So are we finally going to live like the Jetson’s??

Human’s have been buzzing around in flying cars since before we landed on the moon, in cartoon form at least. However, if the hype is to believed then maybe 60 years after the first Jetsons episode, we in the real world are finally catching up…

Jetsons

Although I’m not old enough to have witnessed the first showing of the Jetsons, which aired in September 1962, I do fondly remember their 80’s shows. The life and times of the Jetson family was given to us as a futuristic alternative to the Flintstones, and the notion of flying cars as well as other futuristic inventions left a lasting impression upon me.

However, despite the optimism that us pre-millennials carried with us through the 80’s, it didn’t seem to translate into reality. Our wide eyed vision of the future was most likely fueled by our parents witnessing the moon landings when they were a similar age to us, together with the emergence of the computing age; which would seemingly make anything possible. I remember reading children’s books that were telling me by the year 2000 we would no longer be using petroleum fueled cars. I also remember watching Back to the Future II in 1988, which told me that by the time I was 35 I would be whizzing around on a flying hover-board.

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You can’t deny that the impact that the likes of Mark Zuckerburg has had on our lives is both significant and unpredicted. But in terms of tangible inventions, when compared to what was being predicted, it’s certainly a case of must try harder. Sure, I love the fact that I can make my face look older than it really is just by using a special app, but how come it still takes me 24 hours to get to Australia? and while I’m at it, how come my journey out of London for a weekend retreat now takes longer than it did for my parents at my age??

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Well documented studies have shown that social media isn’t actually that social, and with climate change becoming ever more of an issue, the challenge of physically connecting people seems to be becoming much more difficult than the now solved challenge of virtually connecting people.

I mean, if you have a vacuum cleaner manufacturer has decided that they can make better electric vehicles than incumbent vehicle manufacturers, then surely the industry is in need of a shakeup?

Dyson

Well, finally we might be getting there… following on from Elon Musk’s foray into the electric vehicle market with Tesla, companies are starting to take this one step further and combine electric propulsion with air travel.

lilium jetThis year has seen a marked increase in media exposure for where we hope the next generation of aircraft will take us. The 2019 Paris Airshow displayed several electrical powered concepts, including an offering from both Airbus and Boeing. Roland Berger, an aerospace thought leader, have stated there are now 170 different ‘e’planes globally Roland Berger Study. Of these 170, there are two German based start ups, one who is aiming to serve London with air taxis by 2025 Lilium Jet’s 2025 target, and another who is aiming to go one further and provided automated flying taxis. I challenge you to watch the video clip below and not get excited…

Having been rather blown away by these claims, my imagination was quickly kicked into overdrive with what possibilities and opportunities such developments will bring; from transformational commuting experiences to exciting employment opportunities. However, as the saying goes, once bitten twice shy. With the broken promises of Marty McFly and Doc Brown still fresh in my memory, I thought it only right to investigate further into this fresh and exciting sector. Just how real are these claims?

I will be sharing my findings upon this blog, so you will be the first to know. Starting with an interview with a business owner who is developing a manned eVTOL (electrically powered vertical take-off and landing) vehicle, which I will post tomorrow…

 

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

ESA

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.

My time at Airbus Defense and Space

I bring my post hiatus to a close with a brief summary of my career to date, starting with my extended (14 year) apprenticeship Airbus Defense and Space.

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Although I have submitted my CV as part of my admissions process, I am expecting to answer questions on my career to date, and my thoughts and feelings on my professional life so far. This post acts as a medium to commit my thoughts to print in order to help me articulate them when required during my interview at the end of this week.

I joined what was then Matra Marconi Space, soon to be Astrium, and is now Airbus Defense and Space, at the ripe old age of 18 in 1997. To this day I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to serve my 14 years at this company; I learned so much, met some cherished friends and colleagues who I still hold dear to me now, and most importantly from a professional perspective I was immersed into a very well run company that taught me many of the values and robust processes that I have taken with me throughout the rest of my career.

Immediately at interview stage I was offered the opportunity to study for a BEng degree part time, fully funded by the company, an opportunity beyond my wildest expectations, I would not have had the capital to afford to study otherwise, and has directly contributed to where I am today. I could not imagine where I would be now if this opportunity hadn’t have revealed itself to me.

In addition to this, I was exposed to the fast-paced culture change that was underway at that time within the organisation, as I describe at the end of my earlier post Notable Leaders #1: My early years. Looking back, many of the nuances and philosophies I learned I may have taken for granted at the time, it was not until later in life that I fully appreciated the value of what I was taught.

When considering the above, it doesn’t even factor in that it also enabled me to work within the fascinating space industry; something that in my young ignorance I didn’t even know existed within the U.K. I was a keen want-to-be astronomer as a child, and to fall into this company almost by accident was quite literally a dream come true.

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Throughout my time there I was given ample opportunities to change career within the organisation, something that contributed to me spending such a long period of my professional life there. I started within the manufacturing department, learned many of the new age philosophies introduced by companies such as Toyota that are now considered mandatory for any world class manufacturing facility. I then moved into operations and project management, before moving into mechanical engineering where I spent most of my time; working on mind boggling prototypes such as space telescopes and vehicles that are destined to orbit around the planet Mercury.

A few key take aways for me:

Innovation and Product development

Because the cost of failure in space is so severe, launch costs plus the almost impossibility of repair in service (the Hubble Telescope is one notable exception), the cost of qualifying new materials and processes is extremely high. I initially found this concept a little frustrating; to be working on the frontier of technical possibilities without introducing new technologies seems a bit of a paradox. What it breeds however is a very innovative use of tried and tested technologies in new ways – this in itself is innovative. A philosophy of ‘how can we use what we already know to solve a completely new problem’ is a valuable skill to have. It encourages a resourcefulness, encourages you to keep things simple – sexy isn’t always the best, practical solutions are engineering 101.

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Creating a social and pleasant working environment

This was approach was apparent across all sites and contributed to me making so many cherished acquaintances. It was especially apparent at the French sites that I visited. A philosophy of look after your staff, make them feel like they are members of a social club rather than an organisation has stuck with me. The exceptional canteen facilities, a beautiful working environment, modern working hours with flexible working, and a multitude of extra curricular activities gives staff a sense of pride and belonging which in turn cultivates a family atmosphere. I see parallels here with the likes of Google who are championing modern management philosophies, and such ‘soft’ benefits directly contribute to operational excellence.

Robust processes, and championing doing things right first time

This one may seem obvious but  It wasn’t until I left the organisation that I realised how well run this company manages to efficiently produce prototypes without (too much!) fuss. This is enabled by having very robust processes and practices, from configuration control, to risk management, to boring but important cost management techniques. People are encouraged to take the time to do things properly, this may be a luxury offered to few industries other than the space industry, but from my experience since I have moved on,; taking this approach almost always saves time in the long run – and it also breeds a technical pride from team members and employees.

So thanks to you Airbus Space, you were a charm!

Leadership and the cosmos

This is an unplanned post, but I cultivated some thoughts on the way home from work and decided to capture them on paper (or tablet) before they disappeared.

science delusion

This post is wholly inspired by Rupert Sheldrake, as it has come about from reading his book: The Science Delusion. For an intro into the content of this book (which I admit is pretty radical – but mind blowing all the same), refer to a great article in the Guardian from 2012.

In this book, among other things, Rupert describes invisible forces that are formed through the development of habits, which over time become instinct, and effectively are hardwired into nature. Some useful examples:

  • A sunflower moving itself to face sunlight.
  • A male dog straining at the leash to get near a female dog that it senses to be on heat.
  • A newborn child being drawn to his or her mother’s bosom.

All of the above are effectively urges that force physical movement, which have developed or evolved over time.

sunflowers

Now, consider gravity…

So, could gravity be a force exerted due to an instinctive urge, but at an atomic level?Within Rupert’s book he explains that scientific analysis indicates that gravity, contrary to popular belief, isn’t constant; it fluctuates over time.

A counter argument to gravity having evolved into a force could be; each of the urges developed in the three above examples have evolved because the subject has learned that they tangibly benefit from them – they lead to replenishment, and pro-creation.

But this counter argument actually adds weight to the original premise: Shortly after The Big Bang, it’s likely most atoms were flying around the universe alone. Over time they found other atoms, eventually these atoms joined together and interacted with one another to create organisms, and you all know the rest of the story…

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So to that end, without gravity, life wouldn’t exist. Nor would the Earth, nor would the Sun, nor would our galaxy, and so on and so forth. So from this view point, take a moment to Imagine life without gravity, it’s not possible is it?

So is gravity in fact one of the oldest instinctive forces in the universe? Has it developed over billions of years, and is now hardwired into any ‘thing’ that has an atomic mass? By joining together, the atoms have created life far more complex and diverse than the sum of their parts, and have learned instinctively that they are better together.

Just a thought…

So how does all this apply to leadership???

Damned good question, but if the theory above holds… by giving a team a common purpose that bonds them together, their purpose too will eventually become an instinctive urge, a force of nature. Of course we all know that a strong team is more effective than the sum of its parts, but this theory also suggests that over time, nature will bond the team and its purpose together with an invisible and irresistible force. Extrapolating this forwards, eventually due to the team’s purpose, attaining the sought after goals will happen as easy as rolling down a hill. Well, if single atoms can do it…

The trick is for a ‘leader’ to manage empower the team to enable this in less than the several billion years it may have taken gravity.

Have a happy Easter guys!!

For more information on Rupert’s work, visit his website: www.sheldrake.org

Or, buy one of his books: Sheldrake books on Amazon

Or watch what he has to say on his 2013 TED Talk: