Being a Lightning Rod is Shocking Good Fun

Posted: November 6, 2014 in General Commentary, General SSL Commentary
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There are many subjects in lighting, specifically in the universe of solid-state lighting, that need to be actively discussed and openly debated. Issues such as qualitative issues (color, color accuracy, glare, brightness, illuminance levels, etc..) over quantitative (lumens per watt), or the discussion of blue light content, or scotopic v. photopic, or supplier issues, or even the problems of being a small fish in a pond filled with big bloated corporate fish and a governmental agency who believes itself now a lighting expert… These all require active dialog to be resolved and grow understanding.  Too many times, the discussion of important topics are held in little rooms, hidden from view, with conclusions drawn, recommendations and regulations written – to be handed down like tablets from the mount, for us all to simply step in line and accept as fact. We have far too many instances of white paper writing scientists issuing their narrowly focused findings through their myopic peer groups, to be used as swords and weapons against the unwashed and unknowing masses. I find the creeping movement of lighting away from its roots as a human experience enhancing art-form into the hands of marketing zealots, narrow minded PhD’s working in their corporate labs, and federal or state agencies with agendas to follow outside our need to know… well, disheartening and disgusting.

With 33+ years now active in the lighting market, as specifier and designer, I have trepidation about the direction things are moving, and some of the people now actively seeking leading roles as influencers. I am reminded of the lyrics of the feature song by Pink! in her Fun House album:

“Pictures framing up the past
Your taunting smirk behind the glass
This museum full of ash
Once a tickle
Now a rash

This used to be a fun-house
But now it’s full of evil clowns…”

I sincerely enjoy and am passionate about working with light and what it can do. As an artist, I also enjoy the connection of functional use of lighting product, how a fixture can be at once art in and of itself, perform a functional purpose, and create an artistic lighting effect. The tri-fecta of fulfillment to me.  I also have a right brain that can’t help but dive into the technology behind lighting, that is intrigued by the new potential of solid-state, which is why I abandoned conventional product design over 9 years ago now. This leads me into learning adventures, where I experience truly fascinating individuals, like Naomi Miller of PNNL, Steve Paolini of Telelumen (who has been a tech mentor of sorts off and on), Dr J. at Osram,  Kevin Dowling once from Color Kinetics, Eric Haugard of Beta fame, Mark McClear at Cree, Jim Benya, Evelyn Sahaja, Darry Berrigan, Jennifer Vetch,  and brief encounters with dozens of professionals, all highly skilled and intelligent individuals, who are not only generous with their time, but open minded to discussing topics from unique perspectives, and don’t mind an energetic debate. They also allow me to be wrong, point me to areas of improvement, or open doors to new information, ideas, science or concepts that enhance my experience and depth of understanding. This is the fun-house side of lighting I enjoy and have drawn from over my entire career. Without these individuals (both in general and in specific), I would have left this industry many moons ago.

That said, over the last several years, I now frequently run head first into the absolutists. This is a group of individuals who have charged themselves with being right, who attack and criticize, rather than actively contribute. For some reason, in an age of social media, we have become a closed society, where the only social interaction is to jump out of bushes to attack others. These are the Evil Clowns, and I’m decidedly sick to death of them. They detract from forward motion in their need to be right above all else, backed by their library of half-understood facts and figures – often taken out of context and formulated into little packages to prove a point – over simply having intelligent dialog that leads to learning and growth.

The human brain is a strange bit of squishy goo that must connect information into cognitive reality in its own way. You cannot just tell someone what it right and have them accept it, any more than telling anyone to quit smoking, to lose weight, or to chew their food quietly is effective. They must find their own way to that realization, in their own time. The stronger the reality involved is, the quicker that absorption is. For example, it takes a nano-second to impart a deep understanding of the concept that jumping from an airplane without a parachute is, at best, unsafe. For issues that are less stark, like the qualities of light that cause people experience of it to be emotionally satisfying, the conversation can go on for decades and not lead to any final singularity or agreement.

This leads to the need for many topics to be openly, continuously, and freely discussed. Yet, there is a reluctance of intelligent individuals to invest time in such effort, outside organized environments, to avoid exposing themselves to the evil clowns who degrade discussion into an argument of absolute conclusion and black-white acceptance of a singularity. I am not that smart. I believe the more discussion we have, even if that exposes me to this darker side, like a lightning rod to a storm, the better we all are. I personally feel that too many issues and ideas are held back from public and industry view, that would benefit us all from a more free-form level of discourse. It can be painful at times, to be sure. Like the latest row on the Blue Light topic. On one side, I have received several strong and valuable references to new information and understanding, while being hammered on by a small cadre of absolutist attackers, who seem to think any expression that is not absolutely, perfectly factual, will cause the earth to spin off into space.

To set the record straight.  If anyone reading this blog, any editorial content I have provided over the years to magazines, or heard any of my presentations at conferences, believes that I hold myself as an absolute authority on anything, that my beliefs are cut into stone, that I am convinced of my righteousness… you could not be more wrong – of that I am absolutely certain. I revisit thoughts and beliefs constantly, and swim in the blood of sacrificed cows. I explore topics I am unqualified to dive into, with a willingness to expose my ignorance in order to act as a catalyst for others to learn along with me. Sometimes I am way off base, and take some time to reeled it all back in. All I can say is that this is a process. Yet, with equal frequency, I believe I have contributed to out-of-the-box thinking that has brought new understanding to others, including experts in fields I am dabbling in. I am pretty fair at making connections between divergent and disparate disciplines, and being more generalist than specialist, enjoy making those connections work to some new advantage. This is where I add value to my customers – not from knowing everything outright, but knowing how to connect their needs with solutions in unique ways.

Design itself is a process of discovery, where being wrong initially is the path to coming to the right solution. You cannot develop new thinking, discover a new approach, or find a fresh path by doing what has already been done, the way it is already accepted as being accomplished, using the tools everyone else already uses. In this, I am frequently finding dead ends, errors in logic, failures of concept, and being wrong… In fact, design itself is the work of being wrong and failing as quickly and as frequently as possible, to discover a new solution. This takes stamina and courage, as those too timid to make these errors, or risk exposing themselves to being found wrong, never deliver the world anything new. How can they? You can’t stay in your safe warm home by a cozy fire and find the path to the South Pole. You have to put your life on the line, do the hike, and accept the fact that your discovery will come at the risk of catastrophic failure. I’m fine with that. I was raised by a math professor/engineer, I know how to handle being told I am wrong (even when I am right), frequently. I hope to not be as dead wrong as Scott on his return from the South Pole, but accept this is indeed a possibility at times.

To bring interesting topics to the fore, exposed for debate and discussion – for those on a similar trek,  lurkers who learn by observation, and those interested in seeing another’s viewpoint on a familiar topic, I will act as lightening rod. In this, I accept that this exposes me to the shock attacks by those unable to allow themselves to explore and mentor others into greater understanding, that the absolutist evil clowns will take their shots to prove or promote themselves, or to correct my grammar when all else fails. In this I find something to be learned regardless, and am comforted by the reality that while I am bending around, looking into new corners, thinking about new things across a wide range of disciplines, those who are most prone to deliver their high voltage reactions, are just as wrong in their belief that there is such a thing as absolute rightness anywhere in the grand gray universe we find ourselves floating about in.

So, thanks to all of those who know where I am coming from, who have provided me advice, feedback, constructive criticism, insight, and stimulating discussions. The absolutists be damned, I am determined to continue enjoying this business, this strange lighting universe, and will weather whatever storms and bolts of fire I must – to grow and deepen this interest and pursuit. I hope to inspire others to enjoy a similar journey, perhaps clearing the path for more fun, by drawing the attention of the clowns away from the real fun-house lighting can be.

Let me know you are there once in a while, if you find the inclination to do so, even if it is a private e-mail. Be warned, I dispatch evil clown attacks wherever they emerge with one simple mouse click.

Now, back to work….

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