Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

This is a post about education, personal development, and why you should be a generalist.

Tiger Woods was trained almost from the cradle for one thing–to be the greatest golfer.

Roger Federer tried many sports. He loved soccer. Even though his mother was a tennis teacher, he didn’t pick up tennis until his early teens. Other kids had been playing for years by then. He soon passed them by and into his thirties is a dominant tennis star.

You need to be good at something, but it is good to be interested and experienced in many things.

Range by Epstein

I have a book to recommend. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein. This book will help you learn to live a fuller life–and help you bring up your kids and encourage your grandkids.

Life in the industrial age, as well as in some previous eras, was composed of patterns. You could be trained to recognize patterns and adapt and become skilled at them. These are called “kind” learning environments. Kids excel who see and repeat the patterns.

Life today is what a psychologist call a “wicked” learning environment. Here, the rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete, there may or may not be repetitive patterns, and they may not be obvious, and feedback is often delayed, inaccurate or both. In most devilishly wicked learning environments, experience will reinforce the exact wrong lessons.

So, let’s look at responding to today’s “wicked” learning environment. “The bigger the picture, the more unique the potential human contribution. Our greatest strength is the exact opposite of narrow specialization. It is the ability to integrate broadly.” This all sounds great. But what about what I read in the news as the “typical Trump voter” who is a worker trained in the old way watching his job being replaced. And who is the leader who is poised to take them to this next level? Well, no one. Just leaders who play to their fears.

There are some courageous leaders changing the system for educating young people so that they can thrive in this new environment. We just have to have more of that. More people guiding young people—and older people, as well—need to take into practice this advice from psychologist and creativity researcher Dean Keith Simoton, “Rather than obsessively focusing on a narrow topic, creative achievers tend to have broad interests.” Modern work demands knowledge transfer—the ability to apply knowledge to new situations and different demands. In my life I have worked with both highly educated engineers AND high-school-educated technicians who exhibit  this. More must be encouraged.

For those who, like me, studied broadly as an undergraduate and didn’t care much about grades, take this observation from professor and researcher James Flynn who was “bemused to find that the correlation between the test of broad conceptual thinking and GPA was about zero. Flynn, “The traits that earn good grades at [the university] do not include critical ability of any broad significance.

Here is a tip for those who teach at any level. When asking a student a question, force them to answer, even if it is wrong. Then just force them to answer again. And again. Until they get it right. Giving them hints to guide a correct answer quickly provided fewer long-term results than the first method. “Repetition is less important than struggle.”

Oh, and in a test of forecasting, experts were far worse than “amateurs” getting it right!

How does one adapt? By reading widely. Pursue several interests. That will be the human triumph in an age of robots.

Industrial IoT Suppliers From a Different Point of View

Industrial IoT Suppliers From a Different Point of View

I have just returned from a weekend in Eastern Ohio at a youth soccer tournament. You learn a lot about human nature–your own as well as others–when you’re in a competitive tightly compressed space.

The games I refereed had coaches and parents carrying exhuberance carried way too far–probably into less positive descriptions. As director of referees for the tournament, I walked around observing other games, as well. Talked with a 15-year-old girl about her game. She told me the parents were the worst. They yelled unkind things directly at their goalkeeper including calling her a “bitch”. Sometimes I wonder.

This week I’m heading west for another IT conference. This one is Hitachi Vantara. I have had a few interviews lately with people from there as they have ramped up an Industrial IoT practice. I’m sure there will be more later this week.

What started me thinking about human nature and Industrial IoT suppliers was a comment I received a couple of weeks ago at another conference. “The trouble with the IT companies is that their sales people come in and promise that their Industrial IoT solution will solve all their problems.”

What engineer do you know who would believe that? Which ones would immediately tune them out and start thinking about their hobby?

I was a sales guy once. Or twice. I also was the guy from engineering who tried to explain the technology, benefits, and competitive advantage of our product versus the market. I also watched for when the sales peoples’ eyes glazed over. They didn’t want too much information. Too much gets in the way of a sales pitch. It’s partly just human nature and partly knowing their job.

That was a good comment. I don’t work with sales at these companies. Sure, the CEO is “selling” when they talk to me, but it’s a different selling. I write; I don’t buy.

It taught me to probe a little deeper into all these companies I cover–IT and OT–and get into what message they take to the prospect or customer. It may be entirely different from what I hear. And that would be a valuable part of the story.

Podcast 196 Engineering Ethics

RSS and Information and Blogs

I get much of my news through RSS feed. That may sound archaic, but it works. Originally I used Google Reader some 20 years ago or so. But that was detracting from Google’s business model, so they killed it. And I went with NetNewsWire. It was great. They sold it. Like almost all cool little startups now part of big companies, the product languished. I switched to Feedly, which I am still using.

The cool thing about RSS is that you get the news feed with just an option of going to the Website. With some feeds, you can see the entire article. With others, you scan and then go to the Website if you want more. I have a few subscriptions, such as The New York Times, where I have access. Many of my feeds are blogs that have no paywall.

The thriving blogosphere of the early 2000s (my blog began in 2003, I’m approaching 16 years) has lost some fervor, but it’s still around.

I started first in the control and automation space. Walt Boyes followed, but soon took it under the cover of Putman Media. The way all the blogs grew in the early years was through linking with each other. I would see a post and link to it with my take. They would link back. But when companies got involved, they didn’t want links to “competitors”. So much for growth for either of us.

Jim Cahill was next with his Emerson Process Experts blog. In the early days we would also cross link, but like everything that faded with marketing. His blog is still going and is still the best example of a corporate blog building a community. I tell people about it on all my trips.

The Apple computer community supports many independent bloggers and podcasters. They cross link and even appear on each other’s podcasts. The net result is that the entire community grows and thrives. So far, I have not found another independent blogger / influencer / analyst to interact with.

I bring this up while listening to The Talk Show with John Gruber of the Daring Fireball blog. He and his guest Brent Simmons (developer of NetNewsWire) are discussing the state of RSS, blogging, podcasting, and media. Brent worked at Userland and its blogging platform Radio which I used from 2003 to about 2007 when I switched to SquareSpace. In 2013 I switched to WordPress.

While commiserating about the state of trying to read articles on the Web, they miss the point of the business. Media is run by sales people. Salespeople think that long term thinking is 60 days out. They really don’t care about user experience. They look for one more idea that will sell one more piece of screen real estate and that maybe is obnoxious and the reader mistakenly clicks the ad instead of the close button and they sell a click. I’m not being cynical about that. It is the natural order of things when sales people (and I was one once) are scrambling to increase income through any non-illegal method they can find.

I still like RSS feeds. I no longer trust Google to uncover the Websites I want. And I’ve never liked the idea of having a list of Websites to methodically go visit just in case something new was added.

Podcast 196 Engineering Ethics

Google Ad Shakedown

Google and Other Misdemeanors

I have noticed that over the past few months, the number of people coming to my site via search engines, principally Google, has dropped by something like 40%. Curious, last weekend I took a little time and searched on about a dozen keywords that would be used in the industry.

Media sites just don’t come up in the searches. But what does come up are a ton of ads. The bulk of the rest of the links are suppliers. This is a big change over this time period.

Then I came across a tweet from Jason Fried, founder and CEO of Basecamp. He noticed that when he searched for his company, Basecamp, he came up number 4. The first three were ads from competitors who had worked the words base camp into their URLs or name in some ingenious way. And they had purchased the adwords that placed their ad above the real organic result. He explains all this in a podcast on Rework.

Back to my observation. I appeared seldom, except for my own domain name, and I never saw the major trade journals in the industry. Even ones named IIoT in a search of IIoT. Automation got three hits a couple of pages back on the keyword automation. But it should have had a bunch.

But suppliers are the most prone to buy adwords from Google.

If you think that searches are not biased and show you the most relevant to you, then you are years behind times.

I have noticed a similar effect in Facebook. Of course, its ad strategy came from Google in the person of Sheryl Sandberg. I did marketing for a small retail startup coffee house in Sidney, Ohio. Being local, I went to Facebook. I also spent a few dollars a month on ads.

When I ended the ad campaign, I was pestered with several notices per day about boosting a post for only $10, then for only $5. And our reach started dropping. Suddenly not everyone saw all the posts. The algorithm ensured that. When you’re in a small town with only about 1,000 person reach, you get pretty quick feedback.

Once upon a time, I mostly trusted Google search results. I use it for research constantly. Now, I’m not so sure about where to go for better results. Everyone is in such a rush to maximize ad dollars that they manipulate anything, including us, in the quest for eyes on ads.

ISA Announces First Founding Members of Global Cybersecurity Alliance

ISA Announces First Founding Members of Global Cybersecurity Alliance

The International Society of Automation (ISA) held a press conference today to announce the first Founding Members of its new Global Cybersecurity Alliance (GCA): Schneider Electric, Rockwell Automation, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Claroty, and Nozomi Networks.

As we would expect, the speakers emphasized the importance of standards as the foundation for work in the Alliance. Speakers also tied in safety and productivity as partners with cybersecurity in protecting and improving manufacturing and critical infrastructure facilities and processes. I’m not so sure just exactly what the Alliance will accomplish, but if it succeeds in just raising awareness and a sense of urgency among companies it the industries, it will have accomplished an important task.

ISA created the Global Cybersecurity Alliance to advance cybersecurity readiness and awareness in manufacturing and critical infrastructure facilities and processes. The Alliance brings end-user companies, automation and control systems providers, IT infrastructure providers, services providers, and system integrators and other cybersecurity stakeholder organizations together to proactively address growing threats.

ISA is the developer of the ANSI/ISA 62443 series of automation and control systems cybersecurity standards, which have been adopted by the International Electrotechnical Commission as IEC 62443 and endorsed by the United Nations. The standards define requirements and procedures for implementing electronically secure automation and industrial control systems and security practices and assessing electronic security performance. The standards approach the cybersecurity challenge in a holistic way, bridging the gap between operations and information technology.

Leveraging the ISA/IEC 62443 standards, the Global Cybersecurity Alliance will work to increase awareness and expertise, openly share knowledge and information, and develop best practice tools to help companies navigate the entire lifecycle of cybersecurity protection. The Alliance will work closely with government agencies, regulatory bodies, and stakeholder organizations around the world.

“Accelerating and expanding globally relevant standards, certification, and education programs will increase workforce competence, and help end users identify gaps, reduce risks, and ensure they have the tools and systems they need to protect their facilities and installations,” said Mary Ramsey, ISA Executive Director. “Through the proliferation of standards and compliance programs, we will strengthen our global cyber culture and transform the way industry identifies and manages cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities to their operations.”

The press release notes that first Founding Members of the Alliance are leading multi-national, industrial-technology providers with deep expertise in technology and applications, and they’ll apply their experience and knowledge to accomplish the Alliance’s priorities. However, two of the members were represented by building automation divisions. Two of the members are cybersecurity suppliers. Rockwell Automation is a pure play factory and process automation company and its Maverick Technologies division has been an ardent supporter of ISA. Schneider Electric is a large, multi-disciplined company, and I’m not sure which division within it is the sponsor.

“Participating in the Alliance truly shows the commitment our founding members have to the safety and security of the industrial ecosystem, as well as the criticality of collectively moving forward together to ensure the standards, best practices and methods are applied,” Ramsey said.

“ISA engaged with discussions, initiated by Schneider Electric, to create an ISA-led global, open and industry-wide alliance comprised of all cybersecurity stakeholder companies. ISA quickly expanded those conversations to include Rockwell Automation, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Claroty, and Nozomi Networks. These first Founding Members have since worked together to help us define the Alliance’s objectives. We are thankful for their collaboration and commitment. Together we welcome companies and organizations from all segments of industry to join our efforts.”

The Alliance is seeking additional members to support its initiatives. End-user companies, asset owners, automation and control systems providers, IT infrastructure providers, services providers, and system integrators and other cybersecurity stakeholder organizations are invited to join. Annual contributions to fund initiatives are based on company revenues and are tax-deductible.

Perspectives: Quotes from the ISA Global Cybersecurity Alliance Founding Members

“Over the last few years, global industry has recognized that taking on increasingly dangerous cyber risks can’t be limited to a single company, segment, or region. However, until now, there has been limited ability to respond as a unified whole to these worldwide threats. But by establishing an open, collaborative, and transparent body, with a focus on strengthening people, processes, and technology, we can drive true cultural change. We are pleased that ISA has stepped forward, and we look forward to working openly and collaboratively with them, our fellow Founding Members, and many others affiliated with global industry, especially end users. Together we will bring to bear the standards-based technology, expertise, and special skills required to better secure and protect the world’s most critical operations and the people and communities we serve.” — Klaus Jaeckle, Chief Product Security Officer, Schneider Electric

“Cybersecurity is critical to digital transformation. It’s critical not only for the protection of information and intellectual property, but also for the protection of physical assets, the environment, and worker safety. We make it a priority to collaborate with partners and research institutions to develop secure products. Rockwell Automation participated in the development of the 62443 standards from the beginning and continues to support ISA cybersecurity initiatives. Our engagement with the Global Cybersecurity Alliance will be another important step in our efforts to help customers identify and mitigate risks.” — Blake Moret, CEO, Rockwell Automation

“Cybersecurity is the great equalizer to all companies. It’s critical to the connected world we live in and the cornerstone of trust that the world needs to be able to operate. Whether protecting critical infrastructure or managing a building’s operations, users need to do this with the confidence the employed systems are robust and secure. We are committed to and proud to work together ISA and the GCA members to continue to drive the adoption of the ISA/IEC 62443 series of standards and identify further ways to secure and protect the connected world which we live. At Honeywell, we see cybersecurity as a core part of the future we are making, and we see the GCA as an important way to work together to make that happen.” — Matthew Bohne, Vice President and Chief of Product Security, Honeywell Building Technologies

“Digital transformation in the building sector continues to accelerate, which heightens the urgency for cybersecurity across the industry and beyond. As a leader in the industrial automation controls business, Johnson Controls is already a strategic member of the ISASecure program and is consistently taking proactive actions to protect customers against cyber-threats and risks. Joining ISA Global Cybersecurity Alliance is a necessary and meaningful step as it supports our company values, customer adoption of the ISA/IEC 62443 standard and efforts to educate global government and regulatory bodies. We are proud to solidify our commitment to this important effort.” — Jason Christman, Vice President, Chief Product Security Officer, Global Products, Johnson Controls

“One of the most effective ways to drive consistency in an industry is by putting standards in place, and we’re looking forward to collaborating with all of these founding members, as well as future Alliance members, to help drive global best-practices forward in this historically standard-less environment. Claroty is committed to the mission of protecting all IoT and OT networks from cyber risks. Through our work with the Global Cybersecurity Alliance, we will be able to help shape the future of cybersecurity in these high-risk industries.” — Dave Weinstein, Chief Security Officer, Claroty

“Nozomi Networks believes real community collaboration, actionable standards and effective education are key ensuring a secure future for industrial organizations around the world. That’s why we are helping develop secure-by-design standards as a working member of ISA99 standards committees, why we’ve designed our industrial cyber security solutions for easy integration across the broadest possible set of industrial and IT technologies; and why we are thrilled to help establish the Global Cybersecurity Alliance. Together we will build a secure future for the industrial infrastructure that runs the world.” — Andrea Carcano, Nozomi Networks Co-founder and Chief Product Officer

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