11: Christy Ransom – Building a Career with Connections and Loose Plans
Links & Resources
10: Connor Gillan – Chasing Potential, Trying Therapy, and Stumbling Into Your Cinderella Slipper
Links & Resources
9: Jessica Doyle-Mekkes – Give Women The Mic (Teaching Women How to Speak Up)
Links & Resources
Jessica’s Website: https://www.jessicadoylemekkes.com/
Jessica’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessicado…
Matt’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattharri…
Matt’s book, Integrated Upstream Planning: https://amzn.to/3n9Obvl
Matt’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/MattMHarriman
Pod2 website: https://pod2.co/
8: Liz Davila-Sleigh – Breaking first gen stereotypes, building communities, and raising cool humans
In This Episode
[00:00:00] Podcast Teaser
[00:01:22] Podcast Intro
[00:05:52] Instilling values in kids vs telling them who to be
[00:10:24] Corporate work to solopreneurship: Liz’s background
[00:19:55] Community Building
[00:24:02] What is gained and lost from assimilating into a new culture
[00:26:22] Finding and listening to triggers
[00:31:29] The backstory of “Somos Culture”
[00:32:58] Acknowledging racial differences
[00:41:30] Navigating tough conversations: Are they ready?
[00:44:13] Shifting your perspective
[00:48:05] DEI education 101
[00:51:30] The power of “I’m sorry” and “Thank you”
[00:56:30] Closing remarks / where to find Liz
Links & Resources
Somos Culture Website: https://somosculture.com/
Somos Culture Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/somosculturellc/
Liz’s LinkedIn: https://shorturl.at/hAC27
More Than Words Podcast: https://morethanwordspodcast.com/
Liz’s Email: email@example.com
Matt’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/MattMHarriman
Matt’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattharriman/
Matt’s book, Integrated Upstream Planning: https://amzn.to/3n9Obvl
Episode Transcript: https://pod2.co/podcast/
Pod2 website: https://pod2.co/
Pod2 YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@pod_2
Liz Davila-Sleigh: If you’re in a community where everyone looks like you, has the same socioeconomic status, and thinks the same way, it’s hard to humanize someone else’s experience. That’s why I love the power of storytelling. At the same time, it’s not up to someone who has been historically underrepresented to share their story, or for them to be that representation. The problem is that it might trigger certain emotions for them. As a facilitator and coach, the first thing I had to learn was how to understand my own biases.
Matt Harriman: We were having a deep conversation—totally immersed in it— and then my son bursts into the room and asks, “Can you open my goldfish?” And it was one of the more business-like conversations, so it wasn’t as casual, but it was pretty funny…
Liz Davila-Sleigh: It’s the way of the world. If you see a little person throwing Pokemon stuff or making Power Ranger noises, those are my gremlins in the back.
Matt Harriman: I love it. My gremlins wrote on my whiteboard back here.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: I love that.
Matt Harriman: I’ve got all kinds of stuff from them. Let me properly introduce this thing now. This is episode eight of the Achieve and Enjoy podcast. With me today, I have Liz Davila-Sleigh. Thank you, Liz, for coming on.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Thanks, Matt, for having me. Usually, I’m sitting on your side and interviewing people, so this is kind of a novelty for me being interviewed.
Matt Harriman: Well, you can judge me for how poorly I do at it. This is attempt number eight for me.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: No judgment—judgment-free zone here.
Matt Harriman: Well, this is attempt number eight for me, but I have spoken to more than eight humans, so hopefully I’m not too terrible. I’d like to start with your story. You and I met through Leslie, an amazing person. She told me that I would like you, and she’s not wrong about that kind of thing.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: I love Leslie, she is an incredible person. I appreciate her connecting me with you. In our earlier call, I started by saying, “I’m so glad I get to meet you, Matt because I’ve been hustling all your LinkedIn posts.” I wanted to see what you’re all about because Leslie’s my friend, and I’m very protective of my friends. When she told me that she was leaping, I said, “Let me go see who this Matt guy is.” And I’m like, “Oh, I think he’s cool. I like him.” So when I first met you, I think I was fangirling. I was like, “Oh my God, hi.”
Matt Harriman: I got the auntie approval then.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Yes, you got the auntie approval. That’s right. A little bit about me: I identify as a Latina woman. I am a first-generation American now living in the UK. I’m a mom of two gremlins—boys that I’m trying to raise to be kind and the best humans that they can be. University is optional, but being kind and reading books is not—our mission in our home.
Matt Harriman: How old are your boys?
Liz Davila-Sleigh: My boys are, oh, this is gonna be heartbreaking cuz then I start thinking about how many summers are left over. My oldest one is eight, and my youngest one is five. I always think about how many summers we have left and next summer, he’s gonna be nine—I’m not comfortable with that at all. I just want them to be little babies and stay like that forever, even though the baby phase was really hard, as you well know.
Matt Harriman: Yeah. The baby phase was tough. I’m okay with that one being over for us. Now that ours are little kids, it’s fun.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Yeah. They’re super cool people! And being able to have these deep conversations with them is something I also enjoy. I’m a coach, facilitator, and speaker, and I help workplaces develop inclusive communities. I intentionally use the word “community” because, as we see in a community, there are so many differences, and in our communities, we want to honor all those differences. We connect through similarities, but we honor differences. So everything that I learn in this space, I try to teach my children as well.
Meaning we learn about pretty heavy topics in our house— more geared toward children. If people can grow up to hate, they can also grow up to love and show and spread kindness. I think that’s why I wanted to meet you. You advocate for being in an organization, hitting your target, hitting all your deliverables, and being kind and not sucking at work.
Matt Harriman: I’m glad that you pick up on that part of the message because I know like the whole tagline of making work suck less and stuff like that, it’s pretty light—kind of airy. We think about bad software and bad process and stuff, but the things that make it the worst are discrimination, fear, intimidation—things that do damage to people. We’ll get into that some more, but one thing I want to note that you said is you called your kids cool people and, that’s something that has fascinated me, how different they are. I have three kids and they’re all different human beings. I’m realizing how little control I have over how they’re going to turn out and what their personalities are like. We can influence them and help instill good values and some of those things, but the clay is there.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: They’re going to make up their minds and make their path. I’m here to just be. I use a lot of my coaching techniques in my house—my husband’s not as excited about that part of it because I tend to coach him a lot. Sometimes he gets me, and he’s like, “Ha! The coachee got the coach. So now I’m the coach.” And I’m like, “Okay, all right.” I just try to use this approach of curiosity and non-judgment. In my line of work, I don’t bring myself into spaces. I have my podcast where we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion. We set up that podcast to provide a space where other equity and inclusion professionals could have a space and other coaches could have a space to talk because we tend not to bring ourselves within the workplace.
We are very much a neutral party, and we like to call ourselves “The guide on the side.” It’s super cheesy, but it works. Likewise, I’m just here with my kids to be part of their journey and witness the things that they do and be their champion.
We have family meetings every week. We don’t have family rules— I am definitely in the mindset of rules are meant to be broken. I’m a disruptor. No rules, so instead, we’re going to do a mission. We bring our kids to participate in our house and to say, “Okay, this community is yours too. So yes, Mom and Dad have bought this house. We’ve worked very hard to provide a life for you, and at the same time, we want you to contribute to this. So you get to pick the menu; you get to pick the things that you want our family to work on and to do; and how can we be better?” Amazing things have come out of this. Every year they pick a nonprofit organization to either raise money for or volunteer their time. In the past it’s been, the Texas Children’s Hospital, where we adopted a couple of families in Houston. Sure, it puts extra stress on my husband and me, as you can imagine, because we have to go with it. But we’ve given them this freedom, now we have to follow through with it. So here we are at Costco buying, you know, I don’t know how many toys for the families we are supporting. It’s really fun.
Matt Harriman: For sure. It’s like, “Oh, damn it. I have to be the good person that I tried to convince my kids that I am, and I have to live up to it.”
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Exactly. It’s hard having two people with careers in a partnership. I mentioned to you in our previous call that I was in corporate America for 21 years, working in oil and gas mostly, in service to operations. My husband is also career-driven, so doing those things on top of that is kind of crazy. I decided to take the leap of faith and start my own business—an adventure.
Matt Harriman: I can imagine. Let’s talk about that. So your background was primarily in oil and gas before starting your own thing?
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Yes, primarily oil and gas. About three years ago, I started to tap into other industries as well. I have some experience in tech, consulting on inclusion, coaching, education, and a few others. It was intriguing to see how different and similar oil and gas is compared to other industries. But I like to say that I grew up in oil and gas.
Matt Harriman: Yeah. I’d love to hear the story of going from accounting in oil and gas to what you’re doing now. That’s not a career path that many people have probably taken. What led up to that? Did you know that this was something that you cared deeply about for a long time, or did it arise randomly at some point for you? How did you get there?
Liz Davila-Sleigh: You ready? Get your popcorn because this is a good story. I was taking a certification for the Hogan Assessment, a leadership assessment on personality, behaviors, and all that stuff when I told the assessor what I did for 18 years of my career (I was an accountant). He said, “Wow. Your assessment tells me that you were never supposed to be an accountant and that was not the job for you.”
Back in the very beginning, being first generation, both my parents didn’t speak the language when they came here. They had to assimilate, and I use the word assimilation with no negative connotation. I had to forget about our culture and embrace American culture— very tough. When I got into university, that was an impactful point because I thought I was like everyone else, but I wasn’t. I grew up in North Side Houston, where the schools and what I was used to was vastly different from the hodgepodge of people and cultures at the University of Houston. There were people from all over— different socioeconomic statuses and different cultures. All of a sudden I was not like everyone else.
Another thing that happens with first-generation Latina daughters is there are a lot of expectations, perfectionism, and caregiving. I knew that I wanted to go to university, I just didn’t know what to do. At the time, I was interning for the company that I stayed in for 21 years. My boss brought me into his office and said, “Alright, where’s your college application?” After a year at university, he pulled me aside and said, “So what degree are we doing?” I said, “I don’t know, something cool like communications or international business or general business.” He said, “No, we’re not doing that. Go take this accounting class and see how you did.” I picked accounting and made an A. He said, “Okay, you’re going to do accounting until you figure out what you want to do. You’re good at it, so do it, and then you’ll figure it out.” I always blame him because that’s how I got into accounting. It wasn’t until three years ago that I got to tap into other industries. I started coaching and consulting—when I realized that accounting was not for me. I wanted to do something that I cared about, something that I was passionate about. Which led me to start my own business.
Matt Harriman: I wonder what his perspective was. It sounds like he was trying to establish a floor for what your outcome could be. At the very least, you’d have a reliable job until you figured out what else you wanted to do.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Exactly. I think his whole thought was, “I’m going to help you build this foundation, and I’m going to mentor you because I see a lot of potential in you and this is what I know.” He wasn’t trying to push his perspective on me or change who I was in any way. He said, “I see this potential in you, and until you can figure it out for yourself, let’s put a good foundation. Because ultimately, even if you end up doing something different, you could always rely on this.” And so I always say that I blame him for things, but I do something different now.
Matt Harriman: Right. You’re no longer in accounting as I know. But that experience wasn’t wasted. Those tools, experiences, and things you learned as an accountant were just added to your toolbox, and you keep that experience with you. It’s a stepping stone to your whole pyramid that you have, and it builds who you are.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: It’d been a long while since I knew that I wasn’t meant to be an accountant, but I persevered anyway. It was seven or eight years ago when I realized that I’m not completely satisfied here (at work). I worked a lot too, and coming from a Latin background (I’m making an assumption here that everybody’s like this), but for me, my own experience was, “I’m going to work harder than anybody else in this room. I’m going to keep my head down, and my work is going to show.” But I was never satisfied. It never felt like I had something tangible or something like, “This is mine, this is my purpose, and this is my mission.” I even started disrupting the organization more and more to see how far I could get with my troublemaking. And I was like, “Maybe I just need to disrupt things, and maybe that’ll make me happy.” I was never satisfied at the end of the day.
Three years ago, I started a journey to becoming a coach. At the time, I was being coached by someone, and a lot of my limiting beliefs came to the surface, meaning I had a lot of things in my head that were holding me back. I had a lot of things that I thought were real, but they were nowhere close to reality. The impact of those stories that I was telling myself was huge—it was keeping me stuck. It was keeping me from saying yes to things that I probably shouldn’t have said yes to. I always thought that coaching was reserved for executives, not people like me. And in oil and gas, in leadership teams, I don’t see a lot of people like me, right?
Matt Harriman: You’re a stereotypical accountant, right?
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Exactly, I’m very much a stereotypical accountant. I started looking back at my whole history. When I was in high school, the common thread of all my stories throughout my journey was people. I was very much driven to help people; organize things for people; events for people; collaborate with people; bring people with teamwork. I even looked at all my performance reviews, and one of the biggest common threads was the team aspect of it. I was never afraid to walk into anybody’s office. I didn’t care who you were or what you did, or what you didn’t do. I was always going to know your name and I was always going to know a detail about you that would connect us. And then I was going to honor who you were as a person.
Matt Harriman: You’re a community builder.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Yeah, I’m a community builder—that’s my superpower in this world. And I said, “Okay, well, I’m good at that. I’m good at business. Again, my accounting side, I’m good at figuring out what I need from a money standpoint. Let’s do it.” And that’s why I do what I do, building communities.
Matt Harriman: I have a dozen notes from when you were talking earlier. There’s so much fascinating stuff. I want to go back to what you said about your parents coming to the country and how assimilation was really important to them. Is it fair to say they focused on embracing the American way of things, almost to the point of suppressing your heritage and original culture? And you also mentioned behaviors that you developed that protect you and work for a while, but then maybe they don’t. What behaviors do you think came out of that or proved to not be useful or that you outlasted?
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Yes, assimilation and suppressing culture were a hundred percent a part of my upbringing. I think what came out of it for me is this sense of working as hard as I can. In that assessment, I came out as a workaholic—I’m not surprised. Another thing is reaching out to people, reaching back, reaching forward, reaching sideways—always making sure that everyone within your community has what they need. From the workaholic standpoint, I think that helped me so much when I didn’t know what I was doing. Everything was brand new to me and I didn’t have someone as an example of how it should be done.
I felt like for university, my college applications, I probably could have done better on them or I could have finished them faster or I could have finished college faster, or whatever it may be. But I had to start from the very beginning. Asking for help is something I still struggle with. I have awareness of it at the moment, but I tend to not ask for help. I would rather just carry everything on my shoulders and be like, “Yeah, I’ll carry you too, and you too. And just help everybody like this Amazonian woman or something.” That has both helped and hurt me. As you can imagine, you have to be willing to ask for help in every situation. You have to be willing to sit down with somebody, whether it’s your boss or a colleague or a peer, and say, “I’m drowning. I need help at this moment.” Even personally, our mental health cases are rising at the moment and a lot of people tend to believe that they’re the only ones—that they’re alone. That’s where that shame and fear tend to develop and grow. Because it loves it. I think asking for help has hurt me a lot of times, but it’s also helped me because it’s given me that push of, “No, why not me? If they can do it, why not me?”
Matt Harriman: What’s a trigger for you in a good way? What’s a trigger in your mind that helps you know or recognize when you should be asking for help, but you’re not? Have you noticed any?
Liz Davila-Sleigh: That’s a good question. Because I’m a coach and a facilitator, when we get trained and we start learning how to be a coach and a facilitator, we start having to pay attention to our physical reactions to things. Our minds might be playing tricks on us, but our physical reactions will never lie. I started paying attention when I was uncomfortable in a situation, and I had to start learning to trust my intuition, which for a long time I suppressed. My parents were saying my instinct was X, Y, Z, and they were saying, “No, you need to be this. This is your box. This is who you need to be to be successful.” So that wasn’t my instinct. I started distrusting my intuition. I had to learn how to trust myself and my intuition. As soon as I was able to do that, then I could pay attention to my body. When I was in a situation where it was going to trigger me, I could feel like my shoulders were tense. I learned from someone, when you build resentment towards something or someone, it’s because a need of yours wasn’t being met.
Matt Harriman: Did your parents have or develop any kind of community in America?
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Absolutely, yes. Community building was an embracing of how they operated and also our culture. One of the best parts of any Latino household is you can always knock on my door and there will always be food and a room for you to stay. My husband, who’s British, has had to embrace it. He asks, “Okay, how many people? What time are they coming?” But he’s getting there. I think by the 20-year mark he might be okay with it.
Matt Harriman: You just need to give him a range, you know? Somewhere between 10 and 200 people will be here. Probably closer to 1 than to 200.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: I’m going to steal that, Matt. I was like, I don’t know how many people to cook for. He asked, “Well, how do you know?” and I said, “You don’t. You just buy a ton of food.” I can’t cook for three people, I have to cook for 20 or more. That’s where Somos Culture came from. Somos means “we are” in Spanish, so I use it a lot. “We are brave,” “We are community,” “We are joy,” “We are kind.” These are things that people cannot take away from you. The world is just crazy at the moment. There are a lot of things happening, and it’s really scary. It’s so easy to sit in front of the TV and be scared for our lives and be scared for our children and to have our lives be driven by that fear. It takes a disruptor to say, “Nope, not today.” You have to think about the things that people can’t take away from you, like that sense of community, joy, bravery, and kindness. People cannot take those things away from you. They might be able to take everything else away, but not those things. That’s why Somos was so important for me to build and make it very colorful. If you go on my website, it looks like a Latin party in there.
Matt Harriman: That’s interesting. I want to get into this and help me if I’m clumsy around it. I think that, from my personal experience as a straight white guy with a lot of privilege, it was uncomfortable to acknowledge the differences in a respectful and supportive way. I’ve seen this discomfort in a lot of places. Some people feel that to not be racist, you should not even acknowledge racial differences. Some people would hesitate to say that a person is Black or Latino. What brought it up is when you were talking about the suppression of your parents’ culture and assimilating into America and their thought process of, ignoring where we were, we are American. I don’t have a specific question in there, but I wanted to bring up that topic because I feel like it’s uncomfortable for a lot of people to acknowledge differences in a respectful and supportive way.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Absolutely. Even where I sit as a Latina woman, I carry certain privileges. Even within my own culture, my skin color is lighter, so colorism is a big thing in the Latino and Black community. There’s a degree of privilege that we often carry. It depends on what space you’re in, and you’re right, there are things that I will not experience. My two sons won’t have to go into a grocery store and ask for a receipt, even if they buy a pack of gum—what many of my friends who have Black sons have to teach their sons. The power of the story is important to humanize someone else’s experience. However, it’s not up to someone who has been historically underrepresented to share that story. It’s not their responsibility to teach others. It’s the responsibility of others to learn and to ask for permission to hear someone’s story. Cuz the problem is, that it might open up certain triggers for them.
For me as a facilitator and a coach, the first thing I had to learn how to do was understand my own biases. What were my triggers? Who triggered me? How did they trigger me? We always facilitate in pairs of two because there might be someone in that group that triggers me, in which case, my co-facilitator will take the lead. All that to say, we have to be very careful and mindful and ask for permission for someone to share their story. Are you comfortable with sharing that story with me? I wanna learn more about this, it’s not your responsibility to teach me, it’s my responsibility to learn the things that make me curious, but can I ask for permission to learn your story and to hear your story? Does that make sense?
Matt Harriman: Can you share your definition of the word trigger in that context?
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Yeah, trigger, for me, means something that brings up a physical reaction, like little prickles or goosebumps. It kind of takes my breath away a little bit, and my eyebrow furrows. Something has been brought up from the past, or that I fear, or an experience, or something shameful. My mission is to figure out where that’s coming from. How would you define trigger?
Matt Harriman: I think since you said it, I’m gonna build off it—I get to cheat here. I think it’s something that elicits an emotional response that you don’t fully understand, or maybe you do understand, but it’s an emotional response. It brings up something that you haven’t resolved in your mind. It could be trauma, fear, or all kinds of different stuff. I know that trigger is a word that is a trigger for a lot of people—it carries a lot of baggage. There are memes about people being oversensitive and stuff like that. I think it’s interesting to figure out what we’re talking about there.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: You bring up a good point. That’s always a very interesting topic to me when people bring this up. I’m gonna use this word, which I don’t like, but you know people say, “We’re raising snowflakes.” What I would like to challenge people in that sense is I’m raising a boy who is going to be in tune with their emotions, who doesn’t adhere to the societal feminine or masculine. Pink was never for girls. Blue was never for boys. I don’t wanna do everything that a man can do. It’s saying that the default is men, instead, I can do anything that mommy wants to and chooses to do. I have no limitations at that point. I challenge people who use words like, “Oh, this new generation, they’re overly sensitive, they’re being snowflakes,” and I’m like, no, I’m raising kids that are emotionally intelligent in spaces.
And it makes me think about, something you wanted to bring up, what do you do when you have people who have resistance to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace of belonging in the workplace? You hear a lot of times, what’s the new trendy word? Or is this the new trend that’s happening? No, this has been happening for many, many, many, many, many years. As a facilitator, and as a coach, one piece of advice that I would give to people who are trying to get into this work is to understand and know when the person across from you may not be ready to have this conversation. At the end of the day it’s about, what’s the impact you want to have on this conversation? Sometimes the answer is, I can’t help you.
Matt Harriman: There are people that I run into that aren’t ready to have even conversations about treating employees fairly or anything. If you add that layer of complexity and difficulty and discomfort of DEI, like I can imagine that increases the number of people that aren’t ready to engage with that by quite a bit.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: It’s about challenging assumptions. Going from a place where they’re making assumptions of an uninformed place into an informed place—the shift that we try to do as facilitators.
Matt Harriman: And I think that’s a huge point. Because I know in 2020 there was a lot of rhetoric around like BLM, it’s a new thing? Where’s all this new stuff coming from? It wasn’t that it was bringing to light things that are happening—the George Floyd stuff, how many of those happened without a camera? I think that reframing it is helpful. I hope that more people realize that when we hear about something new. Something that I wasn’t aware or cognizant of at all was ableism until the last couple of years. It sounds new, but it’s just another thing. Just like, 70 years ago, being Black was also like, “Oh, this new thing that we’ve gotta deal with now,” we being white people. And the women’s suffrage movement and all of that stuff—all of those things were a new thing at some point to people. That was an interesting connection that helped me realize how narrow my perspective is. You don’t see the whole world from your own eyes. The value of other people’s perspectives is crazy.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Absolutely. I think the position that you’re in, Matt, since you acknowledge your privilege and your place in life, one of the questions you asked me early on was, “What makes you want to be on the podcast?” And I turned it back around to you and asked, “Why would you want to have me on the podcast?” You talked about utilizing your platform and network to help people. At that point, I realized you use your power for good, despite being a cis white man with privilege. You’re willing to reach back and help people—to do what matters. As a Latina woman, I understand the privileges and powers I have, and I can easily reach back to help people who need a hand. In any space you’re in, think about who holds the power, how they use it, and how willing they are to learn other people’s perspectives. You have to identify who has the power and be a mentor, ally, sponsor, or coach for people.
I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have those people in power to reach back and help me. We also connected through similarities. You have your family history of how the way you grew up. You and I connected how difficult it was for you to grow up. Then we think about what are the things that make us different, and how can we honor those differences. And then we hang out at Liz’s house.
Matt Harriman: As long as I bring a six-pack with me though, at least, right? I just want there to be more useful conversations on the topic. It seems like there are a lot of people just kind of yelling from both sides—as with everything in America. In the interactions that I’ve had with people, I’ve yet to run into a single person, in all of my work, that was intentionally discriminatory or doing it on purpose. I’ve heard of one, from a friend, but there are a lot of well-intentioned people that want to learn and need tangible ways to approach things and to support and help.
Maybe that’s a pointed question. If people are listening that are having trouble being comfortable or getting comfortable with approaching the conversation, an issue at work, or within their leadership team, around the DEI space, what would you tell somebody that wants to be an ally and support and help?
Liz Davila-Sleigh: When I talk to organizations, I start with, “Okay, we’re not gonna solve world problems. We’re not here to solve, racism around the world and prejudice around the world. We’re here to solve it within our community, within our organization, and grow. It’s your responsibility to grow in that space. There are so many resources available. I have a whole network—I can list you off 20 people that would be willing to share their story that are in this profession. Even Ted Talks and YouTube videos helped me work through my own biases. I purposely sought out communities that were different than me—it was uncomfortable. Some things came out on TikTok or Instagram or YouTube, that made me think, how could I be thinking this way?
I’ve made so many mistakes. I’ve sounded stupid. My biggest fear was hurting someone. You would think it was such a real fear that it crippled me—never going back to the good versus bad behaviors. I asked myself, how is this behavior get to my desired outcome? My desired outcome is to be more inclusive, to be equitable, and I wanna eventually help to build these inclusive communities. Is this fear helping me do that and be a good coach? Nope. It was not helping me. Therefore, I have to learn how to be comfortable with that uncomfortableness. I make mistakes and say, “I am sorry that I hurt you.” Also, a lot of the time we don’t say thank you enough. So, Matt, thank you for sharing your story, and your perspective, and being very willing to listen to me. I think that “I’m sorry,” and “Thank you” are two things that are underused in business— they will get you so far.
Matt Harriman: You hear “Thank you” a lot. Almost to the point that it’s meaningless in a lot of cases. If you have, “Thank you” as your default email signature, that’s not a thank you. But “I’m sorry,” I don’t hear that, except for in a passive-aggressive way where it’s like, “I’m sorry if I didn’t say this clearly for you.” What I hear in that case is, “Hey, I screwed up, I’m sorry.”
Liz Davila-Sleigh: One other thing that came up for me right now as you were saying that is also thinking about things inwardly. We tend to, as we make assumptions, based on our biases, we tend to use “they and others.” Let’s go into an organization, where you have individual contributors, middle management, leaders, and upper management. Do you know what happens in those big organizations? You have everybody talking going, “Well, they don’t wanna give us raises and they don’t understand us. They don’t have our perspective.” It’s always others. It’s easier to dehumanize that person and put ’em in a category and say, “They don’t understand us.” Whereas if you bring it to you and say, “I don’t feel understood.” That changes the conversation so much. I do this to my husband when we fight. This may sound a little passive-aggressive, but instead of saying, you did this and you did that; and you haven’t done this and you’re not picking up the trash; and I hate the way you load the dishwasher, da da da. I will say, “Hey husband. I don’t feel appreciated right now. I don’t feel heard or understood. Can we, can we talk about it?” I’ll always say, “I get it. I know you’re really under a lot of pressure and you got a lot of things happening, but this is how I feel right now.” Immediately his guard goes down. His shoulders go down. Yeah. He’ll say, “I’m sorry that you felt that way.” Then we can have an open dialogue about it.
Matt Harriman: Then at the end, you hit him with the right hook about the dishwasher, right?
Liz Davila-Sleigh: You bet.
Matt Harriman: This is so interesting, and I love that you brought up the fear of hurting people. I think it’s a well-intentioned thing that also holds back progression. I think people are afraid of misstepping, doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, and all of that—it stops them from doing anything.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: I think what I would offer to people, if somebody told me they wanted a coach in DEI upskilling and they said, “I’m really afraid of hurting someone,” I’d get away from the surface level.
Oftentimes in DEI, you talk about the checkbox—it isn’t a checkbox The intention is good. Your programs are good. People care about it, but it’s digging deeper instead of going wide—going deep into where this is coming from.
I would challenge that person, not challenge them, cause I don’t challenge people. Instead, I would say, “Where does that come from? What would you like to see differently? If you didn’t have this fear, what would happen?”
Again, these stories that we tell each other (the reason why we’re so polarized at the moment) are because of fear. We’re all afraid of losing something—our livelihood, what we’re used to, what we’re accustomed to for our children.
Matt Harriman: This has been awesome. I wanna talk to you for like 37 more hours about all of this stuff. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and your knowledge, and putting up with my stumbling through some of these topics that I’m still sorting out my discomfort with and all this stuff.
Liz Davila-Sleigh: Yeah, no, thank you for having me and allowing me to share my story. You’re in this work too and this reminded me of why I’m doing it—I do have a mission and a purpose. The new generation that the Gen Xs will lead, I’m so excited about them. There’s so much hope, and that’s really what we need.
Matt Harriman: They’ll save us, I think. Well again, this was amazing, Liz. Thank you. If people want to reach out, where can they find you?
Liz Davila-Sleigh: I will send you my contact information, but people can contact me at somosculture.com. I’m on LinkedIn, Instagram, or email.
Matt Harriman: Amazing. Well, thank you so much.
7: Jamie Villarreal – Taylor Swift, Masterful Effectiveness, and Asking the Question
In This Episode
[00:00:23] Transportation powers of live music
[00:07:58] Podcast Introduction
[00:09:03] Jamie’s backstory
[00:12:01] Navigating new jobs
[00:17:26] Questioning everything
[00:20:48] Balancing confidence and humility
[00:28:39] Leaning into ambiguity
[00:36:11] Setting boundaries at work
[00:41:59] Jamie’s non-negotiables at work
[00:51:51] Cultivating clarity of thought
[00:56:01] Alternative outlets to show up better at work
[01:03:12] The importance of good mentors
[01:15:59] Last bits of advice
[01:16:43] Where to connect with Jamie
Links & Resources
Jamie Villarreal’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamie-villarreal-5a641858/
Jamie Villarreal’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/MattMHarriman
Matt’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattharriman/
Matt’s book, Integrated Upstream Planning: https://amzn.to/3n9Obvl
Jamie Villarreal: Even though I’m ahead of schedule, we should still plan for the presentation to be two weeks from now. If we’re really off track, I may contact the admin beforehand and ask if there’s any flexibility to push the presentation back a week. It’s important to step back and break down a project into multiple pieces.
Matt Harriman: Yeah, it was a good talk. I love how interested and passionate you are about concerts. What is it about concerts that you like so much?
Jamie Villarreal: For me, concerts transport me back to a time when I had fewer responsibilities and less stress in my life. Plus, hearing live music helps me block out the craziness in my mind. Instead of worrying about laundry or work, I can just be in the moment and enjoy the music.
Matt Harriman: I’ve heard people compare it to drugs—it just strips away anxiety and allows you to be present.
Jamie Villarreal: Going to concerts is one of the few things that can help me decompress and calm my mind. I recently saw Taylor Swift, and even though it was intense, it blew me away. She’s a great role model who promotes good ideologies.
Matt Harriman: I will say that when you have half a billion dollars, you have the freedom to say what you want and stand up for what you believe in. That’s awesome. I should probably introduce you. Anybody that’s listening, this is the Taylor Swift episode of the Achieve and Enjoy podcast.
Jamie Villarreal: I’m Taylor. No, just kidding.
Matt Harriman: This is episode seven, I think. The purpose of this podcast is to explore the relationship between work and happiness, achievement and joy, and success and contentment. This is gonna be a pretty candid and relaxed conversation—we’ll see where it goes. Today we’ve got Jamie, and you’ve heard about her love for Taylor Swift so far.
Jamie: Also Mars Volta— I need to get some street credit for the cool band. I have a full spectrum, Matt.
Matt Harriman: Somebody might be okay with Mars Volta on Reddit. Who are you and what do you do for work— to frame it for people? And then I’d love to hear your story. When I say “story,’’ I mean story, not resume or work history or shit like that. How did you get here? What’s important to you?
Jamie Villarreal: Let’s see, who am I? I think, like all of us, I wear many hats. My first hat, I would say, is my family hat. I have a beautiful nine-year-old daughter who is currently at summer camp and just got a new phone. She was texting me right before this. She wants to come home, and I said, “Too bad, so sad, cuz Mom was a celebrity and recording a podcast.”
I’m married to a wonderful guy, Josh. We are celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary this year! I’m actually doing a cool photo shoot where I’m gonna wear my mom’s wedding dress from the seventies, and we’re gonna do a retro wedding album. And then, the work hat obviously takes up a big portion of my day-to-day. Luckily, it’s something that I really, really enjoy. I work for a company called Marathon Oil —I’m sure many of you have heard of it. Believe it or not, I’ve only worked at Marathon. I interned for many companies, but Marathon has been tried and true for the last 15 years. I’ll probably get into that a little bit more, but I’ve run the gamut in terms of what topics I’ve pursued at Marathon. My most current role is as the production and reservoir manager for our EG asset, which is located in Equatorial Ghana, Africa. I started in late March— I’m still getting up to speed on what that job’s gonna look like, but it’s gonna be something completely different than what I’ve done before.
I’m excited. There’s a lot I can bring to the table in terms of past experiences, but there’s a lot I’m gonna get to learn as well. A little bit more about me, I love concerts. I’m a foodie. I’m down to try anything new. I love to go to new restaurants. I live in Houston, in the Heights (represent the Interloop). I have not given up hope and moved out to the burbs, but never say never.
I would say those are kind of my big things. In terms of what drives me, it comes down to, what’s gonna make me and my family happy? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve changed the definition or even realized I needed to define that because you can say happiness and kind of take the surface level, but obviously, that depends on who you are, what you are, what kind of frame of life you’re in. Matt, did I miss anything? Did I disappoint?
Matt Harriman: No, that’s awesome. Okay, so I do wanna pick on one thing that you said. So you took the role that you’re in now in March, and you’re figuring out what that job is. Can you say more about what that looks like for you? How do you figure out what a job is?
Jamie Villarreal: Yeah, absolutely. That’s such an interesting point. I’m gonna rewind, and then I’ll circle back to that. I am a type-A control freak. I plan to the 11th hour—not only in my work life but also in my private life. When we go on a trip, I have an itinerary that covers everything from when we wake up, to when we eat every day. I like structure. I like to know what to expect. I like to know that I can deliver on things.
Matt Harriman: That’s why I asked because the one time that we met, I pegged you as the type of person that would have had a 90-day plan and all this stuff, 90 days before you started the job.
Jamie Villarreal: Oh yeah, a hundred percent. And that was really how my life, in terms of my career, had been up until let’s say year 10. In the past three or four years, I’ve probably had seven or eight different jobs (all within Marathon). Ranging from like six months to one year, to 18 months to two years. And if you had asked me a few years ago, I would have been like, that’s my worst nightmare, Matt. I don’t like having to start over. You’re having to meet new people, you’re having to reintroduce yourself, reprove yourself.
But because I’ve had to go through that and, knock on wood, have actually been relatively successful, it has now stripped the fear of the unknown. I’m excited about it cause I’m like, “Dude, I’ve done this like three or four times. I’ve changed a job. I’m going into something that I don’t know, I’ve done it. Let’s just get excited that you’re on a new journey.” So I would say in terms of getting my feet wet into something brand new, there are a couple of things that I like to do. Obviously, get to know the people that you’re gonna be working with on a personal and professional level. I wanna know, do you have kids? Do you like cats? Do you like concerts? I wanna know you as a person. What you’re doing on the weekends—which I think is just as important as like, what are you doing on the weekdays? You can’t separate the two. Get to know your team, and then get to know what’s important on that team. What has the team done well in the past?
That’s not something that you necessarily need to spend a lot of time on. You just need to make sure that that boat kind of keeps moving. I like to do this once I feel like I have a good understanding. My take is always, “Well what can I do to improve the team?” What have been some items that maybe the team just hasn’t been structured to work on? Or maybe it’s stuff that they’ve done but they haven’t been able to successfully do. And I see if that lines up with any of the strengths that I’m bringing from previous roles. So I would say, you know, get to know the people and get to know the processes. Those are kind of the two biggest things.
And then, a third, don’t be afraid to ask questions—regardless of your job, regardless of your life. A game-changer for me because I know anytime I ask, I know there are like six other people that are just too intimidated to ask. I’ll raise my hand and be like, “Hey, I know you said two plus two is four, but can we like walk through that one more time? I thought it was three, can we walk through this?” There may be a couple of people that are like, come on girl, but I know that Joe in the back was checking his email and he missed it and he wants to know too. When starting a new job or project, it’s important to recognize that you don’t know everything. It’s okay to ask questions and seek clarification. This attitude has helped me with transitions in the past. I’ve learned to put my ego aside and ask for help when needed. It’s helped me gain confidence and be more adaptable.
