Mar 3, 2021

Who is best positioned to seize the mantle of leadership?

By Mark Lien

Progressions: The Queen’s—Or King’s—GambitWhat if we looked at our lighting community as part of one united organization instead of a group of disparate parts competing for dominance? What if we elected a leader to guide us through this period of transition and gave them the authority to assemble the parts to strengthen the future of our community?

The President, King or Queen of the Lighting Community are not titles to be seriously considered, but the idea of a lighting authority that acts in the best interests of the whole industry is a critical necessity for a healthy lighting community. If companies and individuals are only watching out for themselves, then who has the bigger responsibility to look out for all of them? Imagine if each of our 50 states were only concerned with what happens within their borders and there was no unified regulations, national defense or support during disasters. It is good to care for our companies and ourselves, but without some overarching authority that is unmotivated by personal or corporate goals, we are divided—and divided we fall.

One obstacle to being the lighting authority is the lack of cohesiveness in our industry. This is always true for the reasons noted above, but recently we were faced with another force of division. It is the increase in previously disparate trades encroaching into our community. It is a fascinating time with so many people, products and organizations now talking about lighting but, as with our companies, it is within the context of their own interests. The awareness of lighting has been elevated beyond any point since the initial appreciation of the benefits of electric light. This is a timely opportunity to provide a cohesive network of components that can integrate into lighting systems and align with these disparate groups.

This convergence brings increased complexity. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.” The challenge is to make lighting simpler for users as it increases in complexity. It is hard to simplify the wall switch or dimmer. Lighting apps require that you activate your phone, open the app with another password, navigate to the control page you need, and then control the light. That is not simpler and these apps have not caught on. What we need is to simplify more complex but desirable functions. Intuitive devices that learn our behavior patterns, automate color-changing throughout the day, improve vocal controls, etc. exceed the limitations of the wall switch but if they are not easy to understand and use, they will not be successful. The convergence also requires that we quickly learn medical terms related to lighting’s impact on life forms. We must learn horticultural terminology and the effects of spectral distribution, intensity and duration on plants as well as new technologies both lighting focused and through convergence with other industries. Imagine having to navigate these changes without the help of a lighting authority to develop the industry standards, to educate us, and to organize and conduct the research necessary to substantiate our direction and decisions.

Another limiting factor to becoming the lighting authority is scope. Being focused on human vision now excludes applications like horticulture, germicidal ultraviolet and most of the topics associated with light and health. As lighting expands into new areas it requires new expertise but also may necessitate redefining our traditional definition of electric lighting being for human vision. The IES has evolved to include these non-visual aspects of lighting all while continuing to support the solid-state lighting transition into more traditional applications. The IES has signed MOUs and formed working relationships with key new players anticipating and guiding the future of our industry for the betterment of our whole lighting community. It is a holistic approach and a rising tide that lifts all of us concerned with making our buildings, companies and lives safer and better performing to improve our quality of life.

HOPEFULLY OUR COMMUNITY SEES THE VALUE of having the IES as their lighting authority. The IES is a non-profit with a mission to “improve the lighted environment by bringing together those with lighting knowledge and by translating that knowledge into actions that benefit the public.” Consider our response to the pandemic. We issued multiple webinars and a report on GUV. We transitioned to virtual conferences with increased educational content. We addressed how COVID-19 was impacting our community. During this difficult time, we released the most comprehensive lighting library on our planet in an all-digital format that simplifies instant access and can be continuously updated. Previously standards would be years between updates. With the unprecedented speed of change in our industry years can make documents more historical than relevant.

A good question to ask about your job or your company’s future is whether, if you ceased to be, would others just fill the gap and life moves on, or do you offer something unique and valued that would be missed?

Despite the recent backlash against big tech, Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook have unique offerings that would be missed by millions of people. If we did not have the IES, who could fill the gap in standards, education, research and advocacy on behalf of our community?

For decades I was an IES Member, now I am on staff. My colleagues at the IES are smart, focused, caring professionals dedicated to our mission. There is a sense of camaraderie, not competitiveness, as we work together for the betterment of our Society and community. This commitment is critical, but you cannot be a respected and effective authority without also having the support of those you serve. The IES needs to not only be recognized as the lighting authority but supported as the lighting authority. We are stronger working together. Your support is inextricably linked to the strength of our lighting community. A megachurch pastor said on one of my first visits to the church that “you can sit in the back and just soak it in and we will leave you alone, but the more involved you are the more you will benefit from being here.” That is equally true for the IES.

If our community chooses not to support the IES (and there is no alternative organization), then our community’s voice weakens to cacophonous whispers having lost the force of unified messaging. Without unified messaging from a lighting authority we have mixed messaging. Without a clear and consistent voice, we will be sublimated to larger interests and industries precipitating the decline of lighting as a community. People will still need lighting, but if it is added to the product mix from other industries it will likely be relegated to a commodity product with price more important than quality. It is our job to represent you and our community and our members and all those with an interest in lighting. But we cannot be effective without you. Just sharing how the IES has helped you can help others and our lighting community.

In his latest book, Dr. Sanjay Gupta stated: “I want to live my life like an incandescent light bulb, burn brightly my entire life and then one day suddenly go out.” He added, “We don’t want the flickering fluorescent light bulbs that signal their ultimate demise.” I would add “or like an LED that depreciates slowly in a prolonged decline, growing less effective and valuable until so dim as to be useless to anyone.” I hope that our lighting community does not depreciate slowly in a prolonged decline even as flickers signaling potential demise intensify around us.

The author Jean Kerr said, “Hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you have isn’t permanent.” The feeling that I have is that our lighting community is facing impending changes that are not positive and there is no concerted unified effort to strengthen our position. It’s time to act.

RESEARCH IN LIGHTING IS UNDERFUNDED. Research could clarify how our lighting products improve our health, how to make our highways safer, reduce more carbon from energy savings, and grow higher quality and increased quantities of food for our planet. Research could reveal incentives for more sustainable product design, develop a new metric for the lumen that better aligns with our vision and so much more. If we do this along with developing timely standards and educational content, we lead. If not, others will, since the need is evident. We do not have lighting royalty or a President of our community but we do have a lighting authority, if we can keep it.


Mark Lien


Mark has designed interior and exterior lighting systems for a wide range of applications including residential, municipal, retail, healthcare and both conventional and nuclear power plants. Over several decades he has provided lighting education while working, presenting and... More info »