Little Critters Know How to Reach Their Goals. Do You?

Creative engineers have just figured out how little animals navigate towards a goal.   A recent report in The New York Times describes how small marine animals swim with a corkscrew motion–“the most common pattern of motion in the world,” according to one of the researchers, Hugh Crenshaw.

“Dr. Crenshaw found that the organisms navigate by sensing the intensity of a stimulus — light in some cases, a particular chemical in others. If the organism is heading straight toward the stimulus, the level doesn’t change. If it drifts off in the wrong direction, the stimulus fades. The organism can simply change the curve of its spiral to change direction. ‘It’s a really simple rule,’ he said.”

What microscopic animals can do, you can, too.  The basic method for navigating your way somewhere is well described by the Model for Improvement:

You need to know your aim (for example “Reduce our energy use by 10% in the next year”).  You need to know if you’re making progress (you need to measure to know–monthly energy values  for your entire building are basic  but daily or hourly measures for all or parts of your building can really drive your progress)   Next, you need to take some kind of action–to change if you are not on track to achieve your aim or to continue to invest effort if you are on track.   Finally, just like the little swimmers, you are really testing whether your changes and actions are effective– you need to study  whether you are on track or not, based on your measurements.   If you haven’t yet reached your goal, you need to either keep going with your actions or try something beyond what you’ve been trying.

An aim, measurements, ideas for action–these are the basics for any management system.  Energy Stewards helps organize your actions (think Action Table!) and shows your building’s energy performance over time, month by month.   You still have to provide the human energy to try out changes to procedures, set points, or equipment.   You can try out operations changes on a small scale if you are unsure whether the benefits will outweigh the costs–but whether a small or large step in using energy more intelligently, don’t forget to measure how you’re doing.   You don’t want to swim off in the wrong direction!


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