Rehab is an excellent and timely topic when we are talking about the rebirth, regrowth, and the restoration of a badly injured economy. It is refreshing, rejuvenating, and renewing to discuss efforts we will take as an industry, province, and a country to regain, restore, and recapture that which has been lost. Really!
Industry experts and politicians use the “RE” emphasis a lot when talking about plans, goals, and aspirations. In most cases, the goal is to somehow return, reset, or restart to a previous point in the game. Rehab experts usually understand reversal of an injury is not generally possible, but with the right effort, you can regain the functionality that was lost. This nuance is often lost on the general population.
“We will make it as good as it was before– just like new,” goes the mantra. It is like rebuilding a home that is lost to fire. A phoenix rising from the ashes. We have the plans. We have a clear memory of what it looked like. It is always easier to simply replace what was lost as close as possible, than to build something entirely new. We default to what is comfortable.
But, is that what we need? Is that what we really want? If what we had was so damn good, then why is it gone? How did it get damaged in the first place?
In this issue, Oilfield PULSE asked, “What does the industry need to do to get back to full strength and achieve prosperity once again?” You’ve been hired as the oil and gas ‘physiotherapist’, or psychologist if you prefer, and it’s your job to get the industry healthy and help keep it that way.
But, as I look around at the still smoldering ashes of our recently wrecked economy, I cannot help but marvel at the opportunity it affords to now do things differently, to envision and meet future needs, and to perhaps even do it right this time.
Using a pen (or pencil), the task is
to place your instrument on any of the 9 dots,
and with 4 straight continuous lines,
draw a line through all 9 dots.
One example of this philosophy which leaps to mind is DIRTT – Doing It Right This Time. DIRTT is a leading technology-driven manufacturer of highly customized interiors combining new and innovative 3D design software with unimagined modular design solutions. DIRTT has become highly profitable and successful, challenging the status quo at every opportunity. But, the same can be said for other highly successful mavericks, such as Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg.
Given the celebrity iconic status of these industry giants, the first question we should be asking in any rebirth or regrowth situation is, “What can be done differently this time?”
All successful innovations over the past 50 years have come from one single source: finding a new way to meet an existing need. It is never about the product. It is always about what problem the product solves. For decades, the record industry got entrenched with the challenge of producing better records. They then quickly went extinct when someone had a better answer for the question, “How can we reproduce better music?”
There is the commonly quoted urban legend about NASA spending millions of dollars to invent a pen that can write in space while the Russians simply used a pencil. The point of the story is to focus on the need (to communicate information) rather than the medium (a pen), which is the foundation of all out of the box thinking stories.
The economy of Canada and the welfare of its citizens is simply too important to be left to a theory that is faulty at best. Government has repeatedly introduced taxation to change behaviour with mixed and negligible results. Minute increases in gas prices do not change how people drive or the vehicles they use.
In reality, Paul Fisher invented the “space pen” to solve a number of real world challenges so pens could write upside down, underwater, and in extreme temperatures. NASA (and the Russian Space Agency) became customers (at about $6 per pen), because the device was a better alternative to the pencils they were using, which released wood and graphite particles and were a fire hazard.
The example I use most often with students and clients is the 9 dot test. Using a pen (or pencil), the task is to place your instrument on any of the 9 dots, and with 4 straight continuous lines, draw a line through all 9 dots. That means, once you start, you cannot lift your pen off the paper, and all the lines must be straight.
It seems like a simple task, but it quickly becomes obvious it is far more challenging than at first glance. Often, the first thing we need to do when thinking outside the box is to realize there is no box in the first place. Or, in Matrixese, there is no spoon.
The most fundamental exercise in change management, or management of any kind, is to always be asking yourself, “What service does this company perform? What problem do we solve?” When you find you are answering that question with a product description, then chances are your company or industry is getting ready to die out.
The oil and gas industry is a dangerous misnomer, because it focuses on the product produced to create mobility, electricity, heat, containers, lubricants, and dozens of other uses. As long as oil continues to be the most cost effective answer to solving real world needs, it will remain viable.
To fully recuperate and heal, our energy industry must take a long, hard look at what they are producing, how, and with what resources. Chances are, the Alberta economy is going to look very different in 20 years. The survivors in that economy will be the companies that start to visualize today what those future needs are going to be and how to serve them. The dinosaurs will be the companies that spend massive resources to recapture a way of life that no longer exists. In the world of guns, building a better bow and arrow is simply not the best long term strategy for success.
There is no question Alberta has suffered both collectively and individually. We were counting on oil staying at $100 forever. And, we speculated on what we would do with all the money when it reached $150. Intellectually, we understood it could go the other direction, God knows we have seen it often enough, but viscerally, that never really resonated with our herd mentality.
It’s like watching those people who continually rebuild their homes in the path of tornadoes much to the shock and distain of people who have never experienced such events. Or, a dozen years ago after a rash of random shootings in New York City, companies created Kevlar products for kids, which are bullet proof coats and school bags to protect children from drive-by shootings on the way to and from school. In what world is this ever a better solution than simply moving to someplace safer?
What is it that our company does? What problems do we solve? What solutions do we offer?
To have a better economy with stronger companies, we are going to need better answers to those questions. Although it is easy to answer questions with 20/20 hindsight, it is amazing how easily predictable most challenges are ahead of time.
Change is not always easy, but it is always necessary, and it will always be certain. It will either happen through us or to us. The single best predictor of successful solutions is the quality of the questions being asked.