Early Learnings from the Oil Spill Crisis

Posted by Dwayne Spradlin on Jul 27, 2010 1:42:34 PM

Clearly, we will be reviewing the chain of events, doing post mortems, and second guessing for a long time to come all the events before during, and after the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. There will be many points of view and they will differ greatly based upon your perspective. Corporations’ views will differ from environmentalists, lawyers' will differ from engineers. And Gulf States inhabitants may have very different views than those from the Beltway in Washington D.C.

One area of focus will undoubtedly be whether we used all the tools at our disposal to respond to the crisis quickly and effectively. One might ask "Why wouldn't we?" In reality, the discussion needs to be "What prevented us from doing so?"

More to come in later blog posts, but for now I thought it would be an opportune time to share some early reflections related to this oil crisis on this topic from my point of view. In particular, as we worked to energize problem solvers from all over the world to drive solutions for BP and the oil spill cleanup efforts, we and the world more broadly found it very difficult to pierce the corporate veil at BP to provide assistance. Even when BP provided vehicles for suggestions to be considered, it was clear that this was not a primary strategy. Most were not process, and frankly, the world was never given the transparency or tools by BP to fully participate in the process in the first place. Why was this so difficult and what can we learn?

Top of mind for me:

1) Crisis Situations are Inherently Chaotic: Add into that the political, governance, legal and PR issues when crisis is centered around a huge public multinational corporation and it gets worse. This leads to the bunker mentality which has dominated much of this crisis. Government and organizations will need to examine their policies, SOPs, etc. to ensure they don’t actually limit the ability to respond in emergency situations. Policies should encourage quick and decisive use of open collaboration in crisis situations and disincent those that fail to use every avenue at their disposal.

2) We need to Overcome NIH: Open collaborative behavior is foreign to most organizations. They don’t have the frame of experience to justify the cycles needed to make work or to invest. Early on, I am convinced that BP accepted ideas only because public relations demanded it. I suspect they may now see open collaboration as a potential first response strategy to actually deal with crisis situations. Interestingly, other oil companies and organization in other industries have now asked us to share our experience and solutions (not yet BP though). This whole experience has the potential to change the landscape. I believe many organizations had a collective epiphany (Could have been us! What can we do to be ready?) these past 3 months. The world may well learn from this tragedy.

3) We need to “Pre” Wire Open Networks and Emergency Responders: This situation has laid bare an enormous need to follow through with the public-private partnership “pre” wiring we've discussed for more than a year. The wrong time to work out who can partner effectively to make a difference is DURING the crisis. Government must take a lead here in permissioning and directing parties to this end. What WAS proven in this crisis is that colossal problems demand a global response, that the collective WE are up to the task, and that our systems don’t currently support a global “on demand” response.

One lesson learned here is that some problems are too big to leave solely to the "experts" on the ground. And humans are more than capable of self organizing and directing their creativity, inventiveness, and ingenuity in situations like these, particularly when directed openly and transparently by the parties on the ground.

We need to work now to improve readiness the next time. And there is always a next time.

What do you think?

Topics: Innovation Insights, Challenges

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