A Monthly Publication from Citrin Consulting
The Current Wars
August | 2013


IN THIS ISSUE

Uncourageous Leadership

TED Talks

Some New Ideas

 
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Uncourageous Leadership

The Current Wars

It was 1893 and the war that ended that year electrified the country. The main protagonists were Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse. The fight was about who would control the world of electricity. To the end, the battle had taken many ugly turns, representing what I'm calling Un-Courageous Leadership.

As everyone knows, Thomas Edison designed the first commercially viable light bulb. Commercialization of the light bulb would only work, however, if Edison could also provide the system to deliver the electricity needed to illuminate the bulb. Edison's solution was to use direct current (DC) electricity and he began to build DC power plants wherever he could secure a contract from a local municipality. The advantage of DC power was that it delivered the same voltage level throughout the power lines from the power plant to the light bulbs in houses. The voltage was low (100 volts) and thus quite safe. The downside was that many local power plants had to be built since DC current could not be transferred long distances.

At about the same time, a bright young Serbian engineer named Nikola Tesla began his quest to find a way to bring electricity to masses of people through alternative systems. Tesla had studied electrical engineering in his home country prior to immigrating to the US in 1884. Upon arriving in America he secured a position with the Edison Machine Works and presented his new boss, Thomas Edison, with ideas about how he could make DC motors more efficient. Edison reportedly told Tesla, "there's $50,000 in it for you—if you can achieve it." When Tesla did improve the machinery, Edison reneged on the offer and instead gave Tesla a $10 weekly increase in his salary. He reportedly told Tesla that he "did not understand American humor". Tesla resigned.

Soon afterwards, Tesla formed his own company and designed an alternating current (AC) production system that he soon patented. Alternating current (AC) is produced and transmitted at much higher voltages, then "stepped down" at transformers so that it comes to our houses at just the right voltage. The great advantage of AC was that it could be transmitted over long distances, could power equipment that had different voltage requirements, and was less expensive than Edison's direct current electricity.

After demonstrating his system at a conference, Tesla met the Pittsburgh industrialist, George Westinghouse. Westinghouse immediately saw the opportunities with Tesla's systems, purchased the patents, and hired him as a consultant to work in his labs. At the time, Edison's DC system dominated the marketplace but Edison knew that Tesla's technology and Westinghouse's organization would soon be a powerful competitor to his work. Edison's next step—begin a war of words against Tesla and Westinghouse's AC system.

Edison's approach was to convince the public that AC electricity was not safe because it was transmitted at a higher voltage then his DC electricity. To do this he embarked on a campaign of murder—literally. He instructed several of his technicians to demonstrate to the media that AC kills—cats, dogs, cattle and horses. Even worse and although Edison opposed capital punishment, he secretly paid one of his staff to invent the electric chair and advocated for its use in capital punishment cases so that he could show how AC electricity killed. He even coined the term "Westinghoused" as a way of describing how AC current killed those condemned to death by the chair.

Soon however, the "current wars" would be decided on the battlefield of the marketplace. The 1896 Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago, was looking for a method to power their Fair. They took bids and asked for demonstrations from both Edison and Tesla/Westinghouse. The Edison DC system was big, clunky, filled with miles of copper wire and would cost $1million. The Tesla/Westinghouse system was sleeker, more manageable and only cost $500,000. The AC system won the bid and provided the electricity that powered the Fair. The battle was over and the war had been won. AC electricity powers our nation's energy grid.

We continue to see other wars fought with words and media campaigns. Political campaigns may start off with good intentions of taking the high road but inevitably wind up "going negative". Drug companies badmouth their competitor's products because they don't work fast enough or last long enough. Mudslinging your competition is always an option if you don't think your product or service will meet the needs of the marketplace. His Uncourageous leadership may not be a path you want to follow in your leadership work. For some people winning at all costs may be the way to go but for others, finding the courage to do the right work may be harder and may even be less successful. Do you lead from a "win at all costs" approach or find a path with the courage to win on the battlefield of the marketplace?

 

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TED Talks

Ever have the spinning beach ball show up on your computer? "oh my" you think. You may "cntl, alt,delete" or "cmd, delete". Or perhaps you just unplug everything and do a full reboot.

What if you embrace the spinning beach ball and have fun with it? This will work for sure... at least for the 3:49 that Colin Robinson will tell you about Solar Energy..

Go ahead and let go....

 

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Some New Ideas

I always think of the new school year in September as being another opportunity for a fresh start. Next month, I'll be sharing some new ideas with you to improve your business, your leadership and your life. I'm excited to be sharing these with you soon. For now enjoy the rest of your summer!

 

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