From the Editor - Caroline Wachtman

 Why Pivot?  

Pivoting is a common theme among the 10+ geologists I interviewed for this month’s Bulletin. Many of the geologists working in the Geothermal Industry started their professional careers in Oil and Gas. For some, the pivot to Geothermal was facilitated by the need for a job transition after Oil and Gas Industry downturns in ~2015 and ~2020. Others pivoted to Geothermal because they wanted to find a slower pace of life, live in a location where Oil and Gas employment is not common, or to align their professional contributions with decarbonization of the energy economy. In all cases, the geologists I interviewed were enthusiastic about their decisions to pivot and welcome other pivoters.

Pivoting is a natural part of a geologist’s career
I began my college career with an intention of becoming an paleoanthropologist. That intention changed during the summer after my freshman year, when I studied abroad in Kenya on paleoanthropology field school. The summer was spent listening to a few prominent scientists debate whose hominid fossil was better. As I looked out on the vast savannah, I realized that rocks were plentiful where fossils were scarce. I decided to let the paleoanthropologists continue to fight about their hominids and I pivoted to learning about Earth’s processes.

The idea of pivoting from a crowded, cutthroat market to an emerging market is called a “Red Ocean v. Blue Ocean” approach, which was explained by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne in their 2005 book Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I made a decision to pivot into a blue ocean.

Like many geologists, I’ve made a blue ocean pivot multiple times throughout my career. The decision to join the Oil and Gas Industry was a highly attractive option in 2005, as companies were hiring in response to rising commodity prices. At that time, the Oil and Gas industry looked like a blue ocean opportunity. I made a similar blue ocean choice in 2021 to pivot from Oil and Gas Exploration to Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage. Some of the geologists who have pivoted to geothermal are making blue ocean choices.

Take a chance on yourself or someone else
Another reoccurring theme of the interviews in this month’s Bulletin is the acknowledgement that making a pivot requires taking risk. The geologists who left behind Oil and Gas careers are taking a risk to move into an emerging market. In this Bulletin, you can read about Mike Eros, Chief Geoscientist of Sage Geosystems, who took a risk to leave a corporate Oil and Gas role to join a start-up company, and Nicole Wagoner, PhD student, who took the risk to leave Oil and Gas and return to school for a different career path.

In order for these geologists to pivot into Geothermal, it required employers, co-founders, and family members to take a risk, too. I talked with Derek Adams in Pivot Profile about the risk he took to start his own geothermal energy storage company and some of the lessons he has learned along the way. He emphasized that having a strong professional and personal support system is a critical component to enable risk-taking. In my personal experience, I’ve been amazed by the willingness of some employers to take a risk on me. I look for ways to support others who are looking to take a risk and make a blue ocean pivot.

Read more about the Geothermal Industry, pivoting and risk-taking in this Bulletin:
Learn about geologists who pivoted to the Geothermal Industry in the article Hot Rock and Hot Fluids are Hot Topics.
See Derek Adams’ pivot from Oil and Gas Geologist to Geothermal Innovator in Pivot Profile.
Learn about mining for lithium in geothermal brines to reduce risk of critical mineral supply shortages in Lithium Mining from Geothermal Brines: A Team from Rice University and Chevron Leads the Way.
In We are the HGS, hear from Carolyn Miracle Ross who took a risk to be one of the first female geologists working in Oil and Gas, and the manager who finally took a risk to give her a job. Also, read Rogers Beall’s story about making a risky pivot from business management to seismic entrepreneur. Beall believes companies and the HGS should be taking more risk today.
Charles Sternbach and Dick Bishop discuss characteristics of high-risk, but high-reward super major oil fields in their article Gulf Coast Giant and Super-Giant Fields Compared to Global Super-Giants: Analogs to Help us Find More.