What Works

Susan Krumdieck's picture

The only thing that I know for sure that works, is to stop doing what doesn't work.


I recently got to give a presentation to a group of buseinss leaders, so I challenged them with a story - a parable - an exploration of ourselves and our own synthesis of complex situations so we can understand our psychological responses. I thought it would work, and it did. In the discussion after the talk, it was quite clear that many people were quite surprised at their own response - that we couldn't reduce the consumer economy by 20% for 10 years in order to save the world from destruction. It wasn't that they thought other people wouldn't do it, it was that their own minds couldn't accept the possibility of reducing consumption among the top 2% of humans on the planet (a group to which they all belonged) even to ensure the survival of humanity as a whole.

The reason to take people to that point of realization of their own response is to face it - and then to see it for the ludicrous thing it is. Like any other psychological work to get through your personal hang-ups that are holding you back - your inner consumer needs to be dealt with by bringing it out into the light to see it for the tape worm that it is. A bit much?  What was your response?

Susan Krumdieck's picture

Knowledge and Opinion

There is a difference between Knowledge and Opinion.

Knowledge is the opposite of ignorance.

Knowledge may grow and mature but it does not change.

Knowledge does not inspire belief or faith, because it does not require them for its existence. Knowledge requires factual information and accurate observation in order to exist.

Opinion may be based on any degree of factual information, accurate observation, deliberate subversion or ignorance. Thus, opinion is not reliable. It may be accurate, or it may be wrong, or worse yet it may deliberately misleading.

Opinion requires any mixture of fact, faith and belief in order to exist.
Opinion may change due to many factors, including knowledge, self benefit and perception of social norms.
Thus, opinion is unreliable.

The biggest difference between those who hold or seek knowledge and those who espouse or follow opinion is that those who most strongly hold opinions know the least about the facts.

There is a big difference between people who are concerned about climate change and those who believe it should not influence policy or economic decisions. The climate change activists have learned the facts about the different physical processes involved. This knowledge makes them concerned. They then try to affect policy to address these concerns.
The climate change deniers are more upset about the people who are concerned than they are about the risks that might be involved. They certainly do not want to learn more about any of the scientific observations or modelling of phenomena.

Those with knowledge have a disadvantaged position in a debate with those who strongly hold opinion. If someone with knowledge learns new evidence or facts that change what is known, then they must accept the new state of knowledge. If someone with opinion is exposed to evidence or facts that countermand their belief, they can attack the source of the evidence.

As an example, let's look at Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).
I know that there is no CCS technology that is relevant to any of the coal conversion proposals or for burning coal. The evidence I know includes the basic chemistry and the processes that CAN be used to absorb CO2 from various gas streams. I got this knowledge through research into what is known and what has been done. I have a patent on the new knowledge my students and I created for a way to scrub CO2 from air down to 10ppm. I also know that there is no coal-fired power plant, coal to liquids plant, or coal-to-fertilizer plant in the world that has been retrofit with CCS. There is no consultant in the world that you can call to design your CCS equipment, and there is no company in the world that you can call to order the equipment for your plant.
Thus, to the best of my knowledge, there is no CCS technology of relevance to the continued combustion or conversion of coal.

In my opinion, policy decisions do not require knowledge and business decisions do not accept facts or evidence contrary to their business case. Thus, it is left to concerned citizens who have learned about the risks of continued fossil fuel use to carry on with their efforts despite attack from those with self-serving opinion and apathy from the ignorant.

Susan Krumdieck's picture

The Parable of the Sand and the Spoons

Perspective on Transition
Professor Susan Krumdieck, Feb 2014

We are all standing around a huge pile of sand and we have only spoons.

Pessimist - we will never be able to move all this sand from over here to over there with spoons.
Optimist - maybe someone will come and give us shovels!
Scientist - sand is heavier if it is wet
Engineer - over there is some wood and stones, we could sharpen all our spoons on the rocks to make knives and carve the wood into bigger scoops.
Economist - if the price is right someone will come with a big bulldozer to move the pile of sand
Politician – we could make a free trade deal with the people in the next region to provide low-wage workers to move the sand with the spoons
Transition Engineer - - Look - there is nobody with shovels coming, and nobody with a big bulldozer either as far as I can see, and while bigger scoops would work better than spoons, the spoons we have now are useful for other things like eating porridge. And, really, if we don’t want to move the sand with spoons, why would somebody else want to take a low wage to do it. So let's think - why did the big pile of sand need to be moved over there? Why don't we figure out how to use the sand that fits with the spoons that we have, or only use one or two spoons to make scoops? What were we doing with the sand that we were using such a giant pile?
Everyone looks at the Transition Engineer with blank looks –

Then they all get excited and run over to sharpen all their spoons on the rocks and make scoops, and cut down more trees to make a drying apparatus, they count how many things they are making and how much more wealthy they are than when they had just spoons, so now when someone brings a bulldozer in the future it will be more affordable.... and still the sand sits in its pile, and porridge gets harder to eat, what with the spoons going into the sand-moving sector.

Chapter 2

OK, so the Transition Engineer looks at historical data and sees that indeed a lot of sand had been moved from here to there in the past. In fact she sees that about as much as is still in the pile has been moved throughout history. It seems to have mostly been for making paths so that more sand could be carried farther to make more paths. She notices that the data shows exponential growth in the sand movements, thus, the ability to move any more sand is getting pretty hard as the amount of sand needed to keep expanding the path system has just gone past the elbow in the exponential growth curve and is now doubling every few days. The economist points out that all the sand moving created sand movement, which is the measure of GDP (Got Done Probably), so we have to keep growing the sand movement.

But the Transition Engineer looks at the impossibility of future growth of sand movement and looks at the way the paths are used (mostly for sand movement) and does some concept generation and back casting and determines that life would actually be good if the people did something other than sand movement and just left the sand there for the kids to play with.

So the Transition Engineer decides to orchestrate a trigger event. She has to think creatively indeed. She knows that all of the people are pretty focused on the great new technologies for sand movement, they are excited about the new drying apparatus and the cool computer graphic pictures of it, and they are feeling a lot of urgency about getting that sand moved. She knows that pointing out to them that they really shouldn't waste their spoons on this will be hard work. There have always been enough spoons for the sand movements before. She also knows that convincing them that their path network is sufficient will not go down well at all with the politician or the engineer. She does lots of analysis and figures out that just one idea could be all it takes to keep the people from wasting their spoons and wood.

Hey! she shouts to get their attention. Look over here! Look how when I use my spoon, I can make a really cool shape in the sand. Why don't we count spoon marks we make in the sand as our GDP and leave the sand in the pile, and shape it into lovely things? See, like this here....

And the people look at what their children have been doing with the sand making funny and amazing sculptures. They start trying out their own ideas for shapes and sand dragons... and they sort of forget about their problem of how to move all that sand from here to over there.

Susan Krumdieck's picture

How do we balance our needs with those of future generations?

Engineering Change 2014 - "Transition Engineering: the Job of Change"
Engineers Without Borders National Conference 2014 Christchurch


The people of the future are hoping that everything we build or invest in now requires much less energy and resources - because they won't have any to waste.