This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode originally aired on the Naked Leadership Podcast featuring our podcast host Russel Treat talking to Dan Tocchini, Adrian Koehler, and Chad Brown. The conversation focuses on how process safety management is ultimately a leadership issue, as well as how changes in the industry can be seen as a risk and how to minimize that effect.
In this episode, you will learn about what is required for an individual to own so they can navigate the circumstance they see as a risk, and understanding that to change an organization and not have it be a threat is the ability to embrace risks and not feel threatened.
Pipeline Safety: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Dan Tocchini has spent the last 30 years as a transformationalist, developing executive leaders and their teams to generate high-performing cultures. Dan specializes in causing results through transforming executive leaders and their managers into world-class coaches, advising organizational change management, turnarounds, coaching & training startup teams, conflict resolution, and restructuring. Connect with Dan on LinkedIn.
- Adrian Koehler is a Leadership Engagement Expert. He trains and coaches executives and entrepreneurs in the art and science of personal engagement for themselves, their teams and clients in order to create new, unprecedented results and experience fulfillment in their work. Connect with Adrian on LinkedIn.
- Chad Brown is a coach and cornerman to business owners and founders. He is a seasoned founder and entrepreneur himself in the media and ad world, and is intimately connected to the unique challenges and hurdles of those pursuing something bigger than themselves in business and relationships. Connect with Chad on LinkedIn.
- The Naked Leadership Podcast Leadership is often lonely. This conversation reveals the unspoken challenges at the top, and creates resources for connected leadership.
- Process Safety Management (PSM) is a set of interrelated approaches to managing hazards associated with required processes in the pipeline industry. PSM is intended to prevent incidents and reduce the frequency and severity of incidents resulting from the release of products.
- Nightmare Pipeline Failures by Jan Hayes and Andrew Hopkins is the book mentioned by Russel Treat.
- San Bruno Incident – On September 9th, 2010 a 30 inch PG&E natural gas transmission pipeline exploded in a neighborhood of San Bruno, California.
- Enbridge Incident – The Oct. 9 explosion saw a 91-centimeter pipe rupture about 13 kilometers northeast of the city.
- Human Factors Science is the discipline of making the machines match the competencies and the capabilities of the humans to help improve human effectiveness.
Pipeline Safety: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 245, sponsored by Burns & McDonnell, delivering pipeline projects with an integrated construction and design mindset, connecting all the elements, design procurement, and sequencing at the site. Burns & McDonnell uses its fast knowledge, the latest technology, and ownership commitment to safely deliver innovative, quality projects. Burns & McDonnell is designed to build and keep it all connected. Learn more at burnsmcd.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. And now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show the appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is James Gillis with Enlink Midstream. Congratulations James, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around until the end of the episode.
This week, we’re doing something a little different. I was recently a guest on the Naked Leadership Podcast, where I spoke to Dan Tocchini and the other members of the Take New Ground team about pipeline safety and leadership. Little different, hope you find it interesting.
Russel: I’ll just tell you a little bit about myself. I’m an engineer by education. I went to Texas A&M. I was in the Core Cadets, did marching band, played high school football, spent some time in the military, got out of the military, worked as an engineer, and I started my first business as an entrepreneur in 1988.
So a while back, and very quickly transitioned into software. I’ve been running software businesses that were technical software, critical infrastructure kind of software businesses, for over 30 years. I’ve been doing software since before software was really an industry.
I got introduced to this work in ’98, went through the training that was at that time called Breakthrough. It was transformational for me. I remember this so vividly. I went into the training room on a Thursday, and I had stopped and got breakfast at this little drive-through place that I always go to..
Everybody was just being sour. Got out of the training room on a Sunday, went back through that same breakfast line on Monday, and everybody’s hurting and needing, and just wounded. It’s like, “What changed?” Well, my perspective changed.
That was a transformational moment for me. What I’ve tried to do is I’ve tried to apply that to my life, my passion, which is being an entrepreneur and trying to make a difference by helping critical infrastructure, engineering centric, stodgy, if you will, slow-to-change kind of organizations and trying to figure out how to challenge them to change without that feeling like a threat. That’s an interesting line to try and walk.
Adrian: I don’t know if you planned this, Russel, and if you did, brilliant, man. I think we stumbled upon a beautiful topic in your introduction, which was effecting change in an organization without it coming across as a threat. That is, to me, all kinds of lights went on when you said that.
Russel: I should build a little bit more context around the details of what I do. I have, in my career, I’ve always been a pretty hardcore engineer. I’m a guy that, if I don’t get to do real engineering for a while, I have to stop and go do real engineering, and get into some heavy math, and all of that.
I have found myself becoming a fairly well-known subject-matter expert in pipeline operations, particularly around the control room, leak detection, and the environmental requirements, and the federal and state regulatory requirements around that kind of operation.
Those organizations by their nature are extremely slow to change, because change is risk, and risk is bad.
Dan: It does make sense, because it’s a lot of suffering that people had to go through to get to where the science is now. It’s understandable that you’re not just going to go willy nilly and make a change.
Russel: Exactly. There’s a thing called the J curve in project management or transformational change, where it’s like you’re a golfer, you’re getting older, and you need to change your swing. You go to a coach, and you start changing your swing.
One of the things you know is your golf game’s going to get worse before it gets better. The same thing’s true in any kind of operational practice. When you’re dealing with critical infrastructure and things that, if they’re not done correctly, have serious life-threatening environmental consequences, then your approach changes in a very different way than you might otherwise approach it, and for good reason, right?
Adrian: This change, you said change is risk. Is change always risky? Is that unique to the oil pipeline industry, or does change always show up as a risk, especially in an organization, and you’ve got to get people in line with it?
Russel: I don’t like words like always and such, but often is probably a fair way to say it. There are those of us that like change. I’m one of those kinds of people. I like to stir the pot. I like to change things up. I like to do something different. I am the guy to put in the yard. I am not the guy to cut the grass. That’s one of the things I’ve learned about myself.
I don’t know that change is always risky. Sometimes, lack of change is a risk. Change is often perceived or emotionally experienced as a risk. In my world, we don’t talk about emotions a lot. They’re there, but they manifest differently than in other kinds of work.
The people I work with, men and women, are more of what I would call old school. They don’t say much. When they say something, they mean it. They’re not soft, they’re firm. They have a position, they hold it, it’s supported. That is, our world these days, that’s a bit countercultural, for sure. Is change always risky? I don’t know.
Adrian: Dan, how do you view the relationship between change and risk?
Dan: There’s two domains. There’s objective risk, and there’s the sense of subjective risk. I could be subjectively feeling very confident and secure when, in fact, I might be objectively at risk and not aware.
Russel: Dan, I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about process safety management. Anytime there’s an incident in the pipeline world, I read the incident reports, the detailed technical reports. Then I read all the commentary I can find about it, and I read the regulatory findings, and so on, and so forth.
Most process safety failures are human failures, and they’re normally around a conversation that should be occurring that isn’t occurring.
Adrian: Can you give us an example? How does that show up?
Russel: Man, I’m trying to think of some specific examples. I’m reading a book right now that’s written by a couple of Australian PhDs called “Nightmare Pipeline Incidents.” It’s talking about two major situations that occurred in 2010, one being San Bruno, which was in San Francisco.
Dan: It blew up.
Russel: The other being Enbridge, which was Marshall, Michigan, where there was a large spill.
In both cases, there’s a lot of conversation about how decisions were made and how those decisions were made outside of policy, and where there were assumptions about who had the authority, and where people who had the authority, but not necessarily the technical knowledge abdicated, and where people with the technical knowledge but not necessarily the authority didn’t assert.
That is common in almost any kind of major failure. You could go through any of the failures in the last 30 years, and you will find that as a thematic issue.
Dan: It’s a leadership issue.
Russel: Exactly. Process safety management is a leadership issue. The other thing that’s interesting in my world is that leadership is often thought of as direction, and it’s not. Leadership is creating a culture where it’s safe to say what people don’t want to hear.
Russel: You look at the Challenger disaster, too, in the space program, same thing. There were people who knew those O-rings were going to be a problem, and it was management, leadership, not listening.
Adrian: Yeah. I would just even think, to add onto what you’re saying, just because the word “safe” is always like nails on the chalkboard for me, because I’m a weirdo. Creating a culture where people say what’s needed to say, even when it’s not safe to say it.
Where people actually live with a level of integrity, dignity, and commitment, where I’ll even forgo my safety, back to the risk conversation. I’ll take on interpersonal risk, and even risk to my family, risk my well being, risk to my future or career, reputation, because it’s what’s right, or because it’s the best I know.
Russel: The interesting thing about that, Adrian, about that kind of statement or that thinking is that, in this kind of engineering, there are no clean edges in the analysis. There’s gray edges, and you have to make your decisions in these gray edges.
That causes some challenge about, “Well, should I assert this? Do I feel strongly enough about what I’m seeing, versus I’ve got a set of weak signals here, and my gut is telling me something’s wrong, but I don’t know how to articulate it.” That is one of the challenges in this domain as well.
Dan: That’s a real complexity. That gets down to what you were talking about when you first heard Tammy and I talking in the training room. That is discerning between what you logically can examine and what your gut is telling you something’s not right with.
Then you have to check between the two to see what nuances might be there that you’re not even aware of. We work in an area with people, generally, that they’re willing to take risks, or they might think they’re secure when they’re not.
Or they might think they’re insecure. Usually, for me, they’re afraid that it’s more dangerous than it is. Like, they’re afraid they can’t handle what comes up, when in fact, they’ve got more than enough to handle what’s up. It’s really interesting.
Both are true. That’s why I think any superlatives about, “This is always that, and this is never that,” are dangerous, because reality is dangerously complex.
Russel: Yes, it is.
Dan: Curiosity is the antidote for bias.
Russel: This whole conversation about process safety and leadership and what that means in the context of the work that you guys do, it’s really been up for me in a big way. I’ve been rolling around in my mind. I’ve been working on a manifesto around process safety management and what we need to do in the pipeline industry.
I’ve been trying to drive corollaries between what the airline industry has done and what the pipeline industry has done, and where we are versus where we need to be, and so forth. What I find really fascinating in that conversation is there’s a lot of intellectual assent without a lot of real digging in, if that makes sense.
Dan: It makes a lot of sense, because we’re in a field where there’s a lot of people saying they can do what they have no clue about how to get done. The BS factor, the bullshit factor, in the consulting industry.
Russel: The fantasy factor.
Dan: Yeah, it’s just gargantuan. I always expect from our clients a certain level of skepticism, which is healthy. They ought to have it. If we can’t demonstrate that A, we can articulate the breakdown at least as well as they can, and B, if we can’t solve it, we have people we know who can.
We have a network. They know that we’re competent enough that we’re willing to admit when we’re not competent, or we don’t think we’re competent, to go into a certain area. I think that’s what the client’s looking for, and I think that’s what people are looking for in the community, is authenticity. It’ll get better for everyone in the process.
Russel: Yeah, I would agree with that 100 percent, Dan. It’s being viewed as a trusted adviser.
Dan: Yeah, a corner man.
Russel: “Here’s what I know to be true. Here’s why I know that to be true. Here’s what I believe to be true. Here’s why I believe that to be true. Here’s what I see, and I have no idea whether that’s true or not, but here’s the guy who can look at that and give you a better answer than me.”
Navigating that, so that people feel comfortable picking up the phone and saying, “Hey, I’ve got this problem. What do you think?”
Chad: I want to just rewind just a little bit, as we talked about this instituting change without being a threat, or being perceived as a threat. I think what we’re talking about right now goes hand in hand with that, this trust that you’re building, and this authenticity, openness, transparency.
I’m wondering for you, as you claim that I’ve been learning how to institute change, I didn’t write down your exact sentence, but I think it was something like over the years, I’ve been learning to institute change without coming across as a threat. That’s the thing that really poked my ears up, is what are you learning?
What have you been learning? What have you been practicing over the years in that context?
Russel: Great question, Chad. I remember a conversation with Dan when I was doing the leadership academy. I don’t even remember the exercise. What I remember is I was in a situation where I completely locked up.
Dan asked me a question, and everything just went [noise]. It was that way for a while, probably a lot longer in my experience than for everybody else’s. At one point, Dan just said, “Russel, breathe.” I took a deep breath, and I got some clarity.
One of the things I’ve learned is to breathe. Just in the midst of it, when you get locked up, when you don’t know what to say, just take a moment and breathe. Just relax. Just being able to suspend what I know to be true in order to be open so that you can hear the real conversation that’s occurring.
It’s so critical, and it’s such a big challenge for people that are highly educated, highly intellectual, and highly intelligent, because our worth and our success, generally, particularly early in our career, comes out of that being able to know.
Adrian: Yeah, I think about that a lot.
Russel: Oftentimes, being able to know when other people can’t or won’t, because they won’t dig into the tech. They’re afraid of it, they don’t like math, whatever that is. I’ve got to tell a story that a friend of mine likes to tell. Do you guys know what a pirogue is?
Russel: A pirogue is a little thin canoe that they use in the bayous in Southern Louisiana. This guy was a manager of a department at a midstream company, and they had a chemical engineer who was just a savant. The guy was just brilliant, but he had a real need every time he was in a meeting to prove that he was a savant, and he was the smartest guy in the room.
It turned a lot of people off and shut a lot of conversations down. My friend took this guy aside and said, “Son, you need to know who’s the smartest person in the pirogue.” He’s like, “Well, what do you mean?” He says, “Well, look, you’re the smartest guy here in this room, and everybody knows it. You don’t need to tell anybody. We all know you’re the smartest guy here.”
“When you get in the pirogue in the swamps of Louisiana, and you’re going out to an analyzing site, and you’re with Boudreau in the pirogue, you need to know who the smartest guy in the pirogue is, because without Boudreau, you’re not getting back.”
Dan: That’s so New Orleans, so New Orleans.
Russel: Yeah, that’s very Southern, very Southern. You need to be clear about those kinds of realities and that everybody has something of value to bring. One of the hardest things that I’ve done in my career is working with people that were very good technicians and trying to understand what it is they know.
They know a lot, but they’re often not really good at articulating, or I’m not very good at listening for it. It requires some real effort and some trust building.
Adrian: Connecting to one thing you said, that I come up against all the time, with all of our clients, for sure, is what do we do when our competency is not enough? Like you were just saying, whenever you’re the smartest guy in the room, when you’re really intellectual, you’re a content expert, depending on how you relate to that, that could be your biggest, anyone’s biggest, liability because you’re highly competent, but the thing’s still not working.
Or you’re really smart, and then you’re around other people that aren’t as smart. Now, you might think your job, or the easiest success for that meeting is to prove that like savant in the pirogue story, to prove that he’s really smart instead of realizing, “Oh, actually, if I was playing a bigger game, instead of proving how I smart I am, it is getting them to get how smart they are,” which I think is your point.
If you aim the conversation at what’s working or what’s not working, that’s a pretty simple conversation. Or what knowledge is missing, that’s also, I say simple. I don’t mean to demean it. I mean simple for some people, if they’ve got the intellect…
Russel: It’s linear. It’s much more linear. It’s not abstract.
Adrian: It’s linear, that’s right.
Russel: This goes into the, where is the opportunity, and where is the possibility for change? It’s generally not in what I know, and it’s also not in what somebody else knows. It’s either in what we together know, but we don’t know distinctly, or it’s in what none of us know and we’ve yet to discover. That’s where the opportunity is.
Trying to find that is a very different thing than trying to get an answer.
Dan: Yeah, you hit on a couple things. Let me go back to your comments about threat and risk, because you mentioned risk in the beginning, and then we talked a little bit about that. Then you talked about threats. If you think about it, to change an organization and not have it be a threat is the ability to embrace risks and not feel threatened.
Think of these guys, they have those flying suits. There is a definite risk there. The risk is I could kill myself, but that doesn’t have to be a threat. The way they relate to it, it’s obviously not that big of a threat, because they’re jumping out of planes and out of high places, and they’re able to manage themselves all the way to the ground.
At some level, they recognize the risk, but they don’t receive it as a threat.
Russel: I would take a turn at it. I don’t think that’s absolutely correct. I would actually state that in a different way.
Dan: Tell me.
Russel: They understand the risk, and they have tools, training, competencies, and strategies for dealing with the risk so that the risk doesn’t stop them.
Dan: I like that. They’re managing the threat within them.
Russel: Yeah, and that’s actually what process safety is all about. Process safety, just a quick definition, it’s distinct from personal safety. Process safety is about the safety of the system versus the people being saved. It’s a distinct discipline.
The way you make a system safe is you understand all the things that could go wrong. I guarantee you those people that are jumping out of those airplanes, they have a clear understanding of all the things that could go wrong.
Dan: What could go wrong, you know it.
Russel: They have a plan for dealing with it, or they’re not jumping out of the plane.
Dan: That’s good. Great distinction.
Adrian: I think to the one point, maybe one of the points here, too, is they probably have a way of assessing, recalculating, taking effective action, even when a problem shows up they’ve never seen.
Russel: They’ll do an evaluation, is that exercise safe, given that new information?
Adrian: Right on.
Russel: I guarantee you those guys do a pre-jump plan before they jump.
Adrian: Oh, yeah. I just met Andy. What’s Andy’s last name? I’m not going to be able to pull his last name. He’s the guy that used to run High Performance at Red Bull. There’s a video on their website about the guy that did the stratospheric jump.
There were plenty of potential issues with the science, but they had to find somebody crazy enough to do it. No matter what their plan was, we don’t know. This is a human venture. We’ve never done this before. We can science this to death, and we still don’t know.
Getting a guy that’s willing to operate himself as the first machine – he’s surrounded by machines and surrounded by science, but he’s got to get a hold of his own machine internally – so that he’s even willing to go through the process by which to get ready.
Then come jump day, get yourself in a place where the human machine isn’t going to stall up, like you in the training room, where you just get frozen with the complexity.
Russel: Yeah, in my world, that’s called human factors science. It’s the discipline of making the machines match the competencies and the capabilities of the humans so that you improve the human effectiveness. A lot of times, if you don’t properly build the machine, you can dilute the human effectiveness.
Adrian: Right on.
Russel: It’s interesting, if you’re into aviation, and you read about test pilots, or you read the biography of Chuck Yeager and some of these guys that fly experimental aircraft, there’s a lot of corollaries in this conversation there. There’ll be a technical team that’s dealing with all this stuff, capturing all the data, and doing the analysis, but the pilot will fly the aircraft, come back, and try to explain what they’re experiencing.
Then there’s this whole process that goes on between what the pilot’s experiencing and what we’ve got to do with the machine. You find the same thing in racing.
The difference is that, oftentimes, they spend a lot of time working on the language, the vocabulary, and the definitions to be able to make that exchange effectively. When you start getting into these areas where it’s less well understood, and the language is not available to you, it’s a whole different level of challenge.
Dan: Yeah, you think about that. We talk about a lot of this in the training room from the perspective that we ask participants to view their emotions as thoughts trapped in the body without language, and that the way to free them is to find language.
That will help you communicate what it is that’s going on. When people do that, they become much more confident. They become confident in their ability to deal with a relational situation that previously appeared impossible to even engage, because they’d be flooded with emotion and didn’t know what it meant, how to access it. It just took them out.
Russel: Yeah, I’ve had that experience. We talked about that just a little bit ago.
Adrian: Go ahead.
Russel: What I was going to say is I want to talk a little bit more about this idea of facilitating change or instigating change without being perceived as a threat. A lot of that, to my mind, is about the stance you take as an individual that’s trying to be the leader to ask the hard question.
It’s about creating the place where it’s safe to ask these hard questions that can be challenging to all of my preconceptions about what I’m already doing and what’s already working.
Dan: Back to Adrian’s thing, if you’re going to challenge preconceptions, it’s not going to feel safe. However, it doesn’t have to be threatening.
Russel: That requires a little unpacking there, Dan. Do you want to unpack that for me a little bit? This is good.
Dan: It goes to something Jordan Peterson often talks about, is that a man who is harmless is dangerous.
Adrian: Not a good man.
Dan: Not a good man, because, mean that somebody who’s dangerous but uses, directs it, to control it, they’re somebody, you can trust them, because you know they know how to use their power. If somebody’s harmless, they can be extremely dangerous, because they don’t get the power that they do have.
Adrian: There’s no stand. There’s no standing anywhere, because to take a stand is dangerous.
Dan: Yes, well, but the thing is, and then harmless people become dangerous, because they don’t take a stand. Those who take a stand for evil purposes then have their way. That’s the point. You really want to be, it’s somebody who’s dangerous that can produce trust.
Adrian has this distinction. I love how you get on it a little bit. I can do it, but I’d love to hear you do it, Adrian. It’s so much more fun. Between security and safety, because I think that really plays into this here.
Adrian: The way this comes up all the time is, especially, and you alluded to current culture. Current culture is, if I create the right environment, then human beings are going to show up, which is a very interesting equation. First off, there’s no power in the individual. It’s all cultural.
It’s flimsy, because the environment’s actually never safe. It’s just an illusion of safety. Then it sets up a very codependent relationship, where if it, then I. Now, I’m not anything until it is. There’s a lot of pandering that’s necessary to keep even the equation real.
We must avoid all the danger that’s right in front of our faces in order for people to actually show up and be an individual, number one. Anybody that’s trying to create psychological safety in an environment, they’re setting up an environment which actually trains people to be weak. That’s what I say.
In the same exact situation, we could generate a culture of personal security. Now, where does that come from? That comes from me being clear about who I am and about who I’m committed to. That’s true. Let’s just say that’s true no matter what’s going on out there.
Anything that comes up as ease, wonderful, great. Anything that shows up like it’s a threat, wonderful, here I am. Now, I’m here to deal with this. The environment is a place for me to express myself. I always say I’m a happening. It’s never happening. I’m a happening.
That’s only true if I’m deciding that security comes from me, not from the environment itself. Does that help, Dan?
Dan: Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking. It’s externalizing. The problem with making a safe space is you think your safety is grounded on, outside of you. Like your sense of security comes from situations that aren’t threatening, rather than you owning what you’re committed to and knowing that you can navigate it. Whatever comes up is going to be what’s wanted and needed.
Russel: Dan, let me ask you this question. What is required for an individual to own that they can navigate that circumstance?
Dan: Now, we’re talking metaphysics. What’s required is one, they’re willing to entertain how it is they’re contributing to exactly what they have, how it is they can contribute to exactly what they want, they’re willing to embrace the complexity of what they’re standing in.
There’s humility and confidence. It’s paradoxical. There’s the humility to admit I don’t know and the confidence to stand what I’m committed to with what I do know.
Russel: I’m going to try and say that in different words. It’s the humility to know that I don’t know and the confidence to believe I can understand.
Dan: Yeah, not only understand, I can act. I can do something about it.
Russel: I can understand and move from that understanding.
Dan: A mutual friend of ours used to say to me, “I have a hard time with you’re too certain.” I would say, “What do you mean?” I couldn’t understand what he meant by that. “What do you mean by certain?” He goes, “Well, you just think you know everything.”
I said, “Well, how is that? Tell me what you mean.” He kept, and I started to understand after we talked for a while that it wasn’t…There’s certainly, I can be arrogant, there’s no doubt about it. A lot of what he was calling arrogant or overconfidence was just confidence, because I wasn’t really.
Like I remember him saying, “When you walk in the room, you just think you can make it happen.” I go, “Well, no, I actually have the confidence that, no matter what comes up, it’s going to be perfect. I have confidence in that, and so I act into the space believing that.”
I’m not even standing. Just standing is that. I’m not believing it. I’m just, “OK, bring it.” That’s very different from coming in, going, “I can make whatever.” I’m not thinking about, “I can make it happen.” I can stand in it in a way that together, it’s going to reveal it.
Russel: Right. It’s like whatever happens, I can roll with it.
Dan: I can roll. Whatever it destroys probably needed to be destroyed, so I might as well go after it.
Adrian: Even more than I can roll with it, I can thrive in it.
Dan: I can thrive in it. It’s perfect. It’s what we need. It goes back to this, is that true? I don’t know, but I’ve found that life seems to work a lot better standing that way.
Adrian: I’m just thinking about back to, I think, the subject matter here, which is where you come from, Russel. I’m thinking about, when the systems break down, how do people show up? There’s definitely two types of responses. I was going to say two types of people. I don’t know that it’s dictated by history, but two responses. When it breaks down, do people lean in, or do people run?
If you can train that into a culture, where it’s like, “OK, we’re going to do everything we can to be as smart as we can about every situation, and shit’s going to break, and when shit breaks.”
Dan: I want to just clarify, when Adrian says, “When shit comes down, do they go toward it, or do they run?” Now, that’s not something he’s speaking literally. It could mean that, but that’s not really what he’s talking about. Are they curious about what’s going on, or do they find themselves defending?
Russel: Do they engage the question, versus do they anchor to the assumption?
Dan: Are they going to prove, or are they going to wonder? That’s what I’m getting out of that.
Russel: This is one of those things that I think that’s a distinction between a good engineer and a great engineer. A great engineer has elevation over their intellect. It’s like they have two minds. They have one mind, which is their analytical mind that works within the context of all their training.
There’s another mind that stands on top of that and is asking questions about is that enough? Is there something missing? What other information do I need to gather, and where I get that, because it comes from outside of me? I think great engineers do that.
Then you take that to another level. As we’re having this conversation, I’ll just try to tell you what’s going on in my mind. Let’s see if I can put words to it. I’m thinking about the type of thing that, trying to take this and talk about it in terms of how these critical infrastructure systems are operated.
In general, there’s three kinds of operations. There’s normal, there’s emergency – those are the two extremes – and then in the middle, there’s something that’s abnormal. Abnormal being, well, it’s not normal, but I don’t have an issue yet.
A lot of this ambiguity comes out of how do we manage through abnormal situations? It’s not what I do every day. It’s not 80 percent of what I do. It’s not an emergency, and I know what to do when there’s an emergency. It’s, “I’m in ambiguity.”
That is really interesting, how do you get people to engage with that ambiguity, because there’s the planning for it, there’s the being in it, and then there’s the afterwards evaluating what you did and determining what needs to change.
Really good safety programs take people out of those questions, and they focus on processes, procedures, competencies, training, the organizational elements, the people elements that support the people that do their job. The presumption is nobody wants something bad to happen.
Dan: Back to your question about change and how to implement it with some security and a sense of confidence, I’m reframing, obviously. The thought is – one of the thoughts, and one of the things I know Adrian and I do a lot of looking into when we work with an organization – is where do people look?
When it’s time to change something, where do they think the locus of change lives? There’s only one of two places. They’re either going to look into, well, there’s three. They’re either going to look into it, they’re going to get caught up in the content.
They’re going to look at the symptoms. They’re going to say, “There’s a problem,” and they’re going to point to the symptom. People, we have a 75 percent turnover rate. How do we fix that? That’s normal. That’s the scientific question.
They go in, and they go, “Well, maybe we’re not communicating enough with these people,” or maybe, “We’ve got to give them this information.” There’s all these content issues that they start to deal with, and they notice – because this is from a real example – that it doesn’t really change.
It just takes on different forms, but they’re still having the same conversation about the same breakdown.
The other thing they might look at is, “Well, what can we do? Since we can’t, jeez, maybe it’s the system. Maybe we need to change the system.” They start working with the system, since the content in the system, rearranging that didn’t work.
Then they find out, “Well, we used different systems, but that just reorganizes the content, and we still end up having the same problem.” The third level is their intent. What was my true intent when I started this? The question is, how do you know what your true intent is?
We say you look at your results, that your results are directly related to your intent. In other words, your commitment, what you’re really aiming at, that’s what is going to come back to you. That’s what you’re going to see. If half the team, or 60 or 70 percent of the team, thinks it’s the content and structure methodology, they’re going to look, they’re going to do forensics, and they’re going to have conversations about that.
If the other half thinks it’s about what we’re really aiming at, what are we really up to together, how are we relating to each other about this, and to have it turn out? Like, am I aiming at this to get it done because this is what we said we’d do, and this is the difference we’re trying to make?
Or am I aiming to do this and make it work so that I look good, because I need the press, so I can get a job at a different place? Those are going to produce very different outcomes, working with a team and producing something in a system.
We’re usually, because every decision’s a leadership decision, every decision then has some fundamental relationship that needs to be in place for that decision to be optimized. What is that, if it’s breaking down? What is it that’s really going on here?
Like you said, when there’s a breakdown in a system, it’s usually because people aren’t either talking about what they need to talk about, or they’re talking about something else.
Russel: That’s right. It’s something about the conversation, how it’s occurring versus how it needs to be occurring.
Dan: There’s something in the way they’re relating to that. That’s the metaphysics. They’re relating to having that conversation. If I’m aiming at something that isn’t truly what we said we’re about, at some point, those agendas are going to collide, even if what I’m at is really close to what the team is aiming at, or what we said we’re about.
At some place, that’s where the biggest rub is going to come in, where they divert, or the agendas go in different directions.
Russel: I’m definitely looking forward to this podcast coming out, because when it does, I’m taking notes. I’m going to try to deconstruct these conversations and figure out what the application is for my life for the next six months to two years.
Dan: The reason I bring this up is because Adrian and I have talked about this quite a bit, too. We’ve been able to make a difference in a number of fields that we have no expertise in, but the specific decisions that need to be made within that vertical or industry or whatever relies on a human relationship. We can get that tuned up.
Russel: If you read accident investigations in my space, there’s always something that comes out where there is some communication or something. There’s always something that comes out that is an organizational people failure that is rooted in all the other dominoes that fell to have the thing turn out bad.
