Change Leader: The Industry Needs To Recognize Those Who Bring About Change
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Joe Cavanaugh is executive vice president of technology at Tensar.
This particular webcam interview was recorded by Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure. You can view a video of the full interview at the top of this page or by visiting bit.ly/3qiPrMu.
Joe Cavanaugh is one of the founders of the Resilient Roads Roundtable, a group of organizations and people sharing a vision to improve the performance of roadway infrastructure. Such improvements include being more resilient—so roads last longer—and using materials that are more environmentally sensitive.
“It’s a bit of a shift in thinking from an empirical-based design approach to advancing the design approaches we’re using, changing the way road design and construction currently works,” explains Cavanaugh.
Like many aspects of the infrastructure industry, he notes it’s difficult to “do things differently” and introduce performance standards. “There’s always a reluctance to change,” he says. “So we felt we needed to go about this with a broader group of like-minded folks, both businesses as well as people.”
The Resilient Roads Roundtable hopes to pull this group together and start to change how the industry approaches overall design and construction of road infrastructure with a keen view toward more-resilient construction.
The Power of Recognition
To spur the needed change, Cavanaugh believes an important part of the Roundtable’s mission is to recognize those who are “taking chances” and leading progress, even if it can be risky. Because civil engineers create the “built infrastructure,” their projects have to work, function and do the job for which they were intended. However, as infrastructure continues to degrade through time and environmental conditions worsen, the industry needs to change to be more effective.
“We need to motivate people to want to disrupt our ways of thinking, and challenge ourselves and peers, and even challenge our bosses and politicians to embrace this concept of changing, of trying to come up with better ways of doing things, and, in some cases, be willing to accept that we may not always have all the answers before we try something,” adds Cavanaugh.
“There’s just been a real paradigm of, ‘if it isn’t 100-percent proven, you can’t implement it.’ And that’s not always the case,” he says. “There are ways you can implement things, try them out, test them. And I think we don’t reward folks who try things out enough.”
Cavanaugh believes that some recognition of people succeeding by failing “in a safe manner” would be an effective way to let people know that innovation is appreciated and shouldn’t be avoided while continuing a status quo that no longer works.
“In most other modern-day industries—and where technologies are rapidly developing—this is what people are doing,” he adds. “They’re trying, and they’re failing, and they’re learning from it. And they just keep at it and keep trying to keep getting better. If we can find ways to bring some of that into our industry, some great stuff could happen. As long as we’re learning from it, then it should be celebrated and rewarded.”
Sustainable and Connected
In terms of overall trends in roadway infrastructure, Cavanaugh believes they will follow patterns in many other types of infrastructure: they need to be more sustainable and better connected through technology.
This can be accomplished through better design approaches and thinking more in terms of how engineers come up with new methods of analysis, new ways to test materials and new design approaches. Then they need to take advantage of new computational capabilities.
“We’re going to have to challenge ourselves to come up with ways to design so we can incorporate, perhaps, recycled materials into the constructions, or materials that last longer, and find ways to incorporate those benefits into either the design approach or the economic analysis that goes into the decision-making of what solution you choose,” he says. “I think that whole concept applies very broadly to our civil infrastructure in all the physical assets we’re building.”