Innovation and improvisation all have their place in our working work, and you’ll find explorations of each in this month’s miscellany of articles. These are the full versions of the “Drilling Deeper” news items that appeared as abbreviated versions in the print edition of the February 2015 PBOG.
RRC Adopts Pipeline Amendments
Texas Railroad Commissioners have unanimously adopted pipeline permit rule amendments designed to clarify how a pipeline operator may be classified by the Commission as a common carrier. Common carrier pipelines in Texas are pipelines which are contracted to carry crude petroleum, gas, or carbon dioxide for hire.
The rule amendments require pipeline operators to verify their claim to be a common carrier when applying for a T-4 Permit to operate a pipeline or when renewing, amending, or cancelling an existing permit. Adoption of the rule amendments represents another step by the Commission to protect the public and responsibly regulate pipelines operating under the Commission’s jurisdiction.
Chairman Christi Craddick said, “Pipelines are fundamental to the safe and timely transportation of our state’s oil and gas resources. And regulation of the pipeline industry is one of the Commission’s most important duties in ensuring the safety of our citizens and the industry’s ability to keep pace with transporting our increasing supplies. The Commission’s new permitting procedures for common carrier pipelines certifies a more vibrant, transparent permitting process for pipelines operating in the state of Texas.”
Commissioner David Porter said, “The Commission has a duty to determine the proper classification of a pipeline and use that information to apply appropriate rules and regulations. These rule amendments improve our ability to determine which regulatory classification applies to a pipeline.”
Commissioner Barry Smitherman said, “The Commission’s T-4 Permit to Operate is a permit to operate a pipeline in Texas. It does not change the rights of a property owner nor does it grant eminent domain powers to a pipeline operator. Our new rules require an attestation from the operator of their knowledge of Texas eminent domain laws and the Texas Landowners’ Bill of Rights.”
The adopted rule amendments take effect on March 1, 2015, and include the following requirements:
· permit applications must now include additional information including requested classification and purpose of the pipeline or pipeline system as a common carrier, a gas utility or private line operator;
· permit applications must include a sworn statement from the pipeline applicant providing the operator’s factual basis supporting the classification and purpose being sought for the pipeline;
· if applicable, the pipeline operator must submit documentation such as a contract or tariff for third-party transportation in the case of a common carrier, along with any other information requested by the Commission;
· the pipeline T-4 permit, if granted, shall be revocable at any time after a hearing if the Commission finds that the pipeline is not being operated in accordance with state laws and Commission rules and regulations;
· the applicant must acknowledge the eminent domain provisions in the Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights.
ExxonMobil’s Outlook for Energy Sees Global Increase
Significant growth in the global middle class, expansion of emerging economies, and an additional 2 billion people in the world will contribute to a 35 percent increase in energy demand by 2040, according to a new report released by ExxonMobil.
As demand increases, the world will continue to become more efficient in its energy use, according to the 2015 Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040. Without efficiency gains across economies worldwide, energy demand from 2010 to 2040 would be headed toward a 140 percent increase instead of the 35 percent forecast in the report.
ExxonMobil’s Outlook for Energy projects that carbon-based fuels will continue to meet about three quarters of global energy needs through 2040, which is consistent with all credible projections, including those made by the International Energy Agency. The outlook shows a shift toward lower-carbon fuels in the coming decades that, in combination with efficiency gains, will lead to a gradual decline in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.
Wind, solar, and biofuels are expected to be the fastest-growing energy sources, increasing about 6 percent a year on average through 2040, when they will be approaching 4 percent of global energy demand. Renewables in total will account for about 15 percent of energy demand in 2040. Nuclear energy, one of the fastest-growing energy sources, is expected to nearly double from 2010 to 2040, with growth in the Asia Pacific region, led by China, accounting for about 75 percent of the increase.
“This research offers important perspective about the factors that will drive the world’s energy needs in the coming decades,” said Rex W. Tillerson, chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corporation. “Helping individuals, businesses, and governments to better understand the elements that shape future energy supply and demand around the world is essential to aid investments and create effective energy policy.”
The Outlook for Energy provides ExxonMobil’s long-term view of global energy demand and supply. Its findings help guide the company’s investments, which support its business strategy. The outlook is developed by examining energy supply and demand trends in 100 countries, 15 demand sectors covering all manner of personal and business needs, and 20 different energy types.
