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Interestingly, several things collided last week resulting in a loud voice saying, “talk about the fuuuuture”, Yoda style.  First we began by discussing our marketing theme for this fall’s AESP conference in Dallas.  If you don’t have your tickets yet, get with the program!  Next, came the stepping down of Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple.  Finally, it was a follow up email from the IEPEC conference (see last week’s rant for details).   What do these have in common?  Read on.

The first topic and actually the theme of this post is change.  Like it or not, we live in globally competitive world.  What many are doing today for a living will not exist or be needed at some point in the future.  Manual labor is especially under constant assault because machines are a hell of a lot less expensive and more reliable than humans.

Some occupations replaced by machines in recent years include those providing the following services/needs: buying plane tickets, checking in at the airport, paying tolls, reserving anything, banking, milking cows, picking orders in warehouses, filling the gas tank, checking out of grocery and retail stores with your merchandise, and all kinds of manufacturing positions.  I’m firmly convinced this country can lead in manufacturing (one could say we still do) but it won’t include return to peak manufacturing employment.  It will be led by innovation and automation – like the amazing Barilla plant tour I had a few years ago in Ames.  It seemed like about five people kept several lines of varying types of pasta churning 24/7 by the ton.

Americans tend to whine about the good old days but as my Navy roommate used to say, these ARE the good old days.  People who don’t like change will play second fiddle their entire lives.  People who operate out of their comfort zone at every opportunity typically will not.

One of the IEPEC keynote speakers, Gary Golden is a “Professional Futurist”.  His topic was interesting; especially the part where he explained indirectly that none of us in attendance would be needed as a result of potential new power generating technology.  You can view his presentation here, but more importantly I urge you to watch the 4 minute talk by Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlet Packard, cancer survivor, and US senate candidate.  She explains that people in power want to maintain the status quo to stay in power.  That may be the case, especially in politics, but as my basketball coach said, there is always somebody better than you and that applies to everything you do – even if you don’t know of anyone, they’re out there.

In the free world, successful people are not successful and rich because they cling to power.  They are successful because they are relentlessly competitive, innovative, and not afraid of failure, colossal failure.  Which brings me to Steve Jobs.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board published a great tribute to Steve Jobs.  Jobs created the Apple I (which I don’t remember), the Apple II (which I do remember), Lisa (a total flop), then the Mac.  After that he went on to found another computer company, which was an epic bomb.  He rejoined Apple in the late 1990s and then things really got crazy as you know.  Under Jobs’ control, Apple produced the iPod and iTunes, allowing consumers to get away from their clunky Sony Walkman and Walkman wannabees.  Then came the iPhone and I thought, what the hell is all the rage about this stupid phone – until I saw one in action, and I won an iPod Touch at an AESP conference drawing.  Instantly, I would say it was like comparing the Joint Strike Fighter to a WWI biplane.  It was way expensive, but it didn’t matter – now THAT is where you want to be.

Suddenly everyone else was in a sprint to catch up, maybe adding a bell or whistle to be worth buying.  Like the iPod, the iPhone transformed the entire market with all kinds of wannabee makes and models, few of which come close in quality, but they are getting there.  In the past year for example, I ditched my Windows phone – a heavy, clunky, pokey kludge.  The Android phone I now have is to the MS phone as my Dell 4200 laptop is to the Compaq boat anchor sitting in my basement somewhere.

Jobs was successful because he failed, learned, succeeded, failed, learned more, thrown in the heap of has-beens, and ultimately lead the creation of products people didn’t know they wanted.

I learned something from the aforementioned Wall Street Journal piece: Say’s Law – that supply can create demand.  Too bad Washington doesn’t understand this as they keep pushing the cooked noodle of consumer demand to spark the economy.  It has always failed.  It always WILL fail.  But unfortunately, university egghead economists don’t understand this and refuse to acknowledge failure and instead rationalize it with bogus excuses.  They blow it for us and flee back to the safety of their university posts where they indoctrinate another generation of wrong headed drones – like the marching men in the 1984 Mac ad.

The lesson: clearly, the first part of learning from failure is RECOGNIZING FAILURE!

This brings me back to the first item mentioned at the outset: our marketing plan for this fall.  Energy efficiency programs have since the dawn of the concept relied very very heavily on lighting programs.  Solid state lighting is coming and in time, lighting will become like the PC and laptop, it’s virtually perfected and commoditized.

Then what?  Regulators, don’t back down.  Efficiency potential is huge sans lighting.  Innovation in our industry is badly lacking primarily, I believe, because people can get away with it, but more formidable is the fear of veering from the status quo as Ms. Fiorina describes.

We have had the good fortune to evaluate many new utility program portfolios in states relatively new to energy efficiency.  When I read program backgrounds/summaries, yy –aa – ww – nn.  Efficient equipment, lighting, direct install, low income weatherization, and maybe a new construction program – which produces mainly bogus savings.  This is all fine for a while.

Regulators need to support change as well.  For example, allowing utilities to make money implementing energy efficiency has proven to be a real winner – I’m not talking about decoupling, bonuses for exceeding goals, or cost recovery mechanisms.  I mean revenue and profit from EE.  There is nothing wrong with utilities profiting from EE, while programs are cost effective for customers.  It’s a real motivator.

Utilities need to be open to change.  In Fly High and Jump! just a couple weeks ago, I talked about customers wanting to cut here and chop there off their energy efficiency plan.  It doesn’t work.  A car with no fuel tank is no good.  Utilities have similar inclinations.  Present them with a proven program, unconventional, outside the box with about five key elements, and they’ll want to remove two of them.  Can’t do that – like jumping out of the airplane with not enough altitude for the chute to open.  Splat.

So the question to utilities is, what are you going to do when the lighting gravy train runs off the tracks and your programs can barely keep up with codes and standards, which are slowly but surely and asymptotically approaching perfection?  Most “perfect” (reasonably optimal) components still use a lot of energy and there remains huge potential in system waste, sloppy controls, and appropriate technology applications.


Remember the kook in New York who filed suit against the USGBC for making false and misleading claims of energy savings, etc.?  The judge in the case threw it out.  Hurray!

About 1984: Michaels Engineering was founded in 1984 – whoa!

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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