Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Unemotional Pivot?

I've been working on a project for the last eight months. We committed to the process in June 2022, and now in February 2023 we are saying this doesn't work, we're essentially canceling this project and pivoting to something that we know we can make work.

What changed? Well we originally picked the old process based on assumptions we had about lead times, and technical ability to do certain things. And we did have progress. We broke ground in areas that I don't think anyone else has explicitly done. We read published literature and didn't find anyone doing exactly what we were doing. We also had (have?) a path to success using that process we committed to, however we all came to realize that the amount of time and money needed to make that successful was more than we had available. Doing a new cool thing for the sake of doing a new cool thing doesn't make businesses successful. It's about making and shipping a product to a paying customer, or some variation of that as it relates to delivering a service. So we decided to make a change.

For all practical purposes this was essentially a secret development. Only a handful of people actually understood what we were doing. So in the spectrum of failures, it wasn't even remotely public, even across the organization. However, as I've thought about it the last couple weeks, I feel this sense of emotional defeat and personal failure. I advocated for this process, and it failed. As much as I try to make it an unemotional pivot, we tried a technical path and it didn't work, so we're going to go to a more well established path, there is still that sense of failure. 

As I reflect on the failure, there are three technical pieces of information that had we known any one of them at the beginning we probably would not have gone down this path. One was an obvious one, but also one that there was some limited published papers suggesting that it was an issue that could be solved. Unfortunately we ended up solving that problem in an expensive way by adding a whole other process. The second and third issues were unfortunately specific to the application of the process that we chose. I'm trying to avoid any hint of specifics on this because it's part of the secret sauce in my industry. Those second and third issues, had we known from the outset, would hopefully have stopped us in our tracks.

It's not all negative, I've learned a ton in the process. There are some technical things that I now know, with many applications, that were very difficult lessons to learn. I now know from experience some things which could potentially save my company even millions of dollars on future projects. Still, in this moment, it feels like a waste. As I like to say, we created "desk art" which is to say very expensive pieces of hardware that will never be used because they were ultimately a failure.

Can you have a big pivot and not have emotions attached to it? I'm not sure. The more time and effort that gets invested into something the more sunk cost hope there is that it will succeed. By the same token, it's okay to feel bad about going down a dead end. Now you know it's a dead end. One day you might even laugh about it.

While the result of going down this path for eight months hurts emotionally as it feels like failure, I'm really proud of the team that worked on this and pushed the technology forward! We learned an incredible amount. We did things that are truly cutting edge technology. And like most business projects we developed a number of new business relationships that you never know how they might be mutually beneficial in the future. It's a small world, and it's fun to be a part of it.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Why I'm buying a Rivian

In June 2021 I finally put in a deposit for a Rivian R1S SUV. I have had my eye on them since 2018, and when I returned from Denali, having recently turned 35 I thought, 'now is the time.' My estimated window is this year, in the fall, and I've been watching videos and thinking about getting it, and I wanted to lay out why I want a big electric SUV.

For starters, I've spent a lot of time on glaciers, over six months of my life, between time on four longer expeditions and a number of smaller mountains. While I don't have evidence that I have collected myself to quantify climate change, I can tell you that the glaciers are melting. The streams in them are big, some nights the streams don't freeze completely. Other times the rockfall is far higher than it would be if the rocks were frozen. These places just feel precarious. Like if they were a little colder they would be stable, but they are not that cold.

The evidence from scientists says that carbon dioxide and methane from burning fossil fuels is an enormous contributor to climate change. And as anyone who has stood behind an idling 4runner knows, it's just not that fun to choke on exhaust from an off road capable SUV that on it's best day gets 21 miles per gallon.

On top of this, I've never had a car less than 11 years old. My daily driver just turned 21 years old. My weekend adventure 4runner is 16 years old. Yes I can definitely continue driving these vehicles. I've never had a car loan and the thought of one scares me. I like low insurance costs. However, I've been saving money for years, and as I looked ahead to my 40s I thought, 'am I ever going to buy a new car, after all what am I saving for?' My college plan had been to get a job out of college and quickly buy a Mini Cooper, however my 2010 year of unemployment dissolved that idea, and I've been driving at least 11 year old used cars ever since. So I had a bit of a reflection and decided that you know what, I could in fact afford such an expensive car as long as I kept working. Plus, the Rivian comes with an 8 year powertrain warranty, which puts it into my mid 40s by the time it would be out of warranty. I hope that in that time my financial situation looks even better than it does now.

Finally, given all of the above, I feel an obligation to do more about climate change. I think a lot of people either don't care because it's a slow moving crisis, or are overwhelmed because the scale is so big that they don't take any action. Since I make a good income, I feel like I need to take action. Yes, hopefully battery prices get cut in half and the size and weight of batteries gets cut in half in the next five years, and charging infrastructure becomes as reliable as going to gas stations, but until that happens the market (people like me) needs to step in and encourage research, development, and infrastructure build out by creating demand for those products and services. Me buying this expensive car shows Rivian and other companies that there is demand for these types of vehicles. And when I inevitably charge it on road trips, that shows the charging companies that they need to have reliable chargers. 

I test drove a Mitsubishi i-Miev way back in 2012 or 2013, and then a Tesla Model S in 2015. I've had my eye on an electric vehicle for a long time, but nothing really fit the bill to do the things I wanted until the Rivian came out. I like to take road trips of several hundred miles to four wheel drive trail heads and camp there preferably in the car, not exactly what the average EV was designed for. At some point this year I will be taking delivery. And I want to give as many people test drives in it as possible. I want to let others get behind the wheel and experience electric vehicle driving. From a mechanical point of view EVs are simpler than internal combustion engines. It stands to reason that they should last even longer than the existing vehicles on the road. Perhaps you need to replace the battery pack after 10 years, and then you can get another 10 years out of the vehicle. I don't know. It's going to be an adventure!