ITConversations and SIConversations: Better together

Back in June I wished that ITConversations, where my weekly podcast appears, and its sister channel Social Innovation Conversations, could get mashed together. Thanks to the indefatigable Doug Kaye, my wish is granted. The backstory is here, and it involved a ton of hard integration work, but this blurb I found today on the Social Innovation Conversations site illustrates the result I was hoping for:

The blurb appears on this page, which introduces one of a series of extraordinary talks by Amory Lovins that I’ve been listening to over the past week or so. (The others so far published appear in the above blurb.) I love the fact that my interview with Ned Gulley shows up in that list. Although there’s no obvious connection between Ned Gulley and Amory Lovins, I see both as technologists and social innovators, and I’d describe all of the guests on my show in the same way. Until recently, there was no easy way for ITConversations listeners to discover SIConversations shows, and vice versa. It’s great to see the cross-pollination starting to happen.

The Amory Lovins series is particularly interesting in this regard. He is this year’s MAP/Ming visiting professor for energy and the environment at Stanford. From the announcement:

Amory B. Lovins, cofounder and CEO of the Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) will speak at a one-of-a-kind series of nightly lectures focusing on energy efficiency.

It really is a one-of-a-kind experience. What you will hear, in these talks, is the distillation of a lifetime of experience in the creative optimization of the use of energy. The principles are all laid out in Natural Capitalism: integrative design, whole-system engineering, radical resource productivity, tunneling through the cost barrier. But it’s something else again to hear Lovins pile up the case studies, one after another, in a plain-spoken but cumulatively overwhelming stream of revelatory common sense.

So, to take just one example, shorter and fatter and straighter pipes, along with variable speed motors instead of valves, will reduce friction — and thus energy use — in pumping systems. But there are complementary benefits: the pipes are easier to install and insulate, they occupy less space, they require less maintenance.

To those of us who live and breathe software, this dance of optimizations will sound very familiar. We understand performance tradeoffs, refactoring, and the value of shedding complexity.

We understand these things because our industry began its life in a regime of scarcity. The critical resources — compute cycles, storage, pixels, bandwidth — were always in short supply. We always had to focus on doing more with less.

Until recently, that is. Efficiency still matters, but increasingly there are big payoffs for designs that assume resources are, or will soon become, abundant. (Excluding energy, of course, which we are now for the first time considering how to optimize.)

It’s a weird crossover because as we transition from scarcity to abundance, the disciplines that Amory Lovins concerns himself with — construction, heating and cooling, transportation — are going the other way. In those disciplines, designs could always assume resource abundance and now must adjust to scarcity.

This leads to a pair of questions. First, what can those of us who have long practiced scarcity-driven optimization teach those who are only now coming to it? Second, what can they teach us about how — and how not — to exploit abundance?


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