I recently finished reading Malcom Gladwell’s “David and Goliath – underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants.” Its title is taken from the Old Testament and recounts the experience of a young shepherd boy David and his encounter with the Philistine Goliath at the battle in the valley of Elam. Many of us are probably familiar with this story and the unexpected way a young boy with five stones and a sling was able to defeat the most feared warrior of that time. What I found interesting was Gladwell’s approach to experiences that would seem to be overwhelming odds against individuals and the subsequent victory of the ‘underdog.’ He goes on to discuss many other events (initial cures for Leukemia, dyslexia, London bombing in WWII) and how these events are turned upside down by individuals who see or overcome weakness in what most perceive to be the overwhelming strength of the ‘Goliath.’
We often perceive adversity as being a barrier to progress. In many instances, our initial reaction to difficult circumstances is to predict a worst case scenario and believe this to be the likely outcome. Just like the army of Saul feared the most certain demise at the hands of Goliath and the Philistines, seeing and believing in an alternative outcome is difficult unless we find new ways of thinking or a different approach. Prior to the German bombing campaign of London in WWII, British officials believed an experience like this would crush the county’s resolve and morale to fight the enemy. They saw only the potential for mass panic and hysteria from the impending bombardment by the German air raids. What seemed to be a lost cause in the officials’ eyes ultimately turned out to harden the British resolve. What they feared was fear itself. Being afraid of what they thought could happen. However, the experience of the nightly bombings for two and a half months resulted not in total despair, but it gave the English population that survived something that hardened their resolve and led to a greater self-confidence of the people. This is attributed to the fact that their fear as a country was not realized and they had conquered fear itself. While the destruction was real and thousands perished, millions survived and realized that these events would not result in the loss of their country.
Our industry has many examples of these types of circumstances. The original Standard Oil was perceived as one of the first industry Goliath’s in the 20th century. The brilliance and hard work of John D. Rockefeller and his vision for what he believed should be the ‘Standard’ for petroleum products created the Goliath of the first oil boom. This titan of the industry was ultimately dismantled by Ida Tarbell, a reporter who was able to give the public a version of Mr. Rockefeller that led to the government anti-trust legislation and the dismantling of the Standard Empire. The rise of the Texas oil-men (H.L. Hunt, Sid Richardson, Clint Murchison and Roy Cullen) is another example where large companies being beaten at their own game by smart, shrewd and enterprising risk-takers. These men along with many other ‘David’s’ were agile and innovative in their approach and changed the United States into the first oil-producing power-house of the early 20th century.
The first wave of development in the Permian Basin was largely led by individuals and ‘wildcatters’ who saw opportunities where others only saw difficulties. Their innovative strategies and understanding of an area led to the great success that found the Yates, Seminole and Wasson Fields and the prolific Sprayberry trend. Individuals like these men and women have continued to develop new ideas and a disruptive approach throughout the history of our industry are too many in number to accurately portray. What is obvious is that the people in our industry have been through many valleys like Elam. In the not so distant past the future of the exploration and production seemed destined to contract and never come back. But history has taught us that regardless of the scenario innovation and thinking and working differently, continuing to look for opportunities is what has led to the vibrant US production we experience today.
I recall an encounter I had with a colleague many years ago. He spent his entire day measuring vitrinite reflectance (maturity) using a microscope. One afternoon I happened to walk past his office and I asked, “Rick, don’t you get tired of looking down a microscope eight hours a day five days a week?” His reply has always stuck with me as he paused, recorded the value and the said, “why do you think they call it work!” I realized that innovation and insight do not usually come from a single thought our insight. Rarely is a stroke of genius like a perfect golf shot by a weekend golfer. What is required is work and residence time in a position to be able to see and assimilate thousands of observations in order to develop new ways of thinking, new approaches, and new technologies or different ways in integrating existing ideas. This is the work and therein lies the success.