Innovation, Collaboration And Improvisation?

Abbot and Costello, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler: three examples of great comedy teams that got big laughs for tossing out the script and ad libbing their way to hilarious heights. But if you were to catch a glimpse behind the curtain, you’d see that there was a script of sorts, or really more a set of rules. By adhering to these rules these comedy greats were able to garner more than a laugh or two. Oddly enough, three of those rules also can apply to any kind of collaboration, even in the very serious world of oil and gas E&P.

Rule one is to always say “yes” when a teammate offers up a new idea or concern. It demonstrates respect for them and for the idea. Don’t immediately shoot it down if it doesn’t sound like the best idea or dismiss it if you deem it not a pressing concern. Give the person time to develop or explain. Add an “and” to your “yes” and see how high or far the idea grows. By contributing to the conversation, you are helping make that great idea better or finding a perfect solution to a nagging challenge.

Rule two is to make your partner look good. In improv everyone is a supporting actor. The strength of the troupe is built on a foundation of trust, where members know that they have the support of the team and vice versa. By having each other’s back, they make the collaboration grow stronger, and better ideas are the result.

Rule three is to listen and observe. As the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” By listening carefully and watching people’s body language, one becomes more sensitive to the context of what is said vs. what is being telegraphed. For example, teammates might say they are happy to take on the extra work, but their lack of a smile and defensive posture are yelling more truth than your ears are hearing.

The focus of this month’s cover story is on industry innovation through collaboration. Innovation, like improvisation, is more than creatively thinking fast on one’s feet. The effectiveness of following these rules became apparent to me while working on the story about the success that Hess and Heerema Marine Contractors experienced with the successful installation in 2015 of 12 anchor piles in 12 days at the Stampede Field in the Gulf of Mexico.

There were numerous examples wherein the two companies working together were able to plan for known challenges, like the Loop Current, in advance. One example focused on what the impact to the schedule would be if there was significant equipment failure of the ROV. This concern, brought forward by members of the Stampede team, led to the hiring of a second ROV system and vessel to have on standby. Fortunately, the system was never needed, but by saying “yes, and …,” a solution to a possible challenge was contributed, helping to ensure that the project goals of both partners were supported, all of which was made possible by listening with both ears and eyes.

Jennifer Presley’s Completions and Production column appeared in the February 2017 issue of E&P.