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In this episode, I share more about why I chose to launch this project at this time, and how it fits in with my own personal story. You’ll hear about my time at HP, how Rapid Learning Cycles developed, and a visit to the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm that proved to be transformative, showing me what work was mine to do, and why I am convinced we can accelerate net zero.
Together, we can eliminate the economic, usability and scalability issues that lie between us and a Net Zero world. We can create the paths of least resistance that will make it easy for businesses and consumers to do the right thing to accelerate net zero.
If my story resonates with you, whether you’re working in this area or not, I encourage you to reach out to me on LinkedIn, or Twitter, or via the links on this site.
A few people and places I mentioned who had important roles in this story:
Leo Babauta of Zen Habits
Nobel Prize Museum
Welcome to Accelerate Net Zero, the podcast dedicated to the acceleration of the technologies we need to address climate change. My name is Katherine Radeka, and I've been accelerating innovation for a long time in a number of different industries. And nowhere is that acceleration more important today than in the renewable energy, materials, food production, transportation, and other programs to limit carbon emissions so that we can stabilize our climate. So if you are working on these programs as a technologist, as a manager and investor, a public policymaker, an activist, or just a concerned citizen, then you have come to the right place to learn how we can eliminate obstacles and put more momentum into these programs so that we can begin delivering impact on carbon emissions sooner. And we can reach Net Zero faster,
This is Episode Seven of Accelerate Net Zero. So I thought I'd do something a little different. I want to share a little bit more of my personal story of how I came here and why I'm doing this project. I've been around innovation and product development organizations of one kind or another for my entire career, starting with my first job out of high school. I worked for Baylor College of Medicine in Houston in one of their labs, where I worked on a research database to help them consolidate studies that they had done with their patients into data systems that could be more easily analyzed to generate the statistical results that they needed for their research papers.
I went on to study Chemistry at Reed College and ultimately ended up working for Hewlett Packard in a variety of roles. And Hewlett Packard was a great place to be from, because they had a lot of good systems and processes and a pretty good innovative culture when I was there. And I learned a lot about how software and firmware (the software that's inside the device) and the hardware systems, the mechanical systems, the chemistry of the ink, how all of those things play together to produce a system that can make a photograph that you can send to your grandkids to share your experiences with them.
And I learned about everything from the fact that we needed to understand those grandparents who were the ones printing the photos and what they needed. And we needed to understand the technology at a deep level in order to continue to make the picture quality better and better and better until one day it was better than the best technology out there at the time, which was printed film.
And I learned an awful lot about how to do that effectively. In fact, by the end of my time at Hewlett Packard, that's what I was doing. I was helping other product development teams run their work more efficiently and effectively using things from Agile and using things from the work of a man named Dr. Allen Ward of the University of Michigan. Allen Ward had done research into Toyota's product development system. And he had identified the core thing that distinguished them from their peers, which is that they had a better way to manage the flow of knowledge through their program and a better approach to making decisions. And as a result, they were able to get their new car models from the drawing board out onto the showroom floor about twice as fast as their peers. And they did that primarily by eliminating a lot of the churn at the very end of the process.
He looked at the number of engineering change requests or engineering change orders, and they had many fewer of these. These are design changes made late in development, usually to respond to a problem that has emerged that must be fixed, cannot just be allowed to pass through to the customer. They had many fewer of these. And as a result of that, they were able to go a lot faster because those change requests and change orders are very expensive in late development to implement. If you can eliminate those, it not only costs you a lot less money. It also takes you a lot less time. And by eliminating those, and then eliminating the extra time they put in place to deal with it, they were able to get their cars to market a lot faster and with a lot fewer resources without compromising quality or customer experience. I started out using these ideas in the Inkjet Printer division at Hewlett Packard. And then in 2005, I went out on my own so that I could spread these ideas much more broadly.
And I quickly learned some things. One of the things I learned is that he called his work "lean product development" but people don't want their innovation teams to be lean. In fact, it's not even a good idea to talk about innovation from a lean perspective. And the reason why is because innovation has inherently, a lot of waste, you're trying to bring something new to life. There are going to be a lot of failures. There's going to be a lot of things that don't work. We want to fail fast. We want to fail quickly, but if it's going to fail, we want to know that it's going to fail right away. You know, that that's how we become effective, but that's not what putting the word lean in front of innovation drives people to do. And so it's better just to use other words, first rule of marketing, right? You got to use language that responds to your audience. So I dropped that along the way.
And then in 2010, we had a breakthrough and like a lot of other breakthroughs that started with something small that seemed almost insignificant at the time. It just seemed part of my regular work. I was asked to implement Scrum for a research and development group. Now I had not actually done Scrum myself in a while. So I brought in a friend, her name was Kathy Iberle, and she and I together worked with this team at Novo Nordisk in Denmark. They're an advanced research team. They answer questions related to the biochemistry of diabetes. And we were asked to work with them to improve their ability, to collaborate with each other, to share their knowledge with each other, to improve their team spirit and ultimately to improve the effectiveness of their research.
We learned very quickly that we could not use task-based Scrum to do that. Task-based Scrum would work. It did help manage the flow of things through their organization. But it didn't really help them with their fundamental question. The fundamental question was, "How do we get more effective at research?" And the way to get more effective at research is to manage the flow of knowledge through that organization. So we developed some things to help them do that. We basically developed an, almost like a Scrum for knowledge work kind of way of thinking about it.
And I took those ideas and I started feeding them into product development teams at Whirlpool in the United States and Steelcase. And in Novozymes also in Denmark. And I would run an experiment and I would say, "Oh, that was interesting. I think we can do better." We'd run another experiment with another product development team at another organization, watch that for a while, see how that works, figure out how to improve it, and then feed the results back into the original companies.
And by swirling around among those companies, what emerged was the Rapid Learning Cycles framework. And that framework has been the focus of my work since 2012. I wrote two books on it, The Shortest Distance Between You and Your New Product and High Velocity Innovation. And I started teaching it all over the world.
In 2019, I flew over 250,000 miles. I taught the Rapid Learning Cycles framework to hundreds of product developers and researchers around the world. I visited at least a dozen countries and I loved it. I absolutely love my work. I love working with the scientists and technologists on the latest, coolest technology that's out there. I love being out on the bleeding edge and that's where these people live, but I didn't have a lot of time to think.
Then 2020 happened. COVID of course. My 2020 was full. I knew where I was going to be. And I was very excited about the companies that I'd be working with. The teams I'd be meeting the people I would be teaching. I went to Sweden in February of 2020, and then I came home for two weeks. And in those two weeks everything changed.
Everything I had canceled and we had some scrambling to do, but then once that scrambling was over, I had a lot of extra time on my hands to think I remembered my last trip. I thought about that last trip a lot, because at the time COVID was just starting to be mentioned in the headlines as something that was happening in China. There was a case in Washington state, which is where I'm from.
And I remembered that in Stockholm, my host had been a woman named Liselotte Engstrom who works with corporate boards. She'd become interested in my work to see if it would help these boards that she worked with and their drive to make their companies more efficient and effective at innovation, to be more innovative. And she took me to the Nobel Prize Museum because she thought I would like it.
And she was right. I absolutely loved it. I loved seeing the technology. They had a lot of information about the different projects that had won the Nobel prize. You know, the work that people had been recognized for. And I could have spent days in that place, looking at all the different things about all the different winners of the Nobel prize and all the different areas of science. They had an exhibit called "For the Greatest Benefit to Humankind" which was a look at all the ways that Nobel laureates' technologies, the fundamental science that they had worked on had been transformed into products that had made a difference. And they had worked on things like food and energy and public health.
I could see that I had worked on those technologies, not, not the exact science itself. Obviously, obviously I'd never met these people, but I had worked on the products and the technologies that had emerged from their basic research. That I had in fact accelerated the development of some of those technologies. And I found that to be exciting because I had never made that connection before.
So when I had all this time on my hands to reflect, I signed up for a coaching program called "Fearless Mastery." It's through a person named Leo Babauta. He has a blog called Zen Habits and I've always loved his blog because it's very pragmatic. And he practices what he preaches.
As part of this program, he asked a question of all of us. He said, where would you be in 10 years if there were no constraints, if there were no restrictions, if you could do anything? Don't worry about money. Don't worry about time. Don't worry about how old you are or how young you are. Don't worry about the laws of physics. If you could do anything, what would you do? And I went back to that Nobel Museum visit and it came to me.
What I want to do in the next 10 years is I want to work on the technologies we need to address climate change because that is an urgent problem. And I know how to solve the kinds of problems that need to be solved if we're going to solve this larger one, because I do know how to accelerate technology. And while it's true that the technologies we need to address climate change by and large already exist, the reality is they're not nearly ubiquitous enough. They have not been implemented nearly enough.
And what I know about the transition from basic research to technology to products is that products don't become ubiquitous until all of the challenges of adoption have been resolved. And so if we have solar power, but it's still a very small part of the market, that's partly because we still have problems to overcome. We still have challenges. We still have obstacles to adoption we need to eliminate. And if we have a need for consumers to change their behavior, then we have to provide the right economic incentives. We have to provide the right public policy decisions in order to make it easier for them to do the right thing. We have to make it so that the path of least resistance is the path towards Net Zero.
That means that some technologies need to be a lot less expensive. That means that some technologies need to be a lot easier to use. That means that some technologies have to be easier to engage with, easier to put out into the world at the scale that they need to be to make a difference.
You know, one wind turbine is great generates power, but what we need massive amounts of offshore wind massive amounts of wind in places that have the potential to generate a lot of energy from wind power. And then we need distribution networks to get that power to the people who need it. We need solar energy to be ubiquitous, basically every flat surface that is today just absorbing heat and causing our air conditioning bills to go up. It needs to have a solar panel on it so that that energy can be redirected and put to use in many other ways that are more beneficial to us than increasing our air conditioning bill.
So we have some massive problems to solve. I came to believe through all of those things that I have already made a difference here that I could make an even bigger difference than I already had. I've worked in renewable energy, biofuels, solar, and even done some work in nuclear and wind power. I've worked on greener materials that lead to more sustainable products. I've worked on food, better food products to help adapt to the changing climate. I could do it.
Because there were many, many more people out there who had no idea that the work existed to them overcome the challenges that they were facing. There were a lot of people out there doing things in the way that would lead them to get the results that they've always gotten. And I know that projects like this, especially the massive infrastructure projects we need are fraught with delays. Cost overruns, disappointing results. And that is exactly what my work attacks. And I knew that I needed to do it. I knew that I personally would not be able to live with myself if I was 10 years older in 2030, and I had not focused my work on this fight.
So does that mean that these are the only clients that I'm going to take going forward? No. And the reason for that is because for one thing, sustainability and achieving carbon neutrality is something that every company is going to have to address in one way or another. Eventually this is going to touch everything.
And I literally mean everything that we encounter on a daily basis from the cars we drive to the furniture in our houses, to the clothes that we buy to the food that we eat. It is all going to be affected by the need to achieve carbon neutrality. Every company that makes any kind of product is going to have to be thinking about their own contribution to climate change and their own need to drive toward Net Zero for us to accomplish the goals that we need to hit as a society.
So every company that I work with has this challenge, no matter what they make, what industry they're in and no matter what they produce. I also, however, believe that there are a lot of people that have done some great work in this area already, and that there are some unique challenges around public policy, around the role of governments, the role of community organizations in encouraging people to do the right things around creating that path of least resistance.
So that achieving Net Zero becomes not just the thing that we're all striving to do. But the thing that is in fact, the easiest thing to do, because we've got the economics right, and we've got the incentives right. And we've got the the other mechanisms right. So that when I go into a grocery store, buying sustainable food is in fact the easy thing for me to do and the thing I want to do.
And I believe that if I do focus on this, I believe that we can make a difference. I believe that because I know how these programs work. I believe there are opportunities. In fact, probably low-hanging fruit opportunities to accelerate some of these technologies and the idea that I would know that and not share it is just insane given the urgency of the problem and the need for it. So here we are.
And where have we been? We listened to Wiill Harrison talk about sustainable design. And again, like I said, every product is going to need this. Every product is going to need to know how to design their product so that it has a lower carbon footprint and ultimately no carbon footprint at and how it's more sustainable in other ways.
We listened to Lauren Rosenblatt talk about how to put solar energy on homes in Puerto Rico. The model that she's developing is a model that we can leverage, not just in Puerto Rico, but in any area around the world where there are communities of people that need to band together to produce resilient, distributed power, because for whatever reason, they are not well-served by the overall power grid.
We listened to Deborah Stine talk about the role of public policy and especially the stakeholders, the community stakeholders, and the public policy stakeholders who are looking at the non-economic impact of an innovation when deciding whether or not to do things that can accelerate it or do things that will block it.
We talked with Louise Cronenberg-Jones who's working on the kind of project I love the most. Actually it's like one of those kinds of little tiny projects, this like solving a very important problem in a unique way. And when she's doing data collection about the level of water in lakes and rivers in remote areas, critically important, if we're going to manage water to address the changing climate, but you know, quieter, smaller, not the kind of thing that's going to attract the headlines, but one of the essential pieces of infrastructure we need. There are literally thousands of pieces like this that will need to be built. How are we going to build those when it's the big sexy projects that gain all the media attention, getting all the investments, gain all the grants when those things won't work, if her pieces are not there?
Finally, I have a small request. Please connect with me. You can use LinkedIn. That's my primary social media platform or Twitter. My name is easy to find. It's unique in the world. So if you've found Katherine Radeka, you've found me. The reason why I ask is because if you believe with me that this is urgent and you're working on an area where your work could be accelerated, then you are someone that I want to talk to. And I think we could work together to Accelerate Net Zero.
Thank you for listening to Accelerate Net Zero. If you want to help Accelerate Net Zero, please leave a rating or review with your podcast provider so that other listeners can find us, And subscribe so that you don't miss an episode yourself. For links, resources, transcripts, and additional information about this project, visit our website, acceleratenetzero.com. The Accelerate Net Zero project is sponsored by the Rapid Learning Cycles Institute. We help innovators change the world faster. To learn more about the Rapid Learning Cycles framework, and how it can help you accelerate innovation, visit rapidlearningcycles.com.