NECA 2018 Jeff Sample technical session

The Sun, the Stars, and the Moonshot

Five steps to reaching a seemingly unattainable goal

Most people would find it difficult to successfully engage an audience at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning, but not Jeff Sample. A self-professed ski bum nicknamed the “Ironman of IT,” Sample works for JBKnowledge, a construction technology consulting company based in Bryan, Texas.

In his presentation, “Building a Mad Scientist: Driving Innovation,” the 20-year IT veteran, who has a special interest in helping construction companies adopt new technology via a collaborative, cross-generational approach, enthusiastically shared what he believes it will take for electrical contractors to succeed in an increasingly technology-driven landscape.

“Many people don’t realize it, but the construction industry is oldest industry in the world,” he said, citing the Egyptian pyramids as an example. “Building things is instinctive.”

But to survive in today’s rapidly evolving construction climate, Sample says companies need to figure out how to overcome disruption and foster greater innovation.

So how do you ensure your electrical contracting business doesn’t go the way of Blockbuster, Tower Records, Borders Bookstore, or Kodak? Sample’s solution is simple: Dedicate time to “building mad scientists” (e.g., the Nikola Teslas and Thomas Edisons of yesteryear, and the Cody Nowaks and Rick Khans of today). According to Sample, this can be accomplished by implementing the following five steps.

  1. Set an audacious goal. Sample calls this “the moonshot.” He used President John F. Kennedy’s goal of safely sending a man to the moon before the technology to do so even existed as a prime example of what defines a moonshot.
  2. Allocate a dedicated staff and budget.
  3. Implement a process so that a good idea doesn’t die quickly. “Remember, the process has to be repeatable over time,” Sample said. “Take the Alabama Crimson Tide football program, for instance. Players come and go, but year in and year out the team remains one of the best in the country. That’s because their process works.”
  4. Spend time studying the problem. Sample recommends spending 90% of your time doing this.
  5. Focus on adoption. Gamification, which involves making a game out of things, is a good way to encourage employees to accept and learn new technologies, according to Sample.

He went on to stress how he believes technology, such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 3D printers, smart watches, and smart glasses (like the Microsoft HoloLens), are the wave of future for the electrical industry.

“The possibilities offered by VR and AR are almost limitless," he said. “For example, they could help offset the skilled labor shortage by keeping older, more experienced employees in the workforce. People won’t physically have to be present a job site, but their expert knowledge will be available in real-time.”

Sample offered one final piece of advice to those who want to explore emerging construction technologies. “Find the ‘tinkerers’ at your company — you know, those people who come up with a better way of doing things while sitting at their desk — and give them a path to succeed. They may fail, and that’s OK. You want to fail as early and as often as possible. Only then will you find a solution.”

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