It’s really interesting. Getting even a small group of people to shift and have that conversation a different way is one challenge.
Dan: When you talk about doing what you want to do, implementing change and minimizing risk, or minimizing threat, it’s going to require an interpersonal skill, that you’re going to have to be really – and you are, quite a bit, actually – a ninja.
They don’t need to know what’s going on, but they need to be, “Oh, yeah, I want that conversation.”
Russel: That’s right. That’s another thing about this, too, that I think I learned from Dan in the training room is that it’s not important that everybody understands what’s going on. What’s important is what we’re committed to cause, where we’re committed to get to, and are we going there? That’s what’s important.
Ideally, you do that in a way that everybody’s happy and feels good about it, but that’s not required. What’s required is where we’re committed to go.
Adrian: Right on. It just hits me, like the comment even earlier. I grew up in Southern Illinois, which is salt of the earth type folks, don’t say much, cards close to the vest, a little bit similar to the characterization you had earlier. Like, when people don’t say much, but when they say it, they really believe it.
That’s a cultural practice, for sure, and it ends up becoming a cultural assumption. That’s where you start to loosen up that practice, even, because I’m connecting that even as an assumption that was so quick for you to just lay out there, like, “This is what it is.”
I’m not going to talk until I’m certain. That’s dangerous. When I do talk, I am only certain. That’s dangerous. You pointed out a way of being, where it’s like, “Yeah, be really certain, be really smart, and then also have a type of thinking above that where you question your own certainty.”
Which you do, which is what I think probably makes you really attractive to folks you deal with, because you’re really smart and obviously a subject expert, and you’re always wondering.
Russel: I’m the guy who’s always asking the question nobody else in the room will ask. I work on a team that’s an independent third-party team. It’s got about 12 engineers on it. It’s probably 12 of the top engineers in the world in their domains.
I was in a meeting where about half of the engineers were in the meeting, and nobody in the room was understanding what was going on. I asked the question. Afterwards, everybody was like, “Oh, we’re so glad you asked that question, because we wanted to ask the question, but we didn’t.” I was the one person who wasn’t afraid of looking stupid.
Dan: I guess I just want to learn how to say, “Goin’ on.”
Russel: Come on down to Texas and hang out with me, Dan. I’ll come have you swim in my waters. You’ll figure all that out.
Adrian: That’s amazing. I know we’re short on time, but that’s a great picture of there’s one thing to be an expert. There’s another thing to be a resource, where my expertise is here for you, but I’m going to start the conversation with you and what you need and where you’re at.
There’s a type of listening that experts don’t like to do. We see it all the time in our world, when a consultancy company comes in with all their solutions and has very little interest in actually exploring the breakdown. We find out who wants to explore the breakdown in such a way that the solutions were already in the room just as much as the breakdown was in the room.
That becomes very magnetic, where they become more experts, and they start to resource one another, because the types of conversations they’re willing to have that they weren’t willing to have before we walked in the room. It was all there, and it seems like them.
Russel: A lot of that, it’s about the questions you ask and how you frame those questions up so people are willing to engage the answers. It’s not unlike what I do. The context might be a little bit different, but there’s a lot more similarities than there are differences.
What I find is a lot of times, I’m framing a question up, and I’ll say, “Look, this may be a completely stupid question, completely out of left field, might not have any bearing at all, but I’m going to ask it anyways, but it’s up for me.” You’d be surprised how often, well, you guys probably wouldn’t be surprised, but very often, it’s like, “Well, yeah, that’s exactly what we were thinking.” I think people know. You just know in your body what question is in the room.
Adrian: Yeah, if you’re paying attention. If you’re not looking to prove something. Thanks, Russel. This has been great, man. It’s good to know you.
Russel: Thanks for having me on. This has been fun. Like I said, I’m going to listen to this when it comes out with my notebook, so I can write down some of these little gems and figure out how to get them applied. I always love talking with people about this way of thinking, because in my world, there’s not a lot of opportunity to do it.
It’s really good to sharpen the sword.
Adrian: Come sharpen the sword again in the revenant sometime with us. That would be awesome.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our appearance on the Naked Leadership Podcast. Just a reminder before you go. You should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit PipelinePodcastNetwork.com/Win and enter yourself in the drawing.
Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics, you’d be interested in, please let me know, either on the Contact Us page at PipelinePodcastNetwork.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords