We live in a “if he/she said it, I won’t even listen” era. That can be a mistake. People with whom you usually disagree may have something worthwhile to say. So, before you pass judgment on who said this, listen to what she said. (In other words, some will be fans; others will be tempted to reject her out of hand. Please, just consider the argument).
Last night, Rachel Maddow reported from Louisisana, and showed us from up-close the effects of the gulf oil spill. And, more importantly, she showed us the failures of the containment and clean-up technologies. Her report was filled with video images of the region. She was accompanied by scientists/professors who clearly knew the problems discussed.
Throughout the segment, Maddow stressed that the oil industry has not done enough to improve safety technologies in the past 40 years, and that even the limited clean-up technology was not being properly used.
“The oil industry generally…hasn’t come up with any new clean-up technology since before I was born,” she said. “The technology is so lame…But even that lame technology that we have, we’re not doing it right…we could be doing a much better job.”
I cannot get her report out of my head, and concluded that this entire situation provides a snapshot of business success and failure in one very big, tragic story.
If you have read this blog at all; if you read business books at all; you know that there are two absolute essentials for business success: #1 is innovation, #2 is execution.
#1 – Innovation: Know the next thing to do, and do it better than it was done before, and better than anyone else is doing it now; and keep getting better at it, or someone will pass you by as they get better at it than you are.
#2 – Execution: Whatever you do, do it as well as it can be done. Do not mess it up. Execute!
The gulf oil disaster is a failure in both of these business success principles.
By the way, I’m only focusing in this post about the aftermath. It is also true that the execution in the actual drilling, and especially in proper and careful set up for the use of the blowout preventer, and other “fail-safe” steps, was a classic execution failure.
But this is what Rachel Maddow had to say, and her argument is pretty much a slam-dunk.
First, the containment and clean-up technology is not being done well – what we have here is a failure to execute. She showed video of oil containment boom dislodged, boom washed ashore, boom clearly untended. The boom, which can be successful, cannot be successful without proper execution in deployment and use. And in much of the case (way too much of the case, as her report documented) boom is simply not being placed and maintained properly. Thus, oil has reached the shore in far too many places, even in places where boom has been placed to protect the shore – because of poor execution.
And when the oil reaches the actual shore, then you’ve got real, serious long-term trouble.
Second, and this is most telling – we have made practically no advances, no innovations, in containment and clean-up technologies for decades. Her reasoning is compelling. (By the way, Ms. Maddow is Stanford and Oxford Educated (Ph.D.), a Rhodes Scholar – she’s got a hefty mind and a very persuasive, case-building communication style). She said that the oil companies, and the universities (with endowed teaching positions and funded research programs) have continually researched ways to innovate in the areas of finding oil sources and drilling for that oil. It is the dollars invested in this research, this innovation, that enables us to now drill down nearly one mile to the ocean floor, and another 3-4 miles below the floor of the ocean, for oil. Innovation has made this possible.
But the oil companies, the universities, have spent practically no money on research and development to innovate in the area of containment and clean-up. In other words, we are using 21st century technology for oil finding and oil drilling, and mid-20th century technology in containment and clean-up.
This is a massive failure of innovation – and this failure is now a very expensive failure.
Her report serves as a business success and failure lesson. Success requires innovation and execution. Failure in either leads to much bigger, very serious failure. This is a reminder for all of us, regardless of our business.
You can watch the “Busted Booms Fail Louisiana Coast” segment here:
View additional Maddow segments from Louisiana here: