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Looking Around the Curve

May 6, 2020

What defines a resilient organization? And how can you proactively make yours more resilient, even in the middle of responding to a crisis?

Resilience isn’t just the ability to withstand surprise shocks and keep going. In large part, resilience is being able to a) look around the curve at potential shocks that are emerging; b) evaluate their threat (and the opportunity they might present); c) formulate a strategy for responding to them; and d) implement that strategy. 

And do that again and again.

If that seems impossible for your organization, let me tell you — I’ve seen it first-hand:

  • When I was Oklahoma’s secretary of energy and environment, our small team was responsible for understanding and reducing the sudden surge in earthquakes exploding across the state in 2013. But even though we focused the majority of our time on the earthquake crisis, we never stopped looking for what else was looming around the curve: everything from drought resiliency, how distributed energy resources would impact Oklahoma, how to improve road safety in the oil patch, and how the state should prepare for an increase in electric vehicles. We always dedicated time and resources to looking around the curve.
  • As a U.S. Army battalion commander in Iraq in 2003, I led a unit that conducted construction missions all over northern Iraq. All the while, in the midst of our current missions, we were planning for our redeployment back home. And when we did start to redeploy, we were already planning our training programs to prepare for future deployments. 

In both settings I came to understand the paramount importance of thinking about the future and developing a strategic process for anticipating it. But looking around the curve isn’t just for state cabinet offices or Army battalions. Every great organization — even the small ones — has at least an informal process for looking around the curve. 

In this new monthly email series — part of Tisha’s “One Eye Here, One to the Future” theme —I’ll introduce you to the process I’ve honed and now use at Adamantine to guide organizations such as yours on how to consistently look around the curve and gain a competitive advantage from that vision. 

Even in the middle of the current big crisis, you have other crises looming that you aren’t looking at squarely:  

  • Social risk. Oil and gas companies are immersed in addressing their financials, focused on capital and operating budgets. But investors in this sector have been talking about fiscal discipline for years. Meanwhile, social pressures on the energy sector (such as climate) are still on simmer and will boil over again soon. Are you preparing for the changes your investors have in mind and will signal you need to make?
  • Infrastructure. Companies that build infrastructure — from renewable energy projects, to pipelines, to transmission lines — are seldom focused on the community impacts of their work until they are faced with public outcries opposing their project. Do you know the timeline for when those impacts will arise and consume your organization? Could it be within six months?
  • Water is always an emotional issue that hovers on the edge of crisis. The topic could manifest as flooding or drought, or as one user exploiting the resource in ways that adversely impact another stakeholder. How do we get past our historic failure to prepare for these events — a need that grows ever more urgent as flooding and drought become more frequent?

Resilient organizations are already evaluating such threats and preparing for the ones that their evaluation process reveals as worthy of a strategy. Future-proofing is about having both a dedicated process and resources for intentional thinking about the future. 

In the coming months, I’m going to show you what looking around the curve can mean for your organization and the principles of intentional thinking your organization needs to adopt to achieve resilience. Among the questions I’ll be asking you to ponder: 

  • Do you have someone designated on staff or a team to flag emerging crises for the organization? How do you choose that person? And if you can’t convene a team, how might you systematically flag emerging threats?
  • Do you conduct after-action reviews? If so, are these just another meeting, or a mechanism for helping your team and organization really learn lessons from every operation and crisis?
  • Do you have a culture of healthy disagreement — and do you know how to use it to make your strategies for resilience even stronger?
  • Are you sure that you, as the organization’s leader, are a good listener — and that you are giving your staff  the opportunity to be listened to by you?
  • Do you talk regularly with peers and other experts outside of your company to get their perspectives on what’s coming next — what’s on the horizon? If not, how might you start that process?
  • Do you know who decides whether an emerging crisis is worth paying attention to and preparing for — and who should make those decisions?

The saying “Don’t waste a crisis” is well known. But is your organization set up to see the next crisis? Do you have the resources, deployment and culture to flag emerging crises, vet them, develop strategies for dealing with them, and implement those strategies? Because that’s what separates resilient organizations from ordinary ones.

I look forward to your feedback throughout the series — email me with your thoughts. If you’d like to receive more of the Looking Around the Curve series, you can subscribe here.

Thanks,

Mike

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