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Outcomes not Outputs

Another thumping good read dropped onto the doormat this morning in the shape of New Civil Engineer magazine. The problem of air pollution is brought into sharp focus by an OECD graph which shows that air pollution currently accounts for 3 million premature deaths globally every year, with that set to rise to 9 million by the year 2060. The EU and Russia are the only regions charted which show a significant fall in predicted air pollution deaths, whilst India and China deaths are predicted to more than double.

Another chart shows that UK CO2 emissions arising from power generation have fallen from 180 metric tonnes in 2005 to 100 metric tonnes in 2015. However transport hasn’t improved, with 130 Mt in 2005 and 130 Mt in 2015. So it is not surprising that other articles focus on how transport can be made greener.

There is an interesting piece on aviation with an eye-catching photo of a blended wing aircraft being developed by Boeing and NASA. The idea seems to be that by making the aircraft virtually all wing, and putting the seats in the wing, you end up with something much more efficient. Other, perhaps less ambitious developments, include making the drink and food carts lighter as well as other items like seats.

Of course we don’t have to be aircraft engineers to save a life. We can avoid unnecessary car journeys by walking or cycling where possible. Apparently just 20 minutes brisk walking a day brings us significant health benefits, yet only a third of Londoners report achieving this much activity. In Scotland physical inactivity results in 2,500 premature deaths a year, seven a day. There is a great article describing how we can make our city streets more pedestrian friendly through simple things like de-cluttering pavements to remove extraneous signs, improving crossings, providing seating and public toilets on walking routes.

I checked the front cover, when I wondered if I was the victim of an April fool story, but no, putting cat litter into concrete really is a way to cut CO2 emissions. There is a Bath University research project showing that the absorbent granules present in cat litter can be used to carry a material which can absorb or release heat depending on temperature, thereby helping to keep a building at a constant temperature.

In the editorial, civil engineers are asked to open their (our) minds and learn more quickly what people need; to be focussed on outcomes rather than outputs. Sounds like Project Sponsorship to me.

A wake up call

As I drove to the station this morning I heard on the radio that Kodak, who invented the hand-held camera, has filed for bankruptcy. The name Kodak is synonymous with film, for those grey-hairs amongst us, and they simply weren’t able to adapt to the digital age. One of the things I learnt from studying for a MBA with the Open University was STEEPLE, an acronym for remembering the environmental factors that can affect an organization and which should be constantly monitored for change.
I also remembered writing the chapter The Value of Project Sponsorship to the Organization in my book. I gave examples of how technology is changing ever faster, citing the long reign of 78s followed by vinyl, then CDs and now digital music and followed up with “The transition from film to digital photography is a similar example of technological change matching and stimulating customer demand and in the process completely changing the status quo of an industry.”
My first thought was sorrow for the loss of another great name from my childhood. My first camera was a Kodak and it was my favourite film. Then a feeling of panic crept up on me. Not at the unrelenting advance of age, rather a concern that I might not be applying STEEPLE as rigorously to my personal investment portfolio as I do at work. I tend to follow the advice about investing for the long term and I also don’t like paying brokers for constantly buying and selling. It is a policy that has worked well for me, but have I got a Kodak in there? I thought it through and I haven’t, yet. However my Carnival shares took a knock this week with the tragic loss of the Costa Concordia and the infinitely greater tragedy of (so far) eleven lives lost and over twenty missing. Sadly I don’t think STEEPLE would have helped anyone there. How do you stop a captain (who’s pretty much a god on board his ship) from doing a daft thing, from showing off perhaps? It’s a lesson the banking industry might be interested in too. I also noted, from this morning’s radio, the campaign to strip a former captain of the banking world of his knighthood; gets my vote, I have shares in RBS too!
Perhaps we should look at the airline industry. There has been a problem there with captains getting it wrong and first officers being reluctant to question their judgement. Fortunately much research, effort and training has gone into making the airline cockpit more of a team environment, with the result that we don’t often get airliners flying close to tower blocks to waggle their wings at ex-colleagues. It’s called Cockpit Resource Management or CRM. To quote Robert J. Bosier at “It has contributed significantly towards the prevention of “pilot error” accidents; it has saved airplanes and lives. But there seems to be great reluctance to even discuss the idea that there are times when the captain’s authority must be countermanded. It is clear, from the accidents noted above, crashes could have been prevented if the second-in-command had overruled the captain.” Let’s all learn from that.

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