JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 193 : 11 October 2005

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

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Chuck Knight's new book: "Performance without Compromise"

In the past couple of weeks a significant new book was published - "Performance without compromise - How Emerson Consistently Achieves Winning Results" by Chuck Knight.

The former Emerson Chairman and CEO offers detailed insights into the management process that achieved legendary performance over several decades. Chuck Knight became Emerson's CEO in 1973, when he was just 37 years old. With consistent, tough-minded management, he led Emerson from under $1 billion to $15 billion, through 27 years of increased earnings per share and dividends, the longest record for consistent growth performance in American business.

Now, here's his book (co-authored by Davis Dyer), with back cover kudos from the likes of Louis Gerstner, Clayton Christensen and August Busch III.

The book covers several specific topics:

  • Key businesses: Good review of major Emerson business segments.
  • Acquisitions: How Emerson completed and integrated more than 200 acquisitions with investment of over $10 billion and an exceptional degree of success.
  • Global expansion: Transforming the company from a domestic US manufacturer into a leading global technology and solutions provider.
  • Restructuring: Responding to emerging trends, and cultivating new strategic growth opportunities.
There are several practical check lists - you know how I like lists; they help to summarize the content.

The book closes with an important discussion of leadership succession and an Epilogue by current CEO David Farr - a nice touch to show how Emerson's good performance continues beyond the Chuck Knight era.

Appendix B1 is valuable - the template for Emerson's famed "President's Report", used monthly to assess the reasonableness of each Division's quarterly and annual expectations.

Related links:

Click Buy Chuck Knight's book on Amazon.com

Click Review of the Emerson culture - The Emerson Difference

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$2 million DARPA Robot race - 5 cross finish line

It sounds like science fiction: An army of robotic vehicles driving themselves across the Mojave Desert, guided across the rugged landscape by sophisticated artificial intelligence technology.

This is the "Grand Challenge" launched by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for an unmanned vehicle to drive itself from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, a distance of 132 miles in about 10 hours. This is not for a remote-controlled vehicle driven by someone wielding a wireless laptop, but a completely autonomous car that will drive and navigate itself on an unspecified route, including both on-road and off-road driving.

You may recall the March 2004 DARPA robot race which ended as a bust - no one won the coveted $1 million prize. In fact, not one participant went much beyond a just a few miles, and many fizzled out just a short distance from the starting line.

The race was held again this past week, October 8-9, 2005 and DARPA doubled the prize. This year they designed a much more difficult course, predicting that several contestants would complete the race given the level of technology demonstrated in qualifying events. And indeed, there was a dramatic technology leap; five entries crossed the finish line and the fastest was judged the winner.

The race started with 23 robotic vehicles on winding dirt trails and dry lake beds with overhanging brush. The route included three tunnels which knocked out GPS signals. Only the five robots that completed the course managed to maneuver a steep 1.3-mile mountain pass, only 10 feet wide with a 200-feet drop-off.

18 robots failed to complete the course. Even so, most covered more distance than any other vehicles did last year. Five crossed the finish line and "Stanley", a customized Volkswagen robot built by Stanford University, won the race.

The DARPA objective to develop robotics technology that will replace people with machines in dangerous combat situations. Unmanned vehicles currently operate in Iraq and Afghanistan, but must be remotely controlled by soldiers who ride in the same convoy.

The DARPA people say that, based on the technology shown in this year's race, autonomous robotic convoys could be deployed in battlefield conditions earlier than planned - within 5 years.

DARPA spent about $25 million on the Grand Challenge. Combined, the participants invested much more to develop their robotic vehicles. But clearly, money is not the motivation. This competition has sparked a level of excitement similar to the early Apollo space programs. And, of course, the winner has serious bragging rights.

Related links:

Click Five vehicles finish in $2 million robot race

Click Grand Challenge 2004 - No winners in the DARPA robot race

Click Robot roll call: 'Stanley' first in DARPA desert race

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The Standards dichotomy

Standards are intrinsically difficult to implement and adopt. Everyone agrees that you need them; but then, everyone has conflicting requirements.

This dichotomy is succinctly expressed by a couple of verses from one of my fieldbus poems:

    The basic cause of all the fuss
    The Users want an Open bus
    They push and threaten, beg and plead
    "Interoperable" is what they need
    The widgets made by Vendor A
    With Vendor B must plug and play

    The Vendors swear they all agree
    But just can't bear to make it free
    An open door will throw away
    Their value-core and make it gray
    Proprietary will be gone
    To hordes of hungry hangers-on

Conflicting standards have bad effects for everyone. Customers get confused and postpone purchases to see how the market settles. And suppliers limit development investments in products that may end up on the losing side of the conflict. So growth is inhibited and the market becomes fragmented.

The dichotomy is best solved by utilizing a standards coordinator, a neutral third-party organization which can mediate effectively and is fair to all. For industrial automation, the best choice is ISA. In my opinion, development and publication of Standards and Practices is one of ISA's most important and beneficial services to its members, and to the automation business.

Related links:

Click Automation World - ISA Tackles the Standards Dichotomy

Click Ellen Fussell, ISA - Method Behind the Madness

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The future needs Futurists

During the past years, my avocation (what I enjoy most) is being a futurist. In October 2005, Wired magazine published an article which provides a good view of what futurists "do" - summarized here.

Being a futurist sure sounds like a fun job. Observe the world at large, make scholarly predictions and inspire awe with visionary talents. But is there a future for futurists? Many people don't quite understand what they really do, their methods and practices.

I'm a member of the Association of Professional Futurists (APF) and, as a group, we are trying to rationalize and organize the profession, to help people to better understand what futurists do.

Futurists don't predict - they observe, synthesize and track trends. There are no "certified" professional futurists - this is still at the discussion stage, and APF is working to develop it. Most futurists welcome "professionalization" because it could make people take their methodology more seriously.

When you consult a futurist, what can you expect? Anyone can declare themselves a futurists, though the job title can be vague. Futurists have a much wider scope than Marketers, who typically track narrow technologies and market impacts.

In many ways, the techniques employed by futurists don't fit into traditional academic disciplines. Futurists, aren't as dependent on numerical data as other forecasting professionals, like insurance industry actuaries or stock market analysts. Futurist conclusions tend to be more qualitative than numerical. While computers make numerical forecasts easily, it takes people to interpret what the numbers mean.

For those wanting to train as futurists, academic options are limited. Today, much discussion about the future is concentrated among futurists themselves who are active in launching organizations. Besides the APF, other futurist-oriented groups include the World Future Society (I'm a professional member), the World Futures Studies Federation and the World Future Council.

Related links:

Click Wired - The Future needs Futurists

Click Association of Professional Futurists

Click The World Future Society

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"Pinto's Points" - review & feedback please

I'm happy to let you know that my new book, "Pinto's Points" is selling very well, heading (I hope) to becoming an ISA best-seller. Thank you to all who have acquired a copy and are now reading it.

When you've had a chance to read at least some of it, I'll appreciate your comments and feedback. Or, please do a review on Amazon.com (link below), or Barnes & Noble, when you're ready.

Your comments and feedback (and Amazon.com reviews) are appreciated. Thanks!

Related links:

Click Buy an autographed copy of "Pinto's Points"

Click "Pinto's Points" - Read the complete Table of Contents

Click Buy "Pinto's Points" from Amazon.com

Click Buy "Pinto's Points" directly from ISA Online

Click Buy a "Pinto book bundle" (Points & Unplugged) from Automation.com

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Lawrence Gould [lsg@LSGould.com] felt that my recent 9/11 editorial concluded with misdirected burst of energy - the unofficial national anthem, "God bless America!"
    "God? Faith, prayer, religion, as well as flag waving and other trite, nationalistic slogans and phrases -- has nothing to do with the health and well-being of America. People do.

    "Honestly, I cringe these days when I see the American flag displayed everywhere, on everything, all the time: decals and magnetic ribbons on cars, flags waving (usually tattered) from car antennas, coffee cups and food wrappers, carefully threaded onto the wire fences on the overpasses over the highway (and too often tattered, wet, dirtied), tacked or painted on the side of buildings, on T-shirts, hats, lapel pins, etc., etc.

    "It's about time the American people blessed America with:

    • Empathy, concern, and charity all the time, everywhere - not just for relatively localized emergencies where the Feds have dropped the ball;
    • Intellectual and intelligent investigation, analysis, and decision making, a.k.a., critical thinking;
    • Long-term planning;
    • The realization that individuals - for instance, Americans who generate over 60% of this country's gross national product - might be more important than the holy dollar and faceless corporations;
    • Deliberate steps toward reducing waste, increasing efficiency, and being both collaborative as well as cooperative; and
    • Active commitment to the health and education of all Americans, as well as an active commitment to this country's infrastructure (which includes health and education, as well as roads and bridges and public transportation and, yes, even levees, to name a few things)."

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Rene.Wijnen@qenos.com [Rene.Wijnen@qenos.com] from Australia gave us this feedback on Bud Keyes' comments about high oil prices stimulating the economy:

    "I largely agree with Bud's sentiments and his desires and expectations for high oil prices to provide long term drive for increasing use of alternative fuel sources and increasing efficiency in our rather wasteful western-world way of living.

    "However I can't help but think that Bud's thoughts and predictions are tainted with too much optimism. If we think back to the '70s and '80s and the type of predictions forecast then about the type of world we'd be living in today (beyond 2000), in retrospect many were well off the mark, or at least too optimistic about the pace of change.

    "Remember we were supposed to run out of oil reserves by now. But we somehow have discovered more new reserves. Also, we also shouldn't underplay the political and financial power of the oil companies. Whilst OPEC may well have direct control and influence over world oil prices, global oil companies (ExxonMobil, Shell, Texaco, BP etc.) wield great power in many spheres - political and financial - in many key markets of the world. And they are not backward about using that power to ensure that the reign of the oil era is sustained as long as possible - that's their business.

    "Whilst the world we live in today is changing at a more rapid pace, I don't foresee the marked changes mentioned as being major influences in the short/medium term future. I hope I'm wrong though!

    "Another aspect of the high oil prices that wasn't touched on in the article, is the domino effect that high oil prices are having on prices of other goods. I can only speak from an Australian perspective, and this has been a hot topic in the Australian press since oil prices climbed so sharply over the last few months. The prices of many day to day goods such as groceries in the supermarket are visibly increasing due to the impact of higher oil prices on transportation fuel costs. The reliance on trucks to provide goods distribution in our society has been strongly underlined.

    "When added to the increasing cost to run our own cars, many people in western countries are starting to feel the pinch. I know and have heard of people locally who don't have a choice but to drive to work (sparse population in a big country). But their weekend drives are reduced, and their shopping habits impacted. The people who do feel the pinch are those that are not exactly leading overly excessive lives already (from a western country perspective).

    "And let's not start a comparison with 3rd world countries where obviously much more basic problems and needs exist. Those people are probably not a segment of society well represented in your column's readership, so maybe we're all slightly blinkered on some of the real and immediate impact of high oil prices."

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Automation engineer Kim Ground [kim@sft-technic.com] commented on one of my recent articles about ISA membership decline:

    "I take exception with your statement, 'No one gets rich by tuning a control loop or designing a more efficient fieldbus. Instead, young people dream of becoming movie-stars or football heroes.'

    "You seem to be saying that there is no future for automation and instrument engineers in this country, or that a person should not expect to earn a good upper middle class income for doing this kind of work in this country in the future. In my opinion, that is far from the truth. Even if manufacturing continues to decline in this country, there will still be a large job market for instrument and automation engineers and technicians to support the massive infrastructure which can never be 'outsourced'. Power plants, oil and gas production, municipal water and sewage treatment plants are not going anywhere and they all will continue to need skilled engineers to keep them going.

    "Let these lazy would-be yuppies choose nonproductive careers. Young students who would rather have the satisfaction of actually building something that works and creates value by converting raw materials into valuable or desirable products will continue to have good employment prospects.

    "Maybe 'nobody gets rich tuning loops', but that depends on your definition of 'rich'. I feel that I am rich, and richly rewarded for the work I do. It provides me with a great deal of satisfaction, and I get plenty of money to serve my needs and to spread around to those less fortunate. I don't drive a new Hummer, but I could if that is where my priorities lie. I've owned my own airplane, bought and paid for real estate, and put kids through college on my income from automation work, all without feeling at any point that I was not getting enough money, or not getting what I deserved.

    "In short, I think your pronouncement of the death of automation as a career field is, as they say, 'grossly exaggerated'."

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