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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Sales, sails and swirls
June 16, 2008 - 8:57pm

Way back when I was fresh out of college, I tried to augment my meager salary by taking on some part-time sales work. As a result, I was exposed to some sales training. It didn't help much at the time -- my commissions didn't pay for more than my gasoline (even though a gallon then went for the price of a pint now). But I learned things which helped me later in life, so some of it must have stuck.

One of the lessons I remember specifically was about a technique which they called the "Ben Franklin close". If you felt that the sucker (I mean ... prospect) was hookable, but seemed unwilling to make a decision, you made reference to Ben Franklin as the originator of a decision-making technique. You then took a piece of paper, divided it into two columns, wrote "reasons for" at the top left, and wrote "reasons against" at the top right. You then asked the prospect to start listing reasons in favor of buying the product. To get the ball rolling, you reminded him/her of some good points they'd already nodded in agreement with. You then took over the reason-listing responsibilities, and made sure that the left-hand column (reasons why they should buy the product) was entirely filled in. You then asked for the list of reasons the person might not want to buy the product, "reasons against". If the prospect listed something, you wrote it down. But you didn't get the ball rolling, and you didn't suggest anything at all. Since you -- the salesperson -- knew more about the product than the prospect did, and only contributed to the "reasons for" list, that list always came out longer. Since there were way more reasons to buy the product than not to, the only question was ... how do you want to pay for that, up front or in three easy payments?

Now, the Ben Franklin closing technique was complete BS. It presented itself as a fair comparison between two opposing cases, while it was anything but. The knowledge that went into one case far exceeded that available to make the alternative. "Reasons against" never had a chance, at least on paper.

That particular bogus comparison came to mind last week. I fluctuate between confidence that emerging technologies will help us make the world sustainable and frustration that we keep on doing the same things in the same way, therefore getting the same results. What occurred to me is that society, including corporations, are making decisions based (unconsciously) on the Ben Franklin decision technique. Since what we've been doing is well understood, and what we might do in future is far less so, there's a strong tendency to look for marginal improvements, even when logic tells us that significant technology shifts are required.

A while back, I stumbled on some information about a different form of wind-to-electric conversion. The windbelt is an invention of Sean Frayne, whose start-up is called Humdinger Energy. Frayne's windbelt generates motion which reminds me of the way sails, particularly foresails, luff when they're not trimmed tight enough. (Here's a video of the demo Frayne gave at Google.)

Last week, I read a NY Times story about Jay Harman, an Australian naturalist and inventor who's studied vortices and come up with more efficient designs for, among other things, computer fans. Harman got his start by somehow molding the vortex created by water draining from a bathtub -- his designs have their basis in nature. Now, I could be wrong, but my guess is that if you run a more efficient electric fan backwards, what you get is a more efficient wind turbine generator.

I don't know if either one of these technologies is the next big thing, of if both of these inventors will die impoverished and forgotten. What I do know is that each of them is looking at familiar problems in unfamiliar ways. Each of them is getting results that more familiar technologies, however well understood, can't replicate. Each of them has the potential to help reduce the cost of wind-generated electricity.

If that's not enough to make me confident in the future, it's enough to keep me hopeful.

 

 

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