Leaders of BP and all of the deep water oilcompanies would do well to read a recent article in ChiefExecutive.net written by Ralph Jacobson and Alfred A. Marcus. The authors say that in many organizations it’s not the problems that get them into trouble, it’s the paradoxes. They describe the difference in this way:
Problems may be simple or complex, but once an effective solution is implemented, the problem is solved. For example: Should we build a new plant? Extend our current product line? Hire a new vice president? Partner with another organization? Paradoxes, on the other hand, are the hard core contradictions in organization life that cannot be resolved—they must be vigilantly balanced.
Problem solving follows a predictable pattern: Highlight an issue, gather the facts, investigate causes, formulate solutions, and implement the answer. The objective is to gain control. If we fail we cast blame on others and ourselves. But what happens if there are issues for which solutions are non-existent? Here are some examples: Should we…
· Focus on the short or long-term?
· Invest in new business initiatives or maximize profits from existing businesses?
· Centralize operations or decentralize them?
· Hold individuals accountable for results or teams?
I suspect that BP and the other oil companies look at an oil leak as an isolated problem to be managed when it occurs. Rather, they should manage the paradox: compliance with too many rules and regulations can stifle production of oil while compliance with too few can result in loss of life and environmental disaster. This is an inevitable contradiction in the oil production industry that doesn’t have a solution. It requires a constant balancing of the demand for safety with the demand for productivity. And an awareness of the Law of Unintended Consequences.