The global middle class is expected to climb from about 2 billion in 2010 to almost 5 billion people by 2030, representing more than half of the world’s population, according to the Brookings Institution. As projected, that middle class expansion—largely in India and China—will be the largest in history and will have a profound impact on energy demand. Along with income gains, on-going societal changes such as expanded infrastructure, electrification, and urbanization will contribute to greater energy use.
The Outlook for Energy identifies a significant evolution in the trade of oil and other liquids. A major shift is seen as North America will likely become a net exporter of liquids by 2020 as supplies of so-called tight oil, natural gas liquids, and bitumen from oil sands increase. This is expected to open new trading opportunities as Asia Pacific’s net imports are projected to rise by nearly 80 percent by 2040. Africa’s liquids exports are expected to decline as local demand more than doubles. In Latin America, growth in supplies is anticipated to outpace demand as supplies of deepwater and unconventional liquids expand.
North American unconventional gas production will nearly triple by 2040, and the region is expected to surpass the combined output of Russia and the Caspian region as the largest gas-producing area. In Asia Pacific, gas production is seen doubling by 2040, driven partly by unconventional production technologies. Demand in the region is expected to climb by about 170 percent, according to the outlook, and as a result, Asia Pacific will likely overtake Europe as the world’s largest gas importer.
Natural gas is expected to be the fastest-growing major fuel source during the outlook period as demand increases by about 65 percent. Half of that increase will come from the Asia Pacific region, led by China. Utilities and industrial operations are expected to account for about 80 percent of the demand increase worldwide, as operators increasingly choose natural gas because of its lower emissions and versatility as a fuel and feedstock. By 2040, natural gas is expected to account for more than a quarter of global energy use, surpassing coal in the overall mix.
Demand for coal is expected to rise through 2025 and then decline as China’s economic growth gradually slows and it follows the shift seen in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries toward cleaner fuels. Still, over time, global coal demand is expected to remain most prominent in Asia Pacific, primarily to support growing power-generation requirements.
Other key findings of the outlook include:
Non-OECD countries will represent 70 percent of global energy demand by 2040, but energy demand per person in these nations will remain well below OECD levels.
Energy required to meet rising electricity demand will account for about half of total demand growth.
Technologies that unlock new unconventional oil and gas supplies will help enable oil and natural gas to meet about 65 percent of global energy demand growth.
Progress on curbing carbon dioxide emissions through 2040 will be led by OECD nations as energy demand declines and a shift to lower-carbon fuels occurs. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in those countries are projected to be about 10 percent below 1980 levels, even though they will have about 40 percent more people and significantly larger economies.
Across OECD nations, the outlook assumes the implied cost of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will reach about $80 per ton in 2040.
Oil is expected to remain the No. 1 energy source, and demand will increase by nearly 30 percent, driven by expanding needs for transportation and chemicals.
By 2040, abundant sources other than conventional crude and condensate will account for about 45 percent of global liquids production, compared with less than 25 percent in 2010.
Remarkably, estimates of remaining recoverable crude and condensate relative to current demand have risen from about 60 years in 1981 to about 150 years as of 2013.
Rising natural gas demand will be met with abundant new supplies and significant expansion in trade as unconventional gas production nearly quadruples, and LNG trade triples by 2040.
Predictive Site Safety—A Life-saving Model
Injuries to workers in the oil sands are on the decline, but using data analysis tools and making some cultural shifts can help make workers even safer, says a new report released today from Visser Deloitte.
The first of the Gaining Ground in the Sands 2015 series of reports—Predictive Site Safety: People and Culture For Life—says that even though injury accidents on oil sands sites have decreased by 14 percent since 2009, 2014 has been a difficult year for the mining and petroleum industry. Alberta Occupational Health and Safety’s most recent study notes five fatalities in the first nine months of this year for the mining and petroleum industry.
Geoff Hill, Deloitte’s National Oil and Gas Sector Leader in Canada, authored the report, and says that site safety begins with building a culture of safety.
“At any industrial site, there’s really no such thing as having too much safety training,” he said. “As the labor crunch in the oil sands continues, you have more and more inexperienced people working with machines they might not have even heard of before they were hired.”
The report also outlines how new data analysis tools can be used to predict where accidents are most likely to take place, and measures can be put in place to prevent those accidents.
“In the report, we emphasize the importance of building a culture of safety, but we also think operators should live that culture as well,” Hill said. “Safety analytics—looking at and studying how accidents have happened in the past so they can be prevented in the future—is a critical new tool operators have at their disposal.
“Safety analytics can also be used to really sharpen and focus safety training. It’s a cycle—the more we study accidents, the better we can become at predicting and preventing them.”
Predictive Site Safety is the first report in the Gaining Ground in the Sands 2015 series focusing on issues of critical importance in the oil sands industry. Subsequent reports will be released over the next few months.
Predictive Site Safety represents the first major undertaking of Visser Deloitte, which came to be after Deloitte Canada acquired leading safety and compliance firm Visser Consulting Ltd. this past August. Visser Deloitte’s mission is to bring safety in the oil sands to the forefront, and will incorporate Visser Consulting’s 20 years of safety and regulatory compliance experience to Deloitte’s client base.
5 Tactics to Defy the Impossible in Business
By Dr. Venus Opal Reese
In terms of growth in business ownership, women have been soaring past men, averaging increases 1.5 times the national average, according to the 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report by American Express Open.
There are nearly 9.1 million women-owned businesses providing jobs for nearly 7.9 million people and generating more than $1.4 trillion, according to the report. Leading the skyrocketing growth are women of color, who now own one of every three female-owned businesses—up from one in six in 1997. Black women alone generate $49.5 billion a year in revenue.
“What’s interesting is that these businesses match or exceed their peers in terms of numbers, employment, and revenue—until they hit the $1 million mark,” says Dr. Venus Opal Reese, CEO of Defy Impossible, Inc. (www.DefyImpossible.com), a coaching business that helps black women—and men and women of all ethnicities—break the seven-figure ceiling.
“At $1 million, they start lagging behind. Despite their bigger-than-average numbers, women’s businesses are still smaller than average.”
Reese says female CEOs, black and white, tend to unconsciously start sabotaging their success just as they’re growing into greatness. Why?
“From the time we’re babies, society—often our own families, too—measure our worth based on how we measure up to their expectations. So we end up measuring our value on those same expectations, not the values that come from our true, authentic self. That sets up some real conflicts as we build successful businesses,” Reese says.
How to overcome that? To “defy impossible”?
Reese, who went from living on the streets as a teen in Baltimore to earning her Ph.D. from Stanford, shares these tips:
• Know your worth in dollars and cents.
Most women tend to accept the unspoken expectation that people will notice and reward us. That’s a mistake. If you over-give or over-work, you actually train your environment to expect you to give without compensation. Start calculating the time, money and resources you bring (or save) your clients or company. Write it down. When you are ready to up your rates or ask for a raise, you will not be depending on good will. You will have hard data to back up your hard work.
• Trust that you are more than enough.
Too often we look outside of ourselves for validation. Sometimes we think a degree or a title will give us the “right” to be paid top dollar. You are brilliant. Start noticing that when you show up, things get better, they get done, and people soar. When you trust that you are enough, you stop backing down, and you start standing for yourself—no credential needed.
• Heal your heart.
Money is a heart condition. Think of money as energy. Energy needs a conduit. Most women lead with our hearts. Whenever you are harboring resentment, regret, anger, resignation, or fear, you are blocking yourself from your seven-figure future. When our hearts are congested with negative energy, we block our wealth.
• Invest in yourself.
As her business grew, there came a point when Reese realized she—and it—had outgrown many of the support staff that had been perfectly suitable when she was just starting out. To get the people she needed, she doubled and, in some cases, quadrupled salaries.
“I believe in putting money in me instead of on me,” she says. “When I hire proven professionals, I am investing in my peace of mind and quality time with my loved ones. When you ‘hire up,’ you say to yourself and the Universe, ‘I trust you and I trust me to produce a return on this investment tenfold.’
“Now that I have a top-tier team, I have the mental space, creativity, and peace of mind to focus on high-level joint ventures.”
• Learn how to monetize.
Until you can reliably bring in new money, you will be a slave. The best investment Reese says she ever made in herself was learning how to package, position, and price her expertise.
“When you learn how to monetize, you get freedom. You don’t have to depend on a man, or a job, or the government for security. And when you learn how to close sales with confidence, your money skyrockets!”
