of us recall from childhood the Indian
fable of the six blind men describing the elephant. In E&P
Risk Analysis, it becomes an excellent parable to illustrate how
limited perspective leads to overly narrow predictive ranges, and
how group wisdom can be a practical remedy.
Of course, these basic
ideas underlay the evolution during the 1990s of what is now a standard
E&P organizational pattern: the multi-disciplinary team.
AAPG members Bob Sneider
and Ted Beaumont were prominent among advocates of such working
teams, which require personal expertise (derived through individual,
often solitary research) as well as periodic sharing of data and
perspectives aimed at shaping a group consensus regarding project
evaluation, business tactics and execution.
"Two heads are better
than one; four are better than two."
Another reason for the
effectiveness of such professional teams can be traced back to Adam
Smith (1723-1790), the father of free-market economics: heightened
efficiencies that come with the division of labor.
Today, widespread use
of workstations in E&P projects offers incredible productivity
and improved resolution. But offsetting these advantages are a couple
of under-recognized drawbacks:
- Long hours of solitary
effort that work to the detriment of development of interactive
- Results that characteristically
emerge as deterministic expressions, single-value estimates, rather
than probabilistic ranges, i.e. "The Answer," rather than
a range of possible outcomes.
No wonder we are so
frequently surprised by E&P results!
This leads to the recognition
of two other qualities that are also essential for multi-disciplinary
teams to function well:
- Professional objectivity.
- Good-faith teamwork.
In previous columns,
I've hammered on our responsibility to our stakeholders and clients
to be unbiased and objective about our geotechnical representations,
as practicing professionals. It is unfortunate, but nevertheless
not unexpected, that many, perhaps most, geologists and geophysicists
who first come to work in the E&P business seem to think of
themselves as scientists or employees, or technicians — rather
Most resist joining
their local societies, or AAPG, during their first years of employment,
and getting involved in professional affairs.
A few months ago, I
asked a distinguished professor at a prominent U.S. university,
"How would your graduate class in structural geology respond if
you asked them to engage in a class discussion about Professionalism
in Earth Science?"
the professor replied, "They wouldn't have the foggiest idea what
I was talking about — the topic is never discussed."
That's one reason why
most young geoscientists only learn to work objectively in multi-disciplinary
teams after they leave a university and join a company. Another
has to do with the second essential quality: good-faith teamwork.
I was talking to another
very prominent professor recently about academic tenure (one of
my pet peeves as a taxpayer). He brought me up short:
"What is truly pernicious
about tenure," he said, "is that it actively discourages teamwork.
Young professors learn quickly that academic promotion is dependent
on their performance as individuals — sole authorship of articles
and sole directorship of projects is valued much more highly than
participation and publication in joint projects. So when people
become tenured after six intense years, they have no idea how to
work in teams — they have been trained not to. And they transmit
those attitudes on to their students."
Two keys to productive
teamwork are active listening and respectful interaction. An overbearing,
rude or condescending team member cuts off full input of alternative
One of our clients reported
a team meeting to evaluate the exploration potential of a remote
international region. The chief concern for the proposed play was
the thermal maturity of an organic-rich shale formation that was
expected to be present in the area.
The "ex-pats" on
the team were very pessimistic, giving their confidence in the presence
of mature source rock as values of 0.2 to 0.4.
One member of the team
was a self-effacing older geologist of national origin, who quietly
gave his opinion as 0.8.
When asked why he was
so confident, he replied, "Many years ago, I was working for the
National Water Division, drilling deep water wells in that area.
Whenever we drilled through that black shale unit, we always took
a hard gas kick. But we never told anyone about it because they
would have shut down our water-well project, and I would have been
out of a job."
Fortunately, the team
leader had established a working atmosphere of open and respectful
professional interactions. This key input was received. The team
revised their appraisal, which resulted in several good gas discoveries
about one year later.
Moral: "There's a profit
basis for good professional manners."
Reading: What are the characteristic cultural values
that encourage the effective establishment and function of free
markets and economic development in nations? A remarkable collection
of essays on this timely and critical topic is "Culture Matters
— How Values Shape Human Progress," edited by Lawrence Harrison
(Basic Books, 2000).
it, you'll like it!