Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Test driving the future with Better Place

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

By Debbie Meltzer

Better_Future, Debbie Meltzer, דבי מלצר

Better Future

The lights were dimmed.  The multimedia screens came alive. The movie rolled into action. A slick hologram image greeted us as we sat on second hand car seats. Tour guides with Madonna microphones drummed up the excitement. An evolving stage turned the screens around to reveal the show’s true star – The Renault ZE.  All the showbiz plugs were pulled out – nothing short of a universal studios production.

The promise? A new era of electronic transport.

Which yellow brick road will get there you may ask? Why it’s the one to Better Place’s demo center in Pi-Glilot, Ramat Hasharon, Israel. Once there, jolly smiling assistants enroll you and then usher you into the movie theatre. Enthusiastic and upbeat, they beam with optimism, eagerly waiting to take you for a test drive or a battery swap demo.

This is the future of transport and we have solved a significant part of it – This is the message coming across loud and clear.

That’s it folks. Pack your woes in the boot. No need to be concerned about infrastructure, battery swapping, battery junk yards, lithium shortages, sulphur dioxide pollution, competing car stations, battery compatibility, tax breaks, government support, or the coal needed to generate energy in the first place.

Just press the start button and away we go…

Truth is when you get a go on the test track, the drive is exceptionally smooth. No roar, no purr, no splut. The Renault ZE – a standard sedan on the outside with EV technology inside was surprisingly quiet. Acceleration was seamless. The sprint is 0-60 mph in 10 seconds. The breaking was subtle. It can even be easily adjusted to be more aggressive.

The cool factor is embedded in the dashboard’s design where information on breaking, battery capacity and the nearest charging station are digitally displayed on the control screen. The software, we were told, could possibly interface with future power-monitoring technology to feed power from parked cars. Like!

The unsettling factor is the lithium packed battery that Better Place will own along with the infrastructure for servicing them.  The charging, needing six to eight hours, will keep the car going for 130 kilometers.

This range may suit short distances, like in Israel or Denmark, the first launch sites, but what happens when you turn into, let’s say, the Pan American highway or the Autobahn? What happens when you drive along more challenging terrain demanding more power?

Better Place hasn’t found all the answers yet, even though their tour guides will lead you to believe otherwise, but they seem to be overcoming some fierce challenges.

In central Israel, for instance, they have erected a charging infrastructure featuring designer charge poles that are already densely dotting public places. At the demo center we were shown how drivers can easily top off at one of these curbside charging poles. In my home town – Hod Hasharon alone, there are at least three of them.

They are also planning to launch battery switch stations – A tall order for batteries weighing each – 250 kilograms. But after witnessing a demo switch before my very own eyes, I’m convinced it can be done.

Apparently a fully functional battery swap station is operating in Tokyo. It is servicing a pilot-program fleet of three cabs. We were told the taxis visit the station almost every hour – not for recharging, but to satisfy inquisitive passengers keen to get a glimpse of the future.

Although Better Place claim the battery-swap sessions have been clocking in below one minute, the demo displayed a different story. Its not just about battery swapping, it’s about lining up to drive onto a ramp, setting the switch in motion, and then driving off the ramp. Being a ferociously high-cost system, don’t expect to see more than one per station for a while.

The final stations will accommodate multiple types of batteries and will have greater storage capacity,” says Kiyotaka Fujii, president of Better Place Japan. That statement seems a bit rash; who says that competing EV manufacturers will be willing to design system compatible batteries? Why should they? After all, what’s stopping Ford Motor Co let’s say from owning car batteries or selling power to customers through their own charging stations without a middle man?

Alarmingly no one is raising an alert on the amount of coal needed to fuel the charging power. Sure there are talks about wind and solar power some time in the distant future, but what will happen till then? Are we replacing one environmental hazard with another?

What does Better Place plan to do with the junked out batteries? And let’s say there is no shortage of lithium, as some scientists may have us believe, what about other rare earth elements needed in the battery like cobalt. What about the highly polluting sulphur dioxide that will be increasingly spitting out from the lithium battery manufacturing plants? At Better Place they assured me they have begun to think about these issues.

Despite the list of concerns, I truly commend Better Place for daring to dream, for designing their future and then doing everything they can to make it happen. Most importantly they secured the funding (750 million dollars) to keep the momentum going for a long time.

Their vision – to change the transportation landscape is beginning to surge. Slowly but surely they are overcoming near-impossible hurdles. More importantly, by doing so, they are dictating the pace of the electric car infrastructure.

Truth is, I can’t wait to top up my future electric car at the charging pole in my neighborhood. So go ahead – start charging.

Do we have the guts to be wrong?

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

“Either you are wrong or I am right”? How many times have you met or spoken to people that all you heard was their “right” point and your “wrong” point? How many times have you walked away from a person only because you felt that he or she was too invested in hearing themselves?

I believe this is global phenomena that crosses over countries and cultures .  I also believe, that most of the conflicts of the world, exist because people are not willing to stop the train, get off, wait for the next one and meanwhile do some reflection on themselves.

I have decided to re-visit this topic I wrote about years ago because it is so relevant today.

Good management, in my mind, has a lot to do with one’s capacity to seek, search and select the “truth” by listening at least as much as speaking. We send a message in everything we do, everything that we say and everything that we represent.

We are what we are but we can always be better just by listening and hearing the other side. Can we do it without help? Can we do it just by realizing that we need to do something differently?

I know a little country that is in the international news all the time. Its reputation is mixed. It has a mighty army, it has produced many major breakthroughs in science, technology, music and medicine, it has some of the most beautiful women in the world but it also is in denial, and I mean Huge Denial.

Think about it for a second. Just hear me out before you declare me wrong. I have received hundreds of e-mails over the years telling me amazing things and amazing figures about this little country. Since I am a little man from this little country, I am always proud of the great achievements. I am also amazed as a person that has traveled the world, to see many little people like me in my little country, see so little of their capacity to make the little – big.

Why is it that the business people, the citizens and the management of this country don’t see the true essence and the reality of their economic future? Why so many smart people don’t see what some of the greatest minds of the world are seeing? Is there any limit to one’s denial?

When Jack Welsh, the former CEO of GE, took over a “small” company, he realized that to make it “big”, people will need to change their approach, their style, their attitudes and their perception.

He realized that the art of excellence requires excellent people using excellent methodologies and achieving excellent results.

No compromise!

He made GE a $100B company, which if you compare to the GDP of the little country I know, it ain’t bad…. But Jack knew when something different had to be done. Does the “little” country know?

Do they realize that their wealth and poverty gap is increasing faster then many western countries? Do they realize that they are losing market share in several countries because of the negative PR they are receiving in the international press? Do they realize that during times of economic distress, other countries have made sure to develop and inject new vitality into their universities while in their “little” place they are killing the future of the universities?

Do the people of the “little” country realize that if 80% of the population is supported by taxing 20% of the population, it is not going to hold water forever?

Denial my friends, is the name of the game. If I am right and you are always wrong, down the line I will collapse, and you will realize how wrong you were…. Wake up friends, this little country is in trouble and only a few realize the magnitude and depth of the problem.

Help yourselves by helping this place. Get involved with practical people that are trying to make a change. Support sound and logical fiscal policies even if you know that they are going to hurt. Help friends get jobs if you know the right people, volunteer in your children’s schools to save the collapsing system by supporting the teachers with your knowledge.

Last but not least, since management is my field, how about following the advice of ancient saga about starting to understand knowledge is when one realizes that he doesn’t know.

Lets “Walk our Talk” by realizing how wrong we all are so many times, and how deep our denials can be. Get involved in helping all of us, become the people that know what is right by admitting sometimes we can be wrong.

Mighty rivers of creativity bring Tsunami of innovation

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

By Prof. Shlomo Maital

Mighty rivers of creativity, Shlomo Maital, שלמה מיטל, יויה

Mighty rivers of creativity

A recent BBC World Service poll completed in February reveals a painful fact − Israel is regarded by much of the world as illegitimate, a pariah, a social reject. Against this tsunami of anti-Israel sentiment, rises “Start-up Nation”, a best-selling book on Israeli innovativeness by Dan Senor & Saul Singer.

Thousands are reading the book to learn how this little country invented the cell phone, Copaxone, Azilect – a heart pump, drip irrigation, the Given Imaging pill that ‘broadcasts’ your intestines’ condition,  the Pentium chip,  and a thousand other life-changing inventions,  while fending off enemies and squabbling endlessly with one another.  “What is driving it,” Senor recently told the cable network CNBC, “is a national ethos, resilience, the fight for survival.”

Why not build on Start-up Nation’s buzz?  Why not rebrand Israel as the nation where creativity lives — come see for yourself?

Cont./ from Newsletter May 2010 main page:

A first step in this direction was taken recently by Prof. Shimon Shocken,  who founded the Efi Arazi School of Computer Science at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center.  Shocken and a team of dynamic young people led by Maya Elhalal and Liat Aaronson organized a TEDx gathering on April 26 at a highly unusual venue near Jaffa Port called Na Laga’at (more about the venue later).

The BBC survey covered 29,000 people, interviewed by phone or face-to-face in 28 countries.   The question was: For each of 17 countries,   do you regard the influence of Country X in the world as mostly positive or mostly negative?

Half the respondents rated Israel’s influence as negative.  Only 19 per cent rated it as positive. The rest were either neutral or ‘don’t know’.

Incredibly, the results for North Korea are slightly better than for Israel; Iran rates only slightly worse.   In only two of 28 countries does Israel have a perceived net positive balance:  America and Kenya.  And in America, only 40 per cent gave Israel a “positive” rating, down from 47 per cent a year ago.    There is not a shred of evidence that Israel’s leaders lose sleep over these terrible numbers, let alone take action.

Against this tsunami of anti-Israel sentiment, rises Start-up Nation, the best-selling book about Israeli innovativeness by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, reviewed in The Report on Dec. 7 (“When Chutzpa Wins”).  Friends abroad tell me the book has aroused enormous curiosity about the source of Israel’s boundless creativity, mainly in the U.S. but in other lands as well.  Thousands are reading the book to learn how this little country invented the cell phone, Copaxone, Azilect, a kind of heart pump, drip irrigation, the Given Imaging pill that ‘broadcasts’ your intestines’ condition,  the Pentium chip,  and a thousand other life-changing inventions,  while fending off enemies and squabbling endlessly with one another.  “What is driving it,” Senor recently told the cable network CNBC, “is a national ethos, resilience, the fight for survival.”

Why not build on Start-up Nation’s buzz?  Why not rebrand Israel as the nation where creativity lives — come see it for  yourself?  A first step in this direction was taken recently by Prof. Shimon Shocken,  who founded the Efi Arazi School of Computer Science at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center.  Shocken and a team of dynamic young people led by Maya Elhalal and Liat Aaronson organized a TEDx gathering on April 26 at a highly unusual venue near Jaffa Port called Na Laga’at (more about the venue later).

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design.   It is an American group dedicated to “ideas worth spreading”  that has built a popular, fascinating website where brief 18-minute talks by creative people are uploaded, many of them given at TED conferences in the U.S.  (   The ‘x’ in TEDx stands for ‘ex’ or ‘held outside the US’.   TEDx Tel Aviv was the first TED conference in Israel.   A second, TEDx Holyland,  will be held in Jerusalem on October 28 and will feature Jewish-Arab partnership.

The TEDx Tel Aviv conference was limited to only 340 participants, each of whom had to write an essay saying why they deserved a seat.  (However, for the crowds who did not gain admission, a  simulcast was broadcast to 18 sites throughout Israel).   The theme was “thriving on turmoil”.

In his opening remarks,  Prof. Shocken used the phrase “might rivers of creativity” to describe Israel.  And then, one by one,  we saw those rivers burst forth, as Israeli after Israeli spoke inspiringly, 15 of them in all.   In just 18 minutes, each described a brilliant idea and then explained how they made it happen.

What we learned from this amazing day was that Israeli innovativeness is not confined to high-tech.  It is pervasive and ubiquitous,  in social action, education,  therapy, music,  dance.  (And in politics?  Alas − no creative politicians could be located).  Participants ranged in age from 14-year-old Ori Sagy, who is a “scientist of the future” at Tel Aviv U., to myself (age 67),  Raphael Mehoudar, who invented drip irrigation for Netafim and Anita Shkadi, who introduced horseback therapy to Israel many years ago.

Here is a sample of six of those mightily creative people who spoke and the ideas they implemented.

Shimon Shocken chose to talk not about computers or software, but about juvenile offenders.   A fanatical mountain bike rider, he rode past a juvenile jail one day, talked his way in and pitched an idea to the warden, who at first found it highly amusing. (Creative people are never deterred when their idea arouses gales of laughter).   Result:  Every Tuesday Shimon leads a group of juvenile inmates on a challenging mountain bike ride, to build their self-confidence and tolerance for frustration.

Anita Tal, who directs plays, was asked in 2001 to come to Jaffa to work with a dozen deaf and dumb actors suffering from Usher’s Syndrome, a progressive genetic disease,  and until then living in darkness and silence.   How in the world does one do that, she wondered?   Result:    The curtain rose in the Na La-ga’at (“please touch”, in Hebrew) Center on “Light Is Heard in Zig Zag”.   In 2004 the unusual company toured Canada and the U.S. and won rave reviews.  Today the Na Laga’at Center, where the TEDx conference was held, features the Blackout Restaurant, where dinner is served by blind waiters in complete darkness — a startling experience I strongly recommend.  Tal was given the Chesed (Grace) Award at the Knesset in 2008.

Karen Tal (no relation),  principal of Bialik Rogovin School in South Tel Aviv, told how she upgraded a rundown elementary school of 800 children, many of them refugees or children of foreign workers hailing from 48 countries, two-thirds from families with a single parent.   In five years she and her team raised the proportion achieving Matriculation  from 28 per cent to more than 70 per cent.  She serves her kids hot lunches, and runs a Hebrew ulpan for 45 parents.  In the afternoons the children study art and play sports.  The school choir sang for us; the polyglot blend of ethnic groups singing in perfect Hebrew brought tears to our eyes.

Shimon Steinberg, a scientist, talked about “bugs are good for your health” and told how at Kibbutz Sdeh Eliahu, biological pest control creates good bugs that destroy bad bugs. The global biocontrol industry today amounts to $250 m. worldwide and aspires to replace an environmentally-harmful pesticide industry that is 100 times larger. Israel is among the leaders.

Isaac Berzin spoke about “fill it up with seaweed”.   At MIT, he is making biofuel out of algae, after being told it could not be done.  Berzin thinks it is smarter to make biofuel out of algae than out of corn, which takes food out of hungry people’s mouths.  “Tell an Israeli it was never done before, it can’t be done, and you get their attention!” he said.  “We Israelis invented ‘Yes, we can’ (President Obama’s slogan)  first”.

Ehud Shapiro, a Weizman Institute scientist, told us about the human cell lineage tree.  Shapiro made a stellar career in computer science in the U.S., then came home to the Weizman Institute and shifted into biology.  By tracing how our 100 trillion cells divide from an original fertilized ovum, he believes we can crack cancer’s origins, by learning how and why cancer cells divide uncontrollably.

It is an utter travesty for Israel to be perceived by the world as a pariah, rather than what it truly is,  a light-bulb unto the nations.   At a time when countries in the West are struggling to recover from the global crisis and are seeking new innovations to lead the way, they can learn much from Israel.  Let every Israeli official abroad convey that message with conviction, at every opportunity.

Courtesy of Jerusalem Report Marketplace – Prof. Shlomo Maital *   Senior research associate. S.Neaman Institute Technion.

What if we could project into the future?

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

What if, יויהץ

By: Yoram Yahav

Charles Darwin once said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives or the most intelligent, but rather the ones most responsive to change.”

If the word “change” has been crucial over the last hundred years, then today in my mind, it is probably the hottest term to describe anything, anywhere and anyone who lives, experiences and breathes on this planet.

What if people could project into the future and make more intelligent predictions? What if leaders could visualize and successfully enact transformation? What if we could tell when earthquakes occurred and predict their capacity? Or know the time and places of economic collapse and devastations? If this was realistic, would we act differently? Will we prepare ourselves better?

I argue strongly that our whole demeanor and our natural internal defenses prevent most of us from preparing for future changes, even if we know that they will happen sooner or later.We tend to act and react based on our “past conversations.” We are either afraid of, do not want to, or avoid addressing possible future changes, if they don’t synchronize with our hopes and normal path of least resistance.

I travel and work with people of many religions, cultures and preferences. Regardless of our biases and previously acquired judgment values, I find (“surprisingly…”) that people are people are people… Fear of the unknown move across boundaries of countries, race and experience. Change troubles us, scares us, threatens us, alarms us. You can probably come up with several more adjectives.

Last week I was privy to a discussion involving some of the European Airlines. For them, managing change and addressing possible futuristic directions is about survival or death. Who would have predicted the volcanic eruption in Iceland, who would have believed Europe would be on the verge of financial bankruptcy in the spring of 2010? When individuals discuss their own maps of the future, they don’t even realize they have a mental map until they hear about future mental maps of others. During discussions of this nature, I find people open up more.

It is so wise and so called for to engage in activities which help understand tomorrow’s outcome. These should be based on futuristic approaches as opposed to our collective past experiences. I am amazed to see in my work that not every country, leader and global corporation is actually establishing daily routines and methodologies to educate others to think this way.

Today’s airlines should sincerely consider tomorrow’s worst and best scenarios and address them with real possible action plans as though they have already happened. This can lead for example to construction and acquisition of travel companies in other relatively safe areas such as light trains or green-tech energy related companies. I can clearly keep writing and flood you with data and information we collected over the years, but I want to leave you with a few thoughts of possible scenarios.

I want to take the risk that you may criticize my thinking, adopting the excuse that the present is the most important aspect of our existence and when tomorrow comes, we will address it then.

So, with this risk in mind, here are a few scenarios:

  • Iran shoots a nuclear war head at Israel and it kills fifty thousand people… The world is in shock, Israel reacts…
  • The technology for replacement of eyes, noses, legs, arms and faces is readily available
  • Security measures and recognition measuring devices become obsolete
  • The president of France died and his son actually took his face five years ago. The people are shocked… New blood recognition icons are required by law for every citizen of the world…
  • People easily live to 150 years and retirement age is established at 130
  • Conventional medicine has virtually disappeared
  • Canada is now the “Empire” of the world. It is the only country left with enough oil reserves and it is considered the “greenest and cleanest” country in the world.
  • The Canadian dollar is the new global currency and the U.S (or what’s left of it) is now “the Mexico of the 20th Century”
  • Al Gore was right. 28% of the world’s land as was known in 2010 is under water
  • Space settlement is not a dream but a factual program. The new “space” country is recruiting future citizens based on their UVP (Unique Value Proposition)…

I could go on and on but I will end with one practical suggestion. Look into yourself, visualize the best and worst that you can imagine about yourself twenty years from now. Now go back to “your past” and confront what you could have done to change or prepare better. I know it is difficult and uncomfortable, but having seen the process in action, all I CAN SAY THAT IT HELPS.

Why futurist skills are needed now and how we can all adopt a few:

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

We were recently introduced to Fresco’s Venus project (link below) and caught a glimpse of a future outlook through powerful visual animations, encompassing innovative infrastructure, technology and transport experiences. The outlook was positive, inspiring and full of hope.  It struck an accord because future outlooks in the west today are shrouded by uncertainty, driven by the impact of climate changes, economic volatility and the compound effect of technology developments.

Trying to put myself in the shoes of my 11 year old son, certainties of western middle class culture such as home ownership, job security and even growing life expectancy are ephemeral as the forests, clean air and wildlife.

Perhaps if he was an 11 year old Chinese boy, he may see things differently. Witnessing a fast growing urban and industrial skyline materialize, the future maybe just that more palatable. The luxury of revering in this milieu of hope for our Chinese boy is a product of a long term, future thinking culture and a decades-long approach to planning.

But future thinking and futurist skills are not restricted to Chinese strategists or professional futurists or spiritual gurus. Truth is; not one of them can predict the future.

Equipped with the right toolbox and a common sense approach, they and every one of us can develop some futurist skills. Yes, certain methodologies and techniques such as scenario planning and backcasting require professional knowledge and expertise, but as John Moravec points out in his article titled: “Do it Yourself Futurist”, some techniques can be adopted by all of us.

So to, futurist Dr. Patrick Dixon claims; if we read more across-the-board newspapers and websites (he calls the books of tomorrow) and think beyond our immediate surrounds, we will condition ourselves to future thought: ” Most people,” he says, “see the future as more of the same; faster computers, better cars, more TV channels. They can’t see the big picture – how life itself will change.” Incidentally, he claims market research can’t predict the future, it can only tell us about today. “Survivors will be future-thinkers”, he continues, “companies that see six months to two years further than competitors…It means taking a bigger, wider view, an integrated approach.”

The Chinese would say, and I tend to agree, six months to two years beyond your competitors is not enough.

What both Marovec and Dixon are saying is; future thinking also involves environmental scanning. In simple words – gathering, analyzing, and dispensing information. Looking at your market environment, eco-system and macro-environment where changes in the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political (STEEP) sectors affect your organization.

Another set of helpful tools come from the school of brainstorming and graphic visualization such as the Futures wheel ( – a provocative way of assessing future trends. For example, let’s say we make the following statement: “By 2015, we talked to out mobile devices, they read our moods and talked back to us”. In effect, it’s a vivid way of expressing related trends such as replacing keyboards and touch screens with voice and mood reading technologies. The next stage is extrapolating the first effects emerging from this shift in mobile device infrastructure and everything depending on it. Information about these techniques and more can be found at websites of futurist organizations.

We at Yoyah Group look forward to developing with you the skills, the tools and awareness for preparing ahead and, in so doing, help to inspire a more positive outlook.

Debbie Meltzer

To Fresco’s Venus project: