No. of Recommendations: 54

Yeah, bad habits of mine. I tell the truth, and I have little patience with idiots.

In my day job, I deal with people who know significantly less than I do about my rather esoteric area of expertise. Most of them are very highly paid professionals that are well above my pay grade and that make hundred-million dollar decisions daily. Some of the work I do and advice I provide directly influences business relationships with tens of billions of dollars of annual revenue at stake.

Almost everyone I work with knows less than I do about my specific area of expertise, and many of their questions and comments reflect their less complete knowledge. I learned long ago, though, that they are not "idiots", by any stretch of the imagination. They simply have different perspectives, areas of expertise, and priorities, and they are approaching the issue at hand from their points of view and knowledge base.

A big part of my job is to persuade them that my way of thinking is correct. Some of my success comes from the reputation I've built up over the years. Most of it, however, comes from my willingness to engage these people at the level they need to be engaged at in order to accurately and quickly make and support the decisions they need to make. I tell what looks like the truth to me, even when it goes against the established line of thinking. In my line of work, it would ultimately be career suicide, otherwise.

Much of the time, though, that means I wind up explaining things much the same way I would to my five year old son. He's not an idiot either. But boiling down multi-million dollar decisions to simple phrases like "Sometimes you have to spend a little money in order to save even more" and "Your choice is between money or time -- which do you want to spend?" is a lot more influential and persuasive than "You're an idiot if you don't do it my way."

Of course, I need to have the data, analysis, and reasoning behind those statements if asked why I think the way I do. But often, the opportunity to influence is literally a thirty second walk-by or three bullet-point message track.

What occasionally happens, though, is that even when I'm right, supported by data, and have leadership support, I'm overruled. Sometimes, it's to protect a business relationship. Sometimes, it's because there's a competing priority that's too far along. Sometimes, it's because the ultimate choice is between "the lesser of two evils", and that's often a judgement call rather than something that you can answer with certainty. It's almost never because there was an "idiot" with decision authority. With the kind of money they deal with, those types of "idiots" would get washed out even faster than I could.

Taking this to the specific case of BP, there are competing factors at play, and all any of us can do is speculate as to what could happen, until it ultimately does happen. On one side, it's a nasty mess and both the livelihood of millions and a pretty broad swath of the coast's ecology will be affected for years to come. On the other side, it's a multinational company headquartered across the Atlantic, and many "widows and orphans" in its home country depend on its dividend to support even a modest lifestyle.

The laws on the books, the rule of law itself, and the concept of property rights matter a great deal, and hopefully, they will all be respected throughout the process. That said, even in a framework where due process and property rights are respected, there's considerable enough impact involved that enough of an adverse judgement could be a crippling blow to even a company as strong as BP. Yet, on the flip side, the death of BP through American lawsuits or (heaven forbid) some sort of governmental fiat could both cause serious trans-Atlantic tensions and put even more control over the world's energy supplies in the hands of regimes that are significantly less cordial to the US than the UK is...

Your guess is at least as good as mine as to what the ultimate outcome will be. In what to me looks like the best realistic case scenario, for the next several years, the only certainty will be the uncertainty surrounding BP. I say that's the best case because the only remotely possible quick solutions I could think of would be very unpleasent ones, indeed...

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