Ask the bloomin' question!
I’m shooting down the East Coast Line for tomorrow’s Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange in London Olympia. The drizzly weather means I’ll be spending less time gazing out the window and more time working on book #2, The Green Executive. But I have been mulling on the event I spoke at yesterday hosted by ISPE (which is one of those acronyms that used to mean something but now just is, but it’s the professional body for pharma industry engineers).
Engineers are a tough audience – I’m an engineer, so I can say that. Not because they heckle, but because they don’t. They don’t ask questions or challenge you in the same way as say, environmentalists, politicos, marketing people etc, etc. The other talks at the event were heavy on the engineering, so I decided to be provocative and challenge the audience that their focus on energy efficiency, returns on investment, value engineering etc, were holding their companies back from sustainable innovation and thus profit – actually I went further than that and accused them of murdering Rachel Weisz (somebody left at that point, but I think it was for unrelated reasons). I got nods, chuckles, smiles, some good feedback afterwards and even an approving tweet, but only one question. One. And that question was a technical point about how waste legislation can impact on industrial symbiosis – good question, but it didn’t explore or challenge any of my main themes.
Questions are essential to the way we deliver on the environment. Imagine if BP or the US Government had challenged the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Deepwater Horizon which said the risk of spillage was negligible and the impact would be small if it did happen? No, there were lots of figures produced, so they must be right. Likewise my engineering audience were totally focussed on the how and not the why. One of the earlier speakers was asked whether energy efficiency improvements were dependent on the chemistry being undertaken – again a good point – but no-one went on to the logical next step – whether we should be changing that chemistry to deliver the energy efficiency rather than the other way round.Engineers are essential to a sustainable future and we must start asking the questions that matter.
I like the idea of The Toddler Test – keep asking ‘why’ until the question cannot be answered. It might be annoying, but you won’t innovate if you don’t challenge the status quo – as Einstein said “we won’t solve problems with the kind of thinking that created them.”
Tomorrow, I’m chairing a panel session on staff engagement with some really great panellists. My biggest worry? That no-one will want to ask them a question…