About Dr. Venus Opal Reese
Dr. Venus Opal Reese, CEO of Defy Impossible, Inc. (www.DefyImpossible.com), is an acclaimed international speaker; CEO Mindset, Messaging and Marketing Mentor; and entrepreneur coach. She holds two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, and worked as a university professor before investing in herself by testing her entrepreneurial skills. Her business, Defy Impossible, grossed $1.2 million less than three years after launching.
IT Modernization Streamlines Processing
The Railroad Commission’s Information Technology Modernization Program is further streamlining the Commission’s permitting process for drilling permits. Expedited permit processing was reduced from a peak of 30 days experienced with a surge in industry activity in the spring of this year to a one-day processing rate in November.
Using funding from the Texas Legislature for the Commission’s IT Modernization Program, the Commission made key upgrades to hardware, software, and refinements to internal processes for analyzing drilling permit applications. Software improvements also allow for quicker identification and processing of vertical drilling permits.
The IT enhancements also provide drilling permit managers with statistical reports that pinpoint how long processing times are for various vertical, horizontal, and directional drilling permit applications.
In November, more than 50 percent of the drilling permits were processed within 1 to 3 days compared to about 9 percent of the permits processed within 1 to 3 days in the spring of 2014.
Chairman Christi Craddick said, “The Commission has met the demands of efficiently regulating a bustling industry with the use of technology that has further streamlined our permitting process. With the ability to issue permit applications in a few short days, companies can keep workers in the field where they can earn a wage for their families and produce the oil and gas that is critical to the Texas economy.”
Commissioner David Porter said, “In addition to IT enhancements, we also were able to hire additional temporary staff to help meet the demands of the rising drilling permit applications and to assist our hardworking permanent staff.”
Commissioner Barry Smitherman said, “It is essential that the Commission have the tools and funding to meet industry demands, and I want to thank our Texas Legislators for providing us with the IT and personnel resources necessary to do that.”
Further enhancements are forthcoming to the drilling permit application systems including allowing operators to look up online special field rules for horizontal wells and to view a proposed well location immediately in the Commission’s Public GIS Viewer by collecting coordinates on the wells in the drilling permit application.
Achievements in renewable and sustainable energy, particularly by electric power producers, were honored at the 16th annual Platts Global Energy Awards, held Dec. 11 in New York City.
The Awards, often described as the “Oscars” of energy, included 17 performance categories and “Energy Company of the Year,” which was chosen from the entire list of finalists. The Awards were aligned to strategic vision, industry leadership, stewardship, premier projects, and leading technology initiatives. Winners were chosen by an independent panel of judges.
“We congratulate each of the 2014 Platts Global Energy Awards winners and finalists alike for their individual accomplishments and their contributions to the betterment of the industry as a whole,” said Larry Neal, president of Platts, a leading global energy and commodities information provider and host of the Awards.
Winning top honors for leadership required implementing bold strategies, demonstrating operational safety, excellence and innovation, achieving positive financial results, and making an industry-wide impact in the past year.
Five awards were presented in the industry leadership category:
“Industry Leadership – Biofuels,” new this year to the Platts Global Energy Awards program, went to Florida-based biotechnology company Algenol Biofuels for its algae-based fuel-production method. The patented process, which converts more than 85 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) feedstock into ethanol, gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel, was hailed by judges as a “forward-thinking way to use CO2 directly from manufacturing, before it hits the atmosphere.”
“Industry Leadership – Grid Optimization” went to Germany’s 50Hertz Transmission GmbH, which, according to judges, “set a new model of performance” following a government-mandated ban on nuclear power plants. The company planned an expanded grid serving approximately 18 million people in northern and eastern Germany and has been a notable contributor to the country’s renewables initiative.
“Industry Leadership – Electricity Generation” was awarded to Sempra U.S. Gas & Power, LLC, for its commitment to renewable energy production. The California-based, clean-energy company and its partners generate power for more than one million homes and businesses using sun, wind, and low-emission natural gas.
“Industry Leadership – Exploration & Production” went to Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell plc for its Mars B project to expand oil exploration in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico’s Mars Field. Judges noted that Shell employed the latest technology to develop significant new infrastructure ahead of schedule, despite economic, supply, and regulatory challenges.
