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Hawai’i’s Shared Futures By Vision Foresight Strategy

Fixing the auto mess

A November article by NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman spoke to the trouble with our big 3 American automakers.  The article got me thinking about other ways we might address the problem.  Rather than bailing out the auto makers, what if we followed some of Friedman’s advice and then implemented a more radical solution to the long-term issues of the American economy, transportation systems, and smarter practices?

The Federal Industrial Redeployment Program:

We can prepare for the eventual failure of the major US automakers by laying the groundwork for the rapid creation of an entire ecosystem of new, 21st century transportation companies, an entirely new industry, to be staffed by the line staff (not leadership or ownership) of the former Big 3.

The goals of the program would be three-fold:

  1. quick re-employment of thousands of skilled workers
  2. reintroduction of the conditions of competition and innovation
  3. creation of transportation companies focused on next-generation vehicle technologies and standards

Instead of a bailout, we could use the money to create what essentially would be a business (industry) incubator.  It would be a 2 – 3 year program, with the government (or some agent thereof) playing incubator to the complete range of companies, from design to aftermarket suppliers.  All of them would be required to incorporate new technologies and new sustainable standards.  The program would facilitate connecting entrepreneurs, workers, and investors.

Fanciful?  Perhaps, but increasingly we need completely new perspectives and more radical ideas that can mobilize a wide range of actors to engage in the problems and to generate a multitude of experiments and possible answers.  As so many are starting to recognize today, simply shoring up the past is no longer sufficient to ensure our future.

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Filed under: Business, Economics, Sustainability, Transportation

4-Day Work Week Mistake?

In recent months cities and states across the country have been debating and experimenting with the four day work week.  It has even hit the federal scene, with congressmen calling for a four day week in DC.  And in almost every case the driving concern has been the reduction of car fuel savings and energy costs for the employer.  And of course Hawaii is half-way through it’s state experiment and responses seem positive.  But will this response to a ‘crisis’ set in motion more difficult strategic challenges in the years ahead?

The idea of the work week has been under criticism for some time; it is, after all, an arbitrary construct.  For most of human history, most people engaged in the work of living pretty much every day.  Long before there were farms or agriculture, humans had an amount of socialization and ‘leisure’ time that many of us would envy.  It’s partly to the Judeo-Christian worldview that we see the week as having days that should be without work (and thus, if we have to make our numbers, we’re supposed to cram them into our ‘work’ days).  And it’s to the mechanization and drive for cost-reduction created by the industrial revolution and mass production that we owe the time card and the concept that your hour has a certain dollar value.

But an interesting new book by cognitive scientist John Medina, Brain Rules, points out a host of provocative new findings about how the human brain works and how our modern approaches to education and work often run counter to the most effective lifestyles for our delicate and wondrous brains.  Did you know that 10% of people truly think and work best early in the day, being very early to bed and early to rise?  Or that 20% of people are truly better late at night and seldom get to bed before 3 am?  A full 30% of our citizens are literally not wired to do well in the standard 9 – 5 routine, yet we have in recent decades required everyone to confirm, with measurable losses in mental abilities, focus, and productivity.

We’re not designed, mentally or physically to sit at a desk for 8 hours, much less 10, yet that is the kind of routine with which we’re experimenting.  It is certainly too early to judge the long-term effects of extending the work day, and the ‘solution’ is really intended to address energy costs.  But once we open up this issue, it’s an opportunity for us to consider broader or additional changes in the construct of the work week.  For instance, in the short term, with our current dependence on fossil fuels to generate the energy we use to get to and from work and to light up the work place, reducing the number of days while lengthening them seems prudent.  But in the longer-term, as renewable and alternative sources of energy come online, the energy issues change, and we will want to keep in mind alternatives that increase overall happiness and productivity in even more fundamental ways.

If anyone has any good sources on scientific studies of alternative work schedules, we would love to hear about them.

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Filed under: Biology, Business, Economics, Energy, Hawai'i, Transportation

Rail Rantings

When we catch the headlines about the rail debate (when we can see past the happily panicked headlines about the economy that the media generates), we get the sense that, like in most emotionally charged issues, a bigger picture or context is being lost.  Some people want it to ease traffic, some want it because it will reduce dependence on oil, and others oppose it because it will cost them money for little personal benefit, or they worry about the disruptive impacts, or maybe they don’t like the mayor.

But we have a very challenging situation (and not just us in Hawai’i [we just feel more threatened], most of modern society) that we need to begin to seriously address: the built environment that we grew up with was designed without any sense of the long-term consequences, some of which we are now experiencing: pollution, traffic, energy dependence, sprawl, loss of ‘community’ and social capital, etc…

  • We created the car (the horseless carriage) and figured out how to make bazillions of them
  • The internal combustion engine won out as the basic technology, with cheap oil for fuel
  • We started building cities and towns around the car and its roads, rather than around people
  • We figured out how to create financial mechanisms so that everyone could ‘afford’ multiple cars
  • And cars came to symbolism freedom and independence and have come to be seen as a right of passage into adulthood

So, most of the world we know, and parts of our identity and sense of empowerment come from this history.  If you tried suggesting that people need to give up their cars, you’d be ignored almost out of hand.  Not just because it represents personal freedom but also because they would have an extremely difficult time getting to all of the things they need to get to in one day.  Yet it seems very clear that if we are to achieve the kind of sustainable world and enjoyable lifestyles that we all say that we want, then we do need to seriously and critically examine alternatives and opportunities for transportation systems and communities in Hawai’i.  Rail is certainly one possibility, but even if it’s not the one we ultimately go with, we have to continue to make very serious (and not necessarily costly) changes to our transportation behavior and options.  The context is much bigger than the mayoral debates might focus on, and the stakes ultimately are much higher for the next 20 years of Hawai’i’s future.

Not incidentally, we will be exploring options and alternatives for our transportation and mobility at our annual Hawai’i Futures Summit this October 3 and 4.  Check it out and join us.

Filed under: Built Environment, Hawai'i, Sustainability, Transportation

Supersonic Travel

Scan: a company called Reaction Engines Limited is working on what experts claim is a theoretically sound model of a supersonic 300 person passenger jet. The jet, known as the A2, uses two kinds of engines to create efficient thrust at sub- and supersonic speeds (up to Mach 5). The A5 is expected to be able to run from Brussels to Sydney in under 4 hours. More spectacularly, the design of the jet calls for hydrogen as the fuel, producing a zero-carbon emissions footprint from in-flight operations.

a2_ground.jpg

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Filed under: Hawai'i, Technology, Transportation

Hawai’i: the Reboot

2 days. 200 innovators. A new future for Hawai'i.


The Hawai'i Futures Summit 2009 October 16 and 17, 2009


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Vision Foresight Strategy

We work with organizations to anticipate strategic change and to craft the strategies that will shape their desired futures.


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