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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Doctor Honris Causa: Address to UASLP Dignitaries and Guests



·         Señor Arquitecto Manuel Fermín Villar Rubio, Rector de la Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí

·         Doctor Fernando Toranzo Fernández, Gobernador Constitucional del Estado de San Luis Potosí

·         Miembros del Consejo Directivo Universitario

·         Miembros de la Junta Suprema de Gobierno

·         Maestro Jorge Pérez González, Director de la Facultad de Ingeniería y Miembros del Consejo Técnico Consultivo de la propia facultad

·         Señoras y Señores funcionarios estatales, federales, municipales y universitarios

·         Universitarias y Universitarios

·         Señoras y Señores



I would like to begin by thanking the University, the Jurado de Honor, and the Junta Suprema for this great honor.  I would also like to show my appreciation to all who worked on the honor, and who prepared this wonderful event this evening.


The Honorary Doctorate which you have given me means a lot.  Of course, I’m delighted to be recognized as an entrepreneur and engineer.  But there are deeper feelings of families, communities, educational institutions, business, all growing more closely together.  Over the past 50 years, we’ve seen Mexico and the United States get together more closely and in new ways, and I’m sure we will see that trend to continue.  It’s happening today:  SEL is a part of the San Luis Potosi community.  We feel close to you.  It’s amazing to me how education, technology, and doing business together can unite people.  These activities lower physical, political, and social obstacles, and at the same time provide us all new domains in which we share and appreciate our individual beliefs and cultures.   


In 1965, when I started college, all the engineering students had to take Engineering 110, to help us understand what engineering is all about.  On the first day of class, the professor asked  us to write down why we wanted to become engineers.  I wrote that I hoped to take science, mathematics, and technology and bring them together to solve problems, and somehow make the world a better place.

Universities teach the science and mathematics, as well as liberal arts.  They teach critical thinking and problem solving.   Technology is a union between applied science and the daily practices of industry, and is a great area for universities and business to work together.

Here is where we learn the fundamentals that “don’t rust.”  Where better to learn math and science than here at the university? 

What about technology, then?  Where is the “sweet spot” for universities? 

Consider computers.   Learning about how computers work, different approaches to computing by machine, and the state of the art of the technology is definitely “IN.”  So would be learning to use computers as tools, to help learn and investigate other things.  An architecture student today needs to learn a design and drafting program that runs on a computer to become a modern architect.  An electrical engineer today needs to learn how to use a circuit-analysis program to become a modern electronic engineer.

If the university focuses too much on turning out experts in using those design tools, then they are probably missing the mark.  Those skills are valuable, but not nearly as important as the underlying knowledge of architecture or circuit design, taught and interpreted by a professor who comes to work every day to share true knowledge.

We cannot allow learning the tools to overshadow learning the fundamentals.

It’s not too hard to learn to run a drafting program, and that does not make one a great architect.

It’s not too hard to learn to run a circuit-analysis program, and that does not make one a great electronic engineer.

Learning architecture and circuit design will last a career.  Learning today’s computer tools will only last a few years before they change.

Universities need teaching laboratories where students work “hands on” with real equipment, and with professors who understand it.  Computer simulations are no substitute for laboratories.  Take an induction motor, for example.  I believe that until you see one work, take it apart and put it back together, and test and measure its performance, you’re not going to be equipped with the guttural feel you need to have for the mathematics and science inside it to make any sense.   How heavy is a kilogram?  What can an ampere of current or a Coulomb of charge do?  And, there’s still nuances that are hard to model, where the “real thing” has no substitute.

Laboratories are also where we learn and experience the Scientific Method …Purpose, Apparatus, Procedure, Results, Conclusions.  Conducting experiments at the university under the guidance of an experienced professor is how we learn enough to go forward and design our own experiments later.

I feel that sometimes universities can get off track…even be driven off track…by industries or individuals who would confound the role of universities with the particular and immediate needs of industry or individuals.  So, let’s keep the focus on the fundamentals, while using today’s technology to relate those fundamentals to the real world.

And, together:  there are tremendous opportunities to contribute and collaborate.  Industry can support teaching the practical.  Universities can help solve difficult new problems in industry, but more importantly, deliver well-prepared graduates who are ready to not only put their knowledge to work, but also are open-minded and ready to keep learning.  Universities can support industry with advanced and recurrent learning opportunities, and collaboration on problem solving.   Industry can support universities with internships, equipment donations, sabbaticals for professors, joint projects with professors and graduate students, and factory tours.

I’m happy to share that your university and our company are already together in most of these joint opportunities. 


And, that brings us to the importance of an honorary degree, as your institution has graciously granted me.  Not only is it a great honor, but also I feel it is an invitation for us to work together more closely.  It creates a new opportunity for SEL and UASLP, and I can help catalyze new joint activities. 


Please allow me to share a few thoughts about creativity, invention, and entrepreneurship.  People have told me that I’m creative, but I never felt it to be true.  I want to be creative, and believe most people have that need.  So, about ten years ago, I started reading psychology books in an effort to understand creativity.  The writings of Carl R. Rogers meant the most to me.  I hope I do not offend any psychology scholars, with my “engineer’s” interpretation of Rogers’ work!!

Creativity stems from the psychological SELF, and stems from the uniqueness of the individual, and the range of his experience.  That experience includes education, interaction with others, and circumstances of life.  Two or more people cannot have an “idea.”  Two or more people may work together, and thereby share knowledge, but the spark of creativity flashes in ONE brain.  Others may have contributed to the spark happening, but the spark happens in exactly one individual.

The motivation, according to Rogers, is man’s tendency to actualize himself, and to expand, extend, develop, mature, express, and activate all of the capacities of the organism, the SELF.

What are the inner conditions necessary for creativity?  These are conditions we can foster in ourselves, and help others find.  Rogers expressed three keys:  openness  or extensionality;  an internal  locus of evaluation (meaning is it of value to “me?”); and the ability to toy with elements and concepts.

My father used to like to say with humor, when he encountered stubbornness, which is probably the opposite of openness:  “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts!” Good lesson!  When I’m listening, I need to actually listen, and hold the new ideas out in front of me, and examine them, and be careful not to immediately discard or criticize them.   I must avoid thinking about what I’m going to say next while you’re talking.  How important it is to be “open” to new ideas.  And, sometimes, how downright difficult it is to actually BE open!

What is an “internal locus of evaluation?”  It’s the SELF answering if I’ve created anything of value to me, if it’s “me” in action, if I’ve expressed part of “me.”  Let’s think of the importance of this in a so-called brainstorming setting.  What if you express an idea, and I immediately reject or criticize it?  I would be guilty of short-circuiting your “internal locus of evaluation,” unless you’re strong enough to withstand the criticism…even if I’m right!  Your idea is valuable to YOU, and may be a step on the way to something really important.  I shouldn’t kill it out of hand.

Yet, think of how easy it is for us to kill ideas.  Here are some of my favorites, from work:

Ed won’t like it.

We tried it before and it didn’t work.

It’s too hard.

It’s too expensive.

It won’t work.

We never do it that way

We always do it this way.

We can’t because we’ve never done it that way before.

They’re actually pretty funny in the context of creativity, yet these happen every day.

The third ingredient Rogers talked about was the ability to toy with concepts or elements.  This is PLAY!  But it’s not like playing a game with well-defined rules.  It’s more like the time I opened the refrigerator and asked my wife, “Honey, what can you make for us for dinner with what’s in here?”  Lucky for me, she took that as a compliment of her creativity.  Or, how children play.  I was listening to our grandson last weekend, who was alone in another room, playing with his stuffed animals, making it all up spontaneously, and fully absorbed in play.

I concluded we’re born with a lot of creativity, and it’s so easy to set it aside, and it’s often discouraged in favor of discipline, orderliness, structure, process.  All these are important, at different times.  They can coexist.  Think about how Charles M Schultz, the creator of Peanuts cartoons, was creative every day, producing the next cartoon strip for the papers; and how Mr Schultz was organized and disciplined enough to produce his creative work on a daily basis.

I’ve learned I actually have to sit down and actively think, “OK, right now I need to be creative.” And, to develop the discipline to shut out creativity’s enemies for a while, until I need to return to the structured and organized world again.

Which is a good tie-in to entrepreneurship.  Entrepreneurship is the process of answering this question:  how can I take this half-baked idea, further evaluate and develop it, turn it into something OTHERS want, build it, sell it, support it, and make a fair profit from it, so I can do it all over again and again?

This gets back to where we started…taking science, mathematics, and technology and bringing them together in new ways that serve the needs, interests, and curiosity of others.  That was what I wrote down that first day of engineering school.



Let’s compare two ways of building a business: starting small and iterating, versus thinking big and trying to get there in one giant step.

I took the iterative approach, beginning as a consultant, and saving my money, so I could work on digital relays.  The first digital relays we sold were far from perfect, but they found use as fault locators, and generated a revenue stream, which we used to improve the product.  As they became accepted as relays, and generated a wider revenue stream, we could develop an entire product line.  As the product LINE grew and produced new revenues, we could develop meters and communications to complement the protective relays, and so on.

All the while, we were learning from our own work and from our customers.  And we maintained ownership.

Compare that to thinking big, and envisioning a successful international company making modern solutions for the control, protection, metering and automation of electric power.  We might have written a business plan 30 years ago, but I fear it would have been off the mark.  Funding such a huge adventure would have taken a lot of money, which I didn’t have, and which would have meant giving up ownership, and listening to the new owners’ concerns, maybe at the expense of creativity and eventual success.

I offer that the iterative approach is more in line with creativity; and the big step approach lines up better for producing a result that can be very well-defined at the outset.

Today, we use BOTH approaches.  We have exciting research and development under way to pursue new ways to manage power systems, and we’re pursuing this in an iterative fashion.  We are also expanding the global reach of our company, and for that we’re pursuing more of a big-step approach.

I’m going to be 65 years old in a few days, and have been an engineer for over 40 years.  I love working, problem-solving, and encouraging creativity and entrepreneurship inside SEL.  It’s exciting and satisfying to see new manufacturing processes, signal-processing breakthroughs, new applications and solutions, and, most of all, to see that excitement in the eyes of others.



In closing, may I one more time express my gratitude for this honor and recognition, and for the opportunity to address you this evening.  Thank you for the attention of the University, its leadership, dignitaries, guests, and family.




Facultad de Ingeniería, UASLP
Dr. Manuel Nava # 8, Zona Universitaria poniente, C.P. 78290, San Luis Potosí, S.L.P, México
Tels. (+52) (444) 826.2330   Fax: (+52) (444) 826.2336
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