A problem shared is a problem solved when utilising the adjacent possible

Want to solve a problem? Well you had better talk to someone about it!: My insights taken from the book: Where Good Ideas Come From, written by Steven Johnson…

Where Good Ideas Come From

I was strongly recommended this book by a successful entrepreneur, and I’m glad I took the time to read it as it has had a profound impact upon how I approach problem solving. It certainly isn’t a self help book, and it might not give you the magic formula needed invent the next big thing, but it does give a good blend of historical and behavioral analysis on what things tend to help cultivate ideas.

There are several good summaries of this book online, one of which that I particularly like, written by Phil Gyford, is linked here.

ligh bulb


The Adjacent Possible: The idea creation aspect that really struck me, and for me feels like the most useful tool to engineer yourself a solution, is the idea of utilising the adjacent possible. This explains the rationale that inventions and innovation can only happen one step at a time, and on reflection it is very true. Google couldn’t have been created until the internet was created. Facebook’s success depended not only on the internet, but also on the creation of the digital camera, and it really started its rapid rise to prominence with the invention of the smart phone.


For me, making use of the adjacent possible is exploring the use of current new innovative ideas in alternative domains to what they were created for. An example given in the book is the use of old car tyres to create soles for sandals. This concept can be used for applications in all walks of life. For instance, Deliveroo is a very successful start up that has disrupted the fast food industry, could this delivery service model be used for other purposes? Some ideas that spring to mind are delivery of parcels and special delivery mail from logistics companies. Riders could collect from the delivery depot, and deliver on demand when you are at home, within 30 minutes. Will people pay the extra delivery fee to have their parcels delivered out of hours (something many logistics companies can’t do)? Not everyone will, but depending upon the urgency of a parcel, I’m pretty sure some people will.M&S

Keeping on this train of thought, M&S are in the process of entering into a Joint Venture with Ocado. A deal that will be very intriguing to see how it plays out. Ocado are fantastic at delivering people’s weekly shopping, and they are looking at offering a ‘delivery within the hour’ service. However, no matter how brilliant new service, it will once again be focused on weekly shopping. Shopping that involves pre-planning from looking at the full week ahead.

M&S over the last couple of years have had a focused drive to open many convenience sized stores, and these stores very much focus on very fine quality, pre-prepared meals. Meals that are cooked at home with the little time or fuss, made from fresh ingredients, that everyone trusts. Could M&S successfully collaborate with Deliveroo, offering a ‘heat at home’ food delivery service? I wouldn’t bet against it..

The adjacent possible is like shuffling cards, until eventually you get two cards that pair up to offer an innovative idea that hasn’t yet been implemented. Simple!


A problem shared is a problem solved: The other key insight the book gave me was the environment in which most ideas are created, and most problems are solved. A profound discovery was made in the early 20th Century when a stop-motion study was performed in a research laboratory.  The discovery was; that most ideas did not come from Eureka moments by individuals, but when one researcher spent time discussing their problems with another. Their fresh perspective often resulted in fruitful discussions and even more fruitful idea creations.

The effect of collaboration is all the more visible when you look at the history of innovation. In shear quantities, there have been many more key inventions to come from organisations that are not driven by financial incentives. Why is this? Surely inventors will be more keen to see their ideas realised if it will result in life changing financial fortunes? Of course it will, but where there are financial incentives, there are often patents, intellectual property, and closely guarded secrets. This process is not wrong, inventors need to be able to gain from their ideas and hard work. But it does show that collaboration is (far) more effective in creating ideas than financial incentives for individuals.

light bulb moment

This was a bit of a revelation for me, previously if I had a problem that I was working on, I had a tendency to hatch down and go into individual problem solving mode. What I should be doing more of is talking to as many people about my problem as possible. This will give me new perspectives, and might introduce me to people who have similar problems (or even better; solutions).

This new mantra has led to the creation of a new blog category: ‘innovative problems‘, in which I will share a perspective upon my own and other peoples’ problems. As the reader, you may be able to empathise with these problems from an adjacent domain. Even better, they may inspire a brand new solution to a problem that you were previously unaware of. My first post of this type was created a few weeks ago: Digital transformation in the aerospace industry… Really?? and has resulted in several follow on discussions with people of how this concept can be developed. Without this post, these discussions would never have happened.


