Take the Gold for Problem Solving — Olympic Style

This blog often shares perspectives on innovation and leadership, traits we see in spades during the Olympics. As this Winter Olympics unfolds in China, though, let’s discuss the awesome problem-solving skills of the Olympians and what we can apply to our own business endeavors.

The performances of Olympic athletes can seem unbelievable. Part of the joy of watching the Games is seeing these amateur athletes accomplish seemingly super-human feats. As we all admire the commitment and dedication it takes to reach their goals, these athletes must overcome adversity, injuries, failures, COVID and, yes, sometimes depression.

Although you may not be signing up to speed down a mountain on a skeleton crew or to speed skate around a compact, crowded rink, there are many parallels to draw between Olympians and successful businesspeople. Perhaps most importantly we are all driven to problem solve. The athletes need to solve problems to do with shaving off seconds, or landing a jump, or even getting safely to the games, while we back home regularly face business problems or chemical process problems.

Successful professional problem solvers share the following characteristics as Olympians.


Olympic athletes must persevere and have a long-term view to train for four years. Sometimes even longer. Businesspeople and process engineers have persevered through the unprecedented times beginning in 2020 and continue today to solve problems. I’ve written previously about a model of perseverance, Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog, Togo. This is a characteristic we can all continue to hone (athletes or not) to achieve our goals and meet unique challenges.


Olympic athletes train many hours per day and many days a week, normally for decades. Every aspect of their lives is dedicated to the pursuit of that gold medal. There is perhaps no better example of this than the athletes who will compete in March’s Paralympics games, also in China. They’ve taken problem solving to an entirely new level by taking obstacles and turning them into opportunity.

Similarly, those who are successful as process engineers or businesspeople must invest countless hours of their time in pursuit of success. Though I’ll remind you I’ve written about the need for balance too! Taking a break from it all can help clear your mind for problem-solving success.

Speed and Flexibility

As we watch the Olympics, we always marvel at the athletes’ speed and flexibility.  During COVID, we all had to quickly pivot to find ways to thrive.  Chemical startups were done remotely using cameras and sometimes drones while restaurants that normally made their money from indoor dining put their efforts into promoting take-out and delivery. Other businesses  seized upon opportunities with “speed and flexibility” to provide products and solutions over and above their competitors. This is problem solving at pace, and this kind of agility is essential as business evolves today.


Great teams have great leaders. Numerous gold medalists have taken time to thank their coaches and mentors who have helped them along the way. Indeed, it takes a team to build an individual winner.

Similarly, successful companies are often led by managers who set examples and inspire their employees to perform beyond expectations. I’ve written previously about leadership lessons we can take from the 1969 moon launch or just getting out there in the plant and walking around. I honestly believe learning in one field can become applicable to others. That’s why I follow the Olympic athletes with such awe and admiration, but also an open mind to what I can learn from their stories, struggles, and successes.


Athletes are, by their very nature, optimistic. Without the belief that they can win, athletes do not succeed.  Similarly, successful people are inherently optimistic.  No one looks at a process problem or business issue thinking that they will fail. Sometimes, we do fail, but then we learn. Think of troubleshooting a filtration problem, we have to go into that effort with confidence we can solve the problem. Otherwise, we’d just jettison the system and start all over again (insanity!).

Problem solving with P&ID

Of course, problem solving is what I do every day. The mission of Perlmutter & Idea Development, P&ID, is to (1) assist with process and project development from reactions/mixing to filtration/cake washing/dewatering to final “bone-dry” powder and (2) help you disrupt your market and achieve competitive advantages in new markets and new applications worldwide with innovation and creativity. We may not get to mount a podium and hear an anthem play, but together we can problem solve the winning solution to your process concerns.


Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers: The QB & Creativity, Innovation and Evolution        

Aaron Rodgers

With the American football (not Fußball) season coming to an end towards the playoffs, there are many articles about who will win, etc.  My focus, however, is on creativity, innovation, and evolution. According to Conor Orr, in a Sports Illustrated cover story, Aaron Rodgers is the leader in all three of these.

To fully appreciate Rodgers, Orr argues we need to “think of the quarterback as a species onto itself.” Consider how the positions around the QB have changed over the past 20 – 30 years.  He points out:

  • There used to be only one speed pass rusher, “now there’s at least one on almost every team”
  • “Defensive backs have gotten taller and faster.”
  • “Defensive tackles are 35 pounds heavier on average, but run the 40 in times that compare favorably with old-school wide receivers.”

Ultimately, all this means, as Orr eloquently puts it, “the pocket, the quarterback’s oasis, has become a feeding ground for predators.”

Along comes the evolution

For his article, Orr interviews Shane Campbell-Staton, an assistant professor of evolutionary biology at Princeton University. His research integrates experimental and methodological techniques to gain a deeper understanding of how human activity shapes biological stress and evolution in the modern world. He’s studied big city lizards in Puerto Rico that evolved to survive the heat and outrun cars racing on busy streets. He’s analyzed elephants in Africa that evolved to produce female offspring with no tusks at a much higher rate (30% as opposed to 18.5%) in response to poaching threats. Orr applies Campbell-Stanton’s perspective: "It’s like Jurassic Park—life finds a way, right?” to football.

Quarterbacks, led by Aaron Rogers, after years of stagnancy and groupthink, are opening their minds to achieve stunning results.  The evolution or learned adaptation, has happened in a burst and not as a slow, gradual change over time as Darwin.

Aaron Rodgers

Historically, the quarterback was taught to plant the lead foot securely to ensure an accurate delivery. Aaron developed a new approach called the “Foot Pop.”  If you have watched him over the years, his biggest passes are using the Foot Pop. Orr writes, “it’s like watching a magician, even though you know the result, you still watch.”  This innovation occurred due to his bad knee; Rodgers tells Orr he had to figure out how to offset the pressure on that knee.  “The other part of it was just figuring out how to get ground force when throwing,” he said.  The Foot Pop launches his throwing motion and allows him to rotate his core faster and farther through his delivery.

Meanwhile, Rodgers says he continues to daydream about adaptations he can make to his mechanics. And football is following his lead. QB coaches used to stamp the unstructured moments out, but Orr argues, “they could be saving the quarterback species one lifted toe and sidearm sling at a time.”

Evolving our industry too

Along with Rodgers, football fans can see that each quarterback from Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, to Kyler Murray and others has a unique style. They are evolving to lead their teams to victory. Their innovation and creativity are part of what makes watching the game so fun.

Meanwhile, process engineers can learn from this adaptation too. I don’t often compare myself to Rodgers — although we both practice “hot yoga” — but I am just as intent on striving to be creative and innovative.  If only there were a Super Bowl for process engineering!

Wish You Enough: Looking Ahead to 2022

Do you know The Fabulous Thunderbirds? They describe themselves as “a quintessential American band.” They have been performing their “distinctive and powerful sound” since 1974. One of my favorite songs is “Tuff Enuff.” The “enough” theme is the focus of my blog looking back at 2021 and looking ahead to 2022.

The word “enough” has many different meanings in the English language. It generally means “equal to what is needed” or, in more detail, “occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.”  Other languages have their own words for enough:  suficiente, bastante, assez, suffisamment, genug, ausreichend, abbastanza, sufficientemente, 足り, 足够的.

As I think back to 2021, first, I cannot thank my all new clients “enough.” Clients both in the US and Europe have helped me successfully launch my consulting company, Perlmutter & Idea Development. It has been very exciting to provide guidance and assistance, and I look forward to expanding in 2022. Though, thankfully, I’ll know when enough is enough and not do as the song says of working “twenty-four hours, seven days a week.”

You are Enough: Let's Look Forward

We've all had "enough” of the pandemic too. I look forward to travelling more in 2022. With the necessary precautions, business and tourist travel should expand once again. I was at CPhI-Milan in November with one of my clients, and loved being onsite. There were 170 participant countries, 1,400 exhibiting companies and more than 50 online conferences & activities. To meet our customers, partners, and friends again, and face-to-face, was a real breath of fresh air!

I believe that 2022 holds “enough” promise to open up again to new opportunities. We may have been holding off before, but we are getting to a place now where we can each realize our personal and business potential and grow together. Let us let go of what no longer serves us and check-in with our goals and objectives. Instead of getting caught up in one particular narrative, I hope to take 2022 in its entirety to satisfy and go beyond expectations.

Please keep reading my blog and my LinkedIn posts and let me know your ideas. Let me know what you anticipate when looking ahead to 2022. I am optimistic for the future and look forward to more than “enough” innovation, creativity, and community to make us stronger in 2022 and the years to come.

St Kitts coastline

Circular Economy and Sustainable Travel to St Kitts 

St Kitts coastline

I have been recently writing again about the circular economy. My readers may remember by blog about  the Beer Industry and Sustainable Water with a Cherry Stout. Well, as much as I like a cold beer, I also like to practice yoga and run on the beach. With this in mind, let’s look at how one Caribbean nation is changing to renewable energy.

First, some background. St Kitts and Nevis is a tropical two-island country in the eastern Caribbean Sea. Both of the mountainous islands were formed by volcanic activity. St Kitts is a fertile island with mainly black sandy beaches. Nevis is surrounded by coral reefs and has silver beaches. The area is well-known for its lava formations, tropical forests and lagoons and the underwater marvels seen while snorkeling or diving.

OK, that’s enough being a travel agent. What I really want to talk about is the nation’s solar-plus storage project, which upon completion, is expected to eliminate 41,500 metric tonnes of carbon emissions in its first year. The endeavor is in keeping with the nation's participation in a United Nations Environmental Program for a Regional Coalition on a Circular Economy. It helps the nation pursue a resilient, diverse, and inclusive economic model that creates opportunities for a sustainable growth and moves away from a ‘take, make, waste’ mentality.

About the Solar-Plus Storage Project

The Solar-Plus Storage Project is a “significant milestone” for the region, helping to create a more independent energy market and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.  It is a $70 million solar and storage microgrid project by Swiss company Leclanché.

The project is a fully integrated system consisting of three core components: a 35.7-MW solar photovoltaic system (the solar field), a 14.8-MW/45.7-MWh lithium-ion battery energy storage system (BESS), and Leclanché’s proprietary energy management system (EMS) software.  When completed, it is expected to provide between 30% and 35% of the island’s baseload energy needs for the next 20 to 25 years.

A portion of the generated electricity will meet the island’s daily peak power demand, yet I’m particularly interested in the system’s battery storage. Housed in 14 custom-designed enclosures near the state-owned utility St Kitts Electric Company (SKELEC)’s main power station and adjacent to the solar field, the large-scale BESS makes it possible to meet peak demand after the sun sets.

Once completed the solar and storage system is predicted to replace more than four million gallons of diesel fuel per year. It is expected to generate about 61,300 MWh of electricity in its first year. Finally, the system is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly three-quarters of a million metric tons over 20 years.


Sustainability in the Circular Economy

It is great to see this project in the works and due to be completed by mid-2022. Leclanché CEO Anil Srivastava has said that the build “sends a strong signal to other Caribbean countries…that there is a cleaner, more cost-efficient and viable alternative to diesel power.”

Certainly, power generators around the region will be looking at the results. Recently, a group of Caribbean and Latin American states, including the Dominican Republic and Haiti, committed to ensure an average 70% of installed energy capacity comes from renewable sources by 2030.

I’m sure, like me, you’d be willing to work remotely in the Caribbean to see how this example of the circular economy plays out. Then, our tourist dollars are supporting a sustainable environment too!

Let’s work to sell this concept! Just as we need to continue to sell the circular economy model in all that we do. See you in the Caribbean in late 2022.

holistic approach to sustainability

Circular Economy and Closing the Loop in Case Studies    


holistic approach to sustainability
Source: https://www.the-future-of-commerce.com/2020/01/23/closed-loop-production/

Recently I blogged about how to address Circular Economy considerations in engineering and applied science settings and how companies too can learn to adapt. It is fast becoming a necessity as industry recognizes the criticality of a holistic approach to sustainability. For example, the UK last year announced £22.5m in government funding for five new R&D centers focusing on the circular economy and developing methods to reuse and recover materials that would ordinarily become waste.

Drawing on my interest in embracing the circular economy approach, I have collaborated again with Professor Ugur Tuzun of the University of Cambridge. Our recent Journal of Chemical Engineering & Process article is entitled Cradle to Cradle Systems Analysis for Chemical and Biological Engineers: The Role of Progressive Sampling in Possibility Envelope for Value Added Manufacturing Design and Chemical Process Applications.” 

The article discusses holistic systems interactions using two specific industrial case studies. The potential interactive teaching tools explore a mathematical framework of the principles of holistic systems interactions. At the same time, the article suggests industrial case studies play an increasingly important role in the teaching of systems engineering and sustainability within an industrial ecological framework utilizing metacognitive and experiential learning principles.

Closing the Loop in Holistic Approach to Sustainability

Each individual case study in the article makes use of the “closed loop” optimization of material and energy inflows and outflows to minimize waste and harmful environmental emissions. The attainment of the “closed loop” is achieved by facilitating successive progressive stages of materials and energy recovery and re-processing coupled with the re-utilization and regeneration of intermediate byproducts and waste from each successive processing stage. Available options to minimize harmful environmental impacts are explored by progressive sampling within the possibility envelope.

Via this experiential approach to teaching, the learner (student or operating company) is asked to demonstrate the systematic process of “narrowing down” options and choices through a decision-making process starting off with the lead activity lifecycle, which defines the outermost boundary of the possibility envelope. The scope of all possible actions and consequences is explored and reduced successively by the introduction and consideration of all other life cycles; progressing along a decision pathway that updates and integrates the considerations made under each of the materials and energy life cycles.

This is a valuable way of approaching decision-making, and students and operators can both benefit from this exercise of whittling their choices and weighing possible results. Read the entire article online to learn more about tackling sustainability issues in a holistic manner.  Professor Tuzun and I would welcome the opportunity to assist you.  Please reach out to us.