Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Gulf Oil Spill should use an open source response

When BP CEO Tony Hayward first jumped into the spotlight in the days after the tragic explosion at the start of this massive leaking oil well catastrophe, he initially seemed reasoned, convicted and in control. As days passed and technique after technique failed to stem the flow of oil into the Gulf, the executive leadership and companies involved seem inept and even insufficiently skilled. At this point, there is rightly a great deal of blame being shared among the three companies involved and, indeed, within the Obama Administration. The net result of the spill will surely rank among the oil industry’s greatest environmental catastrophes.

So what could have been done differently during those first few days of the tragedy? What leadership methods might have been summoned to yield a different result? No surprise that I suggest an open source response.

What if on the third day after the explosion, Mr. Hayward called a news conference and explained the situation. It might have gone something like this...

“We currently estimate that more than 5,000 barrels of oil per day are leaking into the Gulf. Importantly, the source of the leak is, essentially, a broken pipe within our well, more than one mile below the surface of the ocean. At that depth there is almost no experience, even among the most tenured oil well and rig technicians, in capping and sealing a leak. We simply don’t know what we are up against. What we do have is extensive knowledge of the situation, tremendous and relevant experience capping leaking wells, and an enormous conviction to work quickly and tirelessly to prevent further environmental damage. So, as a team – BP, its affiliated partners and President Obama’s Administration – we’re calling on our global community to help. If you have ideas or expertise that might help us to more quickly implement a solution, we want to hear from you. No thought could be too big or too small. We’ll take ideas from any corner of the planet or any scientific discipline. And, we’ve set up a community web site to help receive and manage input. If you have ideas, I’m asking you to go to http://bp.savethegulf.org and let us know as soon as possible. Together, as a global community united to protect our environment, we can fix this tragedy more quickly and completely. Thank you.”

This leadership response has the benefit of authenticity (admitting vulnerability and limitation) and rallies support for a common cause rather than deflecting or trying to prove everything is all right (when it is clearly not). Most importantly, asking for global community involvement would almost assuredly yield ideas and possibilities to more quickly cap the flow of oil into this precious ecosystem. What could be more important?

Brian Gentile
Chief Executive Office

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