Matt Harriman: That sounds like confidence to me. You don’t know what it is, but you’re confident in your ability to sort things out; figure out what you need to do. Asking questions can also save you money and time. Yesterday, I questioned a contractor’s bill and found out they had charged us for something they didn’t do. We’re trying to do the same thing with our kids—we want them to be critical thinkers. We want them to question everything. But when you’re the parent and they question you every now and then, it’s like, “Oh, okay. I didn’t like that.” But yeah, that was a good thing that you did.
Jamie Villarreal: It’s good though. Sometimes she’ll ask me something and I’m like, “I have absolutely no idea.” And I think it’s showing, “Yeah, just because you’re an adult, you don’t know everything.” And I think there’s that stigma, especially with kids that, just because you’re an adult, they know everything. I’m not gonna try to pretend like I do. We’ll figure it out together. Or we’ll ask Alexa ’cause Alexa knows everything. I think, yeah, just ask questions. It’s so simple. But I think it’s just an ego thing. If you can put your ego aside and you’re not scared to ask questions two, three, four, five, six, seven times.
When I’m training somebody new or I have somebody new on my team, I really try to show them that I’m doing that and encourage them. It makes the communication so much better because if they’re stuck on something and they don’t wanna ask, and then they spend two days working on something that they thought, or, you know, were too scared to get clarification on and it’s wrong, it’s like, “Hey, nobody’s winning from that.” I always just try to be open and say like, “There are no dumb questions ’cause I ask a hundred dumb questions all the time,’ and, you know, that’s just part of life and just, you gotta own it.”
Matt Harriman: I feel like there are dumb questions, but I don’t care about them. I think a question is bad if it’s not useful—if it’s intended to, I don’t know, show somebody up or be a “gotcha.” That’s a thing with asking questions, especially in a work setting, I feel like it depends on the culture a lot.
Jamie: A hundred percent. Obviously, it’s gonna vary from team to team, so I’m stepping into my new role and it’s a conventional team versus an unconventional one. It’s these senior technical geniuses (for lack of a better word), who have been on the team for 10-plus years. I was very open and honest when I came to the team about my conventional and unconventional experiences. I’m not walking in thinking I can do y’all’s job, nor do I want to. I’m here to figure out how can we make things more efficient. How can we maybe get some stuff off your plate that maybe we don’t need to? How can I make your job easier? Because I can’t do your job. I’m just here to help y’all in whatever kind of appropriate capacity that means. There’s always gonna be someone smarter in the room, own it. That’s okay. Everyone is bringing different strengths and different topics to the room—find your strength and advertise them. We’re all on the same team. If you can own that and recognize it, it’s not a competitive environment, then I think the questions are gonna come and you’re just gonna get a better work product because those egos have then been put aside because you’re not in an arm wrestling competition from who’s the best.
Matt Harriman: What you’re talking about sounds to me like a really strong balance of what we talked about earlier, like confidence and humility—being both confident and humble in the right way at the same time. I feel like that’s something that, especially early career managers, like when you get your first manager job, you’re like, “I need to look confident,” so you’re afraid to not know stuff or ask questions. Did you go through anything like that? If so, how did you find this balance of confidence and humility?
Jamie Villarreal: I would say in my first manager role (let’s just fake a number), five or six years ago, it was very intimidating on multiple levels. I had been a reservoir engineer for 10 years, and they had a manager role open in our asset planning division. For people that don’t know what that is, you’re basically the human calculator, if you will— you’re doing cash flow projections, you’re doing production projections; operating extension projections. It’s a very important role because that ultimately gets rolled up and you’re looking at the health of the enterprise. I was asked to do not to manage people for the first time, but also to manage something like I had never done before. I think because I’m a realist, I was like, “I can’t come in and act like I know everything.” I remember I had a one-on-one with everybody and I said, “Here are the strengths that I’m gonna be bringing to the team. Here are the stuff that I’m gonna need your help with. I hear, Matt, you’re really good at X, Y, Z. You’re gonna be my guy on that. I’m gonna be going to you for this. If that’s not true, let me know, but I’m gonna be relying on you to help support me with this.”
I try to do it for every role. In a way, I kind of like stalked everybody to know what they were good at. Matt’s good at this. Jenny’s good at this, Tara’s good at this. And I really kind of had a one-on-one with him and be like, “Hey, I’m gonna be open and honest with you, Matt. I’m not good at Project A, but Project A is really important. So, you’re gonna be my guy and I wanna help you with whatever I can. So, help me help you. What can I do to make sure Project A gets done?” I think it never even crossed my mind to come in all hot and heavy because I would’ve fallen spot on my face—I was just too realistic. I wasn’t sure how to be the best manager. I wasn’t really sure what the job even was. I mean, I actually had to interview for two replacements my first weekend. They needed two new team members that were going to report to me. Full disclosure, I had two really incredible candidates. Their kind of execution was top-notch. One of them just seemed maybe a little bit kinder, more humble. I was like, “I’m gonna go with you ’cause it’s gonna build a better team environment.” He’s gone on to flourish—I’m so proud of him. He kind of had come from an IT background, and it was gonna be a lot of learning for him. I think just kind of being humble and nice, Matt, is for whatever reason, frowned upon because you need to have a big chest and you need to be like, “I’m the best of the best.” And I’m just like, “I don’t know. I’d rather just like be nice and all work together. I think that’s gonna get a better product.
For me, that’s work—just being like, ‘I’m good at this, you’re good at this, Sally’s good at this. Let’s all do it together.’ Instead of just being like, ‘I’m gonna do it all guys because I got it.’ Don’t be afraid to be like, ‘Hey, I’m really good at this.’ And this is where I can excel, but in the same breath, be like, ‘Hey, I have no idea what I’m doing with X, Y, Z. I’m gonna need some help on that.’ I think just getting to know the team and the dynamic is the best day-one thing you can do. It will set you up for success.
I worked for a company called Lubrizol, located in Deer Park. I was wearing FRCs and a hard hat, getting my hands dirty every day. At first, I was hesitant because I like my nails, hair, and manicure. However, one of my best friends had interned at Marathon and I fell in love with the oil and gas industry because it’s a little bit more creative. In chemical engineering, which I studied, everything was very black and white. It’s like one plus one equals two—there was no debating that. However, in the petroleum world, there is a little bit of artistic value. There are ranges that you can put into inputs that ultimately affect the outputs. I like the idea of being creative and not always having a right or wrong path. So, I interned at Marathon and then I was hired by them right out of school. I remember all my friends running around campus sweating in their black suits, trying to hustle to the next meeting, and I’m just sitting at the pool drinking a Diet Coke. I showed up at Marathon in 2008 and it has been an incredible journey. I just hit my 15-year work anniversary and wedding anniversary. It’s crazy how time has flown and I’m really proud of the career that I’ve had.
Matt Harriman: 2008 must have been a big year for you.
Jamie Villarreal: It was a big year. I just wanted to get it all done— start a job, get married, and all that good stuff. I was a planner and did it all on purpose.
Matt Harriman: You said some very interesting stuff. The first one is that you like the idea of oil and gas because of the aspect of creativity and that there’s not always a right or wrong answer. How does that ambiguity and uncertainty give you energy?
Jamie Villarreal: It allows me to take risks without actually taking risks—it’s a controlled environment. The risks aren’t going to have huge implications if your porosity is 10% or 11%. I like the idea that it doesn’t have to be 10% or 11%. You can turn some knobs and there’s a huge impact. You can go back and turn it down a little bit. I liked the idea that you could get to the answer in multiple ways. It made it a little bit more like a detective. In contrast, chemical engineering was a lot of memorization for me. It was fun and challenging, and it helped me become a solid problem solver, but, I was looking for something a little bit more romantic. There’s a formula you need to follow, but there’s some gray to it and some flexibility.
My dad worked at the post office. He was working with his hands, organizing, and moving stuff from bin to bin. He started college but was paying for it by himself and just felt like that wasn’t something that he was going to be able to continue to do. So, he dropped out and went straight to the post office, where he worked for 40 years. He retired at a relatively young age— late fifties or early sixties— and is now living a really nice life on a government pension. He definitely worked hard. I remember holidays where he would get double overtime and he would take it. He always had such a good time. He would tell me about his friends and how they always had music playing. He loved 97.9 The Box, which is a radio station that’s still around. As hard as he worked, he still found fun in it. He set the example of working hard but finding the good in it. I think that’s always kind of been the bar that I’ve set going forward.
Matt Harriman: Let’s talk about boundaries around work. You’ve obviously done very well in your career. You’ve made it to positions where most people that I’ve met that are in positions at your level are workaholics. How do you think about boundaries? How do you think about effort versus work-life balance?
Jamie Villarreal: It’s imperative to be clear on what your boss values as important—not everything is important. Just because someone asked you to do something doesn’t mean it’s a priority. Understanding what management’s expectations are for the projects and making sure that you’re focusing on what’s important has really helped me set up the week for success. I have a 7:30 check-in with my boss every Monday. I go over what I’m going to be focusing on, what my team is going to be focusing on, and I openly acknowledge what we’re not doing right now. It’s probably a little bit of work upfront, but it has really helped in getting to leave on time.
Matt Harriman: “Do you still need this?” This is one of the most time-saving questions that people should ask, especially in big companies.
Jamie Villarreal: Yeah, and it’s easy. It’s a yes or no question. For example, we need product A, and I could say, “Hey, we have a version that was done six months ago and is 80% of the answer,” or “We can give you a new A, but it’s going to take X number of man-hours and this is going to get delayed.” I don’t have the answer, but I’m going to give that to my boss, and based on what she’s going to be using it for, she can help guide me.
I think it’s just getting clear expectations on the priority of the project, definitions around the project, and absolute deadlines. Part of that is saying no, and “Hey, can I get this?” And it may not be a flat-out no because I hate it when people are like, “Just say no because it doesn’t work that way.” It’s just “not right now.” Like, “Yeah, Matt, I can get you that report, but it’s going to be Wednesday after lunch because I have a doctor’s appointment in the morning.” They’re like, “Okay.” Or they’re going to be like, “No, absolutely.” And I’ll be like, “Okay, well let me call Sharon and see if she can get it for you.”
Matt Harriman: I’m hearing a lot of people talk about prioritization and confirming with your boss what order you need to do things. But I think what you’re talking about is a little different in that you’ve gone so far as to define what is enough. You know what’s critical and what’s nice to have— I think that’s the piece that people miss. They don’t know when to stop.
Jamie Villarreal: I think it’s spending a little bit of time at the beginning of the week and really scheduling it out— prioritizing. I have a little calendar that I send out to my team every Monday with the two-week forecast, and I’m like, “Hey guys, let me know if this stuff’s moving around because it’s kind of a knock-on effect.” I think taking that kind of time on Monday to reflect and get organized helps— in the office and even when you’re working from home. Then that helps by default, on work-life balance, because at the end of the day, I didn’t get maybe number eight done, but I talked to my boss on Monday, and that wasn’t a burning mission of hers. I’ll work on it next week because it’s four o’clock and my daughter has gymnastics, I’m going to go, and I’m not going to feel bad.
Matt Harriman: You mentioned your daughter’s gymnastics, are there other boundaries that you’ve put up that are non-negotiable?
Jamie Villarreal: With my new role, I sent a note out to everyone and said, “Hey, I get to work early (6:30 AM and I don’t see Julia before she wakes up) and I want to leave at 4 or 4:30—I do nine times out of ten. That doesn’t always mean that a couple of times a week I’m not logging on and checking something. I just wanted to be very clear that when it’s 4 or 4:30 and there’s not a fire, I’m not going to sit there just to show that I’m there— I think Covid helped with that. I think knowing and proving to the greater good that you don’t have to be in your office chair to be getting stuff done is more palatable. I said these are my hours. I work from home on these days. Here’s my cell phone number. When it’s 4 or 4:30, I’m out, but I’m responsive. If it’s something that’s urgent, don’t hesitate to call me. And I think being transparent with that and stating it upfront instead of maybe for the first couple of months staying late just to show off, only to have to tear off the bandaid later, is the easier way for everyone.
Matt Harriman: COVID screwed things up, especially for middle managers, because it showed how poorly they do in understanding the work product and the output of their teams—they really relied on physical presence and hours in the office to hope that things were getting done. I do think that it’s happening already, but the future of work is about output and not time spent.
Jamie Villarreal: One thing that we talked about was working smarter and not harder. Obviously, prioritization is a huge part of that, leveraging your team, knowing what you’re good at versus what other people are good at, and organizing that properly is a big part of it. And I think that also allows my team to know that I value their time away from the office. I want them to be gone, and I don’t want to call them. I want them to enjoy it because I want to do the same. I think that part has been helpful too—the overarching project management piece.
Matt Harriman: That’s such a good example of how doing a good job at work can allow you to be happy and experience a vacation without stress or other distractions. It’s all linked. I think there’s even more to it than what we’ve been discussing. There’s a clarity of thought that goes into prioritizing and defining what things are, project management, cause and effect, deadlines, and how all these pieces interact and sorting them out. I think that clarity of thought is something that you notice when it’s not there—especially when you talk to a leader of a team or a company and they’re all over the place. We all go through times like that, where we don’t have our act together—that’s just the way it goes. What do you think drives that ability for you? How do you think that skill is built or cultivated to think clearly, understand what’s going on, and make good decisions?
Jamie Villarreal: I think it goes all the way back to college, where you learn how to solve problems, elementary style. Being a chemical engineering major, you’re solving really complex organic chemistry problems, which I think helped me realize that I’m good at problem-solving. And then, I think it was a skill that I probably didn’t even know I was lacking until I got into this planning world, where I went through a budget cycle. It’s like three months, and you’re working on a lot of stuff; at the end of the three months, this is due. I just kind of thought, oh yeah, this is probably all going to come together. And I ended up missing one of Julia’s Disney on Ice shows because of the deadline. I was up at three o’clock in the morning trying to balance reserves, despite knowing about this deadline six months ago. That was a big wake-up call. Why not break it into smaller projects?
My system came out of a need to survive. Those first couple of months I was so burnt out. After I implemented project management and broke things into bite-size pieces with wiggle room, it went from a job that I was like, “Ugh,” to, “Oh my God, this is like one of the most amazing jobs in the world.” I finally had time to sit back and really think. I definitely didn’t get it right the first time, but after each cycle, I would always sit down with my immediate team and say what worked, and what didn’t. And then every cycle got better to the point where I was in planning and working a 40-hour week—practically unheard of.
Matt Harriman: All that pain is self-inflicted by the company, right? Reserves is the perfect example—the deadline’s the same and you know it for years. Just when I do my taxes, if I’m stressed out the week before my taxes are due, that’s my fault.
Jamie: A hundred percent.
Matt Harriman: The government didn’t move the deadline up or anything.
Jamie Villarreal: Same time every year, I totally agree. It’s just knowing that you need to, without going overboard, iron out the details and give some flexibility. If you do that, it should come together more smoothly. I’ve taken that mindset with me to all of my management roles, and it’s really helped. I’m kind of nicknamed the calendar girl, but I really think it’s just because people are jealous because I’m organized and whatnot. I don’t go anywhere without my calendar.
Matt Harriman: I think there’s definitely the skill of planning and project management and problem-solving, but also the energy that you have to have to do it every day. To be thinking clearly about the whole concept and everything. I know that you hate journaling.
Jamie Villarreal: Don’t tell all my secrets, Matt.
Matt Harriman: No, but what habits do you have personally that help you have energy and the mental clarity required for focus and like that clarity of thought?
Jamie Villarreal: If I allowed my mind to do what it wanted, I would think about work all the time— not a pleasant thought. What I’ve worked to try to find are things that, don’t distract me, but take change my focus. Kind of like concerts. Another thing that I like to do that’s not cool, but I like reading. I’m not reading anything smart like Atomic Habits or whatever. I’m reading murder mysteries where people get killed and there’s blood. It allows me to be somewhere different and rejuvenates me. I measure my vacations by how many books I get to read. If it’s like three, it was an amazing vacation. It’s allowing my work side to take a little nap.
And then I think exercise, I probably don’t do it as much as I should, but I jazzercise—not just for 60-year-old ladies. I think getting out there, and not thinking about anything else. It’s just anything that can kind of take my brain and shift it to fully focus on something that’s uplifting, rejuvenating, or exciting. I think that’s kind of where I get my joy from. Or like last night, my daughter and I did Lego flowers—quality time with my daughter without screens. We’re working on Legos and she’s telling me about her day. I can show up and be 100% focused on her. Another one is kind of like a date night with my husband or a girl’s night out at dinner where we’re just kind of letting loose and airing our grievances, airing what’s good with the world, airing a new book or a new wine we had—you’re just completely yourself, there are no expectations of you. What about you, Matt? I know you like journaling. What else do you do to kind of recoup and recharge?
Matt Harriman: I’ll answer that in a minute, but I wanna get back to yours. For the last one, spending time with friends, your body language changed a little bit, and your shoulders dropped. It seems almost like an opening up, similar to what I get out of meditation and journaling. It’s open-ended. It’s free. The shit in my mind has a place to go. Time with friends for you is like writing for me—open-ended time and space where I could be. It could be a little story for my kids or even poetry.
But then there’s the other side of it: what you said, where it’s something where I cannot focus on anything else. I have to focus on that one thing. Golf is one for me, where it’s a little bit of both. Golf is cool because if you’re not 100% focused on the shot you’re taking at the time, you’ll mess it up. I like it because your shot gives you immediate feedback on your mental state. If you’re over-focused on the wrong detail or thinking too much when you’re swinging, you’ll mess up. If you’re just in the right amount of space where you’ve planned everything, you’ve noticed the wind, the distance, the slope, the lie, the ball, the weather, like all of that stuff, you just have to hit the shot that you’ve planned out—it’s all decided. It’s like flow. And then, if you have to wait 15 minutes because the group in front of you is slow or something, then it’s open-ended and you’re sitting outside enjoying nature.
Matt Harriman: It’s funny that you mentioned jazzercise because I don’t do it, but I run my own business and have flexible hours, so I’ll go do yoga classes during the week. The yoga classes are super, super slow, and stretchy. The other people that really like those are senior citizens. So it’ll be me and people that are double my age. I love it.
Jamie Villarreal: They get it though. Part of the reason I love that is I’ve made friendships with people that I would never, out of the normal kind of mode of operations, come in contact with. I’m talking to them so I’m not thinking about what I have to turn in on Tuesday or are my groceries up to date in my fridge and all that kind of stuff. It’s good just to kind of meet new people and talk about new things.
Matt Harriman: What role have mentors played in your life?
Jamie Villarreal: I attribute not all of my success, but a significant portion, to the sponsors and mentors I’ve had—in and out of Marathon. I’ve been lucky enough to have Marathon-assigned sponsors that are assigned on a more formal basis. I think from a surface level that’s very great and tangible. I’ve never wanted to shy away from, “Hey, I’ve really liked what you’ve done with your career. Can we have coffee once a month?” Those are organic to some degree, even though I’m actively seeking them out.
I have enough people that I can rely on and talk through and, hey, how should I approach this problem? What would you do? Am I thinking about this? Having sounding boards of people you respect, who have achieved success and are good leaders, can help when facing new challenges. They can provide perspective, advice, and help build confidence.
I would say to anybody, find yourself a mentor. Find yourself a sponsor. Don’t wait for it to fall in your lap—it’s not going to. You would be surprised, just how willing and open most people are to hook up once a month or once a quarter or whatever is appropriate and just catch up. Having mentors in the form of former bosses, colleagues, and even in different aspects of life like jazzer-size mentors, can provide a wide spectrum of support. Reflecting on previous bosses and noting qualities you enjoyed and did not enjoy can help in growing as a leader and human. Finding role models with some traits that you admire can be helpful. It is also important to recognize that not everyone will be a perfect mentor and that it is okay to outgrow them and even have anti-role models. It is important to have people in your life who inspire you to be the best version of yourself, whether that is through their positive qualities or by showing you what not to do.
Matt Harriman: It’s kinda similar to having guardrails or baselines. Another interesting point you mentioned was asking for mentors and advice— an underutilized resource. I’m doing a project with a big company on career development. One of the first things we did was talk to everyone and make it clear that if they want something, they have permission to ask for it. We had a 30-minute meeting where we showed some stuff, and after that meeting, several people raised their hands and said, “Hey, I’m interested in this career track over here.” Cool. So they were connected with someone who could mentor them and tell them more about it. It’s such a small thing, but as a company, if you give people a little nudge and permission to say, “Hey, if you’re interested in something different than what you’re doing now, you can ask and that’s okay.”
Jamie Villarreal: I put it back on the person. I’ve never waited for someone to say it’s okay to ask. What’s the harm in asking? I’ve tried new things because I asked for them. No one said, “Oh, you can ask.” I was like, “Well, I’m gonna ask because what’s the worst thing that can happen? They’ll say no.” I would almost always rather ask and find out that’s not an option than for someone to wait to tell me that. I’m just a very proactive person.
Matt Harriman: Yeah. And I’ve always been the same way. I think most jobs I got when I was working for other companies were because I asked for them.
Jamie Villarreal: A hundred percent, but I get that when you’re new or younger in your career, you’re probably intimidated to voice those questions and concerns. But the sooner people can get comfortable asking and knowing that there’s no harm in asking, the better. You’re not saying you hate what you’re doing right now. You’re just saying that down the line, this may also look good to me. That’s just never going to hurt you. Once you rip the band-aid off, the world’s your oyster. All they can do is say “No, not right now,” or, “No, that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of.”
Matt Harriman: I’ve found that as a leader, it’s helpful to share this same advice with your people. You should be asking for stuff a hundred percent. Some people are just different personality types and need that extra push.
Jamie Villarreal: Yeah, I know they need that extra push.
Matt Harriman: I think building a team around you for the things that you care about is super useful. We all have different areas of our life that we’re trying to balance and improve. I met a guy at the gym who’s a bodybuilder, and although we don’t talk a ton, I go to him when I need some accountability or motivation for the gym.
Jamie Villarreal: I think that’s applicable, even in marriage. My husband and I know each other’s strengths, and we function well because of that. We identify what we’re good at, but if I need to step in and do something, I will, but it’s not gonna be as good as if he did it. And so I think a lot of these success strategies can translate to multiple branches of your life.
Matt Harriman: Right? Awesome. I think this has been super fun. Is there any last advice you would give someone?
Jamie Villarreal: I’ve already said it, but just ask the questions: ask for help, ask for a mentor, ask the tough questions. Ask to leave early to take your kid to gymnastics. There’s no harm in asking. And once you get used to that mentality, it only gets better from there. I know it’s intimidating, especially if you’re young in your career, but the more comfortable you get with asking questions like “Why does this work this way?” or “Can I have this job?” or “Can I leave early because my dog’s sick?”, the better. That’s my motto.
Matt Harriman: Awesome. Well, this has been great, Jamie. Thank you for coming on.
Jamie Villarreal: Thanks for having me. If people want to connect with me or reach out, my email address, which is email@example.com. I’m also on LinkedIn.
Matt Harriman: Awesome. Well, this has been another episode of the Achieve and Enjoy podcast. Thank you, Jamie, for coming on. Anyone listening can watch the video on Pod2’s YouTube channel, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or visit our pod2.co/podcast for transcription, show notes, and more. Enjoy your work this week!
6: Yogashri Pradhan – O&G YouTube and Crucial (Self) Conversations
In this podcast episode, Yogashri Pradhan, Reservoir Engineer at Coterra Energy, discusses the importance of role models, being T-shaped (in terms of growth), and taking care of oneself. She also talks about starting a YouTube channel and a podcast to help people understand technical papers and deal with non-technical topics like stress and job searching — building resources she wished she had when she was younger. Pradhan emphasizes the need for more crucial conversations, transparency, and emotional intelligence in the oil and gas industry.
In This Episode
[00:00:00] Podcast teaser
[00:00:11] Podcast Intro
[00:00:53] Yogashri’s origin story
[00:05:24] Is oil and gas the happiest industry?
[00:06:51] Asking for advice > asking for work
[00:10:39] University Lands
[00:13:06] Setting boundaries (even if it’s a little late)
[00:19:48] Priorities vs values
[00:23:06] Starting an oil and gas YouTube channel
[00:33:12] Give employees what they want: EQ training
[00:39:03] O&G needs more crucial conversations
[00:44:55] Advice for achieving both success and happiness
[00:48:01] Yogashri’s social channels
Links & Resources
PetroPapers on Apple Podcasts: https://shorturl.at/mpW17
Yogashri Pradhan’s YouTube Channel: https://shorturl.at/lstuB
Yogashri Pradhan’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/yogashripradhan/
Matt’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/MattMHarriman
Matt’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattharriman/
Matt’s book, Integrated Upstream Planning: https://amzn.to/3n9Obvl
Episode Transcript: https://pod2.co/podcast/
Matt Harriman: My name’s Matt Harriman and this is the Achieve and Enjoy podcast, where we explore the relationship between work and happiness, achievement and joy, and success and contentment. We do that by sharing our own stories and interviewing some really interesting people — who you’ve never heard of, but have something interesting to teach us about how to achieve our definition of success and enjoy the path we take to get there. Today I’m with Yogashri Pradhan and we are gonna talk about all kinds of stuff. She’s got a really awesome YouTube channel, where she dives into all kinds of things oil and gas.
Yogashri Pradhan: Thanks for having me.
Matt Harriman: Let’s start by having you tell your story. How did you get to where you are now? Where did you come from? You can go as far back as you want, even to birth, but let’s focus on your professional life and college experience.
Yogashri Pradhan: It all started when I was born. Just kidding. When you asked that question, I thought about how I got into STEM. My parents knew I was inclined towards math and science, so they encouraged me by getting me more toys related to those subjects. This led to competing in math and science competitions and attending a STEM camp that focused on increasing awareness of engineering as a career. The camp was through the University of Houston’s grade camp — I’m a product of women in STEM initiatives. I’m very proud to say that.
Matt Harriman: Did your mother or father work in a technical field? Was there any influence there?
Yogashri Pradhan: My father worked in a technical field, but I’m the first in my family to work in oil and gas. I knew since I was a junior in high school that I wanted to pursue petroleum engineering. Being in Houston had some influence, but the STEM camp I attended had a session with engineers in the oil and gas industry who interacted with high schoolers like myself. They made an impression on me that I carried into college.
I maintained my involvement through the Society of Petroleum Engineers, volunteering, and joining initiatives that challenged me. I even competed in a student paper contest that SPE holds.
I entered the industry in 2011 when oil was high, and left in 2015 when it was taking a nose dive. My first job was working for Devon as a production engineer, but I was laid off within my first year due to the commodity environment. Then I became a rotational engineer. I knew the power of networking and being involved in SPE, so when I saw the writing on the wall, I reached out to about 150 people for advice. I even reached out to my university and got a business card from the SPE President of 2014, who was starting an initiative in University Lands called Texas Oil and Gas Institute. I walked into the interview thinking it was an internship opportunity, but it turned out to be a full-time position. I landed it a week after being laid off — nearly unheard of. I was very fortunate. Coming from a government and consulting perspective, working for University Lands gave me an opportunity to look at different operators and how they were able to produce their wells within the assets of University Lands — it’s about 2.1 million acres leased out to about 280 operators. We can talk more about that if needed.
Matt Harriman: If it’s okay, I have a couple of questions about what you talked about that I don’t want to lose. You mentioned that when you were in high school, you were introduced to some engineers in the oil and gas industry and found them interesting. Was it their outgoing personalities that drew you to them, or was there something else about the industry?
Yogashri Pradhan: It was two things. First, the people themselves were outgoing and seemed happy. I know this podcast is about achievement and joy, and I saw that joy in them. I knew that I wanted to be happy too. Second, I knew that oil and gas is a dynamic industry, and the majority of our energy consumption comes from it. Our dependency on it cannot be easily replaced. I really appreciate the fact that I can work in an industry where I can improve the quality of people’s lives. I didn’t know that at the time, but I knew it was a dynamic industry with many problems to solve. Being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, that was something that interested me.
Matt Harriman: For me, the opposite of happiness is boredom. I think this is an industry where you’ll never get bored. There’s good and bad stuff for sure, but you won’t be bored very often. One more question I have: You mentioned that you emailed over 150 people, but you asked for advice instead of work. Can you talk about that?
Yogashri Pradhan: I learned to couch any opportunities I was looking for as asking for advice from a professor I had at the University of Texas, Deborah Hempel-Medina. Networking is a two-way street at the end of the day. Being at the receiving end of someone asking something out of me seems very impersonal and transactional — reduces the probability of me wanting to help. But if someone approaches me asking how they can help me, that’s going to make me stop and think about what exactly I have that this person can contribute or offer. Asking for advice puts a person in a position where they can provide their story. People like talking about themselves. It’s pretty advantageous. I think the fact that I was early in my career and was reaching out to more experienced people made them want to help me and be in a mentorship position.
Matt Harriman: I had a mentor, John Howell, who founded Portfolio Decisions. He was a strategy wizard who taught entrepreneurship after he left the company. I was talking to him when I started my business and asked him for advice. He suggested finding 10 people whose opinions matter and calling them to ask for advice. If they’re potential clients, that’s great. If not, that’s okay. You can tell them about the problem you see needing to be solved, the solution you have for it, and why you think you’re the person to solve it. See what they say. Getting that feedback was really valuable. When someone asks me for advice, that feels good — it means they respect my opinion, and I might get to talk about myself (strokes the ego). But cold DMs on LinkedIn asking if I need website work don’t resonate with me. However, people who ask how they can grow their business because they see that I’m doing well, are also the people I’ll spend hours with.
Yogashri Pradhan: Right?! Again and again, I’ve been on the receiving end of people messaging me on LinkedIn, “Here’s my resume. Find a job for me, please.”
Matt Harriman: I interrupted you when you were at talking about your time at University Lands. Do you want to pick back up there?
Yogashri Pradhan: Two years later working for University Lands (UL), I was in a position where I arranged a whole mentorship program for graduate students at UT and A&M.
Part of the University Lands program involves getting interns to perform technical analysis while we provide advice and guidance. I’m proud to have created the mentorship program, but I also learned that I couldn’t over-volunteer or overextend myself at the time because I was early in my career. I needed to learn technical skills, establish boundaries, and learn to say no. That was an inflection point for me, and I decided to pursue a Master’s in Petroleum Engineering in 2017 while working full-time.
In 2018, I wanted to work for an operator as oil prices were rising. However, I was laid off due to a reduction in funding for the Texas Oil and Gas Institute, a startup organization within a government entity. Fortunately, I was picked up by Endeavor and worked as a reservoir engineer, gaining valuable experience in the Midland Basin. After seven years of experience in the Midland Basin with different companies, I decided to make a change and began working for Coterra. This week marks my one-year anniversary at the company!
Matt Harriman: Anniversaries should be celebrated, especially in this industry. You mentioned, setting boundaries and not overextending yourself. For me, it wasn’t until I had kids that I realized, “Hey, I should probably set a boundary or two.” I was always good at prioritizing and stuff, but I pushed pretty hard for a really long time. It sounds like you were a little bit more aware of the risk of overextending yourself. Did you have a bad burnout or anything that taught you that the hard way or were you smart about it?
Yogashri Pradhan: Setting boundaries and not overextending myself was a hard lesson to learn. I experienced burnout and a lack of fulfillment from doing too many administrative tasks. I had the desire to perform, give back, and pay it forward, but workaholism is socially condoned. I realized that pushing myself really hard wasn’t the best approach. I’m a person of many interests. I’m currently reading a book called Great At Work by Morton Hansen. Morton emphasizes that high performers do less and obsess over what they do. Saying no was a lesson I had to learn early on in my career, and I was constantly reminded to do so because opportunities can sneak up on you, and the fear of missing out is real.
Matt Harriman: It definitely is. And I think a lot of people feel busy because it helps them feel important. It’s like, “I’m in demand, I’m busy.” It’s a badge of honor for many folks. Saying no can be difficult. When I got my first manager job, I had to set a goal of saying no to at least five things every day. Most of those requests came from my bosses asking for things from my team. I usually hit that goal, but it still wasn’t enough. The number of demands on your time, especially in an organization, can be pretty wild. How do you set healthy boundaries now, given everything you’re doing? You have a lot going on. You have a YouTube channel, you do the Petro Papers podcast, you’re in school, and you’re working full-time.
Yogashri Pradhan: Those are great questions. The YouTube channel and podcast were things I wanted to do for fun. I had to take a hard look at how much I was doing. It took a burnout for me to realize that. I want to focus on doing certain things well. I started a new job, so I want to do well at that. I still want to focus on school. I value fitness, so I want to make time for that. I created a pie chart of how much time I want to allocate to each activity. There are times when it’s okay to take a break.
Matt Harriman: Prioritization is key to being effective. How do you approach prioritization?
Yogashri Pradhan: Priorities can change, but values stay the same. You have to go back to your values and make sure that what you’re doing aligns with them. It’s also important to have role models. Prioritize what you’re good at and passionate about, and take care of yourself. Role models can change over time. I’ve learned from Jeff Spatz that you can have T-shaped growth, where you specialize in certain things, but you can also be a generalist in other things. Good role models also take vacations and disconnect from work.
Matt Harriman: I like that you mentioned how people tend to be told to pick a single niche, especially on the internet and Twitter. While there is a time and place for this, such as when you are VC-backed, I think it’s important to have a couple of things that you really care about and do them well. This way, you remain balanced and don’t get tunnel vision. Additionally, there are many principles that apply to different areas that you can apply to your own work.
Yogashri Pradhan: Absolutely, you’re right, there is a time to pick a niche on something. There was also a study that was done that was expressed in the book, The Myth of Multitasking, that shows those who do the tasks in sequential order end up getting their tasks done faster than those who multitask.
Matt Harriman: There’s a lot about multitasking that is not awesome because it involves task switching too fast. I wanna talk about your YouTube channel now. Why did you start it? What was that like? I know, especially oil and gas, some companies get pretty unsupportive of their individuals even posting stuff on LinkedIn.
Yogashri Pradhan: I didn’t think about how my company would react to my YouTube channel — I’m always careful not to bash any company. I just love to understand people’s thoughts about the industry, and I’m generally a curious person. I’ve had the idea of starting a YouTube channel for a while now, and I know I’m good on camera — having done a lot of public speaking. The tipping point for me was a mixture of burnout and some feedback I received after applying for a volunteering position at SPE. While some feedback was understandable, the comment that I was the “queen of self-promotion” had a huge impact on me.
Matt Harriman: That would piss me off.
Pradha: It really affected me.
Matt Harriman: How did you take that? What did you do?
Yogashri Pradhan: Instead of scaling back, I ramped it up and started my YouTube channel. I posted things I was passionate about and walked a fine line to make sure my employer didn’t react negatively. I was aware of the risks, but I felt like I was doing everything right because my intentions were benign.
Matt Harriman: Fueled by a little bit of spite — always a good thing. The stuff that you post is very clearly well-intentioned to help and educate, especially early-stage career folks and people trying to get into the industry or get jobs and deal with some of those problems. Has that become the purpose of the channel, to help people?
Yogashri Pradhan: Yes. I wish when I was a student in undergrad, instead of having those specific networking moments where it’s kind of a rat race to even get to talk to a company representative, I could have had access to someone/something like what I’m creating. It might be a way to be accessible to those who may not have had the chance to talk to a lot of company reps. I’ve had an international audience (from YouTube) that doesn’t get that kind of exposure.
Matt Harriman: I think that’s a deeper problem in the industry. The industry has all kinds of perception problems, but I think we don’t do a great job of sharing our stories and sharing information with each other. There’s a lot of just competitive secrecy. Some of it’s warranted. Most of it is not and it bleeds over into the service side of the business and software. There’s just an idea that “I know how to do things better. I’m protecting my wonderful, beautiful ideas that nobody else could ever have,” but actually, everybody in the industry has been doing that for 50 years. In reality, it’s not actually special. What are your plans for the channel? Is it more of a hobby or do you have a real strategy that you’re trying to execute with it?
Yogashri Pradhan: I would be lying to say that I’m treating it like a small business. At the same time, there’s going to be a moment where, because I’m focusing on other things because there are things that I would rather invest my time in the most, it’s going to be a hobby for right now. Whenever I do have free time, then I will invest my energy into obsessing over the YouTube channel. Now and then, I post a video whenever I have an idea that I think is worth sharing.
Matt Harriman: Cool. I think you were introduced to me as a YouTuber, which is awesome — you just don’t hear that in our industry. I love seeing people that are open and sharing more information. How about Petro Papers? Do you want to talk about it? What is it and why do you do it?
Yogashri Pradhan: I’m someone that loves reading technical papers, but I know that the barrier to reading technical papers is having access to it or the fact that some of these papers are so dense and have no context. How can I make that digestible? I started listing all these questions and I realized, kind of similar to a book club, where you interview the author, why don’t you interview the author of these papers and ask straight from the source what their intentions are or what clarifications you have of the paper? It’s not meant to tear the paper apart, but rather to get clarity on how the paper came to be or what the paper was meant to convey. It serves a niche audience, but I like having a repository of questions that I’ve asked in the past those papers.
Matt Harriman: I think that’s another piece of evidence for the need to make things more accessible too. With those papers, they’re tough to read, and I’d much rather hear the person that wrote it or somebody that has the willpower and brainpower to actually read it, explain it. What have you learned from doing that? I’m sure you’ve met some interesting people.
Yogashri Pradhan: What I’ve gathered so far is that when I read a paper, it can be quite complex and not always clear. However, some of the best papers I’ve read are the ones that are easiest to understand and follow, without making things unnecessarily complicated. Sometimes, when authors put their ideas on paper, it can get pretty convoluted.
Matt Harriman: Yeah, especially with technical papers. I feel like there’s a brain mode that gets switched on where you think, “Okay, I need 10 references and I need to show the formula for everything,” and you forget to explain the point.
Yogashri Pradhan: Exactly. I’ve learned a lot about people and how they want to share information. They get excited to hear that there’s somebody who reads the paper first and is willing to answer their detailed questions.
Matt Harriman: That’s really cool. In addition to all the technical content you’ve created to help people, you bring up non-technical topics that are harder to talk about, like stress, time management, and job searching. Why do those things matter to you?
Yogashri Pradhan: To be honest, I noticed that those videos got the most views. But I also asked myself if I was a student again and wanted to reach out to somebody in the industry who only talked about technical topics, I would want to add a human element to my channel. The human elements I’ve noticed working in the industry are things like stress and job searching. I know I’m not the only one who thinks about these things. I know that there are people out there who deal with them, and I thought, “Well, this is still informational. This is still instructive. I can create content to help other people in those areas that can resonate with them a little bit more.” I noticed that career development is what a lot of people like to hear.
Matt Harriman: Yeah, those sorts of topics, especially in technical industries, are just not talked about. I don’t feel like anything in college prepares you for the difficulties, stress, and interpersonal stuff that’ll come up. When you get into working for companies, nobody talks about that stuff. You and your peers might complain about it to each other in the break room, but it’s not an open topic. I’ve seen some people in the industry coming around and managers and leaders being a little bit more emotionally intelligent and thinking about the stress load on their team and how much change they’re going through. Have you seen that shift over the course of your career?
Yogashri Pradhan: I have. Quite a bit. I’ve seen a lot more people wanting to help, and I think a lot of it has to do with the downturn of low commodity prices. Those topics surface, and you always hear about work-life balance, which I call work-life integration. But there are always those questions. I hear people wanting to increase productivity, and one of the ways to do that is to address those human elements.
Matt Harriman: I’m writing an article right now for JPT about how a healthy work environment drives a healthy P&L. I think that so many people see them as in conflict with each other. They hear about caring about your worker’s stress or all of this stuff, and they’re like, “Oh, that’s soft woo-woo stuff that doesn’t impact the business.” But if you think about how your day goes and how you approach your work, if you don’t care about it versus if you do, that’s what employee engagement is, right? And it’s become a buzzword, and people just gloss over it. Employee engagement is how much your employees care about their work and the company. Especially right now, when companies are afraid to hire because they’re afraid of a recession and don’t want to set themselves up for layoffs, the way to get more out of your people is to take care of them as human beings. Have you seen any good examples of companies prioritizing and leaders prioritizing that?
Yogashri Pradhan: I have managers who are emotionally intelligent and check in on you. They do welfare checks to make sure that you’re fine and have all the resources you need to do your job. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by those managers, and my direct manager has a pretty good EQ in my opinion. He checks up on you and gives feedback, not just related to specific things about the job, but also on how to approach the job based on your personal well-being. There’s definitely an art to feedback, and that’s an example I want to mention. There are welfare checks, feedback, and an awareness that there’s a difference between doing something because you have to versus doing something because you want to. There’s a tie to productivity there.
Matt Harriman: I remember I had a boss who would stop by every two weeks to check in, but it was obvious he was doing it just to check a box. I remember one time he looked at a Red Bull I had on my desk, said something about the ingredients and then walked out. It was weird. The boss I had immediately after that would come in and sit down — you could tell he cared. He would ask, “How are you?” and if I gave a one-word answer, he wouldn’t accept it. He would say, “No, what’s up?” You can tell who the managers are who care. That’s another version of employee engagement, right? How much do they care about what they’re doing? There’s a perception that it’s either business or people. But I think it’s an “and” for sure. The most impressive, effective leaders I’ve ever been around are very practical on the business side. They’re focused — they know what has to happen. They’re pragmatic. But they also care about the people because they know they have to go together.
Yogashri Pradhan: I agree. This is a relationship business.
Matt Harriman: I hate the term “reduction in force.” No. You’re firing people, and the dehumanization of layoffs and lost time incidents is another example of dehumanizing things to make it not feel as bad or scary.
Yogashri Pradhan: That’s really interesting to think about.
Matt Harriman: What do you want to see change in the industry? You’ve been in it for a while, you care about it, and you’re thoughtful about the industry’s perception, what needs to happen internally to it? What do you want to see change in oil and gas in the next 10 years?
Yogashri Pradhan: That’s a very good question. I would actually like to see more crucial conversations between people. I understand the purpose of an SPE conference — they are knowledge-sharing sessions — but I would like to see more open crucial conversations in terms of EQ. I understand that skill set is extremely important and competencies are extremely important, but I think we need to have a conversation about how to work with people. I treat everyone like an engineering problem. I’ve had to improve my emotions. A lot of it was learned — I wasn’t naturally born with EQ. I was told by a current CEO that I had no EQ five years ago. More crucial conversations and more transparency.
Matt Harriman: I love that. There’s such a protective kind of coding around so many people and so many meetings, and you’re not really saying what’s on your mind. It’s all kind of watered down — especially true with bigger companies. I love that saying, “We need more crucial conversations.” In one of the other episodes we did with Jim Dubois, he talked about having a very conflict-avoidant personality, but what he learned over the years was that he needs to run toward conflict faster because if you don’t, then the eventual conflict is bigger. The more waiting you do, the more anxiety you have, and then the end result is actually a bigger conflict than if you just go at it. A cool lesson that everybody probably knows but you don’t really know it.
Yogashri Pradhan: It’s funny because I was never confronted by it until I was confronted by it. Before I changed jobs, I was asked pretty bluntly about the purpose of my channel, what if it grows really big — questioning my focus on what I really wanted and how much I was going to invest the time to generate output. I had to say that this was a small business and a hobby(true). I wasn’t making videos during the workplace. I was (and still am) doing outside of my time at work.
Matt Harriman: It is totally fair to be cautious about perception because even within the company if other people see that and they think that you’re spending your whole workday making YouTube videos and you’ve got the same title and all that stuff, I get that fear. But I think other industries have come a long way in understanding that people can do things outside of work, and that’s okay. When you hire somebody, you don’t own them. Embracing other hobbies and even supporting people in entrepreneurial stuff — some companies will pay for a sabbatical and encourage you to start something up if you want — is something I want to see more of.
We mentioned what success means, and you mentioned role models. Early on, you were saying the CEOs of these operators were the role models. Maybe that’s changed. But in that, I hear there’s a definition of success that you’ve got for yourself, and how it changes. What advice would you give to people about defining their version of whatever it means to be successful, who also want to enjoy themselves along the way?
Yogashri Pradhan: That was a post I put on my LinkedIn a few days ago. It was a question that I asked leaders and people: How can you maintain growth while also being happy? So, how can you be successful and achieve joy? I would tell that person, and this is what I would tell myself, “Does it align with your values? Does it align with what you really care about? What are your non-negotiables?”
And then the second one is, “Do those values that you have, make you happy?” Because if you’re happy, you’re a lot more productive — you’d actually want to do the things that you want to do. I had this realization moment where I was asking myself about what the trade-offs are as you move higher on the corporate ladder. You spend less time with your family. You spend less time doing other things that you used to do. Is it worth it? No one’s really answered that question, but I think it’s because a lot of people may ask that question themselves.
I also had a crucial conversation with someone yesterday in terms of what the trade-offs are and how it is a constant questioning or an iteration of, does it make you happy? Is this somewhere that you want to go? I would tell that person that if it aligns with their values and doesn’t make them happy — happiness is often downplayed or a lot of people like to focus on external things to make them happy — then why are you doing it?
And it sounds cheesy and philosophical, but happiness actually does come from within. If you’re content, if you feel fulfilled right now, then you’re not transferring power or letting other people control how you go about your day.
Matt Harriman: You’re not giving up control of your own happiness. You’re taking ownership of it. And I think what you said about, “Does this make me happy? Does it align with my values?” Well, for one, you have to know what your values are and have thought about that.
That’s a skill of having a crucial conversation with yourself and saying, “What do I actually care about? What do I actually want out of my work, out of my life, out of all this stuff?” And I think that introspection played a huge part in my life. I can tell it has in yours too.
Yogashri Pradhan: It really has. And as I mentioned to you, as you progress in your career, you start asking those questions, you start having those interactions. Basically, you run into a lot of BS and you ask, “Do you want to take it?”
Matt Harriman: Yep, for sure. The other one for me was having role models and then working with them for longer, getting to know them more, and being like, “Oh, I don’t actually want all of what they have. Maybe there are parts of it that are good, but there are some other parts that are not.” Experiences like that make you question what you want or what you thought you wanted. Well, this has been awesome. I had fun, I hope you did too. What are the best ways for people to learn more? How can they reach out to you?
Yogashri Pradhan: Everyone can reach out to me on my LinkedIn. I have my email address on there. That’s preferred as far as contact information goes. You can also check out my YouTube channel and PetroPapers Apple Podcast.
Matt Harriman: Awesome. We’ll grab all the links and put them in the YouTube video description and show notes on pod2.co/podcast, which is where we put all the show notes, transcription, and everything else. Again, thank you. This was fun. I appreciate you coming on! This has been another episode of Achieve and Enjoy. Subscribe to us on YouTube. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, pod2.co, and everywhere podcasts are podcasted. Hope you enjoy your work this week.
5: Peter Tyler – From $0 to $10mil ARR and how to actually “play hard”
Peter Tyler, a now-retired business development consultant for oil and gas companies has a background working for, and starting, many successful companies in the industries. Among them are Aucerna, 3esi, Enersight, Schlumberger, Petro Canada, and Merak. This episode dives into Pete’s career — company exit dos and don’ts, building great teams (and company culture), and the importance of being intentional with one’s life and career. Throughout the podcast, there is a strong emphasis on being open to change and the power of surrounding yourself with great people who are engaged, work hard, and take time outside of work to play hard (read: decompress).
In This Episode
[00:00:00] Podcast teaser
[00:00:17] Podcast Intro
[00:01:05] Peter’s early background
[00:06:45] Early Enersight days
[00:12:51] Enersight hitting $1 million+ in revenue
[00:15:43] Building great work cultures
[00:19:04] Why you shouldn’t optimize happiness around hours worked
[00:23:18] Hiring great (and talented) people
[00:27:47] The downside to work-life balance in early-stage startups
[00:30:19] Money and relationships
[00:32:32] The impacts of money on relationships
[00:33:51] Peter’s regrets
[00:36:24] Managing the relationships with product development
[00:41:21] 2 software development philosophies
[00:43:31] Talk to everyone (when building products)
[00:46:25] Doing what’s right and getting nowhere
[00:51:48] Career lows
[00:54:28] Selling to Aucerna
[00:57:28] What Peter’s up to now
[01:00:44] Paragliding without getting injured
[01:02:04] Losing car keys
[01:03:29] Peter’s favorite petroleum fiscal contract
[01:06:26] Being intentional with your definition of success
[01:10:05] Maintaining relationships across decades
[01:11:59] Where to connect with Peter
Links & Resources
Peter’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/peter-tyler-744b118/
Matt’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/MattMHarriman
Matt’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattharriman/
Matt’s book, Integrated Upstream Planning: https://amzn.to/3n9Obvl
Episode Transcript: https://pod2.co/podcast/
Pod2 website: https://pod2.co/
Pod2 YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@pod_2
Matt Harriman: My name is Matt Harriman. Welcome to the Achieve and Enjoy podcast, where we explore the relationship between work and happiness, achievement and joy, and success and contentment. We share our own stories and interview interesting people who have something to teach us about achieving our definition of success while enjoying the journey that leads us there. Today, my guest is one of my best friends (and best people) on Earth, Peter Tyler. Hi Pete.
Peter Tyler: Thanks, that might be a bit of an exaggeration on me being one of “the best people on Earth,” but I’ll take the rest of it for sure, friend.
[00:00:37] Matt Harriman: Well that’s my opinion, so that’s fine. I received a bunch of interesting questions from people that they wanted me to ask you, but we’ll get to them later. I want to start with a little bit about your background. If I recall correctly, you’ve had multiple exits in your career. You started a business early on called Enevative (exited for some number of dollars, which was a freedom-maker), then Enersight was right after that?
Peter Tyler: I ended up staying with Schlumberger after that exit for probably almost four years — moved to Calgary to be a product champion, their idea of a product development leader.
It was excellent. Schlumberger has great training. I learned a lot about managing products and big projects. But big companies and I don’t get along. After I moved to Calgary, I had one of the worst experiences of my life (also happened to be my birthday). Neil Buckley there, and as I was complaining. He said, “Why don’t you come work for us?”
[00:01:51] Matt Harriman: We’ll dig more into Enersight and after that. How did you make that jump from full-time employment to starting your own thing? Go back because I don’t know that story from your earlier days.
Peter Tyler: My career started in the oil business in Calgary. I worked for Shell and Petro Canada, then took a year off to travel around the world and see stuff. When I came back, everybody who I’d worked for at Petro Canada had left and joined this software company in Calgary called Merak — I’d used it a little bit at the time and had a rough idea of what it was.
I went out for an interview with this guy called Dean Stewart, who I’d done some work for previously. I got home at like two in the morning, not really remembering how the interview had gone, and the next day was offered a job. Got me into Merak where I worked in the software business in Calgary for a while.
Then, I got into a consulting group that was led by Neil Buckley. I opened his offices in the US as a subsidiary of Merak — it all merged back together. I was then put in charge of Latin America in ‘96 (I was in Latin America when Merak sold to Schlumberger). What I realized at that point was that you needed to own a company if you were going to make anything when a big transition happened. I looked after probably only 10% of their (Merak) worldwide revenue, but Latin America also happened to be one of their biggest growth markets. Which is why when the bonus I got represented less than half of my annual salary for doing all that, I went, “Ooh, that’s not fair.” Other guys were paid out in the tens of millions.
A bunch of us who were involved in the deal all started realizing where we’d been in this middle management layer and decided we were going to start a company. We were going to create a consulting company that was going to grow across these 6 guys (I still know all of them), each with different exit capabilities.
I was in Latin America. The guy I ended up partnering with was in the US. Another guy that I should have partnered with moved to England and was working there. It ended up being me and this guy, Adam Vasquez, who were the only two left in the US and able to start a company. We started a company to do fiscal modeling around Schlumberger stuff and consulting. Jason Ambrose, another guy you may have heard of, started a company called Palantir (later acquired by Aucerna) in the UK with a guy called Rasen. Thomas Langren went out and started a whole pile of mobile phone apps in Sweden. All of us started companies, and all of us ended up being successful. It would have been really interesting if we’d done it together. We all wanted to own something that put us all into that boat. All five of us came out extremely well in the long run, and some of us cycled back and ended up working together again later.
Matt Harriman: Was the desire to own something purely financial, or was there anything else to it?
[00:04:41] Peter Tyler: It was a combination. One of the wonderful things about Merak as a company was that it gave people incredible autonomy and opportunity. I was 25 and running the Latin American division of a software company, which wouldn’t have happened in any other company, paying me $60,000 a year. We all liked the company and were just thinking, “We can’t work for this big company. We’d end up in Schlumberger, you know? Too much overhead. Not enough control. Not enough ability to do what you want to do when you want to do it.” This was the real drive.
Like all of us, I wanted to be successful, but I also wanted to have my own way with things. And I think that’s something I always took forward in all the companies I worked with. I liked making sure people around me could do what they wanted to do and were supported in it as much as possible — removing the barriers for them. An example being, if you’re not a level 3, you’re not doing job Y. That kind of stuff sucks for most people.
Matt Harriman: You know I can relate to that. That makes it obvious where some of the decisions that you made, and how you ran things with Enersight in the US came from.
Peter Tyler: The other thing is that I like changing jobs. Early on, I never did the same job for more than 24 months — usually 12 to 18. As I got older it slowed down a bit I guess. I was the ops manager for Enersight for almost 10 years, but there were still changes within that. Up until then, there was no position I’d held for more than a couple of years. I believe that you have to move quickly and change what you’re doing, or at least change your environment, or you stagnate. You don’t really learn how to make things happen if you don’t.
[00:06:28] Matt Harriman: Let’s talk about the early Enersight days. So you came to Houston to set up the US operation for Enersight. What was the revenue at that point?
Peter Tyler: The US revenue was like $70,000 when I joined the company, and I joined in 2008. If you remember, 2008 was really good and ‘09 was really bad. The oil price dropped from something like $100 when I packed my things up in Calgary to like $40 by the time my shipment showed up in Houston. I was like, “Oh, shit.” And the $50,000 or $70,000 of software that we had was really a bunch of guys who just said, “Oh, it’s only like $4k, gimme a copy. I’ll put it on my credit card.” Of those clients, we only actually had one that we knew of a user in. By the time I got down here, our revenue was limited to one company called Swift — they had like three or four copies. I was working very hard to make sure we didn’t lose them. It was the scariest thing I’d ever done. I moved down here (Houston) and realized that what had been promised really didn’t exist. We had to start from scratch.
Peter Tyler: When you really look at it, it’s like any company you buy. You really need to make sure you dig under the covers. The unfortunate thing is when you’re buying a company, you get to do that, but when you’re joining a company, you don’t get to do that until you’re already in. No regrets in the long run. At the time, I bought into the company (I physically bought shares in that company at a valuation that probably did need at least $75,000 in US revenue) I think we had $50,000 worldwide. It worked out in the long run, but it was a long run.
[00:08:19] Matt Harriman: I joined in August of 2013. At that time, we had customers with verified email addresses and phone numbers, which allowed us to track usage and other metrics. Can you talk about the early days and how the company grew? I don’t know what you can legally share about annual revenues, but I know where it ended up and it was a lot more than $70,000. Walk us through the story of starting with $40 of oil and few clients. What did you do?
Peter Tyler: First, we focused on making one client happy. It was important to ensure that our software worked as intended — a challenge in the beginning. We spent a lot of time figuring out what our software should do. At the time, I was working in an office that cost $75 a month, called Caroline Collective. The roof leaked and the air conditioning wasn’t great. I convinced Guyardo Latu to join me in selling our software — the only person in the company with a door to his office from start to finish.
We started knocking on doors and showing people what we had. We needed to ask questions to figure out what clients wanted and what they were struggling with. Our early software did drill scheduling, which was in high demand due to the shale revolution, but nobody had a way to forecast their capital based on drill schedules. We realized that people were using horrible spreadsheets that didn’t provide any control of spending or the ability to do what-if scenarios. After copying a major oil company’s model and realizing they had unreproducible and bogus data, we created a tool that gave people control in that environment.
Matt Harriman: It made a market where there were no planning tools before.
Peter Tyler: It put a front end on the input data for the stuff that we had been selling in companies like Merak. People used to generate the volumes and capital profiles in Excel and put them into these economics things and say, “Here’s what it looks like.” Nobody was thinking about what a completion is and when it can be done. Or what a drill is and when it can be done. Or any of the other parts. They were just focused on capital cost, volume, and price. We created a tool that allowed people to think about the inputs of that — game-changing for the oil industry at the time. That’s really where that market came from, nothing but spreadsheets. It was highly successful because we took things that used to take weeks and made them possible in hours.
[00:12:36] Matt Harriman: So say whatever you can or can’t say about the revenue, but call it near zero in ’09 (you had a couple of customers), where did it get to? Where were the exits? How many digits?
Peter Tyler: It took a while. The million-dollar mark’s always the hardest. Well, it depends on who you talk to. The hundred-thousand mark’s always an exciting mark because it means you actually have enough revenue to maybe cover some of your costs and keep your head afloat. A million dollars? Like, wow, we’re actually making enough money to pay people, and there are serious clients interested in keeping us going. I think it took us about four years to get to the million-dollar mark, and then it started going up.
Our growth was in the area of 80% for the next five or six years. It took us through to 2015 when we sold Enersight into the Aucerna group. Wayne Sim had decided he was going to be the person who put this whole market segment called “Planning” together and convinced a PE firm, Rubicon Technology, to come in and back him. He effectively used other people’s money to buy up all these independent successful players — 6 had been formed by people who had been involved in Merak and left. It basically took the Merak group that had been around in the late nineties and put all their independent companies back together. We exited around the 10 million mark in revenue. It then continued to grow within the Aucerna world, and at the end of the day, the Enersight part of that business was still well over a third of its annual income.
Despite it not being the most expensive tool to implement (reserves tools were in the million-dollar range of implementation, whereas ours was still in that one to two hundred and fifty thousand range for most companies) we peaked with a couple companies over a million in revenue by the time Aucerna exited.
[00:14:40] Matt Harriman: From my story, when I left Chesapeake and joined you at Enersight, it was a total culture shock. Chesapeake was my first real job, and I quickly found that I was also allergic to big companies. It was a country club at the time (peak Aubrey McLendon days), there was a 15% match on the 401k, and there was a person in charge of absolutely everything. I then show up at the Enersight office and nobody shows up until 8:45 when Josh Groves lets me in. Beer bottles are everywhere. I don’t have a desk. There’s an empty bottle of tequila sitting on the printer, which is also next to a sink.
Peter Tyler: Yes, come on.
Matt Harriman: Not to mention, the office is in the middle of an apartment complex and it shares a building with a childcare place or something — not what you would envision for a startup.
Peter Tyler: It was affordable space.
Matt Harriman: It was real fucking clear why you didn’t invite me to the office before I said yes. All of that worked out. What was really apparent, really quick was the people. People got along, they enjoyed working together. Sure, there were issues, like with any group of people, but it was a special group. Me, Josh, Caitlin, and Leslie, we all got hired around the same time. When making our group and the group before us come together, how much of it was intentional and how much of it was just luck?
Peter Tyler: I think a chunk of it was intentional. We wanted to hire people who got along because I recognized early on that if I could get people to be engaged in what we did, they wouldn’t mind working 24/7. And by work, I don’t mean actually putting pen to paper. They knew that if something needed to be done in the middle of the night, they could do it and sleep in until four the next day if they wanted. I wanted people who were part of a group. I found that early on in my other ventures if you make it enjoyable to be at work, people work better. So we had beers in the fridge for you to grab one when you felt like it and food around. We did Taco Thursdays or Fridays forever. We always had somebody go get it, but they just expensed it back to the company. I was really big on making sure that the work environment was fun. The other part was, I tried to hire people I got along with. Most of my interview stuff was about A, are they smart? And B, do we gel? 90% of our interviews happened at bars or lunches or someplace in a social setting for people to understand what it would be like to be with people socially. That was on purpose. I didn’t want to work with people who were nine to fivers, went home, and didn’t interact beyond that. You get tons of value out of the social interaction of people. That part was intentional.
Now, a part of it was luck as well. I had a really good headhunter who knew how to find people. Plus, we got rid of a fair number of people. If we actually go back and think of how many people either left of their own accord because they didn’t fit in or left because it wasn’t working out, very few of those were people who weren’t successful after leaving. They were smart guys. They went off and were successful in other companies or in other spots, but they weren’t going to fit into our team. I think that’s the other part. We were very specific about making sure that the people we had got along and added the value we wanted. And if they didn’t, we either encouraged them to move on or dealt with it.
You were much better about actually pulling the knife out and stabbing people than I was. You may be the only guy I know to fire an intern while he was still working for us. Well done.
[00:18:49] Matt Harriman: It had to be done.
I think what you said is interesting because a lot of the conversation about work-life balance and happiness focuses on minimizing the amount that you’re working so that you can go enjoy other stuff. I don’t believe that it has to be that way.
That time at Enersight and my time now — the amount of time that I’m working — couldn’t be more different. When I was at Enersight, it was long hours and late nights. But as you said, I enjoyed it. We were on a mission together and having fun doing it. Whatever the number of hours was (60 or 70 hours a week), I really, really enjoyed it. Now, I probably don’t put in more than 40 hours a week and I’m also very, very happy. Which is why I don’t think the number of hours you work is what you should optimize for happiness.
[00:19:50] Peter Tyler: I don’t think it has to be. What you want to do is make sure you enjoy your job so that when you’re doing it, you don’t notice that you’re doing it. And also that you don’t sacrifice other things. I’m a work-hard, play-hard kind of guy. I put in long hours. I think about work all the time, but shoot, we used to take the boat out and take off at two o’clock. I used to take the whole summer off. I think you guys showed up in June, and basically, I drove up to Calgary in my RV on July 1st and didn’t come back until August 15th.
Matt Harriman: When you say work hard, play hard, you actually mean play. Most companies that say as a cover for corporate alcoholism. But for you, it’s going out on a boat, or going skydiving, or going go-karting — it’s actually play.
Peter Tyler: Look at the mud runs we did. We convinced the entire team to go do a 5K mud run when half of the people could barely walk a 5k. We walked most of it, but we did it together. That was my drive. I’ve always been really driven to do things in my spare time. I don’t watch TV — or I try not watch too much. I’d much rather go for a run or a hike or a ski or fishing.
[00:21:12] Matt Harriman: That’s a good segue to another question. How the fuck do you have so much energy all the time? When I texted the group and asked, “Hey, what should I ask Peter?” That came up. I think that was the first one.
Peter Tyler: My mom and dad, I think. You think I have lots of energy, go try my sister out. She’s been at the same company since she finished school, and she’s six years older than I am. She lives on the side of a ski hill, and when she comes home from work, she gets on her bike, bikes up the hill in the summer, and skis up the hill in the winter. She never stops. I don’t think she’s cooked a meal in her life. Her idea of a good meal is something she can grab out of the fridge and just keep going — she raised two kids that way as well. I think I was brought up the same way. We were always going. We spent two months climbing and exploring in an RV or a station wagon every summer from the time I was three. Once you’ve gotten to the point where sitting around isn’t really something you should do, you just don’t do it.
Matt Harriman: It sounds like it’s just a habit. Your default is motion.
Peter Tyler: Exactly. I do have ADHD, but I didn’t know that until I had a kid. I was telling my mom about their problems concentrating and all this stuff, and it looked like they had ADHD. My mom just went, “Yeah, what did you expect?” And I’m like, “Well, what do you mean? What did I expect?” She goes, “Well, you have it.” And I’m like, “Oh… that helps.” Because in order to keep anything going, I have to keep changing my focus. If I’m moving and being active, it definitely helps deal with the fact that I have problems concentrating.
[00:22:53] Matt Harriman: It sounds familiar to when we were analyzing my son’s defiance. I was like, “Yeah, he’s really defiant a lot of times.” My wife looks at me, and she’s like, “Yeah, I wonder where he got that from…” Reverse psychology worked very well on me as a child, that’s for sure…until I figured it out.
Going back to forming that group, I think the things that we did as a group, the culture at work, and the habits that we had, it was bred to be fun.That’s the main thing I think of. There were parts that sucked about it — running 9 different models for Shell in the middle of the night because the scripting engine didn’t work because we sold it before it actually worked. That wasn’t fun, but so much of it was.
Going back to the hiring piece, this is a lot more prevalent and better understood now, but hiring for fit or hiring for just people getting along is easy for discrimination to hide and to end up not being inclusive and diverse. A straight white guy has a lot of straight white guy friends. How did you think about that? No criticism at all, but it’s definitely a thing companies think about to build equitable businesses.
Peter Tyler: It’s a real challenge. I’m gonna credit it with just being Canadian. I grew up in Montreal. There were three people of color in my entire high school. And they were just people that I got on with. One was a best friend, one was a basketball player. A lot of the things that are really evident here in segregation and things like that just didn’t exist. People were people. Now, in hindsight, for me, it became incredibly interesting being here because when I grew up, it was French versus English, and it was as racist and discriminatory as you could almost get. Like I was bad, no question about it. My attitude changed through time and all that, but if I look back, it was very similar in property. I figured that out in my late twenties when I moved to Houston. I went, “Oh, okay, we need to deal with that.”
The other part was, we hired people that fit in — I liked people who were different. A part of that was that I traveled all over the world (my parents pushed me to travel). I met people from everywhere and realized that smart people exist everywhere in the world. The one truth I got from the year and a half I traveled around the world was that we can think whatever we want, but everybody’s the same. Everybody wants to be happy. Everybody wants to have a family. Everybody wants to, deep down inside, make other people happy too. There are exceptions to the rule (or every rule), but 99% are good people — there’s no reason to suspect otherwise.
If you go in with the fact that everybody’s gonna be good, then it’s easier. I don’t think I ever addressed it directly. At the very least, I liked hiring women. We always had an exorbitant ratio of women engineers — considering how many women engineers there were within the oil and gas sector. True within Enersight, in Enevative before that, and that was true with Merak Latin America, where girls had a very difficult time being in the oil patch in Latin America at the time. I had two that worked for me, one in a consulting role and one in a sales role, and we made sure that they got treated properly all the time. Early on in my career, I had to deal with it. I literally had conversations with Vice Presidents saying, “Hey, you can’t have your employees do this to my employee.” And I realized that these people were as good, if not better, because being a girl in engineering fields, you’ve gotta be better. Unfortunately, it’s a boys’ game (as you pointed out). People who can survive tend to be spectacular. We can go through and name all the people that we knew as consultants and as clients that were all spectacular. I’m not gonna name them on here, but anybody who hears this, they know who they are. How many of them we tried to hire or talk to are still involved with what we do because they are so good?
Matt Harriman: I think the traits that you were looking for, and that I definitely adopted, were akin to horsepower. Like, we need intelligence, we need drive, we need that kind of stuff, but those things show through no matter who you are.
[00:27:38] Peter Tyler: My one regret early on it was that it meant your work-life balance was a bit skewed. It would have been a hard environment to be a pregnant woman early on. I don’t know whether I regret that, but it was the kind of culture we put together. I don’t have a good answer on how you make that work properly within a small startup — I wish I did. It’s a challenge. Once we got larger, it was no problem. But when you’re small, it’s harder. I think that’s a challenge the industry needs to figure out and face. Making work suck less deals with that a lot because you’re looking at how you reduce your hours, keep your family balanced better, and still produce the results that the companies need. I think that’s a productivity thing — I love the Productivity Experiment. Was way late in my career, but it totally changed the way I looked at work.
Matt Harriman: You’re talking about Chris Bailey’s book? I’m listening to his third book that just came out pretty recently. I think about that a lot. Early-stage startups are traditionally a grind, with long hours and all of that stuff. We haven’t had that kind of meteoric growth that a lot of people have, but I see a lot more of these hybrid businesses where it’s not such an investment upfront. There are other ways to make money along the way for an earlier-stage company. I feel like the bar goes up for everything else (productivity and effectiveness and market fit) to avoid working 80-hour weeks.
Peter Tyler: Yeah, you can’t afford to waste time, so you gotta keep it focused on what is going to give you the biggest return for your time investment. Typically that’s the right thing to do anyways. If you can actually order the things you have to do in a day and pick the thing that’s gonna change everybody more, that is how you become the most productive. If you look at guys who run big companies, that is what they do every single day, all day long. CEOs of huge companies don’t typically continue to put in 60 to 80-hour weeks, but they add a spectacular amount of value by focusing on the things that really have an impact. Then they either leave the other things off or give them to other people to make an impact.
[00:30:09] Matt Harriman: How did you think about being happy along the way? I know after Enersight exited, and even before that, there were times that you were threatening to quit and all kinds of stuff. How did you think about happiness in relation to the goals of growing the company and all of that?
Peter Tyler: For me, I needed to enjoy what I was doing at work. There were times when, early on, from a management standpoint, I’d been overpromised and underdelivered. Even through to the exit, one of the three partners did a good job to try to keep me whole and even keep the other employees whole.
The other partner just took their money and ran — the second time in my life that I’d realized that money really impacts people’s thoughts, processes, and the way they act. These weren’t selfish people. They’d been reasonably good to me through the process but didn’t really do much to pat us on the back for the success we’d had.
Now, the good news is the next group that we were in within the Aucerna world was very different in that the person who was running that had made his money beforehand. This wasn’t trying to make him richer. He wanted a company worth over a billion dollars, but that wasn’t so he would have a billion dollars. It was just so he’d have another checkbox on his resume effectively. The one thing I learned early on was if it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter who you’re dealing with — best friends, not best friends. If you don’t have it clearly written down, don’t expect it and if it’s money-related, don’t expect it to come in later 90% of the time. If a person has an option of keeping a million dollars in their bank or giving you a million dollars, even though that would only be 10% of their net worth and 100% of yours, they’re unlikely to take that into account.
[00:32:18] Matt Harriman: What did that do to your relationships with those people?
[00:32:22] Peter Tyler: I’m still pretty close to all of them because, in the end, it all worked out. I rolled everything into the next version of the company, and it went like five times, and in the end, I exited with as much as the other guys had the first time.
I was fine in the long run, but at the time, it was pretty tough to deal with. I would say most of my struggles around work where I was like, “I’m gonna quit cause I can’t take this” were related to management-financial issues, not so much being told what to do. Whereas, if I look at my time in Schlumberger and other companies I’ve worked with, I quit those roles cause I was being told what to do or that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do successfully. Whereas the time within Enersight, when I wasn’t happy, was really related to a financial arrangement that was misrepresented several times.
Revenue early on promised a percentage of the company and after the fact, it turned out that they diluted the company. So I got a diluted percentage rather than the number that was given— a huge hit. When you suddenly lose 10% effectively of what you think you’re going to have, that’s huge. Again, huge for me, nothing for them.
Matt Harriman: Any regrets along the way?
Peter Tyler: Any regrets along the way? I think the one — often a regret, but not always. I had an opportunity at one point to move to Denver and I didn’t. I took a bribe to stay in Houston — quite a significant one.
Matt Harriman: For legal reasons, this wasn’t an illegal bribe.
[00:34:10] Peter Tyler: No, this was a raise. I got a massive annual bonus to stay in Houston. I kept getting that annual bonus right through the end of Quorum.
It paid for this house I’m in. But I basically spent the whole thing on the house. It didn’t actually put any more in my pocket — it just made my life fear better. The one guy who was offering me a job said, “I’m not gonna give you any more money, cuz, that’s stupid. You can’t force my hand.” He said, “Just go and move to Denver.” I should have actually taken his advice rather than the other two guys who said, “No, no, no, no, don’t leave us. You’re here, take all this money.” Purely from a lifestyle standpoint, I think my family would’ve been slightly different had we been in Denver rather than here.
My son’s not very outdoorsy. Had we moved to Denver, I think that would be different — I would have enjoyed it to have him share some of my interests in that aspect. From an overall regret, that’s one thing I had planned on for my life. Put a plan together and follow it. I didn’t have a plan once I got to Houston. My plan was to be here for 3 years and move on — the same as I had done everywhere else. I’ve been here since ‘09. 14 years. Somewhere along the line, I lost my focus on that (relocating).
[00:35:20] Matt Harriman: Why do you think that happened?
Peter Tyler: I enjoyed the job and the people. Houston is also a great place for raising a family. It’s comfortable, affordable, and pleasant. The only downside is that we can’t ski or go mountain biking, but we still manage to do so for six to eight weeks a year. I think I traded my personal, and company’s success, for a better quality of life.
[00:36:03] Matt Harriman: What would you have done differently with the business, including Enersight, 3esi, Aucerna, and everything else?
Peter Tyler: Early on, we did a good job. Later on, I should have gotten ahead of some of the politicking between the US and Canada. I liked having autonomy, but I did a bad job of managing relationships with product development. I wish I had a better relationship with them throughout my career. I should have communicated better with product development. For example, we often put together detailed design documents, but six months later, the product didn’t do what we wanted. I think that’s still a challenge.
Matt Harriman: Dean once gave us scathing criticism about a feature we designed — we didn’t think through a detail the way he would have liked, but he got the idea and then the feature got there. Product development is an interesting one.
[00:39:02] Peter Tyler: It’s hard to grow a software company from an expert who understands it. It’s so hard to work off design documents — it just gets lost along the way. Unless you’re really agile in the feedback process, it comes off the rails.
When the president of the company moved to Houston, our revenues started doubling every year for the next three years in the US. He understood what the software was supposed to do, and that was the key. I wish I had a solution for the challenge of how to develop within that framework. People are working with a lot more offshoring and outsourcing, and as long as the communication is good, it works. But I think it’s challenging.
[00:41:11] Matt Harriman: Josh and I have talked about this quite a bit, and it seems like there are a couple of philosophies on software development. One is very pragmatic and practical. You have a scope, a problem that needs to be solved, you break it down into features, describe and design them, and then ship them out. The other is much more of a creative endeavor where you explore the problem space and the possible solution space. This is where that one button in that one place that does that one thing can make 10 features irrelevant. How do you think about that?
Peter Tyler: I think that almost all companies and software start in that creative space. If you aren’t in that creative space, it’s really hard to do big design. There are very few cases of software that have really excelled in multiple generations. Look at Windows and the number of times they got it wrong. We’re talking about Microsoft with incredible processes and everything else. There were certain versions of Windows that completely sucked because they weren’t worked all the way through and hadn’t spent enough time working on what was needed. Every single company can get into that loop where they think they understand what’s needed and they go and build it, but it just isn’t quite there. I don’t know how to deal with that. There are lots of times when people fail, and not so many people are successful. SAP may be one exception to that, but it’s just this monster behemoth that changes little tiny parts at a time. When they come up with a whole new one, they get a couple of people to spend millions and millions and millions to try to make it right, and then it finally works. It’s drastically changing. Whereas I think within startups, you have to be able to say, “Okay, let’s start over and change everything.” To do that, you have to work in some kind of creative mode.
Matt Harriman: One thing that I’ve seen is people get too close to customers and they listen too much to their problems. They listen to their ideas for those solutions. There’s a distancing that needs to happen. You need to get close so that you really understand the problem and the needs they have for what they’re trying to do. But then, when you’re actually coming up with the solution, it feels healthier to get the hell away from them.
[00:43:41] Peter Tyler: Make sure you’re dealing with a broad enough client base. When I first moved to the US, I was in charge of creating a reserve solution. I went out and talked to all our clients, six major US players (Unical, Chevron, and Shell), and said, “How do you do reserves?” They all said, “Oh, we just take volumes. We put them in this system, we track the volume, and then we document how it changes and all this stuff.” So we built this huge volumetric reserve system and realized that the clients that we had talked to were the only guys who would ever buy that type of system. Pretty much everybody else used Aries and just had economic cases flow off the backside and called that Reserves. We had designed an incredible system for those companies (almost all of them ended up buying it), but we didn’t get any other clients. We had thought we’d gone out and talked to the client base, but we had talked to our client base. We didn’t go to the next level and explore what the bigger market was. Ever since then, I’ve really tried to step back and say, “Does this make sense for everybody?”
Matt Harriman: And sometimes it does make sense if the pockets are deep enough, and it only works for five companies. But you better not assume that 20% of the market also needs it in addition to those five.
[00:45:10] Peter Tyler: I think at the end of the day, that tool wasn’t a money loss for the company, but it was by no means what we were expecting on the backside. This shouldn’t have been a huge thing.
The job I had at Schlumberger was redesigning that tool to work better for the broader US client base. I quit over the fact that development said my design was wrong, and the business guys said that development couldn’t deliver it. They were arguing back and forth across the table over who was going to make the project fail. I literally started swearing, threw a pan at a window, it exploded, and marched out calling them all idiots and not willing to do their job. They both wanted the other person to actually say it needed to die. If you want to kill something and you have the right to kill it, you have to kill it. You can’t chicken out of your decisions — immensely pissed me off. That was the night I quit Schlumberger basically. It was my birthday. Bad things happen on my birthday, usually in meetings, so I try not to do meetings on my birthday.
Matt Harriman: Well, you’ve got, what, eight or nine months till your next one? You’re okay for a while.
Peter Tyler: Yeah.
Matt Harriman: One more of these kinds of questions, and then I want to switch up to some of the ones that other people sent. Is there anything you wish you’d done sooner or wish you had abandoned sooner at the Aucerna-Quorum days?
[00:46:31] Peter Tyler: We could have been done sooner. I think it just comes down to working more closely with the Calgary group and understanding where things fit. One regret I have is your departure — which was a legitimate exit for the right reasons — I tried to fight that battle, but I didn’t do it very well. I think both of us thought it was such a slam dunk that there was no reason it shouldn’t go. I really thought we had presented our case. If I had done enough research, I would have realized that there was no case we were going to present that would be successful. I should have warned us up front rather than setting expectations of being successful.
Matt Harriman: People can withstand a lot when they’re fighting the good fight — fighting against their own organization to do what they think is right. As soon as the hope that it’ll actually happen is gone, it’s really hard to stick around.
[00:47:35] Peter Tyler: And you shouldn’t, right? If you believe that something should be happening, you should be able to do it. That’s why small companies are easier to work with. I always empowered the people who worked with me to do whatever they wanted to do. If somebody came to me with a good idea, I wanted to let them go and do it. Most people will be successful given the freedom to do so, as long as you define success as some improvement to the company.
I think one of the things we had within the Aucerna world is that if certain people didn’t agree with a success condition or didn’t like the people, it was very different. We had gone from a company where people had nothing to do with it; it was really what they delivered. We had to get along, but nobody was going to get killed because they pissed somebody else off. Even the owners were like that with me — we got upset about certain things and we got in big fights every now and again, but we still respected each other and didn’t stop each other from doing what we wanted to do.
Whereas, when we got that second piece, where people were physically stopping things and undermining them, that completely sucked. I wish I could have done something about that. The one thing I wish I had stopped earlier was business development for the Toma Brava group. I was doing all kinds of really cool stuff around ML/AI. There were all these great startups, including some awesome ML/AI-based reservoir simulators. We spent a huge amount of time looking into them and realized that TB was never going to let us buy any of those things.
Matt Harriman: Tomo Bravo?
Peter Tyler: Yeah, Tomo Bravo. One of the reasons we sold was that the company that owned us before had a fund. We had used a huge chunk of it to create what we were and got a return, and they were willing to stick around. Since they had already gotten their value out, and we weren’t going to be able to get more money from them, our exit had to do with getting enough money to do something bigger. My job was trying to define what that was going to be. It turned out that we could buy somebody who had a good PE ratio, but we couldn’t buy somebody who was losing money. Every single ML/AI was either not making any money or was a startup. I spent six or eight months talking to these guys and kept being told that that doesn’t quite fit. Eventually, I realized that “doesn’t quite fit” meant “Don’t look at those guys. We’re never going to do that.” We all should have realized that earlier. That wasn’t necessarily the exit we wanted. It was the exit that, at the end of the day, pays the most money. They’re quite the bully, pushing everybody else out of the market early and then lowering the price on you after the fact. We got good money out of it, but there would have been other players closer to the end had they not highballed and then came back.
[00:50:35] Matt Harriman: This reminds me of something. When we talked about the time when I lost hope and decided to quit, I stayed on until the exit from Rubicon to Toma Bravo because I had a chunk of money due to me at that time. It was a period when hope was lost, and the mission we were on could not be accomplished. The gap between that loss of hope and the time I actually quit was probably one of the lowest lows in my career — I was there for the money and for the people that reported to me. I put all my energy into helping the people there become happier, removing barriers, and assisting individuals. I did my job, but they would have called it quiet quitting, if that was a thing (which is a bullshit term, but we can talk about that another time). That was probably one of the lowest lows I can think of in my whole career, what’s yours?
Peter Tyler: That’s a tough question. From my perspective, one of the lowest lows was early on when Merak was in the sale process to Schlumberger. I knew all the Schlumberger guys in Venezuela (I was friends with them), and they all told me that we were selling to them. I was young and called the CEO of our company, who I was friends with, and asked what the hell was going on. He said it was not happening, but the announcement that Schlumberger had bought us came out two weeks later. All my friends hated me because our CEO had called their CEO and told them to keep it a hush — they were in violation of the NDA they had signed. They were telling me the truth. Instead of taking the truth and using it for good, I used it for bad. It took me six months to recover, and I lost some good friends in the process. It was really, really stupid of me. If there’s a rumor out there, decide how much you know about it early.
Matt Harriman: I remember being surprised when we were talking about exiting and I had to learn what you could and couldn’t say. In any other situation, you talk about all of this stuff with your friends, but these major financial events and exits, you have to lock it down. When we sold Enersight to 3esi, several days before the close date you could find the announcement online.You couldn’t get to the site, but if you Googled “3esi and Enersight,” it showed up as one of the top results in the preview. It’s hard to keep all that stuff under wraps.
[00:54:56] Peter Tyler: The other lowest low was when I realized who we were selling to. We all went out to lunch at some Mexican restaurant off Woodway, Cyclone Anaya’s. We were in the back room having this big party, and I was almost in tears the whole time — nobody knew why. We had built this family, and I felt like it was about to completely fall apart. Miraculously, it stayed together fairly well for the next two or three years, but it did totally change the dynamics of everything. As great as it was financially to sell, emotionally, that was probably the lowest low work.
Matt Harriman: I remember a lot of tears through that time. It felt like there was a real possibility the good old days were over.
Peter Tyler: Right?! It was very different.
Matt Harriman: When y’all first told me what was happening, I had no fucking clue what was going on. I think I had been a manager for like a year at that point and was just starting to figure things out. I remember thinking, “Oh shit, this is a new thing to figure out.” But I think the gravity of the situation and how much things would change didn’t set in until we were all crying in our margaritas. What do they call ’em? Green monsters or something? That probably helped the tears flow.
[00:56:00] Peter Tyler: John Howell was the saving grace for me — the Portfolio Decision chain had sold into 3esi before that. John had also spent days in Venezuela in the late nineties. I always saw him as a mentor. He really made that transition easier by allowing me to talk to him about their experiences and where they were. Great guy to have on the executive team.
The second lowest low was probably when he quit because I knew why he quit. It wasn’t because he was tired of what he was doing, it was the same sort of thing that forced you out at the end of the day — things are almost impossible to get around. It was a leadership challenge, and you weren’t going to change the people who were causing him to leave. We lost John Howell and Don Merri to the same debate. Don was running Australia for us — really good friend, excellent manager, and super successful compared to the person who kept that role. We lost what I thought were three of the best people in the industry because of personal issues.
[00:57:19] Matt Harriman: There are a lot of ways you could describe John, but one of them is that he’s an absolute force against anything stupid happening. It was a big deal when he left, that’s for sure. So what are you doing now?
Peter Tyler: What am I doing now? Skiing. I’m dabbling in a few things. I’m doing some work on two or three different startup businesses that friends have. I’ve invested minorly in a couple of them and am trying to make sure those investments are going in the right way (and help with how to build and grow to the next phase).
I’m not looking for opportunities, but they seem to knock. Right now, I’m looking at maybe helping another company that’s halfway along in the software bid. I’m looking at what it takes to be successful as an incoming US oil and gas software company — a new thing that’s just come up recently. We’ll see where it goes, but if that plays out, it would be an advisor part-time role, which would be really cool. I like taking advantage of my knowledge and helping people be successful. I don’t see that changing on that side of the work world.
The other thing (we’ve talked about it quite a bit) is I really want to give back to other people. So I keep looking at how to take some of my non-work skills, like carpentry, and help people who need it. That all came out of skiing one day with these people who couldn’t save up the $2,000 needed to fix their master bathroom, which was falling through the bottom of their mobile home. How do people have that kind of problem? People shouldn’t, but it just seemed like too much that somebody couldn’t solve that for them. I wanted to get in the business of helping people do that kind of stuff. So I do some work with Habitat for Humanity and other similar organizations, and I’m enjoying that. But I kind of wanted to take it to the next level where I was closer to the face than just being a cog in a wheel.
We’ll see how that goes. One of the problems is I’m looking at moving to Colorado, so I don’t really want to get that going full speed right now. I don’t want to have to abandon something. So I think I’ll see a lot more of that as I settle into Colorado.
[00:59:44] Matt Harriman: I think there’s a lot of need there to make up for a whole bunch of other systemic problems that cause those problems and cause there to not be resources for people.
[00:59:56] Peter Tyler: Yeah, and I don’t think I’m going to be the person to solve the systemic problems. So, I was hoping I could focus on some of the actual symptoms and just get them out of the way.
[01:00:05] Matt Harriman: I don’t see you transitioning into Bernie Sanders’ role anytime soon. No, likely.
[01:00:13] Peter Tyler: I don’t have the backbone for it. I tell the truth way too often, and that doesn’t work well usually. My truth, right? There’s always more than one truth in the world, yeah. Yeah.
[01:00:23] Matt Harriman: Alright, so several people gave me some questions that they wanted me to ask you. They’re all over the place, so I’m just going to fire them at you. First one, Rebecca Allison asked, “How do you fly an arrow?” Shoot.
[01:00:36] Peter Tyler: Uh, okay. It’s called a powered paraglider, and you stick a big fan on your back, and you put the parachute on the ground behind you. Then, you run forward, and the parachute comes up like a kite. Once it’s over your head, you run faster and pull the fan on as hard as it goes, and up you go.
[01:00:51] Matt Harriman: Beyond “How do you fly one?” I want to know, “How do you not die?” Like, how do you land? How do you?
[01:00:58] Peter Tyler: You turn the fan off, and you come down and you pull on these brakes until you’re going slow enough that you can run on the ground when you land and you figure it out.
[01:01:05] Matt Harriman: For anybody that’s listening that doesn’t know Peter, he’s always doing shit like this. Whether it’s like the one-wheel board and crashing it into your neighbor’s rocks or landing on some rocks because you were paragliding over the ocean and hit some more rocks, there’s always rocks involved in your style.
[01:01:25] Peter Tyler: Always play. Always. Always. Yeah. I keep breaking my shoulders landing on things off of one-wheel boards. Uh, that’s not fun. I don’t recommend it at all. But they’re both working properly again. Well, good flying. You just hope you don’t ever fall out of the sky. You gotta parachute that works if you’re over 70 feet. But between, like, 75 feet and the ground, that’s where you don’t want shit to go wrong. And I mostly stay in that range. I mostly fly at like five to 12 feet if I can. I like being close to the ground. It’s more fun.
[01:01:55] Matt Harriman: Related question, how many times have you lost your car keys?
[01:01:58] Peter Tyler: Every day for my whole life. I have this thing called tile now, and I can click my phone, and my car keys go beep, beep, beep. So, I have it in my wallet is the other thing. I lose just as much. So, I have one in my wallet, one of my keys, one of my wife’s, and without those, yeah, I’d be stuck at home half the days.
[01:02:23] Peter Tyler: That’s a good one. Losing keys. The only time I’ve really had a bad loss of my keys was when Caitlin decided she’d kick them into the lake, into the bottom of Lake Somerville. No coming back from that one. They sunk to the bottom along with her phone and my phone.
[01:02:37] Matt Harriman: And didn’t somebody dive in and try to?
[01:02:39] Peter Tyler: Yeah, we tried. We dove in and swam at the bottom and came up and hit our heads on the bottom of the dock and almost drowned and decided that was a bad idea. So, we got a magnet, and all we brought up was like 10 pairs of rusted sunglasses. It was not good, and Terry didn’t have to drive all the way out from Houston to come give us keys and let us get home. I’m sure there was no alcohol involved in any of these decision-making processes here.
[01:03:20] Matt Harriman: So, Leslie Armand Trout wanted to know what your favorite petroleum fiscal contract is.
[01:03:25] Peter Tyler: Yeah. Okay. So back to my Enevative Solutions phase. I got good stories on that actually. I actually tell you what to start with, anyways. My favorite fiscal petroleum contract is the Malaysian PSC from like, I think it’s the ’80s or something like that, which existed for a long, long time. Mostly, because we were working with Hess at the time. You have an oil cost recovery side and a gas cost recovery side. Then, you can actually transfer unused cost oil or cost gas across between them after it’s been used. After that, you can then transfer to exploration in other. So, it required a huge amount of complexity, and nobody really understood it. It was very hard to understand and get it to work properly. That was one of the hardest ones we’ve ever built. It took a while to get going. It was super cool. But back to Enevative Solutions.
Matt Harriman: Let’s hear this story.
[01:04:18] Peter Tyler: I want to hear this. My friend Adam Vasquez and I started this company with the goal of combining energy and innovation to create Enevative Solutions. I attended a course taught by Daniel Johnson, who is known for writing the Bible on petroleum fiscal modeling. We were hoping to get him to authorize our company or become a partner.
