Style Over Substance

Managers, if you like drilling dry holes, you can skip this column.

Society is increasingly favoring style over substance, a viewpoint that values looks more importantly than content. According to Changing Minds1, the differences between style and substance can be characterized as follows:

Style
In the style approach, we are less concerned with what is done, being more concerned with appearance. This can include visual appearance but is more focused on the impressions other people gain, including what they think and feel.

Substance
In the substance approach, we are less concerned with appearances as we assume that actions will speak louder than words, and achievements will always trump ineffective action.

This trend is, at least in part, an outgrowth of social media. It is hard to be substantive with instantaneous communication, especially when that communication is limited to 140 characters.

But the trend is more pervasive and deeper than just social media. To illustrate how pervasive the phenomenon of style over substance is, let’s look at golf.

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Society is increasingly favoring style over substance, a viewpoint that values looks more importantly than content. According to Changing Minds1, the differences between style and substance can be characterized as follows:

Style
In the style approach, we are less concerned with what is done, being more concerned with appearance. This can include visual appearance but is more focused on the impressions other people gain, including what they think and feel.

Substance
In the substance approach, we are less concerned with appearances as we assume that actions will speak louder than words, and achievements will always trump ineffective action.

This trend is, at least in part, an outgrowth of social media. It is hard to be substantive with instantaneous communication, especially when that communication is limited to 140 characters.

But the trend is more pervasive and deeper than just social media. To illustrate how pervasive the phenomenon of style over substance is, let’s look at golf.

Golf
Last October, thanks to a very long flight delay caused by an errant bolt of lightning, I had the opportunity and pleasure to get to know professional golfer Phil Blackmar. He was enroute to Kuala Lumpur to contribute to a broadcast of a golf tournament for NBC Sports. I learned from Phil that golf has changed significantly since the years when he was on the pro circuit. In his day, each golf shot was a problem to be solved. You had to consider tangible options (club choice, swing mechanics, ball position), and intangible options (situational awareness, concentration, breathing, visualization). By mastering problem solving skills, a good golfer could have a great game.

With the technologically advanced clubs available to golfers today, few golfers undertake a rigorously thoughtful approach to their shot. Rather than using problem-solving skills to plan their shot, players today often stick to a rigid approach that relies more on technology, each shot being treated more or less the same. In doing so, they neglect to adapt and fail to take full advantage of their skill and talent. In Phil’s words, it is no longer a thinking-person’s sport. Put another way, today’s golfers are long on style, short on substance.

By mastering problem solving skills, a good golfer can play a great game

Oil

The same problem can be seen in our industry. Few interpreters undertake a rigorously thoughtful approach to their evaluation of the subsurface, relying on technology to make their interpretations and maps. In many ways, this is no longer a thinking-person’s industry. It is important for interpreters not to fall into the trap of being long on style, short on substance.

Managers

Managers, are you willing to make a multi-million dollar decision to drill a well based on a technical evaluation that is more style than substance? Are you aware that almost every map generated by the workstation is incorrect, sometimes so much so as to be geologically impossible? Wells drilled on these types of maps are dry holes in the making. Can you be sure that the map your team has generated for your decision is valid?

Unless you like drilling dry holes, you need a strategy to return substance to your team’s evaluations. One way that you can restore substance to your team’s work is to conduct periodic technical reviews. In those reviews, hold your team accountable for understanding the subsurface. Make sure that the interpreters are familiar with all of the data and that they have used that data correctly. Then, make sure the interpreters understand their map and what it portrays. Finally, follow the contours on their map to ensure that they are valid.

When all of the data is used, the interpreters understand the geology and the maps, and their contours are correct, then you will have the substantive evaluation you can base a decision on.

Providing your team with the skill sets they need to give you substantive evaluations requires training. Most of the methods and techniques needed to make high-quality interpretations and maps are not taught in school. Industry used to rely on mentors to pass these methods and techniques on to the next generation’s interpreters. However, we are in the midst of the “Great Crew Change” so mentors are not available for most of today’s younger staff. As such, training is more important than ever.

By mastering interpretation and mapping skills, a good geoscientist can be a great geoscientist, an oil-finder rather than a dry hole generator.

Training

Training itself must be substantive to help your team master interpretation and mapping skills. It is commonly assumed, and at least partly true, that millennials have shorter attention spans and want more animated classes. As a result, many training providers have been replacing substantive material with stylistic material; more “ooh and ah” than “hmmm”.

Just as you need a strategy to return substance to your team’s evaluations, you need a strategy to maximize the value of your training budget. Select courses such as SCA’s signature course Applied Subsurface Geological Mapping provide substance, particularly substance that teaches your interpreters the methods and techniques they need to make substantive interpretations and maps.

To be sure, a class needs to have style to hold the student’s attention and focus. The most substantive class in the world is worthless if the students are sound asleep by lunch. However, a good class puts substance over style. It needs to provide your students the methods and techniques they need to provide you with an interpretation you can base a multi-million dollar decision on.

(1) Straker, David. “Style vs Substance.” Changing Minds. David Straker, 18 January 2015. Web. December 2016. (http://changingminds.org/explanations/preferences/style_substance.htm).