“Industry Leadership – Midstream” was taken by Switzerland-based Nord Stream AG, which successfully linked Russia’s pipeline grid directly to Western Europe. The judges said the company surmounted significant technical, environmental, and political hurdles in the name of supply security.
Stewardship judges hailed National Grid, an international electricity and gas company based in the U.K. and northeastern U.S., for its demand-side management program, calling it “one of the best and most comprehensive.” The company walked away with the 2014 “Efficiency Initiative –Energy Supplier” award.
Taking this year’s honors for the “Efficiency Initiative – Commercial End-User” award was U.S.- and France-based Schneider Electric, an international energy management giant. The company impressed judges with its 2011 to 2014 double-digit reductions in both core energy consumption and transportation carbon emissions, as well as deriving more than 70 percent of its revenue from green premium products.
India-based Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited snared the 2014 award for “Corporate Social Responsibility.” Judges said it definitively embraced its motto, “power to the people,” by not only offering business services, but also working to empower society at large, especially in underprivileged areas. Judges noted the company’s successful convergence of profitability and company values.
The Awards also celebrated a number of exemplary projects and technology innovations. Texas-based Spectra Energy Corp won the “Premier Project -Construction” award and Korea’s Samsung Engineering Co., Ltd. took “Premier Project-Engineering.” Read more in the Platts Insight winners’ overview found at www.platts.com/media-kits/mediagea2014.
Two awards were bestowed in the “Leading Technology” awards category. U.S.-based Siemens Energy received the 2014 award for “Commercial Application” and Primus Green Energy, also of the United States, won for “Sustainable Innovation.” Read more in the Platts Insight winners’ overview found at www.platts.com/media-kits/mediagea2014.
Winning the most coveted of the program’s awards, “Energy Company of the Year” and “CEO of the Year,” respectively, was Missouri-based coal giant Peabody Energy and its chief, Gregory Boyce. The Awards program also bestowed “Deal of the Year” honors, “Rising Star – Individual” and “Rising Star – Company” awards, and lauded two “Lifetime Achievement” winners.
CNBC television anchor Amanda Drury emceed the black-tie Awards gala at the Waldorf Astoria in midtown Manhattan, which was attended by nearly 500 energy industry executives from 20 countries.
For greater detail of the winners, awards and judges’ rationale, access the December 2014 Platts Insight article, available via the Platts Global Energy Awards website.
Preceding the Awards program was the eighth annual Platts Global Energy Outlook Forum, “Transition and Transformation,” which gathered leaders from energy, finance, government and academia for debate and discussions of key energy sector challenges. Vitol Group President and CEO Ian Taylor keynoted the forum, which was attended by approximately 200 energy industry executives. At the forum lunch, a select group of 2014 Platts Global Energy Awards finalists from the “Deal of the Year” and “Industry Leadership – Midstream” categories were presented with a special Platts Award of Excellence for contributions to the energy industry.
The 2014 Platts Global Energy Awards principle sponsor was Oracle Primavera, a provider of enterprise project portfolio management solutions. Additional sponsors for the reception, entertainment, celebration and tables included: GlobalView, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Breitling Energy Corporation, Deloitte LLP, Noble Americas Energy Solutions and also Siemens and Continental Resources, Inc. Neither Platts nor sponsors played any role in the selection of Awards winners.
Next year’s Platts Global Energy Awards will be held on Dec, 9, 2015, in New York City at Cipriani Wall Street.
Platts will hold a related Awards event, the Platts Global Metals Awards, which will be in its third year, on May 21, 2015, in London
Crisis Decision-Making Skills
By: Lucien Canton
On July 19, 1989, United Flight 232 crash landed at the airport in Sioux City, Iowa killing 111 of the 296 people on board. Many of those who survived owe their lives to a coordinated interagency response by the county. The outcome might have been much different. The Sioux City airport was not rated to handle the large jumbo jets such as Flight 232’s DC 10 aircraft. However, the county’s emergency services manager, Gary Brown, understood the strategic implications of the many flight paths that crisscrossed Sioux City airspace and anticipated that there might one day be a need to respond to an emergency involving large aircraft. Against much opposition, he exercised local responders and hospitals in dealing with mass casualties. This strategic thinking meant that county agencies and hospitals were ready to respond on that fateful summer’s day.
