Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why aviation?

Today I was asked a question that I haven't been asked in some time - what led me to aviation.
I graduated in 1993 with a degree in Aerospace Engineering and many questions arise because I am not, nor have I been involved in the aviation industry directly. Yet, I spend between 50,000 and 200,000 miles per year on planes. So, perhaps it is still in my blood.
Like many little boys, it started with curiosity fulfilled by my father. The trips to EAA, the Experimental Aircraft Association, the worlds largest airport for a week - Oshkosh, Wisconsin; the 7th grade science show on Bernoulli's principle - the magic that give birth to flight. The flight so my father could take pictures of the lake house and me being fascinated with being able to see the WORLD!!
Who would have ever thought that a small difference in air pressure over an airfoil would create lift and a couple bike guys - the Wrights - would figure this out and launch this life changing thing called flight?
My love affair started in earnest with a trip to the Air Force Academy in 8th grade. The sense or order, pageantry, sacrifice, honor, duty and privilege took hold deep inside me. So did the opportunity to fly a fighter jet. Top Gun came later and was further reinforcement of this love.
Life rolled by in high school, the concept, the idea, the dream of flight growing more strong. Then...being nominated and appointed to the Air Force Academy but only as the alternate candidate - a let down, a failure that reverberated long into my life. So. I did what people do - move to plan B.
Plan B was St. Louis and Parks College and Aerospace Engineering. Going to a small school with a bunch of boys who had the same dreams I had was pretty cool. I realized then that I was a nerd and a bit of a dork....and vastly underpowered in intelligence compared to so many of my peers.
After a few years of realizing that, while I may have an engineers mindset, I absolutely did not want to be an engineer. Fortunately, international politics, two US presidents and a recession helped. So I started my career outside of flight.
Fast forward to the mid-2000's when I find myself on flights...every week...every day in some instances and flight, my dream, started to feel like a chore, a bus in the sky. Fortunately, though my flights didn't decrease, I rediscovered the joy of flight.
From the northern lights brighter than I had every witnessed before on my flight to London, to meeting interesting people,, to staring out the window and realizing how PEACEFUL the world looks from 35,000 feet. And perhaps, that's where this is going.
I can only imagine the view of God over the universe. And the next time your in plane, after trudging through an airport, accosted by security, offended by behaviors, and all the other "burdens" of travel, look out the window. What do you see?
I see a world that looks so peaceful. From 35000 feet, the lights of a police car or ambulance looks like twinkles from the lights of a Christmas tree. The baseball or football fields bring back memories of "playing under the big lights" for the first - or last time. The fields, organized in their patterns of blocks and colors, providing food and nourishment. The snow-covered peaks, the sunsets and sunrises. We get to see them all....from above. We should be overwhelmed and thankful, not ungrateful because we only get a minuscule bag of peanuts and an armrest covered by a neighbor.
I haven't publicly published to this blog in years so rather than shoot for
Perfection, up this goes.
Remember to LOOK OUT THE WINDOW AND SMILE the next time you get to have a portion of the View of God. And then pray that someday you will be privileged to have the same view.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, April 22, 2011

OMG, It's Earth Day! So What!

Since I work for a company that helps other large companies manage their sustainability efforts and reduce things like waste, water, electric energy and the sort, you would think we have a HUGE celebration for Earth Day and treat it like a National holiday.

But, like the rest of the world, we simply shrug our shoulders, smile at a tree (hugging just seems…well…wrong), and go on with our day. Despite all the hysterics, moral imperatives and business reasons to do things that apparently save the earth, the majority of people across the world simply don’t care. “So What!” is the collective cry.

And…with very good reason. If I think about what our clients deal with as they attempt to gain engagement throughout their organizations and with their clients – who tend to be all of us – consumers who buy stuff in retail stores, “sustainability”, “environmental efforts”, “energy efficiency”, “corporate social responsibility” are all a VERY TOUGH SELL.

Remove the politics and the moral imperatives for a minute. Take what I would call a “pragmatic approach to fill in large word here denoting reduction of use” and try to get people engaged. It’s not easy and one of the best parts of my job goes into effect.

Like a three year old, I have the luxury, and the imperative, of continually asking “Why?” And when I do that about the struggles in adoption of “sustainability” and everything else, it’s a pretty easy answer for me.

Unlike so many aspects of our lives, especially in the ADD society of today, those intangible things, like electricity, sustainability, carbon footprint, environmental impact are difficult to grasp, hold on to, and become passionate about in our everyday lives. Now, add on the global turmoil, the crummy job market, and the continual depletion of our incomes, all of these things become less important.

If I think back across my career, 18 years in energy, sustainability, etc., I can emphatically state that well over 85% of the people I’ve met, have no clue what actually happens when they flip a switch to turn on a light, a computer, or the television. So, replacing an incandescent lamp with a CFL, something many people do everyday, I believe is done because of herd mentality and moral imperative!

I believe if the average person actually understood the true cost of electric energy or the real cost of water use rather than the subsidized, monopolized and sanitized costs we are exposed to, radically different decisions would be made. But, until that happens, and since I cannot SEE the request for electricity going from the switch to the transformer to the substation to the powerplant and the actual supply coming all the way from the powerplant to the device…INSTANTANEOUSLY…I don’t think about it.

Whether it’s CFL’s (that horribly ugly white light), 100% post-consumer recycled content(huh?), solar panels(you mean the $15,000 I spent covering my roof with these things so I can turn on all my ugly CFL lamps for four hours per day?) or the more intangible subjects of coal versus nuclear( men covered in soot and trapped 3 miles below ground versus Chernobyl), smart grid(you mean the meter and higher utility bill I’m paying?), carbon footprint(blame the cows) or hybrid cars(the guy in the left lane going 45 in a 65 and SMILING), the average person does not understand the engineering marvel that makes up the electric grid, the entire process that occurs before you buy the loaf of bread or the new shoes.

Our failure to understand how things are made, how stuff is produced, how products are delivered, what we consume, all lead to decisions we MAY not make if we took the time to understand its “history.” And I am absolutely not one to force anyone to make a decision on any of their choices but, wouldn’t it be helpful if you had all of the information you need to make an informed decision?

Earth Day is silly. I’d rather celebrate “Information Day” where we get to discover the true environmental comparison of purchasing a Toyota Prius and the potential petroleum I might save versus the long term impact of trying to dispose the lead batteries it uses instead of gas! Or, how about the production costs and energy use of producing the hybrid car versus the 1967 Fastback Mustang that guzzles the gas and let’s be honest, is SOOOO much more fun to drive?

So what? Yep, so what! Enough with Earth day! We’ll achieve the same or BETTER result by starting, celebrating and embracing “INFORMATION DAY!”

Now, go hug a database.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Creative Kids

Yesterday, I talked about Aha! Moments in business through the use of Intelligent Memory. Kristen commented on trying to help kids be creative in their learning and recall.

The link above is from Fast Company, one of my favorite magazines, on the "Four Secrets of Playtime That Foster Creative Kids" which talks more about the integration of play and work and why, to treat the two separately, may not be the best route.

As my old fraternity motto taught me - "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

But, within the article, it castigates the idea of kids being consumers and they should rather be creators. I agree with it in the concept that having a child needing to be in organized sports rather than pulling together a pickup game of baseball or football in the summer - is consumer versus creator. However, a big reason for that is the whole concept of "structure."

I'm not sure about structure. Sure, defining boundaries, roles, timelines, etc. are all good and necessary - I'm not a believer in anarchy. However, I'm also a believer that, once a set of boundaries are put in place, let the chaos commence.

Think of it as a pinball game. Sure, there are boundaries, a goal, a score, winners and losers. But, there are an unending opportunity for different plays, different results and experiences and it's all based upon the way the ball bounces (or rolls).

Yes - you can influence it to a degree, but nothing is for certain. And, if you attempt to exert too much influence by you, the player, what happens??


And then you lose your turn. So, what's best to foster and create creativity within your kids, your workplace and your life.

However, unlike the Fast Company article, I don't believe that consumer and creator are separate and nor should they be. We MUST be consumers of information in order to improve our "Intelligent Memory" which then helps create more Aha! Moments and new ideas and innovation. However, the difference to be discussed is between being an Active or Passive Consumer!

And for that discussion, I think about video games.

We had, growing up, the old Stalwart

What a great first experience as a kid! I was able to sit in the luxury of my family's basement on the 70's style yellow striped couch and play Space Invaders to my heart's content. For many, this meant bypassing playing outside, watching TV, doing homework, etc. For me, it was just another vehicle to consume information.

Over the years, I think video games and technology get a bad wrap. Used in the proper boundaries, they can allow for creativity and innovation! What this means is rules - when to play, how much to play, prioritization of homework and chores over games, etc. So, an ACTIVE CONSUMER means they consume within order.

PASSIVE CONSUMERS consume either without boundaries or order, or within order and boundaries which are constructed with paper and ideas and not ever held.

Kids, and companies, and individuals, should be ACTIVE consumers! Take part, understand the role, and then have a blast! I think some of the more modern video games foster that idea. Look at the Wii, Playstation Move and the newest, Xbox Kinect!

The Kinect plays without a controller. YOU are the controller and play an active part in the game! That is being an ACTIVE CONSUMER! Why? Because you have the boundaries, the goals, winners and losers but also have the ability, within "the box" to determine how you play, and how hard you want to go. Very similar to the old pinball game.

So the article touches on some of this, but I don't agree with the phrase "We aren't born with playful minds, we create them." Bullpucky. We're born with brilliant minds capable of creating, with God's help, things like blogs, Xbox Kinects and Sour Patch Kids (yummy)!

What we do with that mind, and what our parents chose to do, and now we, as parents and child raisers choose to do, help determine what we do with those minds. Choose to create ACTIVE CONSUMERS!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


The great article from Strategy & Business linked above is talking about creativity within business environments and really speaks well to obliterate the long held generalizations about "right brain vs. left brain" thinking.

I'm a left-brain kind of guy...analytical, logical and rational. But, I'm also intuitive and like to consider myself creative. In the realm of traditional thought, I'm left brain with some right brain. But the classifications don't work. And this article and the corresponding studies around "Intelligent Memory" are, in my opinion, a much better way to create a creative, idea-seeking environment.

There are many business books talking about "strategy." Most, if not all, fail to explain to someone how to come up with the ideas to solve problems. Most explain how to define the problem, determine the criteria, gather data, list alternatives, and implement. But, how do you create an environment to determine the list of "alternatives"?

I've seen many companies go down the "brainstorming" path which, in the end, becomes a regurgitation of the ideas of the strongest voices in the room. Not that I mind because many times I'm one of those strong voices BUT this process fails to capture the essence of curiosity and of truly creative ideas!

So enters Intelligent Memory. As the article points out, this premise started its roots in 1998 with an article in the journal "Neuron". The article, "Cognitive Neuroscience and the Study of Memory" essentially stated the premise that "intelligent memory" is the idea of analysis (LEFT BRAIN) and intuition (RIGHT BRAIN) working together in all modes of thought.

THIS, I can see and believe in because, even though I really like my left-brain process and analysis capabilities, I'm a creative guy. Just ask me!

So - no left brain, no right brain. Just learning and recall. That, I believe, applies much better to how people really learn, innovate, create, design, etc.

Some other thoughts from the article:

  • Your brain takes things in, breaks them down, and puts them on shelves.
  • As new information comes in, your brain does a massive Google search to see how this information might fit in with other, previously stored information.
  • When you find a match, old memories combine with new to create a thought.
  • That process, one of breaking down and storing - is analysis.
  • Searching and combining - is intuition.
  • As familiar patterns emerge, you don't really "think about it."
  • However, as new pieces of data create new patterns you arrive at "AHA!"
So, how do companies create environments for innovation?

Google has tried to do it by tickling the right brain with lounges, bean bag chairs, dogs in the office, ping pong, etc. But, while that creates a really fun work environment, does it foster creativity??

Personally, I've brought Playdoh to meetings when I want to foster a creative environment. Is there anything better than a bunch of adults creating "stuff" from Playdoh?

So, what are the shelves of your brain stocked with? Are your shelves full or do you have unlimited storage space? How quick is your recall? How strong is your "inner-Google"?

Curious minds want to know! When is the last time you had an "Aha!" moment?

Trust Your Gut…but Only Sometimes - Association for Psychological Science

Trust Your Gut…but Only Sometimes - Association for Psychological Science

This is a pretty interesting study about Intuition. For those of you who know me, know how much I enjoyed reading Malcolm Gladwell's BLINK and how it helped confirm my preferred method of making trusting my gut and intuition. So along comes this study how the physical aspects of your body influence your intuition.

From the article...

"Dunn and his co-authors found this link between gut feelings and intuitive decision making to be stronger in people who were more aware of their own heartbeat. So for some individuals being able to ‘listen to their heart’ helped them make wise choices, whereas for others it led to costly mistakes.

“What happens in our bodies really does appear to influence what goes in our minds. We should be careful about following these gut instincts, however, as sometimes they help and sometimes they hinder our decision making,” says Dunn."

Interesting. So, if you are attune to your body and its reactions, does this improve your intuition? I'm curious to find out. I remember as a young man, I took Karate lessons at a local dojo. As part of the initial effort, and perhaps one of the strongest "take aways" from that experience were the breathing techniques they taught. You can, by focusing on your breathing, slow your heart rate down significantly and if I'm ever nervous, I find myself continuing to use those techniques. Perhaps the whole movie-like scenario of the zen-master being acutely aware of his surroundings and being able to "sense the enemy" is related to being tuned into what your body is telling you.

I know this - my intuition has served me very well and is not wrong often. I've never understood why but perhaps with this initial study, some of the fog can be lifted. Gladwell wrote about a test, called the IAT which measures the amount of "unconscious prejudice" and that's a test I want to take! Why is it when I meet someone the first time, I can, invariably, have a "gut" feeling about that person within 3-5 minutes. I can usually determine if this is someone I like, will not like, is nice or an a-hole, etc. Some have criticized me for "not giving him/her a chance" because I "really can't know someone that quickly." Yet, in the end, I'm right about that person much more often than not. So, I've learned to trust that instinct, that "unconscious prejudice", the "gut", my intuition....whatever you want to call it.

If you haven't read BLINK, go read And let me know how your gut plays a role in your decisions! Are you more deliberate in evaluating facts/circumstances, etc.? Or are you one to make a decision based upon that "feel" and go from there?

Some excerpts from BLINK are available at A review of the book can be found at as well as

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Starting a New Year

Welcome to 2011!

Isn't it amazing that after all these years, some of the most simple concepts are still struggling to gain momentum in business? I'm not talking about complex variable analysis or other catch-phrases of business speak. I'm talking about stopping the insanity! Why, oh why, do businesses do the same thing, day over day, expecting a different result?

I have a theory that I'm happy to share!

If you have children, have ever been around children, or was once or currently are a child yourself, then you will know what I'm talking about. Remember the 3 year old asking a question?

"Daddy, why is the sky blue?"

"Well, because the sun is bright and hits particles in the atmosphere which spread the blue spectrum of light easily....blah blah blah."

In actuality, most of us answer something to try and get the "why" questions to stop. An interesting study said the following:

When children received an explanatory response, they tended to elicit behavior that indicated that they were satisfied with the answer, like agreeing or asking a follow-up question. When children received a non-explanatory response, they tended to elicit behavior that indicated that they were not satisfied with the response, like asking the same question again or proposing their own answer to the question -

Source: Frazier, B. N., Gelman, S. A., & Wellman, H. M., (2009). Preschooler’s search for explanatory information within adult-child conversation. Child Development, 80, 1592-1161.

So, after many of our "development years" searching for the answer to many questions, we grow up, enter the business world, and.... stop asking WHY and stop being curious!

It's time to recognize that "Curiosity Saves the Day"!

What ways do you, on a day-to-day environment, allow your employees to ask why and continue to ask why until they are satisfied with the response? How many times each day do you look at a process, a result, an outcome, and wonder why it happened, shrug it off and move on?

It's time for curiosity to take over our mindsets so we can continue to improve on the status quo and reduce waste, inefficiency and ultimately, innovate. We can only do that by re-discovering our 3-year old mentality of constantly asking "WHY?"