Who’s Winning – Alternative Energy or the Environment?

I wrote this blog as a response to a technical discussion started by Bob Brothers of MTBC…

There is no doubt that the need for energy is a degenerating situation that will not resolve itself.  Every person who will be driving a car 16 years from now in the year 2026 is already born.  There is no question when it comes to calculating the demand for energy. While the situation is degenerating it is not at the point of being life threatening – yet. However, the scarcity of oil in 1970’s and the recent high prices were clearly warning signs that it could become a life threatening situation for our economy in a very short period of time.

The solutions for providing alternative sources of energy already exist. The problem has been solved. We have the technology to become an energy independent nation.

The real problem that we face is a transition from a system that relies heavily on oil which is provided largely by nations who are not motivated by our best interests to a system of alternative energies where we can become energy independent. The transition is problematic for a number of reasons. If we were to adopt electric vehicles the current power grid would not be capable of supporting the demand. One electic car consumes the power of three homes. Can you imagine the impact on the power grid if three homes were added to every home on your street?  Brown outs and black outs would be common place. So there are steps that need to be taken before we can achieve that solution.

Using an alternative fuel like natural gas might be a temporary solution since it too has a limited supply and would not be sustainable for hundreds of years. There is currently no distribution system for natural gas and the political or economic will does not seem to be there.

The real problem is that our leaders at the state and national level have failed to take action. The Department of Energy was established with the mission of America becoming energy independent. How has the DOE done over the past 30 years?  Their focus has been on energy efficiency such as replacing incandescent bulbs or more efficient vehicles. For 30 years they have failed to provide a comprehensive energy plan. As recently as October 7, 2009, they admit that there is no long term plan in place. http://www.energy.gov/8112.htm.

In a recent posting on the DOE web site, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke are calling for a comprehensive energy plan. But the thinking on this matter is far from comprehensive. They said, “If we create the right incentives on energy, it will drive the demand for clean energy and efficiency…”  What if they were successful and everyone bought an electric car?  The results would be disasterous because the energy grid cannot handle the load.

A comprehensive energy plan needs to be written, supported and implemented.  The role of the Department of Energy should be to pave the way by unleashing innovation and eliminating onerous regulations that are currently in place and improving our power grid.  It is the job of our elected officials to provide the legislation that puts the plan into action. I believe that free markets can solve this problem.  I think that meaningless incentives won’t do much to change things and it is likely to be life threatening to the economy of the United States.  We have already seen our economy threatened twice in the past 50 years and have failed to take action.

So – who’s winning when it comes to alternative energy and the environment?  Nobody – but what do I know?

Microsoft Antivirus may be a Game Changer

Windows 7 was released last week and it looks like Microsoft might be getting its act together.  I wanted to let you know about some free antivirus software that Microsoft has released (not beta) and it is compatible with Windows 7 (unlike some existing antivirus programs).  It looks very good.

It is called Microsoft Security Essentials and can be downloaded at http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/resources.aspx.  It only takes a minute to download and install.  I discovered that it is very comprehensive.  When I rebooted my system it detected an automated backup program that I run and asked if I wanted to give it permission to work through the firewall – so I know it is absolutely checking the firewall.

The second thing is that it was tested against 3,200 viruses and detected all of them, including malware, etc.  You can read the review at http://blogs.zdnet.com/hardware/?p=4785.

 The third feature that is pretty cool, other than being free, is that it works on Windows XP, Vista and the new 7.  So you can dump all of your old antivirus if you want to.  It is true that it might not have features like a browsing toolbar that your current antivirus has – but – if you load Internet Explorer 8, much of that security is already built in.

From a performance perspective I launched programs as soon as the computer loaded Microsoft Security Essentials.  When I did this with Zone Alarm and McAfee, the system would tend to thrash a bit.  With the MS antivirus this did not appear to be a problem.

So, if you didn’t know about it I hope this was helpful. 

P.S. – If you own stock in McAfee, Norton or others you may want to watch it carefully.  When this is widely publicized it could be a game changer.

Developing Goals Should Not be Mysterious or Difficult

I recently told the story of a hospital administrator who just took charge of a troubled hospital. While examining the types of services they provided to their patients (customers) she noticed that a large number were coming into the ER but were not being admitted – many were children with colds, bumps, bruises, etc. Yet this was creating very long wait times and tying up resources for more serious issues. She set the goal of a nurse meeting every patient within 60 seconds of their arrival and planned to achieve it within 18 months.

It took 12 months for her to achieve the goal of seeing every ER patient within 60 seconds of arrival but the results were astounding. Resources were freed. Waiting lines disappeared. And most unexpectedly all the other operations within the hospital had dramatic improvement because they were now focused on providing rapid services to patients. This one simple goal revolutionized the hospital and it became a model for other hospitals.

I told this story to the a state mortgage operation of a national financial company. I then asked them to make a list of all of their customers, since every business usually has more than one type of customer. They listed the borrower, broker, realtor, appraiser, title company, closing agent, etc. I then asked, “What one thing could you do that would result in your being able to satisfy every one of these customers?” (This is the key question for establishing goals). After some discussion they concluded that if they could process a loan from the time of application to closing in 30 days everyone would be thrilled and would set them apart from the competition.

I asked if they could develop a plan to make that happen? They examined it and concluded it was possible to do it in 30 days – but there were some challenges. I said if the plan says you can do it, then you should be able to make it happen. The plan also revealed the problem areas so that they were able to focus on those processes that would prevent them from reaching the goals.

One of the major benefits of having simple, yet dramatic, goals is that everyone in the organization can understand them and get behind them. It unifies your team. I write about this in my book which you can get a free copy of the eBook version at http://www.ftiglobal.com/fti/contact_us.asp.

P.S. – An important point… notice that the team developed the goal. This is important for buy-in. It wasn’t mandated from the ivory tower.

Time Management

This is a review and “thought map” for Peter Drucker’s chapter on time management from his book “The Essential Drucker – Chapter 16: Know Your Time”.

Drucker makes a distinction between time management for the knowledge worker vs. the manual worker. The performance of a manual worker can be measured in terms of results and is often straight forward – how many parts were made during a hour? Time management for knowledge workers is much more difficult to manage and measure in terms of results. Therefore, the focus of Drucker’s observations deal primarily with the knowledge worker.

His first observation is that effective business executives don’t start with tasks or plans when it comes to managing their time. They start with discovering how their time is spent. At first, this seems counter intuitive, especially for a guy who promoted management by objectives – which is almost nothing but plans and tasks. But there is a method to his madness.

Time has several important characteristics. Unlike raw materials, it is the only resource that is totally limited and slips away if not put to good use. You can never buy more time. It is also the resource that is used by all and every type of work being performed. It is always a factor no matter what type of work is being done or what type of result is achieved.

Drucker makes the interesting observation that we human beings are not equipped to manage time. Research has shown that our memories are inadequate when it comes to remembering how we spent our time. Our minds are almost self-deceiving. If we are asked to write down how we spent the minutes during the past week, even those who think they do a good job of tracking their time, more often than not fail to accurately report on how their time has been spent. If you don’t believe this then get out a sheet of paper and start writing.Drucker’s recommendation is that the only way you will be able to manage time is to Record, Manage and Consolidate time.

The second reason he states as to why humans are lousy at managing time is because we do a terrible job of keeping track of the time. We find it easy to lose track and drift away with some distraction. Then we find ourselves running to catch up. The research to back this up involves people being put into a sterile room with no windows, clocks, furniture or other distractions and they are asked how long they have been in the room. Nearly all of the test subjects dramatically over estimate or under estimate the time. Our time awareness and internal clocks don’t seem to work very well. If we are engaged in something interesting, time seems to fly by. If we are bored and would rather be doing something else, then time seems to stand still.

Recording time is relatively easy but requires discipline. Don’t record what you are doing every 5 minutes! That is not what he is talking about. Record your time whenever an whenever what you are currently doing changes. For example, if you check your email, record the time. If you meet with a customer, record the time. If you have a meeting, record the time (even if it is a casual meeting). Every time the event with which you are involved changes, record the time. At the end of the day and the end of the week you will not have to trust that deceptive mind of yours (which lies to you all of time) about what you did. You will be able to analyze how you spent your time to determine if you are on track, which is the most important benefit.

Managing your time is a little more challenging and involves a bit of analysis. First, you need to look at your recorded time and diagnose how it has been spent. Is there anything you should have eliminated or delegated? You can then make a conscious decision in the future about spending your time involved in those tasks. Keep in mind that the most valuable resource you have is time. This will help you focus.

The second part of diagnosing your time is comparing how you spent your time against your vision of what you want to accomplish. In other words – your goals. This will also determine whether or not you are focused – or if you are scattered all over the place. Obviously, if you are spending your time on tasks that are not related to your goals, then it’s going to be pretty hard to achieve the results that you want. They key idea again is – focus.

Consolidating your time facilitates better management. The concept of consolidation deals with the issues of focus and effectiveness. For example, if you schedule your meetings, reviews and brainstorming sessions one or two days a week, let’s say Monday and Friday, not only do you gain more focus but so does anyone working with you. They know what to expect and when to expect it. It clears your plate of potential distractions. If you deal with major issues every morning, you put boundaries around how your time will spent. You manage your time on purpose, rather than time managing you. Looking for ways to consolidate your time will increase your effectiveness.

Drucker said that the manager’s central task is working with people. By consolidating the time to do that, you are allowing adequate time to work with other people to discuss the issues each of your face. By having adequate time everyone can talk about what they are going to do and why they are going to do it. The results of such conversations are plans, direction and establishment of performance criteria – critical to your goals and vision.

Drucker believed that when you are working with someone that a 15 minute meeting is in adequate. He believed that it takes at least an hour, in a leisurely environment, that allows for the free exchange of ideas. If time is not consolidated – you will never have that hour to spend with someone.

The bottom line is that Drucker believes that a well managed business is quiet – even boring. One of the steps that management can take to achieve the quiet business is by managing their time.

Thought Map: