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    Entries in systems (2)


    On airplane batteries and single sources of failure

    After a massive and highly public launch of the new Boeing commercial jet the 787 Dreamliner, the manufacturer and their customers have been beset with major problems, including a worldwide grounding of all 787s in service, over concerns about possible battery overheating and fire risk.

    The trouble with the 787 appears to stem from the planes' lithium-ion batteries that are used on the ground to power and recharge many of the aircraft's electronics.  Concerns about these batteries propensity to overheat and present a fire risk have led to the grounding, but there have been other 787 problems as well - ranging from a cracked cockpit windshield to oil leaks.

    Meanwhile as Boeing, their airline carrier customers, and various sub-contractors attempt to understand and resolve these problems with the batteries, a wider conversation about the safety of lithium-ion batteries, and whether or not these kinds of batteries should be allowed to be brought onto airplanes at all was breaking out. For a brief moment, it appeared that at least some major airlines, (British Airways, Cathay Pacific), were considering banning all devices with these batteries, (like your laptop, tablet, and smartphone), from their flights - both in the cargo hold as well as in carry-on bags. Both arilines have since walked back on their initial statements, and for now anyway, laptops and smartphones are still allowed as carry-on items.

    The point of all this? 

    Well just about everyone that travels for business would not dream of heading out on the road for meetings, customer visits, a trade show or a conference - without their trusty cadre of electronic assistants - almost all of them powered by lithium-ion batteries. If some or even all airlines decided to ban their presence on planes due to safety concerns, this would have a significant and disruptive affect on all business travelers. Heading out of town without a laptop or your iPhone? You would not dream of it, right?  Heck, for many people going 15 minutes without their smartphone turns them kind of nervous and twitchy.

    But to me, at least considering the idea that we can easily become over-reliant on a particular technology or tool is worth a re-visit from time to time. It is pretty likely that airlines will not ban personal electronics on their flights anytime soon, (the revenue hit would be enormous), but the possibility that a solution you've come to depend upon might not always be available to you 24/7 is much more realistic.

    Maybe you've become over-reliant on LinkedIn, or some other virtual source of information at the expense of building solid real-world networks? What if LinkedIn suddenly doubled or tripled their pro license fees? Or you're asked to recruit into a field where candidates don't even use LinkedIn?

    Perhaps you've built a long and successful career riding the back of a big, enterprise technology or architecture stack, and suddenly, and seemingly without warning, that technology is no longer in demand, and with it, your value as an 'expert' dramatically diminished?

    Or what if you've built a stable career inside an organization primarily by clinging to the status-quo, protecting the precedence of how work gets done, only to be disrupted by some combination of new technology, new people, or new leadership - most of which don't really care how much you know about what happened in the 90s?

    Sure, it is really tough to imagine (and a little unrealistic) heading out on a long business trip without our normal, and usual tools we need to conduct business, and to get things done. It seems really unlikely anyone will be faced with that any time soon. But is far more likely, and even certain, that disruption of your routine - technological, personal, organizational - is coming, and probably going to catch you unprepared.

    Here's a good exercise for that spare 10 minutes you have right now, (I know you have some time, you made it all the way to the end of this post) - think about the ONE tool or technology you rely upon the most at work, and then come up with two or three action plans if in the unlikely event that tool or technology were to become unavailable to you.

    I think there are at least two major benefits to doing this. One, if indeed you lose access to your favorite tool or tech, you have at least a starting point to go from before deciding your next move. And two, maybe just maybe you'll find a better solution or approach to the one that you swear you can't live without.


    Carrying Costs

    It has been ages since we had a good Zen philosophy re-set here on the blog, but when I read this piece, Empty-Handed, Full-Hearted, on the Zen Habits blog I wanted to call it out and use it to make a point more relevant to the day-to-day issues we often see in technology projects, and really, all kinds of situations in the workplace.

    First off, the Zen Habits piece makes a simple, yet exceedingly hard for most of us to pull off, case for carrying less, for embarking on a journey less encumbered by all the things we think we need to take along.  From the 'Empty-Handed' piece:

    We often load ourselves up when we travel, because we want to be prepared for various situations. This burden of being prepared leaves us with our arms full, unable to receive whatever is there when we arrive.

    This doesn’t just apply to taking a trip, but to living each day. Each day is a journey, and we load ourselves up with material possessions, with tasks and projects, with things to read and write, with meetings and calls and texts. Our hands are full, not ready for anything new.

    And I'd contend, this same kind of thinking, the need to bring everything along with us on a new journey at work, whether it is a new systems or technology project, or just a new way or strategy to approach an existing problem, often short-circuits, or at least complicates and slows down what could and should be important, impactful, and possibly breakthrough initiatives.

    We almost always start everything new by framing the endeavor in what we have traditionally done in the past. We see this often in technology projects of course, where any new system's effectiveness is usually measured, (at least initially), in the context of what the old system could do, and how the existing rules, processes, and strictures were enforced. But this kind of thinking, the 'pack everything we have ever done' before we walk into something new is not limited to technologies, it seeps into all kinds of circumstances.

    And in the workplace context, I understand why this is the case. The 'way the current system works' approach certainly includes, (sometimes significant), elements that are indeed essential to the successful functioning of the organization, and the achievement of business objectives.  But certainly not everything the old system did or the existing processes require fall into that category.

    I submit that, mostly, we are terrible at understanding and being honest about what parts of the things we carry with us at the start of the new journey are truly essential. I think that more often than not, we kind of value all of our possessions the same, as critical to our mental and emotional well-being, and that leaving any of them behind most often feels like a loss, and not like the recovery of a bit of our freedom, and the opening up of new possibilities from the lessening of our burden.