Leading a green gas revolution: David Parkin, SF ’12, embraces innovation through regulation

Natural gas has been a source of energy in the UK for more than 200 years. The fuel provides one-third of all energy consumed for heat, and it accounts for four-fifths of total peak energy demand. National Grid UK—a government-regulated energy monopoly—is responsible for meeting nearly half of that demand, serving approximately 25 million gas customers annually. The company’s innovation team, led by Director of Network Strategy David Parkin, SF ’12, plays a key role in helping the country meet its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

David Parkin“It’s true that regulators help shape our business model,” notes Parkin. “But the government’s mandate also explicitly funds our research and development. It’s an environment that inspires a bit of envy among our colleagues in National Grid’s U.S. offices.” Even as they work to decarbonize the existing network, Parkin and his team are developing innovative forms of natural gas that can be injected into National Grid’s existing 284,000 km of pipes—a length that could circle the Earth six times.

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Keep your eyes on the prize—your priorities

Picture1How to measure success? It’s how close you map your life to your priorities, says MIT Sloan Professor Thomas W. Malone. It might sound simple, but Malone asserts that few of us live by our priorities. “The success of the vast majority of people in business—and in life—can be measured by whether they worked on the things that mattered to them,” he says.

Malone is the founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and its predecessor, the MIT Center for Coordination Science. He was also one of the two founding co-directors of the pioneering MIT initiative Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century. The five-year project explored emerging ways of working, and Malone and his team documented the results in the eponymous book, Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century.

One of the best strategies for success, Malone says, is knowing when to say no. “Think of strategy as the prioritization of efforts. So often, on both a personal and an organizational level, we tend to do what’s easy, what presents itself, rather than what we really consider a priority. We have limited time and resources and must come to terms with those limitations. We need to continually make sure that our time and resources are focused on the things that contribute to the outcome we are working toward.”

Malone recommends making a daily list, prioritizing that list, and sticking to that sequence throughout the day. When making the list, he says, keep in mind your key goals and map the list to the goals. Thinking strategically sometimes forces you to leave behind busywork that makes you feel productive but does not advance your mission.

Make a mission statement to live by

The human tendency, Malone notes, is to default to reactive behaviors that cause us to lose sight of priorities, and he confesses to being as guilty as the rest of us on that score. He says he recently realized he had been planning for years to write a book about his work on collective intelligence, but the rest of his life kept getting in the way. He then put the project at the top of his priority list, wrote a successful proposal to a publisher, and is now working on the book, tentatively titled The Age of Collective Intelligence.

Of course, many of us have a tough time finding the bandwidth to think about our priorities, but the exercise is not a luxury, Malone says. “Take time out. Go sit on a park bench by yourself to make that list of priorities—especially if you have several competing goals that require careful consideration. It’s definitely useful to take an hour or two away from day-to-day demands every now and then to think about strategic questions on a higher level and develop a mission statement for your job—and your life. Mission statements that you live and work by keep you on track.”

Learn about Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century.

Find out more about the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.

 

Strategic thinking keeps the U.S. Air Force nimble in a time of volatility

Picture1Do you depend too much on rigid meeting structures? Do you cling to tightly scripted agendas? Give yourself a little time and space to think aloud, says Brigadier General Stacey Hawkins, SF ’11. He calls it “death by PowerPoint”—the tendency to organize all thinking around a prepared presentation, leaving little room for collective, creative brainpower. “A slide show should kick off thinking, not substitute for or define the boundaries of thinking,” he says. “Ideally, carve out at least 20 minutes of an hour-long meeting for open-ended discussion.”

Director of Logistics, Engineering, and Force Protection of the Air Mobility Command, General Hawkins has earned a reputation as a strategic thinker. Now in his 24th year of U.S. Air Force service, he is an alumnus of the legendary School for Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS). As an indicator of their elite skill level, SAASS graduates are frequently referred to as the “500 pound brains” of the Air Force. General Hawkins has been recognized for his efforts with such distinctions as the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star and has served as special advisor to the Vice President of the United States for defense policy and intelligence programs.

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  Leadership  Military