In any crisis situation, there are three levels of activity taking place. The most obvious is that at the tactical level where people are actually dealing with the immediate effects of the crisis. The operational level provides support to the individuals engaged in the tactical response. These are the people that comprise your incident management team who attempt to get ahead of the crisis and anticipate the short-term needs of the tactical responders. Finally, there is a strategic level, which normally consists of senior executives whose emphasis should be on the long-term impact of the crisis.
Unfortunately, this strategic level is often neglected. One reason is that it is easier to solve problems than to make decisions. The problems created by a crisis are fairly tangible and the solutions are often obvious. It is easy for senior executives to be drawn into the relatively easy work of solving these tactical and operational level problems than it is to take a step back from the crisis and try to see the big picture.
But there may be an even more subtle reason for failing to think strategically: organizations tend to build exercises around operational issues rather than strategic ones. It is a cardinal rule of emergency planning that no plan can be considered complete until it has been tested through exercise. Consequently, our exercises focus on solving operational problems using the organization’s emergency plan. This is completely appropriate, but it does not truly prepare senior executives for crisis. Instead, these types of exercises focus the attention of senior executives on short-term issues that could, in most cases, be delegated to the crisis management team.
Consider the following example:
A major fire has occurred at your principal manufacturing facility, severely limiting your ability to produce your key product. People working at the tactical level are busy clearing away debris and assessing the damage while the operational staff is considering options for regaining the capacity to produce product. In the typical exercise, senior executives are usually drawn into this operational level by being asked questions such as:
• What should we tell our customers?
• Should we authorize over time?
• Should we pay people who can’t work?
• Should we ask a competitor for help?
If we think about questions of this type, it soon becomes noticeable that many of them can be answered by asking for recommendations from the crisis management team or through existing company policies. In other words, they really do not require serious decision-making on the part of senior executives. In fact, they can lead to a mistrust of the ability of the crisis management team to deal with these issues. They also may fail to engage senior executives in the exercise.
To truly increase the ability of senior executives to make decisions in a crisis it is necessary to ask questions that truly challenge them. Using the same example, consider asking questions such as the following:
• What is the true risk to the company that is posed by this crisis? In the example, the problem is not the loss of production capacity—the true crisis is what that loss of capacity represents. The true risk might be reputational—by failing to fulfill contracts, the company develops a reputation as unreliable. The risk may be financial—failure to provide product on schedule could result in severe financial penalties. The reason for asking this question is to get senior executives thinking beyond the immediate and obvious event to identify the true crisis.
• What decisions will I need to make? With an understanding of the true crisis, it is now possible to identify strategic decisions that may need to be made. For example, does this crisis offer an opportunity to modernize production processes? Will the organization’s customer base or labor pool be affected and require changes to company strategies?
• What information will I need to make decisions? Understanding risk and the decisions that need to be taken generates a need for information. That information may be related to the organization or may require analysis of the operational environment and the local community. In some cases, the crisis management team can be used to collect this type of information.
• How will I implement these decisions? There is an old saying that, “the devil is in the details.” Decisions that do not include some thought to implementation are doomed to failure. This is because thinking about implementation sometimes forces a re-examination of the decision. This is particularly true when resources are limited or information is not readily available. Thus, an important part of the decision-making process is to test decisions by making sure there are sufficient resources to implement them.
Operational exercises are absolutely essential to good emergency planning and the participation of senior executives is critical. However, it is important to include senior executives not just as observers or by giving them work, but by offering them opportunities to improve their crisis decision-making skills. A carefully crafted exercise will both engage them and help them understand their true role in crisis response.
About the author:
Lucien G. Canton, CEM, is a consultant specializing in preparing managers to lead better in crisis by understanding the human factors often overlooked in crisis planning. A popular speaker and lecturer, he is the author of the best-selling Emergency Management: Concepts and Strategies for Effective Programs. For more information, please visit www.luciencanton.com, or email Info@luciencanton.com.
Improv as Business Skill
By: Walt Grassl
Susie and Ron had been working together for eleven years and had been managers for the last three. Ron was struggling with the challenges of getting his organization to perform at a high level. He had noticed that Susie consistently stayed within budget and not only met—but exceeded—her goals.
Ron saw Susie in line at the company cafeteria and asked if he could sit with her at lunch. After some small-talk, Ron shared his struggles with Susie and jokingly asked what her secret was. Susie mentioned that she had been taking improv classes for a few years and not only were they a lot of fun, they helped her overcome her fear of speaking in public and make a bigger impact in meetings.
Ron was not familiar with improv. Susie explained that improv is unscripted comedy that requires quick thinking from the participants. In improv, the plot, characters, and the dialogue of a scene are made up in the moment. The key to making improv work is players all following a specific set of rules. Susie recognized that those rules could improve her performance at work, as well.
Susie explained to Ron five of the rules of improv and how following those rules helped her as a leader:
1. Say yes. Agreement, saying “yes,” is one of the most important rules of improv. An improv scene begins with each individual doing some space-work, the physical representation of an activity, and making eye contact. One character begins the scene with a line. If you are doing space work that you intend to be “hanging a picture” and before you label yourself that way, your partner says you are “a striking worker shaking your fist,” you must discard your idea and agree with the label your partner gives you. You must agree with what your partner says.
In the workplace this means respecting what your fellow employee has said or has created. Do not dismiss it because it differs with your perception or your opinion. Take time to understand their belief and their feelings, and then proceed from a basis of agreement.
In addition to saying yes, an improv performer should provide their own information to the scene, saying, “yes, and.” In the example above, now being labeled a striking worker, the improviser should add information like, “Yes, and I will continue to strike until management lets me bring my pet iguana to work.” If you merely agree in an improv scene without adding information, you put the weight and direction of the scene entirely on your partner’s shoulders.
In a professional sense, this means don’t make your teammates do all the work—contribute both your work effort and your ideas to help move your projects forward. Contributing your ideas means both giving your new and novel ideas and also looking to grow and add to the ideas of your teammates. Yes, I understand your idea, and, what if we modify it this way. “Yes, and.”
2. Mistakes are okay. In an improv scene, when a performer makes a mistake, it is an opportunity to “yes, and” the mistake. If you and I are in a scene and you say my name is Michael, and then later call me John, I can acknowledge it and say something like “You’re just like my mom, she confuses me and my twin brother John all the time.”
At work, when something doesn’t go well, there are lessons to be learned or potential new opportunities. Why did the mistake happen? What is the result of the mistake?
Can that result be used in a different way? While trying to develop a high-strength adhesive, a 3M employee accidentally created a low-strength, re-usable, pressure-sensitive adhesive. This eventually enabled the Post-It Note.
3. Start somewhere. There is no perfect place to begin an improv scene. Begin with the first thing that comes to mind. Once you start, you begin layering on the agreements and a scene develops.
In the workplace, there is often a tendency to be paralyzed with what you don’t know, rather than identify what you know and make some sound judgments about where to start. As new information arrives, adjust course. Losing time due to uncertainty often starts a project out behind and makes it harder to stay on schedule and on budget.
4. Make your partner look good. Two ways improv players can make their partner look good is by rescuing someone who is struggling and by not hogging control of the scene. Beautiful improv is in the give and take, and the layering of contributions. The same is true in the office.
When a coworker has an agenda and minimizes the information their partner has shared, the project can be lacking. Should they happen to falter and their partner helps get them back on track, they both look good. When people focus on doing good work and not worrying about who gets individual credit, the team is more likely to succeed. Then, everyone gets the credit.
5. Be in the moment. In an improv scene, one must be totally focused on the now. Where is the scene, and what information has your partner just added? If you had planned ahead in the scene or were thinking about a problem at work or at home, you miss some information.
An obvious example is when you are in a meeting at work. Participate and contribute, don’t check your phone or your computer, or have side conversations.
One form of being in the moment is listening, truly listening to understand, not to just wait to reply. Hear not only the words, but the emotions behind the words. You have to truly listen to know how to reply.
Ron took Susie’s advice. He began taking improv classes. Initially, like most beginners, he struggled. He stayed with it, took additional classes and gradually began to apply the rules of improv in his scenes without thinking. He also found himself following the rules in the office, and noticed a marked improvement in his performance during meetings and in his overall workplace skills.
About the author
Walt Grassl is a speaker, author, and performer. He hosts the radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up,” on the RockStar Worldwide network. Grassl has performed standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas and is studying improv at the Groundlings School in Hollywood. For more information on bringing Walt Grassl to your next event, please visit www.WaltGrassl.com.