So in summary, shuffle the cards of possibility, and share your findings with all and sundry. Who knows, there might be an Einstein or Newton inside you somewhere…





Globalisation, International Teams, and the Triangle of Trouble

I’m sure you have been on the receiving end of a botched attempt of getting two teams in distant locations to work in harmony. You may have even attempted it yourself. The good news is that as humans we are hardwired to struggle in these situations, so don’t be too hard on yourself. The bad news is that it’s pretty difficult to overcome…


As globalisation has increased the need to integrate international teams has also increased. However, humans do not naturally find cross cultural integration easy, not least when we have to do so via modern communication technology and when located thousands of miles from one another. This article combines a couple of popular theories to explain why we find this so tricky, and offers some advice on how you might be able to overcome such a hurdle.

Triangle of Trouble

The Triangle of Trouble…

CULTURE: First off, let’s not underestimate how a person’s background affects their social norms. One culture’s polite is another’s rude, and what may be considered friendly in one culture may be considered disrespectful in another. Dutch and Russians are renowned for being direct in their communication, but also appreciate the honesty of direct feedback from others. On the other hand Chinese and Japanese are notoriously unobtrusive  with their feedback, but are intuitive enough to be able to read another’s subtle body language to observe their opinions. Where does your social norm fit in with the culture that you are communicating with? If you don’t know then you may be offending them even as you feel you are rolling out the charm offensive.

Global diferences

AWARENESS: This is a simple appreciation that we humans have an incredible propensity to think that anything in which we don’t know the detail is far simpler than it actually is. Once again I’m sure you are all familiar with having to complete a task that is far more complex than those asking for its completion can comprehend. A common example is the introduction of a new software that promises to fix a set of business problems. What usually happens is that the software introduction makes the problems worse; once the software is installed people stop trying to work in such a way to mitigate the old problems, thinking that the software has taken away this need. In reality the software will need to be built carefully into existing processes in order to improve them.

Outsourcing and cross culture working is very similar to installing software. If a business is considering outsourcing something or collaborating with a distant team, then it’s likely that the their current state of operations is not satisfactory. But throwing problems over to a third party and expecting them to intuitively know how (or indeed want) to solve your problems is not realistic. When this utopian and low maintenance solution turns out to not be more of a problem than a solution, then who’s fault is it, yours or theirs?

simple complex

EMPATHY: This is perhaps the biggest barrier to successful integration, and is an effect of cultural divisions and a lack of awareness. We as humans tend to be emotionally switched off to those that are either culturally different to us or geographically  distant. When we are talking down the phone to someone who we can barely understand, who seems starkly dissimilar to us and other people we know, and is thousands of miles away, then we tend to diminish their importance and relevance. Naturally we will see our opinions as more insightful than theirs, unfortunately they will be thinking the same thing about us.


…Knowing that you are not alone with your international integration problems is comforting up to a point, but how do you overcome these problems? Being aware of how difficult successful integration can be is the first step; and in cases where team integration over the short term is critical, or if you are not committed for the long haul, it is probably safer to keep within the same team. This will not always be possible or practical, and where integration is necessary, knocking down the three pillars of the triangle of trouble will be key. How do you increase the empathy between the two teams? Increasing their awareness of one another, and creating an appreciation of one another’s cultural norms, while also sharing some common ground.

In my personal experience this is best (and most time efficiently) solved through face to face contact. An exchange programme on a rotation basis is a good option; relocating team members for a set period of time. The team members who are relocated are also best placed to act as a communication bridge between their new team and their familiar team back home. They will know how their original team think and work, and so communication with them will be more effective. Also necessary is educating each team of the other’s cultures and behaviors, perhaps even some history lessons. If intuitively you feel that the these actions will not help, then it’s likely that the integration period will be all the more difficult. But in any case, over time the two teams should grow to know one another better, and will eventually start to work as one.


Achieving success is no easy task, and productivity may initially fall before it begins to rise, but this is not surprising when you consider the forces against. The most important factor is the simple realisation of how difficult the integration process can be; if you fail to take this issue seriously then you will likely be throwing away valuable time and resources, at the expense of productivity and the morale of your team members.

Digital transformation in the aerospace industry… Really??


A brief post to offer some musings to my comrades in the Aerospace industry. Hopefully you’ll find this helpful, and if not immediately helpful, then at least it will offer some food for thought…

marketing 101

One of my first subjects on the LBS Sloan programme has been ‘Leading the Market Driven Organisation’. I won’t shy away from the fact that I didn’t get much exposure to the principles of marketing while in the aerospace industry; most clients are either government or large multi-national organisations. You don’t often find people wanting to buy an aeroplane, or an aeroplane  component, because they have just seen an advert on SkySports, or because someone dropped a leaflet through their letterbox.

Considering the above, you can forgive my initial response to the recommendation to “transform my industry through digitisation”, as stated in my course text book. I’m sure many of you currently in the industry would agree; this sort of thing doesn’t apply to aerospace… Or does it…


…It was only a little later in the day when I started to think about pain points and problem areas when I had a Eureka! moment. For my last client, on my last project, by far the biggest pain point was managing suppliers and late delivery of purchase orders. Unfortunately there are suppliers out there who seem very intent on winning orders and making promises, but not so good at delivering parts. One particular supplier we used had promised some components within 10 weeks, but we were still pulling our hair out due to non-delivery way beyond this time.

In the business to consumer world there are simple tools available to prevent poor supplier performance. For individual consumers, consider the ratings systems put in place by organisations such as Amazon and Ebay. For suppliers offering loans and mortgages, consider credit rating platforms such as Experian and Noddle.

This is when the penny dropped. Why isn’t there a business to business rating system? Even better, a transparent tracking system that links to each business’ MRP system and shows what orders are overdue. If banks and financial institutions can do it with individuals’ bill payments for credit ratings, then it must be possible for other industries. This application would have a profound affect; as businesses that were unable to fulfill their orders as promised would not likely win future work. This would reward productive and well run organisations and encourage other businesses to follow suit. I predict that over time this system would improve productivity of the entire industry value chain…

image (1)

…After all, we can put man made objects into space, and fly objects around the globe heavier than  double-decker buses, with an unparalleled safety record. So  surely we can  create a simple system that protects buyers, and drives all suppliers to improve productivity?

This problem is crying out for a solution that could completely transform the aerospace industry; and through the simple use of tech that has been readily available in everyday life for over a decade. Maybe this is a business venture that I will explore once I am finished with my studies…


So thinking a little smaller and immediate, how can the ‘individual’ take advantage of this ‘problem’ right now? Well while the industry waits for an encompassing platform to arrive, there will be demand for small consultancy services that organisations can use to provide supplier due diligence prior to placing critical purchase orders. This process happens already, but it usually happens in-house and is focused on how solvent a supplier is – will they go bust before they produce my parts? We should also concentrate on how many of a supplier’s current orders with other clients are overdue – if they can’t fulfill current orders, then they will not likely fulfill ours either. The key to this challenge is where do you gain access to such information? The fact that sourcing this information is not easy means that organisations will be willing to pay for it.

Finally, a low hanging fruit to consider when you are writing proposals and responding to client’s request for quotes: If you are a well run productive business; why not place some data at the back of your next proposal that shows your historic delivery performance? I have never seen this in a bid for work from a supplier, yet when I am mid project with muck and bullets flying all around me, time is the most important consideration. Why not try this approach? If you win more work, feel free to buy me a beer!


The above is all a brief brain dump of my thoughts. I would be really happy to talk further on the topic, or discuss any similar ideas that you readers may have in relation to this. Do you think you could help make any of the above a reality? Then please drop me a message.

Review of Coursera.org, online management and energy courses

This is my first of many intended posts that will cover my reviews of courses and other educational content that I have used or read. This particular post covers several of the online courses provided by coursera.org that I have completed. Reflecting my aspirations beyond Sloan, these have been a combination of management and energy courses. 



Managing the Company of the Future. Created by LBS | Julian Birkinshaw.

managing the company of the future

This course was fresh and insightful while being light enough to easily digest. It covers the different organisational structures used by modern companies, ideals used to motivate staff, and common problems encountered by businesses due to inappropriate organisational structures and processes. It is worth saying here that Julian is a very highly regarded professor as well as the deputy dean of London Business School, so considering that this course is free I would strongly recommend it.


The Manager’s Toolkit. Created by Birbeck University of London.

managers toolkit

This course for me was not so crisp, there were some useful areas covered, such as conducting interviews, giving feedback, and facilitating meetings, however the content seemed a little tired and dated. I would strongly recommend the Managing the Company of the Future course ahead of this., as they are both free.


Global Energy and Climate Policy. Created by SOAS University of London.


This course was fairly decent, it offered a lot of reading material around the subject, and went into some detail as to how energy policy is changing around the world, and what structural changes are necessary in order to ensure transition to a sustainable society. My only gripe is that because it is political in nature, the content is fairly high level and conceptual in nature, although that said there are some quote insightful interviews etc so if you are interested in this subject I would recommend you having a look.

Our Energy Future. Created by the University of California San Diego.

our energy future

I have saved the best until last here, I really, really enjoyed this course and found the content incredibly informative. I would recommend everyone at least watch the opening two videos on the first module, these were superb. The only downside to this course was it was quite time consuming – I think it may have taken around 15 hours of my time by the time I finished, and this is without considering any of the written essays (if you opt to take them – you can just opt to watch the video content).

Key take homes for me were:

  • The world’s population increase over the last century or so is due to a dramatic increase in agriculture productivity, which in turn is due to harnessing the power of fossil fuels. Without these fuels or alternatives we will not even come close to sustaining the world’s current population, let alone future forecasts.
  • Fossil fuels (especially oil) are so energy dense and cheap to process into a usable substance, that it is incredibly challenging to create alternative energy sources that are viable alternatives. For instance, modern batteries contain several times less storage capacity as the same weight and volume equivalent of oil. This is why fossil fuels are so popular and hard to remove from everyday life.
  • Several bio fuels are being developed that will extract CO2 from the atmosphere, meaning that there use will actively reduce CO2 in the atmosphere over their total lifespan. These products can be used with existing oil refinery infrastructure. Considering this, we may find more cars move across to this type of fuel rather than moving to completely electric.
  • Approximately 40% of today’s global warming is due to ‘black carbon’ which is released into the air when burning wood and other materials used for cooking in the developing world. Black carbon only stays in the atmosphere for approximately 2 weeks, so if we could provide alternative cooking methods to the developing world, we could dramatically reduce global warming. Now there;s food for thought…



Pre-programme prep continued: LBS Sloan Next Steps..

Following on from my written piece on my ‘intended’ preparation work, this article covers the main tasks of note that MUST be completed by a Sloan Fellow prior to starting on the course..

next steps

At this point it is probably a good idea to point out that as I was a British Citizen already living in the U.K when I enrolled onto the Sloan programme, I have not had to go down the U.K visa application process, and therefore I can’t advise on this area. However, if you do need some advice then I will be  more than happy to put you in contact with one of the many fellow Sloan candidates that did go through this process. Contact me via email or LinkedIn and I will be happy to help.

So of the main tasks given by LBS that are needed to be performed other than obtaining a U.K visa, we can break these down into two main groups: 360 degree feedback and traits questionnaire, and pre-course study material.

360 feedback

360 Feedback and traits questionaire

You will receive access to these around November time..

The ‘5 Step Traits’ questionnaire is simply a quick quiz asking how you sit on various items. Your answers to these questions will create a personality profile that you will use to identify any personality areas that you would like to develop while on the Sloan programme, so it is advisable to answer these as honest as possible. Other than having to honestly assess yourself, there is nothing to be concerned of here.

The 360 degree feedback process is a little more involved. You may have already completed a 360 feedback as part of your organisational performance assessment. I hadn’t, and so this was a new experience for me. The crux here is that you are relying on your fellow colleagues and other stakeholders (clients etc.) to fill out a feedback form for you. To add an element of complexity, the feedback is anonymous and so you wont know who has and who hasn’t completed the feedback. You will need a minimum of seven responses in order for the feedback to be valid, and up-to twenty. I would suggest pick as many people as possible, and try and pick people who are more likely to complete the feedback, thus to minimise the risk of you not having enough respondents.

online learning

Pre course learning materials

You will received these around Mid-December, meaning that you will have around three weeks to complete them…

Plagiarism, this course is fairly straight forward, and very useful, it covers how you need to reference researched materials in all of your assignments to ensure that you don’t get disqualified for using other peoples’ work. I fully expect to go back and use this course as reference material (no pun intended) throughout my study year to ensure I stick by the rules. This course doesn’t take long (approx 2 hours) and is very straight forward.


Accounting, OK so this is also an area where I can’t really give much feedback, this is by far the most time consuming course to complete, but I didn’t actually complete it! This course takes approx 12 to 15 hours to complete, and there is a minimum pass mark that you must achieve. I didn’t take this course, because there is also an option of an accountancy competency test, if you pass this brief  test (approx 30 minutes), then you are done, happy days.

Before moving on, it is worth me saying that I haven’t had much exposure to accounting in my professional life, and I attribute my pass grade to the fact that I had spent the last financial year compiling the accounts for my business, but also from the knowledge gained from the accounting module in the London School of Economics MBA essentials course. So my advice here would be to jump on an online accounting course ahead of time (I’m sure that there are many out there that are free – try Coursera.org if you are stuck). This will likely mean you also pass the aptitude test, and won’t need to take this damned pre-course over Christmas when you are probably spending quality time with your loved ones before you fly to London for a year.

If you already have an accountancy background, well all the better.

Data analysis, this course is not mandatory, but it was quite brief and light so if you have a spare hour or two you may as well go through it. This course is fairly straight forward, and goes through the principles of data collection and statistics, covering the terms used (mean, median. mode, standard deviation etc.) and what they mean (again, no pun intended).

So in summary, nothing to be too worried about here, your main concern will be ensuring you get enough respondents for your 360 degree feedback, and that you pass the Accountancy aptitude test.

Preparation for Programme Initiation..

This is post describes my intended preperation activities and research materials leading up to the start of the LBS Sloan MSc in January 2019.


With the summer now well and truly gone, I am looking at approximately three months until I start my full time studies. Something that has been on the horizon for seemingly so long is now approaching very quickly. So what do I intend to do in the next three months to best prepare myself?… Below is a brief summary.

Sloan programme ‘next steps’

LBS has laid out several activities to be completed prior to the start of the course, these vary from 360 degree peer assessments to completion of academic study material to ensure all students are up to speed with basic financial accounting  methodology etc. prior to programme start. I cover this in a little more detail in a later blog entry: Review #1: LBS Sloan Next Steps..



Processing my company’s annual accounts

To help me get back into the groove of how a companey balance sheet functions, I have taken the responsibility of book keeping from my accountant for the financial year of 2018. This has proven quite a fruitful (if a little time consuming) exercise.


Extra curricular academic study

I will be making use of online learning organisations such as Coursera.org, Getsmarter.com and Udemy.com to improve my knowledge in areas that I feel I could be stronger, or areas where I have a particular interest in working post programme completion. Some of these I have discovered myself, and others have been recommended to me by others who have taken a similar journey to me. Once I have completed each of these courses I will give a brief summary of their content, while offering feedback on how I found each of them.

The courses that I intend to complete (or I have already completed) are thus:

Found on Coursera.org:

  • Managing the Company of the Future. Created by LBS.
  • The Maneger’s Toolkit. Created by Birbeck University of London.
  • Global Energy and Climate Policy. Created by SOAS Universtity of London.
  • Our Energy Future. Created by the University of California San Diego.

I have covered the content of the above courses including my feedback on them in a later blog entry: Review #2: Coursera.org, online management and energy courses

Found on Getsmarter.com:

  • MBA Essentials: Created by LSE.

Found on Udemy.com:

  • An enture MBA in 1 Course: Created by Chris Haroun.



Reading literature

I plan to utilise my long commute time (circa 2.5 hours of travelling per day) by reading several books that have have been recommened to me or I have piqued my interest. Once again I intend to give a summary and feedback of these books once I have read them:

the hard thing about hard things

Book 1: The Hard Thing about Hard Things. By Ben Horowitz. This book has been recommended to me by a close friend who is now a VP for finance in a succesful startup company within the Silicon Valley. He has used this book as one of his primary reference guides to help him in his current role. This book is writtened by a seasoned start up guru who has many battle scars from the dot.com bubble aftermath at the turn of the century.

high output management

Book 2: High Output Management. By Andrew Grove. This book was also recommended to my by my close friend as per Book 1 above. This book I am quite excited to read as it has quite a reputation of being a very enjoyable and informative read.


Book 3: Fast / Forward: Make Your Company Fit for the Future. This book was given to me after attending a open house lecture at LBS earlier in the year. Both the lecture and the book were created by LBS’ deputy Dean; Julian Birkinshaw. The lecture was very fresh and informative, and I am looking forward to finding out what he has to say in this book.

start with why

Book 4: Start With Why. By Simon Sinek. This book is a bit of a widlcard in that I have selected it based on reading many online reviews rather than it be recommened to me by someone I know directly.



There is an old English proverb that goes something like: ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull lad’.

By the time I reach the first week of December, I will have worked right through the calender year of 2018 without a single week of holiday. I have stolen the odd day here and there, but in order to save enough money to enable completion of my fultime studies in 2019 I have been unable to taske any time off from work. This has certainly left me quite emotionally drained at times, and has enforced me to be self aware enough to not behave irrationally when faced with problems in the work place. These same problems when faced by a well rested and non-fatigued Nick Rubick would probably be minor hurdles both physically and emotionally, have sometimes brought about quite an amplified emotional response from me, quite contrary to how I like to project myself.

I have thus been extra frugal this year to afford to send myself away on holiday for a few weeks before the start of my course. I hope that this will help refresh me and put me in top form ahead of my programme start in January. This gives me something to look forward to as a reward for my hard work leading upto this point in time. However it does give me even leass time to complete all of the activities described above…

Wish Me Luck!

500 words to make the world a better place…

This post shows my response to one of the LBS Sloan MSc scholarship application essays that I completed. Plus some additional thoughts on the subject topic. The title of the essay given was:

Describe an innovative solution to a worldwide issue of your choice (Max 500 Words).


My response to this was:

A pressing issue facing the world today is; how does humankind supply power to its planet without making it uninhabitable? Solving this problem is gaining momentum, as demonstrated by the international collaboration that enabled the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

This is reducing the use of fossil-fuel generated power; thus supply of ‘traditional’ electricity sources is falling, while total electricity demand increases due to a reduction in transportation’s dependency on oil.

As a result, global solar energy supply is predicted to double every 18 months, while in the U.K (representative of the global average) wind power increased by 45% from 2016 to 2017.


Despite these changes, forecasts beyond 2030 show significant power supply deficits without the use of fossil fuels, and this is before considering that transportation embracing electrical propulsion could eventually double demand.

The erratic nature of renewable energy supply is an unquestionable problem. To mitigate supply shortfalls using only ‘clean’ sources would necessitate system capacities to be far in excess of demand. An alternative solution is to have traditional energy supplies used as back up, such as the U.K’s capacity market, but this is inefficient and contravenes climate change policy.

Research has shown that energy systems can be significantly optimised by both reducing supply fluctuations and introducing electricity storage into the distribution network.

To visualise how a system can be optimised, consider energy as inventory. Distribution systems such as those within the supermarket industry have managed to minimise inventory through intelligent location of intermediate storage facilities, together with increasing sources of supply.

Energy supply variations can be reduced by blending sources (solar and wind often have negative correlation) and by varying sources’ geographic locations. In addition, energy storage offers great potential. Storage technologies are in their infancy, as of June 2017 only 1% of U.K electricity demand was met by storage, but predictions estimate this may increase to 20% by 2022.

What is most urgently required now is a universal understanding of the most efficient energy supply system. Currently developments are often being progressed independently of one another, based on what individuals think will offer the industry the most benefit (and thus return on investment).

The World Energy Council predicts that energy system optimisation will enter mainstream thinking within five years. This approach is illogical; successful projects require completion of system design prior to implementation. Why would implementation of unprecedented energy system changes be any different?

This generates two difficult questions: What is the most efficient supply system? How can collaboration be co-ordinated to achieve this model? Difficult yes, but not impossible, and obtaining the answers could be key to turning a clean energy deficit into an exportable surplus.

An innovative way to develop answers could be through a high-profile competition similar to Google’s Lunar X prize. Google’s competition “sparked the conversation and changed expectations”, by encouraging exploration of the boundaries of knowledge, and sharing discoveries.

If incentives and prestige can help with cheaper space travel, couldn’t a similar approach work for energy system optimisation, and therefore climate change?

[Word count: 500]

panda solar

Now first of all let me start by saying that I didn’t win an award for this particular essay submission, however it was the one essay that I found the most thought provoking and engaging.

My professional career to date has not given me any exposure to the energy industry, and thus quite a significant amount of research was needed. This in turn has resulted in  this essay being quite an educational piece for me, and has got me to thinking about what the possible answers to the two ‘difficult questions’ could be.

The first question: What is the most efficient energy supply system?

Of course with limited technical knowledge it is not possible for me to answer this with great authority, but I can use what experience I have garnered from other industries to presuppose what might be effective.


I did briefly brush over this in my essay when referencing supermarkets distribution systems, which in turn are often used as a simplified analogy to describe a Kan Ban / Just In Time or Lean production system.

A supermarket maximises the quantity of products it is able to supply to its customers, while at the same time minimising the inventory of said products that it holds. It has a small amount of storage within each store, on the shelves. These shelves are replenished from stock that is held in larger quantities at the rear of the store, which are in turn replenished from a local distribution warehouse. Each one of these storage areas will be designed so that it can hold the minimum amount of buffer stock to ensure that there is a constant supply to meet consumer demand.

In addition, each supplier will likely also have a buffer stock quantity ‘on the shelf’ at either the production source or at a distribution centre, which will enable them to react to fluctuations in demand and supply supermarkets immediately as required. The supplier will produce to replenish this buffer stock, allowing a stable production output to meet peaks and troughs in demand.

distribution system

This is a very simplified view, but also consider that a supermarket distribution system must supply thousands of varying products to thousands of customers with various consumer preferences. With an energy distribution system, every consumer has exactly the same requirements, albeit in different volumes. Surely optimising an energy distribution system must be easy compared to a supermarket equivalent? This leads onto difficult question number 2..

The second question: How can collaboration be co-ordinated to achieve this model?

A significant difference between a supermarket chain’s distribution system, and a national energy supply distribution system, is that the supermarket chain is likely to have one organisation leading and co-ordinating operations. Whereas an energy distribution system will consist of several large energy producers, separate organisations responsible for the energy distribution network, and often separate organisations responsible for supplying said energy to the end user. Each of these ‘players’ within the market will be competing against one another to get a larger foothold in the market. Thus collaboration and joint strategy will not be a natural step.

A similar example is the pharmaceutical industry, where traditionally firms have been very secretive of their development activities, which often means duplication of the same research, and thus inefficiencies across the sector as a whole. Squeezes on firms return on investment margins in recent years has resulted in them starting to collaborate on research activities and data. This is certainly an interesting prospect, and if successful could be emanated by many other industries, not least energy supply.


A more mature model that could perhaps be successful has been used for several decades within an industry that is very close to my heart; The Space Industry. Within this industry, most developed nations have a central body (US: NASA, Japan: JAXA, Europe: ESA) that analyses the most effective areas for investment, and develops a coordinated strategy for the whole industry based upon the results of this analysis. It then utilises third party organisations to supply much of the ingredients needed to implement this strategy – be it R&D into new materials and technologies, supply of spacecraft equipment, or bespoke software for specific applications.

This model is perhaps a happy compromise between  an out-and-out capitalist model whereby market forces dictate development (meaning individual firms are primarily reactionary and fighting against one another), and a central government owned model which as history has shown, tends to restrict enterprise and dynamism. Reaching a happy balance between both models above is crucial to the success of a sector that relies upon several brilliant individual firms working together for the greater good of the wider industry. The space industry today is thriving and growing across the world perhaps at a faster rate than it ever has. Could the energy supply industry benefit from utilising a similar model? I certainly think so.