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Utility Reference RIP – Thank You Litigious Loser

In case you are new to this blog, or somehow haven’t noticed, I tread where no mortals tread, through the valley of the shadow of death.  I discuss the all important bowels of the industry, and this week I have the crown jewel of a very unfortunate reality that is counterproductive and really harmful to the industry.  In fact, it is not only harmful to the industry, it is crippling the entire society.  Whoa!  Ok, what is it?  It is political correctness and our society of hyper-litigious losers.  We can’t find or use utility references – people who will give prospective clients opinions about our work – anymore.

Note to utilities; you are going to have to stop asking for references because none of you are allowed to talk.  This is because any inferior loser can find an ambulance chasing law firm to cost everyone tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for a defendant (utility) to quash.

Not only can we not find references anymore because of the no-call and don’t-tell corporate policies, we can rarely get feedback if we are not chosen for a bid.  When we do get feedback, I probably seem like a crazy fool to the buyer because getting comprehensive feedback is like winning a new car on The Price is Right (to see the contestant win the car, advance video to minute 4:45).

This is a big problem for us because we like to demonstrate our capability with hard results – in many cases that means energy savings shown on large C&I customer bills.  But we (I) also like(ed) to say, call our references, please.  It is especially critical for programs and services that utility buyers, and I’m talking about decision makers, don’t understand well, like retrocommissioning.

As one of my managers said recently in preparation of a big engineering research proposal, we just need to be in position to respond authoritatively to questions about sampling.  Buyers seem to at least think they know something about sampling, and so they ask bloody questions about it.  Unless there is an engineer on the proposal-evaluation team, we get no questions on uber-critical engineering, which we know; up, down, forward, back, and in 180 different languages.

You (I’m talking to you) are either a test taker or you are not.  You can either figure out how to do the minimum possible work, skip class, don’t learn the material, and just “study” enough to pass the exams – or you actually learn the subject matter so it stays with you.  For otherwise worthless standardized exams, ACT, GRE, GMAT (if these things still exist), you may be able to cram for a couple days and land in the 99th percentile of knowing worthless crap.  Worthless activity and I don’t spend time together.  This is why I’ve long since quit playing games of any sort.  Life and work are my game, and it has all the same thrills, chills, tears, cursing, and challenges, but it never stops and there are no hard rules.  It is the ultimate game.

I sucked at standardized exams.  Of course I wanted to do well on engineering exams, but I almost always did that by at least attempting to know and understand the material.  The exceptions would be computer courses, which were like survival tests to me.

On a side note, we weed out the test taking job candidates in our interview process with an oral quiz, and this has worked wonderfully.  We actually had the same for an interview process for a utility project, and we won.  Now that is best practice.

Anyway, the lack of available references really hurts the industry because companies learn how to become test takers.  They learn to BS their way through interviews.  It’s like restoring a 1957 Chevy that has been parked out in the grove for the last 40 years.  It has been painted and polished; the seats, dashboard, and instrument panel are fixed up and look beautiful.  The problem is, there is nothing under the hood, except a rusty engine mount, a mouse nest, and a Schlitz beer can.

Jeff, you don’t know what you are talking about.  You’re not in these interviews.  You’re just a crybaby loser.  Uh, we evaluate gobs of programs, and when I win that car from time to time, I get a lot of valuable dirt.  Does the buyer know the provider they just chose was recently fired for the exact same program next door?  I.e. does the buyer know about the mouse nest and beer can?  Or do they think everything under the hood is the same from candidate A to B to C?  They are not.  Good luck with that.

What’s in it for the buyer to provide a comprehensive debrief?  There is risk that the litigious loser will cost them a lot, but there is also information sharing that will help the better-qualified, superior provider come out on top for the next standardized test.

Am I whining?  No.  I’m reloading.  Buyers and I need to, and will learn from their mistakes.  Meanwhile, I will learn to take tests.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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