Cheryl offers: Tony Hayward, the current CEO of BP, has had a lot more media coverage than he likely ever anticipated when he took over as CEO three years ago. His comments have ranged from naïve to crass, possibly plainly offensive. It’s an interesting way to have millions of people get to know you as a leader, which is certainly the role he’s been given and must fulfill for BP at this time. So what kind of leader is he? Judging by some of his off the cuff comments, he’s not one focused on others very often. His comment, “No one wants this over more than me: I want my life back” doesn’t sound like a leader who is high in compassion for others. His more measured and likely media coached comments regarding the spill come across with far more compassionate and concern for the multiple ways damage has been done. My question is, which one is the real Tony? I’d vote for his off the cuff persona myself. How leaders respond to crises is a huge indicator of who they really are at their core. They respond from habit, default, and core values developed over a life time. To me, that’s how each of us creates our true self, with practice, focus and attention to developing ourselves over time. As Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner tell us in A Leader’s Legacy, “Adversity introduces you to yourself.” As the impact of the oil spill moves from weeks to months to years, Hayward builds his legacy each day. I wonder what Hayward is learning about himself and if he can leave a legacy worth admiration.
(note from Randy – I am certainly no expert in this field. I read books, and then try to let the authors and the books speak. This post is an attempt to let Friedman’s book speak to us).
The news is not yet turning any better in the aftermath of the Gulf Oil disaster. Oil continues to escape. No expert is sure, but there seems to be a growing consensus that the total amount of oil seeping into the environment is going to be greater than the 11 million gallons of the Exxon Valdez disaster – maybe much more.
Maybe it’s time to revisit a few of the quotes/warnings from Thomas Friedman’s book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Like this paragraph:
We now understand that these fossil fuels are exhaustible, increasingly expensive, and politically, ecologically, and climatically toxic. That’s the line we’ve crossed.
What changed? The simple answer is that flat met crowded. So many more people were suddenly able to improve their standards of living so much faster. And when the crowding of the world and the flattening of the world converged around the year 2000, the world went into a track where global demand for energy, natural resources, and food all started to grow at a much accelerated pace – as the Western industrialized countries still consumed considerable amounts of energy and natural resources and big emerging countries got to join them at the middle-class dinner table.
So, this is the problem. What is the solution? There is no “one solution” — it will take an array, a constellation of solutions. But, before we embrace any solution, we have to acknowledge the reality:
“Hello, my name is Randy,
We are the United States,
We are the world,
And we are all addicted to oil.”
Only when we acknowledge the depth of the problem do we have a chance to turn toward true alternatives. (Remember, the phrase “alternative energy” is about true alternatives!)
Friedman includes this quote in his book:
“Obsessing over recycling and installing a few special light bulbs won’t cut it… We need to be looking at fundamental change in our energy, transportation and agricultural systems rather than technological tweaking on the margins… To stop at “easy” is to say that the best we can do is accept an uninspired politics of guilt around a parade of uncoordinated individual action…” (Michael Maniates, Washington Post, November 22, 2007).
Our economy needs us to make money on energy in ways that are – renewable; cleaner; different.. The fish, and the people who make their living from our oceans, need no more oil spills. Our bodies need cleaner air. The reasons are numerous – it really is time to get serious about alternatives.
Here’s Friedman’s key quote from the book:
Green is the new red, white, and blue because it is a strategy that can help to ease global warming, biodiversity loss, energy poverty, petrodictatorship, and energy supply shortages – and make America stronger at the same time. We solve our own problems by helping the world solve its problems. We help the world solve its problems by solving our own problems.
If climate change is a hoax, it is the most wonderful hoax ever perpetrated on the United States of America. Because transforming our economy to clean power and energy efficiency to mitigate global warming and the other challenges of the Energy-Climate Era is the equivalent of training for the Olympic triathlon: If you make it to the Olympics, you have a better chance of winning because you’ve developed every muscle. If you don’t make it to the Olympics, you’re still healthier, stronger, fitter, and more likely to live longer and win every other race in life. And as with the triathlon, you don’t just improve one muscle or skill, but many, which become mutually reinforcing and improve the health of your whole system.
So far, engineers have been unable to seal the leaks that were discovered after the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. Eleven rig workers are missing and presumed dead. Crude is leaking into the Gulf from three breaches in a pipe called a riser that once ran to the rig from the well under almost a mile of water. (from the Houston Chronicle, here).
The offshore drilling rigs off the coast of the United States are not required to include an “acoustic switch,” which can be triggered even from a lifeboat…
This Remote Activated Device, called an acoustic switch, is considered a weapon of last resort when it comes to sealing off ruptured offshore wells, but isn’t required on platforms operating under U.S. laws.
The Acoustic Switch’ is used by other industrialized nations, but not considered mandatory by U.S. Regulations. (from Reuters, here).
So here’s the thing. One of these days, something will go wrong. Really wrong. And the bigger the damage that can be caused when it does go wrong, the more important that there be back up systems, and then back up systems for failed back up systems.
And the reason we are still arguing over government regulations (safety, financial, and other) is that many companies will try to get by with the least amount of expense “required by law.” So when they can keep some requirement out of the law, then they can get by with the lesser expense.
Until that really big thing goes wrong.
So – we come to the great oil spill, following the explosion that cost 11 people their lives, of April, 2010. It may do little good to cast blame. But it does a lot of good to ask “could the oil leakage have been stopped?” And the answer might be yes. Yes, I said might. But – I think that BP wishes they had installed that $500,000 acoustic switch to see if it might have worked.
How much oil are we talking about making its way to the shoreline of our country? No one knows for sure, but the experts have increased the estimate of the oil leaking out at least four times, and the current estimate could result in this spill potentially matching the 11 million gallons of the Exxon Valdez loss. And the worst case scenario could rise much, much higher if they cannot stop the leak soon.
So, here are some lessons for people making decisions in business. And though I am thinking of the big decisions, where the consequences of something going wrong can be massive, the lessons might be valuable for us all. (Have you ever seen a speaker not be able to get his/her technology working properly? Have you ever been that speaker?)
1. Expect, and plan for, the worst case scenario. Because it really, really might happen. It only took one Exxon Valdez for the environment of the Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef, and surrounding areas, to be damaged for a very, very long time.
2. Budget for every possible back up system. Redundancy in back up systems was a necessity for NASA. Regarding this explosion and aftermath, I heard one expert describe how the back up systems all failed (yes, they had more than one) – a truly rare occurrence, according to this expert. But now that we know that there was one more that could have been included in the construction, don’t we all wish (from BP, down to all of us) that they had spent the extra $500,000 dollars to put it in place and give it a chance to work?
3. Maybe the biggest lesson — regarding those folks who try to persuade us to let them build big projects, and they say “we are confident that nothing will go wrong” – don’t believe them! They mean well. They are not intentionally misleading us. But – they really can’t promise that nothing will go wrong. We learned that one the hard way – again.
This is truly a tragedy, with the loss of human life, and a crisis — with the threat to the environment, the food chain, jobs along the coast – of monumental proportions. I hope we learn the big lessons.