Are We Too Old To Be Creative?

Are We Too Old To Be Creative?

Are we too old to be creative? I don’t even know you, but I know the answer.


When I reached 30, I was really bummed. Over the hill. No great mathematician, so they said, ever had a significant discovery after age 30.

But then, I was no mathematician. But still, was life over?

Be Creative

Actually I have never been more creative and productive than over the past 20 years. And I’m way past 30, now. And The New York Times this month ran an article with some proof that creativity does not necessarily end at 30. It leads with a 94-year-old inventor.

It states, “There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that late blooming is no anomaly. A 2016 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation study found that inventors peak in their late 40s and tend to be highly productive in the last half of their careers. Similarly, professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Hitotsubashi University in Japan, who studied data about patent holders, found that, in the United States, the average inventor sends in his or her application to the patent office at age 47, and that the highest-value patents often come from the oldest inventors — those over the age of 55.

Keep reading. Try new things. Learn a different language. Go for new experiences. Ask questions.



Speaking of geniuses. Did you hear about the TV advertisement that instructed your Google Home (OK Google) to search for ingredients of its sandwich? There is another reason not to have one of those devices that is always listening to you. The other being Amazon Echo (Alexa, buy a book…). I do not have one installed. There is one disconnected in my closet. Here’s a New York Times article on the ad and one from TechCrunch.

The question is how obnoxious do you need to be to be an effective marketer?

I hate, Hate, I say, those pop-ups on Websites. And all the other tricks I see to get you to click. Ever seen those things at the bottom of the WeatherBug app? Even the marketers know that most clicks are due to error. People are frantically trying to click the vanishing X that makes the ugly thing go away. Then they click the ad and get carried off to some place they don’t want to go.

But Website owners need money. Marketers will pay well even for obnoxious, accidental click ads. The poor users, well, we just get a degraded experience. No wonder we don’t go to the Web like we once did.

Digital Thread

Can HMI/SCADA Software Be the On Ramp to the IIoT Digital Thread?

Craig Resnick, vp at ARC Advisory Group wrote a provocative article on the role of HMI/SCADA and the IioT.

These are interesting comments about the state of manufacturing software, “The Digital Thread often combines manufacturing software that provides real-time, role-based HMI dashboards with Ethernet networking technology, using Big Data, HMI/SCADA and analytics software, sensors, controllers, and robotics to help optimize industrial asset performance and availability in an edge to cloud world. This enables end users and OEMs to collect and analyze asset performance and operational data in the network, often from connecting disparate systems, from the factory floor to ERP, providing an ‘industrial-strength’ data analytics solution that combines role-based manufacturing HMI dashboards with real-time manufacturing KPIs for decision support.”

“The Digital Thread has, for example, driven the convergence of HMI/SCADA and MES platforms. Increasingly, these converged HMI/SCADA and MES platforms help users visualize both key automation and business metrics and KPIs, such as overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and energy savings, to help maximize the productivity and profitability of their businesses.”

This idea of things converging around MES is intriguing. There are so many applications gaining traction, along with interesting standards for data transfer, databases, analytics, visualization. All this, and I’m not sure where the money-making places are right now. Maybe writing smaller communication apps and mobile apps that can be sold to big companies?

Manufacturing Thought Leadership Summit Discusses Digitalization and Innovation

Manufacturing Thought Leadership Summit Discusses Digitalization and Innovation

Manufacturing in America—an event bringing together vendors, academia, end users of controls and automation. Siemens Industry, collaborating with its local distributor Electro-Matic, held a trade show/seminar series/thought leadership summit at the Marriott Renaissance Center Detroit March 22-23. The show has a distinct automotive industry feel, as you might expect, even though Detroit, and indeed all of Michigan, is reforming itself along high tech lines with less reliance on traditional automotive.

There was certainly a lot of thought leadership opportunity at the event. There was the Siemens Industry President of Digital Factory. There was the Governor of the State of Michigan.

ThunderChickens FIRST Robotics Team

And then, there was the group of high school students competing in the FIRST Robotics competition known as the ThunderChickens—Engineering A Better Way To Cross The Road. The picture shows a model of their robot. Such passion. Such creativity. The mechanical guy pointed to the control module. “It limits me to 6 motors,” he said. “Last year we only had one, but this year I could have used many more.”

Six motors!! What I’d have given as a kid building stuff to have one! Oh well, they were great.

Raj Batra President Siemens Digital FactoryRaj Batra, President of Digital Factory for Siemens, said the focus is on digitalization. Digital Twin is a piece of digitalization. This is the digital representation of a physical thing—product, machine, or component. Siemens brought all this together through the 2007 investment in acquiring UGS to form Siemens PLM. “Companies thought it was hype back then, now we know it drives value,” said Batra. “If you are a pure automation company how do you accomplish all this without a design component? You can’t have the digital twin. Meanwhile, a CAE company that doesn’t have automation and control do manufacturing—what do you get?” Batra added challenging the competition.

Batra continued, “We are close to a new era of autonomous manufacturing. And there is the growth of IIoT, we call Mindsphere. This all means manufacturing is no longer a black box to the enterprise. Indeed, it is strategic to the enterprise.”

Paul Maloche, vp sales and marketing Fori Automation, manufacturers of automated guided vehicles, discussed the methods by which collaboration with suppliers (in this case with Siemens) leads to innovation. Fori was diversifying from reliance on building machines for automotive applications, and evaluated the aerospace industry. The Siemens rep came in and said they could help get them into that market. But Fori would have to convert to Siemens control. The Fori team replied, “OK.” This led to development of automated guided vehicle technology and products. The partnership opened doors. Fori won several orders in aerospace market for the new AGVs with Siemens control.

Alistair Orchard, Siemens PLMAlistair Orchard, Siemens PLM, riffing off a space movie, began his talk, “Detroit, we have a problem.” All the old business models of trying to ship jobs overseas has not worked. We need to make stuff to be successful as a society. “So much of what we do has not changed in 50 years in manufacturing,” he noted, “but digitalization can change everything. Additive manufacturing can lead to mass customization due to 3D printing using the digital twin. You can try things out, find problems in design or manufacturing. You can use predictive analytics at design stage. Digital enterprise is about manufacturing close to the customer.”

Governor Rick SnyderGovernor Rick Snyder, Michigan, touted his manufacturing background as former operations head at Gateway Computers. “As governor,” he said, “it’s about how you can build an ecosystem and platform for success. Long term, success needs talent. His philosophy contains the idea that we shouldn’t tell students what they should study, but let them know where opportunities are and how to prepare for them. The private sector needs to tell government what they need in the way of talent.”

Michigan has grown more manufacturing jobs than anywhere else in the country. Not only manufacturing, though, Michigan is also a center of industrial design. But the economy not only needs designers and engineers, but also people in skilled trades. “We need to promote that as a profession. We must break the silos that said your opportunities are limited to your initial career choice.”

Michigan has invested a lot in students, especially in FIRST Robotics, where Michigan teams have risen to the top. The state has also started a computer science competition in cyber security.

How are you innovating and making the world better?

Josh LinknerJosh Linkner, CEO Detroit Venture Partners, gave the keynote address on innovation. I’ll leave you with his Five Obsessions of Innovators.

1. Curiosity—ask open ended questions
2. Crave what’s next—future orientation
3. Defy tradition—use Judo flip to turn idea on its head
4. Get scrappy—grit, determination, tenacity
5. Adapt fast

Never Stop Learning – Manufacturing Leadership

Never Stop Learning – Manufacturing Leadership

“I am still learning” wrote Michelangelo at age 87. That’s one of my goals in life.

Seth Godin ran across this idea from the other direction. He wrote this week in Fully Baked:

In medical school, an ongoing lesson is that there will be ongoing lessons. You’re never done. Surgeons and internists are expected to keep studying for their entire career—in fact, it’s required to keep a license valid.

Knowledge workers, though, the people who manage, who go to meetings, who market, who do accounting, who seek to change things around them—knowledge workers often act as if they’re fully baked, that more training and learning is not just unnecessary but a distraction.

The average knowledge worker reads fewer than one business book a year.

On the other hand, the above-average knowledge worker probably reads ten.

Show me your bookshelf, or the courses you take, or the questions you ask, and I’ll have a hint as to how much you care about leveling up.

Where Do You Get Information?

I wrote yesterday’s post about getting information spurred by the thoughts of Jessica Lessin, founder of The Information. This is a Silicon Valley technology news site that is funded by subscriptions. No advertising. No worrying about pressure from advertisers to write something nice about them.

She recently wrote about the recent trend toward company CEOs or CTOs writing a piece, say on Medium, and then sending links and a quote to a few “trusted” sources in the media. She was seeing these stories picked up and passed along verbatim. No analysis or value add.

That is just what the PR people were hoping. How do they get their message out unfiltered. I’ve been advising marketing people along this path for years.

I knew a guy in my business similar to me who would just copy the press release and call it an article.

I have no problem learning about new products and solutions and technologies in the market from the source. Note: You do have to wade through an awful lot of hype and superlative words to get to the news. I don’t advise that, but marketing people seem to have no confidence in what they are peddling, so they resort to verbal overkill.

But when you go to a magazine or other source (like mine), you surely expect some perspective and analysis.

Where do you go to get this information? What do you trust?

Speaking of information

This piece in the MIT Sloan Management Review, Why Learning is Central to Sustained Innovation, seems to fit in with these thoughts. How do you create a learning environment for your people development culture?

Many managers think they can create better products just by improving the development process or adding new tools. But it’s skilled people, not processes, that create great products.

The authors, Michael Balle’, James Morgan, and Durward K. Sobek II, note, “We frequently visit companies where managers say they want to improve their product development capability. they want to learn how learn principles and practices can improve their ability to innovate while reducing costs and improving quality. When we inquire about their approach to human resource development, we often hear, as one vice president of product development recently told us, that  ‘of course, people are our most important asset. Se we recruit and hire the top people from the best universities and get out of their way.’

However, the only things many companies actually do under the heading of people development is to have an annual training-hours target and a travel budget for sending employees to conferences. If managers really thought that people were their greatest asset and that it’s the energy and creativity of employees that drives innovation, why do companies do so little? Why doesn’t growing and developing people excite them just as much as installing new additive manufacturing equipment or the latest cloud-based collaboration tool?”

It takes leadership concerned with a learning culture, beginning with the leaders. Are they always learning? Reminds me of James Truchard, founder of National Instruments. He had such tremendous curiosity. He passed that along to the organization in many ways. Everyone wanted to be like that.

Millennials and learning

In his On The Edge Blog, Keith Campbell, wrote:

Is a culture of entitlement contributing to the workforce skills gap?

There has been a lot of discussion of the entitlement mentality of today’s young people as they leave college and expect that they are owed a well-paying job starting somewhere near the top.  On today’s news, there was a discussion about some interns who decided that they were entitled to a work environment that operated the way they wanted it to, and they proceeded to challenge the employer’s policies (yes, the same employer that was kind enough to give them their first work experience). They were summarily fired. I was recently asked by a parent to provide some guidance to a son who had received a mechanical engineering degree, but had no job.  I suggested that he consider companies such as packaging machinery manufacturers or packagers – not only because they are hiring mechanical engineers, but because they offer exciting careers. But after a few minutes of speaking with him, I learned that he knew more about how the engineering workplace operated than I did (after 30 years), and he felt entitled to wait till some job came around that suited his vision of engineering.

Less often discussed is the entitlement mentality of employers.  I see employers also acting as though they are entitled to the workers that they want, when they want them and with the skills that they need.  There was a day when there were multiple qualified applicants for each open manufacturing job.  Employers had to use various screening mechanisms to pick from among the qualified.   But those days seem to be behind us.  Automation has raised the bar for entry level employment while high schools have arguably lowered the bar for graduation and reduced the diversity of programs, driven in large part by increasing state and national control.  The gap between the unemployed and unfilled manufacturing jobs is growing wider.

I’m currently sitting in a conference session. A speaker mentioned about Millennials and their work ethic. Sounded like Campbell above. I think that is a misplaced thought and terrible generalization. Remember when we talked about Gen X and the “slacker” mentality? I’m in a room about evenly divided with Boomers and GenXers. The GenX guys and gals are doing some really good engineering. But I remember when many of them asked how many months it would take before they would be CEO. Sounds more like the exuberance of youth than a generation thing.

The question remains. How do you keep learning? Where do you get information? How are you helping others learn?

Building Creative Teams

Building Creative Teams

Every week (almost) people who subscribe to my special email newsletter (you can do that by entering your email on the right side of the Web page) get an additional insight either on the industry or something relating to leadership.

Recently I shared thoughts from Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation.

This book could be called a creativity course, leadership guide, or a history of Pixar. Another take would be “working with Steve Jobs.” The heart of the book really contains a story about how to build and maintain great creative teams.

I use the term “story” on purpose. When a bunch of computer graphics geeks decided they wanted to make animated movies a new way, they discovered they needed to learn the elements that lend power to story. And then came Toy Story, Cars, and the rest.

Most of you are leading teams of engineers, or you are engineers, or you may think that the kind of creativity necessary to make a great movie has nothing to do with you. You would be wrong. Even engineers who are made fun of in the press as narrow-minded, geeky, focused problem solvers must be creative or they will fail to solve the important problems.

On the other hand, many of you are bringing new products to market. You live in obvious creative cycle.

Let’s look at building and managing a team. I can think of the times in my life where I was building teams and failed. If I had read this book then….

I’ve led or been a part of some fabulous teams. We accomplished much and had fun doing it. Then there are the painful experiences. There was the time I brought in a too-young admin, an insecure salesman, another salesman who spent more time plotting about how to replace me than in selling. Talk about dysfunction. And it was all my fault. Ouch.

Catmull discusses valuing people as the core practice. Candor and transparency are key interaction values. When the executive team sensed something was amiss at Pixar after many years of successes, the diagnosis was that people stopped taking risks and they stopped giving rigorous feedback to the creators.

Success during the creative cycle requires open and honest collaboration. The type of interactions that, when a status meeting is called, people are free to point out anything that looks like it needs fixing—as long as the criticism deals with a problem and not on a person.

The conclusion of the book includes an afterword talking about the Steve Jobs that Catmull worked with for 26 years.This is worth reading far more than all the biographies I’ve read. He also leaves us with several pages of bullet points of values and learnings. I’ll share just a couple to whet your appetite.

  • Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. If you get the team right, chances are that they’ll get the ideas right.
  • When looking to hire people, give their potential to grow more weight than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today.
  • If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.
  • There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.
  • If there is more truth in the hallways than in meetings, you have a problem.

Want a more effective team? Read this book, think about it, share and discuss it with your team.

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