Thursday, April 3, 2014

Hour of Power: Working with W&M's Design Thinking Club

Been a long time between gigs. (Somewhat tongue and cheek, because I have a great job, working at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club). Two weeks back, I had a great gig, facilitating a session for W&M's Design Thinking Club, dubbed The Hour of Power with Corey Trench ('76).  We worked together here ... perfect lab environment for mental stimulation.

Love it. Having fun, working on the seemingly unsolvable problem, with a technique that I found useful in my consulting practice. I use a modified version of brainwriting. Formulating the problem or scenario is especially fun for me. (Thank you Peter Schwartz.) As always, current events were cooperative.

Please allow some elaboration.

Frankly, I was anxious to be standing up there in front of an audience again. (It had been maybe 10 years.)

The club's President, bless her heart, had met me at a Staying Connected function, was interested in my "thought" library. (I had read Tim Brown's book some time ago, which I would say was okay, but not revelational, like my favs Godin, Gladwell, Johnson and Pink.)

Other than, Seriously you want me to speak to your club (?) I am not even working professionally anymore ... My main question: What subject? Environment, energy, golf, numerology, and my latest passion, understanding and solving the problems presented by present and future mental illness in America (I'd love to design think this one next year).

Honestly speaking, I tired of the environmental profession. (Like every other profession ... it has become much too licensed and institutionalized. At some point in your life, please read Atlas Shrugged. The book explains why I prefer working at a golf course and seek a version of Shangri-La.)  I met with the Club President's leadership cohort (very encouraging and inspiring person, as well. Nice to know young people who see something of value in a professional escapee). They patiently listened for an hour as I explained how life had changed for me, my passions shifted. My recognition of how short life is. And, then they said, paraphrasing:

We have looked at your e-mails, your LinkedIn page, your blog, and are thinking that you should talk about energy. How about "The Hour of Power with Corey Trench ('76)?

Through February and early March, working with the two of them, a W&M-returning, ex-pro baseball player, and my son who knows energy, born were the ingredients of the "Hour of Power," which I see that Glenn Beck has since adopted for his TV show. (Ha, ha. Great minds ... discover the obvious. That which we prefer not to see.)

What excited the students was my proclamation, I would not give a speech, rather I would facilitate an exercise that worked off a scenario. I gave them an example: In the winter of 1995 (or '96, I forget): I proposed to a group of coal ash managers that President Bush was thinking of changing the nation's strategic fuel from coal to natural gas. And, Bush has asked this group to persuade him as to why he should not make the adjustment.

Well, how fun is that! I was practically thrown out of the room. Thought to be crazy. (True.) The night before I entered the room, the soon to be ex-Executive Director (ex- for an entirely different reason) was concerned that I would be leading a lynching session. (This always happens. Leaders, stakeholders want to know what you are going to do to them, so that they can take aspirin, bring supplies, prepare speeches the night before. Never has gone this way for me. Never.)

Long pause. The participants thought for a moment, realized I would be paid, they had flown to a hotel room near Cincinnati's airport, would be fed, and went to work in three groups of six. (I even talked a future client of mine into skipping a DOE workshop on biofuels, in the same hotel, to come to mine instead. Owing to the innovation of fracking, he has been working with the natural gas industry for the past several years.)

While the scenario was intended to prompt creative thought ... design thinking ... I hear from some of these guys about natural gas ... for years now, as if I had had advanced notice. Nope.

The general public, for whatever reason, seems to believe that purveyors of electrical energy deliberately want to harm people (customers) (and the environment on which they depend), while they bill them for the services that their customers require (can't do without, presently). That's the ugly side of reality: We need energy. A lot of it. Available at the flick of a light switch. Sure, we can do without for an hour, voluntarily, but how about involuntarily for several hours, several days, a month, several months?

Yes, I love everything contrary and opposite. How do we think otherwise? I don't get it ... sometimes.

For one-hour, the W&M Design Thinking Club considered and design thought on this fictitious scenario.

W&M President Reveley hasn't been sleeping well. He's been reading the news about solar flares, the consequences of terrorism for the power grid, and thinking about the possibility of another major storm, like Sandy, for the campus. What would happen if electricity were unavailable from Dominion Resources (off-campus sources of power) for up to a month? What if the students were stuck on campus, for whatever reason? (Imposition of Marshall Law.) How could the College deal with this? Accordingly, he has asked the Design Thinking Club to come up with ideas to be used in preparing a contingency plan for such a 30-day outage. He asks that a calm, safe, and continuing learning environment be maintained.

You know that a workshop has gone well when a participant asks the question: Why aren't we doing some of these things now?

I will save the filtering questions, the results for another time. What is important is that the students with whom I worked for one hour are The Next Greatest Generation. I believe in them. Within their population cohort, today, a little one sits quietly on the floor, legs crossed, daydreaming in a kindergarten classroom and may just be the next Tesla ... maybe of gravitational energy... tomorrow.

Do you remember what life was like on a summer's night, lying on the ground, staring out into the universe. Feeling the stars twinkle. Before artificial light. Few places in the world know this magic.

My thanks to the Club for the opportunity to work with you.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Got Catastrophe!

No one relishes a good catastrophe better than me. I frequent the Drudge Report, on some days, 10 (... 50) times a day. Today, a Great Lake will freeze ... add the word... SOLID!

And, in case you had not heard, Atlanta, you are in for a catastrophic storm. Today. Better stay home and put some warm clothes on and  hopefully you have stocked up on bottled water.

I also frequent Watts Up with That and Urban Survival and favorite place anything Gerald Celente. The problem with Twitter, Facebook or even LinkedIn, is that they are TOO INSTANT.

If you want to bury yourself ... I mean, completely immerse yourself ... in the possibility of the thought of CATASTROPHE, you gotta get serious. Hundreds of millions of years serious and a tweet could easily be an intention to mislead.

No, you go deep.

I have a really hard time understanding the whys and hows of scientific certainty or estimation, with a methodology. Seriously, we have a temperature monitoring system that spans all time, boasting a 99% confidence.

Whenever I find myself on the mental road to catastrophe, I conclude one thing. You can not confront catastrophe alone. And, competition is no friend.

When I stumbled upon cohousing, I thought that I had found the ultimate antidote to our dog eat dog world. The place I want to be during catastrophe.

Thing is, I don't want to be alone. Stuck in front of a screen (even the tiny Goggle Glass one). Nor stuck on the freeways around Atlanta. In fact, I don't want to be anywhere near a road with cars and trucks on it. Not even an access point.

My safe haven, during a catastrophe, is a small neighborhood of people who share the idea of taking care of one another during the best and worst of times, especially, the End of Time. A small circle of human touch, Country Living.

Yes, the sanctuary of the mind, uncluttered, empty of thought has its appeal. Collaboration, though, necessarily answers puerile. When living is at stake, all adversity succumbs to cooperation.

Gold bullion really served the dinosaurs well, didn't it?

So, why am I drawn, are we drawn, to the notion of catastrophe and our preparation for it?

More than anything, we focus our attention. Prioritize that which is important. Maybe our last thought.

We gin up crises for the same reason. Get people to pay attention.

It is hard for me to ignore loud, complex, algorithm-bleeding sirens as they accelerate down Jamestown Road at 10 PM ... whether for a serious auto accident on Rt. 199 or broken finger nails at Delta Delta Delta. We don't know. (One of these days, maybe we will. Oh joy!) But, you have our attention. REM sleep has been suspended.

Catastrophe predicted yields to crisis management. A team assembled. Public announcements forthcoming. Operators standing by.

Stay tuned to the Weather Channel and what's coming up next.

The Storm of the Millennium!!! See Noah in theaters next month.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Disincentive to Work: Putting the Underground on Steroids (Updated: 2/11/14)

Healthcare's headline-grabbing assertion that Obamacare discourages paid work is interesting, but not as interesting as another loophole. Or better, avenue of pursuit.

As I have written here before (longtime ago), one finds underground economies in certain industries and certain geographical places where high taxes oppress people who are simply trying to survive. Maybe even save money for further education, self-improvement, retirement, a vacation.

Their numbers are growing. Sadly. And, don't need to, if all only lawmakers would take a rest, even suspend some laws. (Ed. 2/11/14: "Critical thought" question: Why suspend the healthcare law for business for three years, but not individual families? Politics, maybe?)

The easiest way to buy a home in America is to pay cash. Of course, you have to have that much. Maybe an explanation for why emergent foreign wealth beats a path to America. To Florida and other sunny places or agricultural lands or natural resources (e.g., coal mines). America: It's still safe in many respects.

Hard currency, for example. Not necessarily the kind that appears on an ATM card can go a long way to buying things.

Let's say, you are a car salesman. Is your dealership going to reject 25k in suitcase cash to sell a car? You do the transaction after hours maybe.

You don't see many people in grocery stores paying cash anymore. Usually, they're older. They like cash. Handwritten checks. Something they know and that is not easy to steal and use.

With cash, there's no risk of identity loss. Identity protection commercials scare older people.

A dirty dollar bill is the same as any other dirty bill. Anonymous.

My credit union bank manger would faint if I asked her to withdraw a fictitious hundred grand from an account. In cash. Somebody would be calling somebody.

Heck, I felt anxious on withdrawing a mere thousand, in different dominations, to travel to Russia in the fall of 1992. Then, as probably today, Russians preferred hard currency to their rubles. In any event, I explained this all to a California bank teller for a Very Big Bank (VBB), sweat sandwiched between skin and shirt.

After the first time, it was easy to do. I asked for two thousand on the third occasion. Never heard from an FBI or CIA agent, although I was advised of the possibility.

This is not news for people who live in the Snowy Cold Winter, but you don't have to be doing anything illegal to be accumulating cash, saving it, for a future purpose. You plow people's driveways. They take cash. It may or may not get reported.

Lower income people see no way to save if they pay taxes on every dollar they make over a certain amount. They might even be liberal. Vote Democrat. Despise people of wealth. But, they are trying to get there. Accumulate unknowable cash.

I sold a truck once, many years ago, and they guy insisted on giving me twenties. He wanted no part of banks. Probably never heard of compounding interest. Never gave an investment in Apple Inc. a thought ($10/share (1996)). He feared the taxman.

High tax states lead to something called the underground economy. Cash or barter. No need for accountants. Lawyers? I don't know.

What makes today's media citation all the more interesting is that it discourages formally paid work. Reportable income. The idea that people are going to stop "working" or exchanging values is silly. People will simply be further encouraged not to pursue any work that leads to a W-2 or 1099.

Kind of funny, isn't it? (The US Treasury is LOL.)

The lens of the double income, high earners is rather different than the pyramid's base floor.

We know who is setting policy. We know who mows lawns, plows driveways, cuts up trees, babysits homes.  If a person has a good reputation and charges less than ... a larger entity ... who will get the work? Bad behavior, at the top and bottom of the food chain, nudged.

Maybe you will say, Hey, they doesn't happen in America. Really?

You're just thinking about the seedier side of things. Illicit drugs, prostitution, theft. They're criminals.

What happens in a free society whose government keeps adding to and refining all aspects of life that bear on our retirement savings, healthcare and all things in the broader interest of the public good?

Makes for nice lunches in capitol cities. Getaways to resort conferences. Regardless of whether you work for government, NGO or corporate America. You are part of a collective problem.

Meanwhile, the majority of your countrymen, the floor of the pyramid, are not only not encouraged to earn more money because it will cost them more in healthcare, but, they should not seek W-2, 1099 employment either.

American ambition. Desire to self-improve. These drives and motivations resist leaving us. Hard currency: We 're simply more aware of it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Secret Life of Water Mitty: We were Walter.

We are daydreamers
Given the gift of locking out interference
The outer world from the inner
Thank you
Mock us, we ignore you
We never heard a word
Seriously, this was a gift
No need to contemplate weighty questions
Like, Why we are here
Simply to lapse into imagination
Took no effort, it was natural
Maybe we had more serotonin in our chemistry
A new mind is far more complex than we will ever fathom
Though we feebly try: artificial intelligence
Any mind is genius
No advanced degree required
It accompanies us upon arrival
Maybe leaves with us as well
This ability to access imagination
Yes, Einstein, "Imagination is more important than knowledge"
Make that a law that draws no controversy
Turn on the soundtrack
Let's go there now.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Leaf Diaper: An Answer to Leaf Blower Noise (Updated 1/21/14)

You read little about it. Noise. Particularly, annoying noises, like leaf blowers.

Once upon a time every environmental impact statement gave weight to noise, but since the 12th Man in Seattle became cool and now everyone wears headphones, it does not matter. Allow me to show my age and reflect on societal progress.

Leaf blowers are one of those miraculous technological inventions that are job creators. Can anyone think of an excuse for not capturing every single leaf that has fallen to the ground? Or, at least blowing it into a depression.

Cleaning. A fantastic employer. At my work, you can clean rugs with something that looks like a leaf blower and makes just as much noise.

Between headphones and leaf blowers, one wonders if any one in the population will be able hear anything in the future.

My idea – which solves multiple problems, especially noise pollution by leaf blower – is not a rake. Not a snake oil for dissolving leaves in place. Not a mulching lawn mower. Plastic bags are not even requirement. A landfill, eh, I don't think so either.

I call it a Leaf Diaper. (Not what you find in a Google Search.) Maybe a tree diaper would be a more accurate description. Now, let me be clear, this is something I don't have but would like to have. I have a few ideas, but am open to other possibilities. (I am thinking about bringing the idea to a university design thinking club for consideration, under the condition that I am one the piloted ideas.)

In Williamsburg, Virginia, the leaves begin falling beginning in late August,  continuing on until the end of November, probably. Oak trees seem to be the last to shed. The city uses a vacuum truck of some sort, which is rather nifty and requires a few people to operate. Picture a large diameter hose sucking a long line of piled up leaves into an enclosure.

Our city picks up the elongated piles about four times, into the first of the year. During other times they will pick up no more than 10 plastic bags full of leaves left at the curb.

In my concept, leaves would be collected and shaved into mulch and left onsite for gardening mulch. Or, collected and sold as such. What is generated by Mother Nature would be returned to Mother Nature.

For the sake of simplicity, imagine a near invisible net. The kind that catches leaves and not fish, but operates in a similar manner.  The net covers your space, is very thin, and can be easily rolled up with a device. The product roll that can be ground up.

Leaves are light and very bulky. A waste of plastic bags, gasoline for blowing them, gas for hauling them, and landfill space for storing them. And, Lord knows, we need more and more trees to capture that vagrant carbon dioxide.

For the foreseeable future, I see a pile of leaves that is difficult and time consuming to collect and manage, not to mention a pain to many a human back. Now, I enjoy physical work, when it is done with friends and family, but some old problems deserve better solutions than adding more noise by gasoline to the world. And, while recycling makes us conscious and aware of the waste we generate. Leaves were around before us. Before lawns even.

They deserve systematic attention. Design thinking. Certainly a better idea than a leaf blower attached to human who has no use for his ears or actually enjoys annoying the neighborhood, song birds, and other wildlife who would prefer peace and quiet. (We'll get to cars and emergency vehicles later.)

Why not a Leaf Diaper? Only this diaper never sees a landfill.

[Ed 1.21.14: Employment. Might not have solved that one. Or, possibly commuted the leaf blower technology and its operator to a different technology and service mode. And, we can no longer separate an apparatus from a service, living in this fast-paced society. Think "help desk".]


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