Holistic Thinking: Understanding the Bigger Picture
November 15, 2018
By Richard Stoker
Vice President of Environmental Services
This article was originally published in Currents, POWER’s quarterly Environmental newsletter.
The world has changed. In the 1980s, there were no personal computers, cell phones, internet or GIS systems. We calculated areas with a hard copy map and a planimeter (Google it). Phones were hardwired, and we typed all documents using an IBM Selectric typewriter (again, Google it).
If I wanted to understand hydrostatic testing, I talked to our Construction Department, or went to the company library, or maybe even went to Brown’s Book Store in downtown Houston to get a book on pipeline construction. Perhaps my boss would send me to the field to see a hydrotest conducted.
Today, entry-level engineers pull out their smart phones and ask “Siri” to tell them about hydrostatic testing, and in 0.52 seconds they have 9,430,000 results. Although the results are not all useful, when you really consider what we all take for granted, it really is remarkable. As a result, we enjoy increased efficiency, productivity and knowledge sharing.
However, this informational power and a new generation of workers have also had some unintentional side effects. The availability of technical information coupled with social media has created a more informed and mobile society.
Thirty years ago, employees expected to spend their entire career at one place. Today, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics believes that today’s generation of workers will change jobs 20 times before they retire.
What’s the point? I believe our current work environment is causing a disconnect between leadership and our younger generations when it comes to thinking holistically. When I started in the energy industry, I was moved from one department to another learning the business, not just my job.
The members of today’s highly mobile and connected workforce tend to focus on their specific jobs, jump to other companies doing the same thing, and not stay around to experience the long-term implications of their tasks. For example, they accomplish the task of “getting a permit,” but may not completely understand the background of why a permit is needed and the effect that the permit and its conditions have on the success of the business.
As a business leader, however, I also recognize that this big picture mindset is a two-way street and we need to continue to foster our younger, digitally inclined employees.
When I think about those who took me under their wing, I can see how they shaped my thinking and my place in the industry today. So here are a couple of thoughts to consider:
- Encourage long-term decision making: How many times have we heard, “Just get the permit?” That kind of thinking produces bad results like operating constraints, unnecessary reporting and poor siting decisionsꟷall because we don’t take the time to understand the implication of our actions on the business, not just the project or a single line on a project schedule. Ask your team: “Are you getting the right permit or just the fastest permit?” Take a step back and evaluate whether your decisions are based on short-term incentives versus long-term success.
- Set the example: As business leaders, we need to create an environment where the project team understands the “why” behind what they are doing. It takes time and attention from our busy schedules to help team members understand their job and how the project affects the operation of the business as part of the overall industry. Encourage your project team to start with the end goal in mind and understand what the end looks like and why.
If you take one thought away from my perspectives, holistic thinking means “think big.” You will be surprised at the difference it makes.
About the Author:
Richard has more than three decades of experience in engineering, environmental compliance, remediation, and waste management activities for the energy industry. His roles have been diverse ranging from project leadership of multi-million dollar environmental evaluations to engineering of pollution control systems. The vast majority of his experience has been providing service to the energy industry, including gas transmission and treating. He has focused on client and project management for some of the most significant projects and customers of his employers. Included in his experience is service to one of the country’s largest natural gas transmission companies where his roles varied widely from environmental engineering to representing the firm before federal and state legislatures.