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Are You an AC in a DC World?

Tesla_generator My older daughter loves the Science Center of Iowa (and I love taking her there).  It always seems there is something new to talk about, to learn, to experiment, and to explore.  The last time we were there, we learned about Nikola Tesla.  He was a peer of Thomas Edison, although few people know about him.  His inventions were a bit ahead of their time, and as such, he was regarded as something of a mad scientist.  (They always make "mad scientest" sound like a bad thing... I don't get it.)

Anyway, in Edison's day, direct current (DC) was all the rage in electricity.  Why let that pesky electrical current go in more than one direction?  Why should it need to?  Well, Tesla thought it should, which created a parting of the ways between the two scientists (that, and the fact that Edison stiffed Tesla on his salary, but that's another blog post for another day).  Eventually, to prove his point, Tesla built a tower in Colorado Springs to demonstrate his point.  It was big and loud and scary... but it worked (more or less).  It was also subsequently dismantled since it frightened the locals.  Eventually, history proved Tesla right, and discovered safer ways of harnessing an electrical current that could go in more than one direction.  Still, when we think of electricity and light bulbs, Thomas Edison is the guy who gets all the credit since he didn't scare people.

The world has been full of "free thinkers" who are ahead of their time.  Sometimes, they are really ahead of their time, like Galileo.  Other times they may be just a little ahead of their time.  I was on a project a few years ago where I made some suggestions about requirements gathering which frightened the villagers... er...um... project team.  Of course, this same group had never heard the term "straw man" for creating a prototype or an early draft/iteration of a solution, either.  To my knowledge, it was years later before they made any real progress toward a solution, and according to my sources, it looked amazing like what I suggested when I was contracting with them.

What I learned from the experience is to never assume an audience is more mature (professionally, intellectually, or emotionally) than one thinks they should be.  Ask a lot of questions before making pronouncements about a solution.  Get the senior leaders on board so they can back you up.  Be prepared to prove your point in multiple ways.  Obtain supporters both inside and outside your project team.  Handle your detractors firmly yet politely (after all, those villagers with pitchforks and torches can really sting if you're not paying attention).  Be prepared to go back to the drawing board to reassess BOTH your solution and your approach for selling it.

Eventually, you'll have to make a decision to move forward or to scrap it.  Thinking through some of the issues above can mean life or death to a well-meaning project that's just a little ahead of its time.

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Comments

Scott Rosheim

Yes working in the "Team" mode in most cases is the edge to hold on to. What if you have in your hand four aces and the "team" is checking their bet all around the table, I say go all in and push the "team" to call your hand. If you know you have the best solution, the best process or the best application DO IT, TRY IT. You know you are not bluffing so see what happens. I push my team to think outside the box. New ideas are never realized unless they are expressed.

Rob R.

Speaking of Edison, I grew up in N. Jersey - right near the town of Edison and his lab in Menlo Park. His best stuff is at his museum in one of the Oranges - East or West I can't remember. Everyone should check it out.

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