The creative personality

Good episode of 99% percent invisible on research conducted in the late 1950’s to try and find out what made some people more creative than others.

The findings of the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research (IPAR) were that creative people tend to be non-conforming, interesting, interested, independent, courageous and self-centered.

Low productivity in engineering and construction firms

Source: Beating the low-productivity trap: How to transform construction operations

This is a great article from McKinsey highlighting the relative poor performance of engineering and construction firms versus other sectors. Key take-aways are:

  • Engineering and construction firms are professional services organisations that use their distinctive know-how to provide specialised forms of business support to clients, from the initial idea to execution.
  • To improve margins the focus should be on profitability rather than on utilisation
  • Clients are looking for higher-quality and more cost-efficient solutions grounded on more productive technologies and methods. Engineering and construction companies able to bring such value-enhancing solutions to clients will likely enjoy better margins
  • Internal challenges leading to sluggish innovation and reluctance to change:
    • Shortfalls in accountability primarily due to unclear organisational structures
    • Talent management focused on hiring experienced engineers rather than looking for talent from other sectors
    • Reinventing the wheel with many functions being risk averse and reluctant to share best practices
    • Failure to adapt to new technology with most companies reliant on legacy systems
    • Problems utilising resources due to internal silos
  • External challenges
    • Fragmented value chains with differing priorities
    • Extensive subcontracting with unreasonable risk allocation and lack of incentives to improve ways of working
    • Complex portfolios with international expansion and different business environments and partners making it difficult to standardise
    • Competitive pressure, increasing legislation and projects subject to constant comment making steady improvement difficult and transformational change almost impossible
    • Coping with complexity with bigger projects and more demanding clients

To boost margins and productivity, McKinsey recommends:

  • Articulate a clear set of values and targets. There should be hard metrics such as cost efficiency and productivity but also cultural based and employee-commitment metrics
  • Build a development program for project managers to promote excellence and encourage constant improvement. The curriculum should include:
    • Project planning
    • Contracting strategy
    • Performance management
    • Change-order management
    • Project risk management
    • Contract Maangement
  • Create an integrated data system that shows the most important project metrics so that managers can track estimates
  • Encourage speedy risk mitigation and decision making. The goal is to manage the overall risk profile of the organisation.
  • Make project delivery teams more accountable
  • Standardise systems and practices. Designers learn to optimise for loads and stress, project managers must add cost efficiency to the list of priorities
  • Create an integrated and transparent performance management system with the budgeting process incorporating an awareness of risks
  • Minimise the number of changes using a stage-gate process based on:
    • Strengthen the business case
    • Study the owner’s designs
    • Implement ‘cold eye’ and constructability reviews
    • Establish a post-mortem process

Energy Collective Roundup

Higher renewable capacity additions in AEO2016 reflect policy changes and cost reductions:

  • The EIA’s projections for US renewable energy capacity in their Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) 2016 are significantly higher than AEO2015.
  • On the regulatory side the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 extends certain tax credits for renewable generation technologies and the Clean Power Plan also has a significant impact on projected renewables deployment
  • Projected capital costs from AEO2015 to AEO2016 have fallen 9% for utility wind, 32% for utility solar PV, 5% for commercial solar PV and 2% for residential solar PV

3 Key energy policies that can help us turn the corner on climate:

  • Price on carbon
  • Clean power plan
  • Policies accelerating the clean electricity grid

Renewable energy jobs keep growing while fossil fuel jobs keep shrinking:

  • An estimated 8.1 million people are now employed by the renewable energy industry
  • In the US in 2015, renewable energy jobs increased by 6%, whilst employment in oil and gas fell 18%

Some Aeon articles of interest

Cruel ships of prosperity:

  • An estimated 2 million Europeans made trading voyages between Europe and Asia between 1580 and 1795. Of these, 920,412 survived: an overall mortality rate of 54%. This is the equivalent of one life lost for every 4.7 tons of Asian cargo returned to Europe.

The empty brain:

I found this article both revelatory and fascinating

  • Computers operate on symbolic representations of the world. They store, retrieve and process information. They actions are determined by algorithms.
  • The Information Processing (IP) metaphor for human intelligence now dominates how we view the brain. But it is just a metaphor.
  • Multiple and sometimes large areas of the brain are often involved in even the most simple memory tasks. Memories are not stored in individual neurons.
  • Visualising something is far less accurate than seeing something in its presence. This is why we’re much better at recognising than recalling.
  • Our brains are changed by experiences
    • We observe what is happening around us
    • We are exposed to the pairing of unimportant stimuli with important stimuli
    • We are punished or rewarded for behaving in certain ways
  • Uniqueness problem
    • We have neither ‘memory banks’ nor ‘representations’ of stimuli stored in the brain
    • There is no reason to believe that any two of us are changed the same way by the same experience
    • Each of us is unique not only in genetic makeup but even in the way our brains change over time
    • Even if we were to take a snapshot and then simulate the state of the brain’s 86 billion neurons it would mean nothing outside of the body that produced it. A snapshot of the brain’s current state might also be meaningless unless we know the entire life history of the brain’s owner and perhaps even the social context in which the brain was raised.

The limits of GDP

Recently the world economic forum has, in collaboration with the UK national statistics office, devised five measures of growth that are better than GDP. These are:

  • Good jobs
  • Wellbeing
  • Environment
  • Fairness
  • Health

In my mind, these are not better than GDP since they seem open to wide interpretation (my idea of fairness may be very different to yours, etc).

However, after reading GDP: A brief but affection history the limitations of GDP as a catchall statistic of the progress of a society were made clear and I think it is right that alternative measures are investigated.

The approach I like would be to have a dashboard of non-partisan factors of societal well-being each backed by a set of maybe 3 – 5 well-defined statistics. For example, the factors could be:

  1. Economy
  2. Education
  3. Environment
  4. Health
  5. Security
  6. Environment

The “Economy” factor could then be supported by combining statistics on for example GDP per capita, inflation and unemployment rates.