew ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי “And if not now, then when?”

Perhaps Steve Jobs had it right with Apple’s phrase that “the future is only limited by the size of your ideas and the degree of your dedication.” Perhaps Steven Covey is profoundly correct with his admonition in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that “we should begin with the end in mind.”

To that end … Carpe Diem …

Siri on Steroids


A recent Wall Street Journal article offered a “tipping point” thought. The number of transistors on a chip will exceed the number of brain cells in humans by 2018. Does this mean that humans will face their biggest test when computers surpass human intellectual capabilities? Some think so.

We all know that the movie Avatar was not possible when the project to make the film started. They knew they would have the capability by the time they would need it in the production sequence.

Siri can already detect emotions. Amazon’s Echo can do that as well. One of my previous blogs about 2001 Space Odyssey and HAL (which by the way is the initials for IBM indexed over by one letter) showed these future capabilities … even though it was more about sensing intent and deciding whether that intent was permissible or not.

We have been following the idea of human emoting robots. We will receive some of them late this year and experiment with emoting robots that work with customers to explain their bills. There are a host of them … coming soon to a store near you. These are computers that respond to emotions and appear to emote. They read facial expressions or perhaps the patterns in our speech. That really doesn’t sound that far-fetched now does it? Then, what about automated responses to messages sent to you by customers? Why is my bill so high? We have that application running in call centers and online. We even have automated video movie explanations.

For myself, I am going to get very upset if the computer feeds me psychobabble questions like “how did that make you feel?”   I think I would become very nervous if it asked me “was that good for you?” How about “wassup?” and it begins to converse with you like a real person and then ends with “whatever.”

I, Robot, was a film that forecast what might happen by 2035. I think they missed that by 10 years for sure based upon the latest computation and robotic innovations. R2D2 seems only a decade away at most. Meanwhile cars will drive themselves this year. Fatal collisions will be almost impossible to imagine at some time in the future. What are all those insurance industries going to do?

Meanwhile most in the energy industry attempt to refine what we used to think was the customer experience. That experience is changing at lightning speed. What you thought was true last year is almost irrelevant for the future. Stop driving your companies using the rear view mirror as a guide. Even if you have one of the auto-stop features in your autopilot.




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.