[01:04:35] During the course, I handed him my business card, which had the name “Enevative Solutions” on it. He looked at it and asked, “Enevative Solutions? Are you sure?” I confirmed and at that point, we had already incorporated the company.
[01:04:55] That night, I went home and searched the term “innovate” on Google (we didn’t have internet access during the course) and realized that it’s a word used in psychological terms to remove all energy from things like drugs or people who are manic. Clearly, Daniel Johnson knew what it meant.
[01:05:18] So inadvertently, we had created a company that was supposed to remove all energy from other people’s solutions.
[01:05:22] Matt Harriman: I can think of a couple of energy software companies that should have picked that name.
[01:05:26] Peter Tyler: Yes. So we dropped the “r” and became “Enevative Solutions” instead of “Enervative Solutions.” The domain and everything else were available, but there was a reason for that.
[01:05:36] Matt Harriman: And this was while you were hoping to have him as an advisor or partner?
[01:05:41] Peter Tyler: Yes, exactly. He thought we were a bunch of morons, but we did end up working together later on.
[01:05:49] Matt Harriman: So I guess the lesson here is to Google all the words before naming your company.
[01:05:54] There’s another related story about logo and graphic design. There’s apparently a “penis and swastika test” that you should run. Basically, you turn the design in every direction to make sure it doesn’t look like a penis or a swastika.
[01:06:14] Matt Harriman: There’s a reason it was available. That’s funny. If you could give one piece of advice to people who want to be both successful and happy, what would it be? You’re someone who gets stressed out and pissed off like any human, but ever since I’ve known you, you’ve seemed happy, despite everything going on.
[01:06:43] Peter Tyler: I think you need to determine what your idea of success is early on. For me, it was always “work hard, play hard.” In university, I had remote-controlled cars and all kinds of stuff. If there was some way to spend my time that wasn’t school, we were doing it. We worked hard, played hard, and were always all on. We went to spring break, drove down to Indiana for the weekend to go caving. We spent enough time doing school that we were there, but I spent no time doing nothing.
[01:07:25] If you have a plan and you stick to it and make sure you don’t get stuck, it’s so easy to have a plan on where you want to go in life and what you want to do and end up liking what you’re doing enough not to stick to your plan. Early on in my career, changing jobs every two years or so was well worth it. You don’t have to change companies necessarily. I know people who did and were highly successful, and I know people who didn’t who were highly successful. But everybody I know has changed their roles at some point.
[01:08:19] Matt Harriman: It sounds like it’s important to make sure you’re not getting tricked into feeling too comfortable or settling for something that isn’t really what you want.
[01:08:29] Peter Tyler: Yeah, and it depends on your plan, right? For me, I never saw myself being happy in life without being happy in my job. MARAC as a company taught us that we could have a good time at work and outside of work. So since then, I wanted to make sure I was having a good time at work. If I wasn’t, I moved on. That was part of my plan: happy work, happy life. Some people are happy to have a happy life, and work is just something that enables it to happen. I could never be that person, but that wasn’t my plan. If your plan is to have a job that pays the bills and do all this other stuff that keeps you happy, then that’s fine. Just do it intentionally. If you’re going to do something in life, do it intentionally. Don’t just do it because it’s happening. Intentional plans and changes make a difference in people’s lives. Wise words.
[01:09:32] Matt Harriman: Hmm. I think this has been good, Pete. We talked about a lot of things we haven’t talked about before.
[01:09:39] Peter Tyler: Yeah, that’s cool. I was hoping we’d get some good stuff out of it. We’ve talked a lot over the years. You’re one of my favorite people and you’ve had a massive impact on me, our company, and everything. So I’ve already thanked you for all that. But I want to thank you for coming on and doing this.
[01:09:57] Peter Tyler: I’m blessed. You asked me if I’m lucky or if I hire the right people. I think it’s a combination, but at the end of the day, I’m super blessed that the people I’ve put around me are successful and great people. I still hang out with 12 people from my university days. We still go on trips on a reasonably regular basis. Every five years, that whole big group goes and does something because we’re still close. The same is true about a group at Merak, and now at Enersight. I’m just really lucky that the people I work with and the people I’m around, I want to stay connected to. And for some reason, they don’t mind me being connected to them.
[01:10:41] Peter Tyler: I make the incredible assumption that my absence doesn’t impact my relationship with people, and then I just show up. For example, Raj Sands. I knew him back in the Iraq days. He worked with Palantir and lives in Singapore. He called me up and came out to Steamboat for five days while I was up there. We hung out for five days with another guy who was one of my college roommates and was skiing with me for a month. These are guys I won’t talk to for a year at times, but when we talk, we feel like we’re still best friends. I don’t know whether it’s because I have short-term memory challenges, so I’m always happy to be with these people, or what. I would love to be better about staying in touch with people and maintaining those relationships, but what I find amazing is that when I ask those people to partake in that friendship again, they’re all there. And we can go spend a week together or a weekend or go wherever. I think I’m just blessed that I’ve picked really nice people to be around over my life.
[01:11:45] Peter Tyler: How often do we talk? Nowhere near enough. But I still consider you one of my best friends.
[01:11:50] Matt Harriman: When we talk, we snap right back into it. If anybody listening wants to reach out, can they? If so, how?
Peter Tyler: For sure. The easiest is way of LinkedIn. It’s Peter Tyler. Look and then look up Peter, Tyler and Enersight. Put those all together or a certain, and it’ll hit my profile and I’m happy to connect And you’ll,
Matt Harriman: You’ll see it between 1 and 130 business days after they send a message.
Peter Tyler: It might not be the next day, but quite often it’ll be within the week for sure. I’m not on there every day anymore, but I do watch it.
Matt Harriman: Anything else?
Peter Tyler: No, that was awesome. Appreciate your time. Super proud of what you’re doing with Pod2. I think it’s impressive, especially the book. I was supposed to have my copy here and hold it up so you can sign it, but we’ll have to get together so I actually do that. Matt Harriman: We’ll get together again very soon. Thanks again, Pete. this was the Achieve and Enjoy podcast episode number five. We’re on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pod2.co is our company (you can sign up for emails there). I hope you enjoy your work this week.
4: Jide Ayangade – One Day at a Time
Jide Ayangade, XR Subsurface Advisor at Baselinez, discusses the impact of virtual reality technology on the oil and gas industry, and how it can accelerate the sharing of complex technical knowledge — especially for subsurface data. Outside of discussing the technological advances for geologists in the space, another big topic of conversation is processing grief and how Jide’s motto, “Take it one day, one moment at a time” can be applied to anyone in, any situation.
In This Episode
[00:00:00] Podcast clip
[00:01:54] Jide’s background — Nigeria to Sorroco, New Mexico
[00:10:04] Good people can be found at any company
[00:12:15] Jide’s background pt.2: Envernus and beyond
[00:13:36] Highs and lows of moving to the USA
[00:15:21] Dealing with grief, “One day at a time”
[00:19:01] On not deferring happiness
[00:23:19] What is Baselinez?
[00:30:22] Changing O&G perspectives on AR and VR technology
[00:35:07] Sharing information within organizations
[00:39:48] Matt wearing an Oculus in Plucker’s
[00:44:20] Funny first-times wearing VR headsets
[00:49:19] Calming the anxiety of being the first to do something
[00:53:09] Dealing with imposter syndrome
[00:55:31] Where to connect with Jide
Links & Resources
Jide’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jideayangadepe/
Episode Transcript: https://pod2.co/podcast/
Matt’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/MattMHarriman
Matt’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattharriman/
Matt’s book, Integrated Upstream Planning: https://amzn.to/3n9Obvl
Matt Harriman: My name is Matt Harriman. Welcome to the Achieve and Enjoy podcast, where we explore the relationship between work and happiness, achievement and joy, and success and contentment. We share our own stories and interview interesting people who have something to teach us about achieving our definition of success while enjoying the journey that leads us there. Today, my guest is Jide Ayangade. He’s a really interesting person who I think has a great mindset and perspective on life — I’m excited to draw out.
Jide Ayangade: Thanks, Matt.
Matt Harriman: Yeah, we’re both getting our money’s worth out there, that’s for sure. So, thanks for joining me on the podcast.
Jide Ayangade: Of course, man. I’m glad to be here.
Matt Harriman: I’d like to start by talking about your career. This podcast is centered around work, but we’ll also talk about how that relates to happiness, highs and lows, and everything in between. When I looked at your work history, it started with more traditional companies like Baker Hughes and Conoco, and now you’re possibly at the leading edge of innovation with augmented reality and virtual reality within oil and gas. I’d like to hear the story of your career. It doesn’t need to be your resume, but where did you come from? How did you get here?
Jide Ayangade: Sure, it’s always interesting to look back. I know you mentioned Baker Hughes, but there’s a lot before that. I grew up in Nigeria and moved to the States in 2006. I have a background in chemical engineering, and to some extent, being an engineer was expected of me since many of my family members were engineers.
But for some weird reason, I wanted to be in the oil and gas business. My mom had a mentor who had two kids — one was a lawyer, and the other was a chemical engineer. The chemical engineer was working in the oil and gas industry. After talking to them, what really piqued my interest was how much they traveled — a lot of it overseas. To my adventurous spirit, that was very appealing. I went to New Mexico Tech for my graduate studies in Petroleum Engineering.
I had planned to attend grad school in the UK, but my father became ill and passed away after about eight months. I deferred my plans and applied to schools in the US.
New Mexico Tech is located in the small town of Socorro, New Mexico. The school has a population of 7,500 when in session, and 2,500 when out of session. It’s an engineering and tech college town, something I deliberately picked because it was the opposite of where I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos had 20 million people and was overcrowded. I also was in search of solitude after my father’s passing — New Mexico Tech was a quiet place. I have no regrets. Additionally while enrolled in grad school, I started working with a startup that was acquired by Baker Hughes — leading to me joining the company.
Matt Harriman: Was this the same startup where you met Jim?
Jide Ayangade: Yes, I met him when he hired me to help him start the Houston office and develop the go-to-market strategy for the company. At the time, the company was developing software similar to Petrel called JewelSuite, which was used for reservoir characterization and simulation workloads.
My career at Baker Hughes was amazing. I worked with phenomenal people, and I got to travel around the world to many exotic places I had never imagined visiting as a 19 or 20-year-old. After several years, I left to gain experience from an E&P perspective — plus, the pay was much better.
At the time, I believed that I needed that experience as part of my career and exposure to the oil and gas industry. I then had the opportunity to work for Cono Phillips, but my time there was short-lived because I was laid off in 2014 due to the downturn. I think primarily because the asset I worked on was being divested. We were essentially hired to put the finishing touches on it and sell it off. The interesting thing is, you go from place to place, and the cultures might be very different, but you still meet a lot of phenomenal people there. That’s something I keep running into; there are really a lot of smart, good, and interesting people. After Cono, I also had the opportunity to work for Blackstone Minerals, which I think was one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. I’d like to think I’m one of the few oil and gas professionals who has worked in every single basin in the lower 48.
Blackstone Minerals is one of the biggest mineral holders in the US — meaning I got to touch every aspect of that in some form or fashion. Obviously, some basins were more active than others, but it was a very rich exposure and a small team.
Which I missed from my startup days. I don’t know if it’s because of how I was raised. I was the firstborn, so I had a lot of responsibilities and did a lot of things. I got that exposure again when I was working for Blackstone Minerals. Do you know Jessica Bird from Blackstone?
Matt Harriman: I totally agree. I’ve found the same thing no matter where I’m at or what company it is. There are really, really good people even within those companies that are fundamentally broken and dysfunctional — there are still really good people fighting the good fight, trying to make good things happen.
You used the word rewarding a few times when you were talking through all that. What are the types of things that would make a role or a time at a company rewarding for you?
Jide Ayangade: Like you, I’m a people person. I like interacting and understanding what exactly people do and what makes them tick. Being able to have those conversations with people, understand how they work; being exposed to what they do; getting a little bit of that experience in what they do and how it fits into what I’m doing. I think we should always ask, “Hey, what’s the overall objective that we’re all walking towards?” Being able to interact with all the other components of that gearbox and understanding what they do is also rewarding for me. It makes me feel like there’s some kind of grand purpose to what I’m doing.
Matt Harriman: It makes sense that you would tend toward smaller companies, teams, and things like that. After Blackstone, you were at Enverus, which was also a contract gig because you were laid off from Blackstone during the 2020 Covid oil and gas downturn. Now you’re at?
Jide Ayangade: There was a pivot at Blackstone — it was no longer acquisition-focused but instead focused on increasing revenue from royalty properties. This shift affected interactions and subsequently affected me. So I started a consulting company that was used to get into Enverus with James Ruiz when he started Q. At the time when they were acquired by Enverus and were trying to integrate their solutions into the bigger platform, I was contracted to help with the QA/QC process. Subsequently, I got the opportunity to invest and help grow a new tech venture that I’m currently involved with, which is also a Dutch startup. It’s almost like I’ve gone full circle.
Matt Harriman: You can’t get away from the Dutch. I do want to talk about what you’re doing now a little bit, but before we do that looking back over your career and the journey from Nigeria to the States, what were some of the highs? What were some of the lows?
Jide Ayangade: The low for me during the journey was losing my dad. It wasn’t so much the academic work or the process of living in a new place as it was the low of adjusting to life without him. The solace of the smaller town helped me process things and grieve and cope. The landscape was also very foreign to me — making it an adventure. I lived at the base of a huge mountain, right across from hole 13 on the golf course. After classes, I would start from hole 13, walk my way up, talk shop when we got to the clubhouse, buy drinks, and then continue all the way back. The slow-paced environment was healing in a way. I still miss it. A lot of people didn’t really like it, but I loved every single moment.
Matt Harriman: How do you think your dad’s passing impacted your outlook on life, work, and everything else as you worked through it?
Jide Ayangade: One day at a time — that’s always been my mantra. There’s this Bible verse that says, “Give us our daily bread.” It doesn’t say monthly or yearly, it says daily. So I just take it one day at a time. Even if I’m going through highs and lows, it all passes. I think that mindset parallels what you mentioned about playing golf, where you have to look for ways to chop up a huge task and take it one muscle at a time. There’s an element of that in living. I try to live my life one day at a time. Or with kids, one minute at a time.
Matt Harriman: For sure with kids — one minute is very different from the next. Death fascinates me because our family has had many near misses and scares. My daughter’s medical condition has allowed me to walk away from those experiences with a better perspective on everything. It pulls me back to living in the present moment. The Buddhists meditate on death a lot to remind them that this moment is all we’ve got. No matter what happens in the future, the best thing you can do is to be fully present.
Jide Ayangade: It’s about maximizing the time you have because yesterday’s past, and you can’t go back. Tomorrow’s not a given, so just maximize what you got today. That doesn’t mean we don’t plan, but today has its troubles that you have to deal with. Living according to that also helps to deal with the mortality question. Enjoy every single moment because tomorrow’s not a given. I learned this when my mother-in-law passed away in 2020. We had to move her from Santa Fe to Houston, and seeing the whole dying process crystallizes the notion of really taking it one day at a time. Deal with today’s problems as they come. Tell the people you love that you love them, every day.
Matt Harriman: I’m sorry for your losses, but I can tell that you have processed them and tried to grow and learn from them. What else can you do?
Jide Ayangade: I am still processing them. They were tough losses, but I tell my wife, “Hey, I’m not guaranteed. I could poof right then and there.”
Matt Harriman: The pandemic in 2020 forced everyone to realize the prominence of death in one’s life — causing many people to quit their jobs and focus on finding happiness. Many people defer their happiness, thinking they’ll work a hundred hours a week until they exit and then retire and be happy. However, this approach may not work out in the end.
Jide Ayangade: I like that you brought that up because the title of the podcast is Achieve and Enjoy. If you enjoy what you’re doing, it changes the way you perceive success or whatever it is. It also depends on the type of job. In startups, there’s a lot of work — especially if you’re invested. You have to make quite a few sacrifices that might make you cry every now and then. One of my favorite quotes (summarized) is from Elon Musk. He says, “It’s like eating glass. You still have to smile about it.” But if you enjoy it, then it changes the lens from which you perceive success or whatever it is you’re chasing.
Matt Harriman: It depends so much on the individual too and the time that they’re at in their life. There are times when you’re really passionate and you want to put your whole being into one thing — nothing wrong with that. However, it’s important to be intentional about the sacrifices you’re making. Some people build a company, exit, make millions of dollars, but have regrets about how they were as a father or husband. Those in that situation, I’ve talked to them and I can see the regret they have — it’s tough to stomach. I’m still trying to figure it out. I don’t think anyone has it all figured out, but it’s worth being intentional.
Jide Ayangade: The journey is going to be different for everyone. I don’t like giving advice, but regret is always there. We make choices. And then you look back and think you should have done something else, but you don’t know what the outcome of that choice would be. How do you quantify what’s going to be successful before you make a decision? It’s better to call them mistakes and learn from them going forward. Regret is a strong work. Mistakes can be cross-corrected.
Matt Harriman: I find the feeling of regret whenever I realize that I made a decision that I knew wasn’t right at the time. But I might have suppressed it or had a bad feeling.
Jide Ayangade: I feel the same way. For me, I process it by thinking that I still had an experience I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t make that decision.
Matt Harriman: For sure. We could talk about this forever, but we should probably let people more qualified in psychology talk about it. I like thinking about these things. We all consider whether we’re making the right decisions for ourselves and our families. Doing what’s right is subjective to each individual, and you have to figure it out for yourself. Let’s talk about what you’re doing now.
Jide Ayangade: I love what I’m doing now. It’s still a startup, so it has challenges, but the name of the app we sell is Baselines, and the company is Craytive Technologies. The founder of the company and I worked together in a previous Dutch startup. He always had an aspiration to solve the communication divide between disciplines, specifically with geoscientists and engineers.
When AR and VR technologies came out, he saw them as a way to help solve that divide. Baselinez was developed to help storytelling — specifically for the subsurface. VR, AR, and immersive technologies have been used in other industries, but how they’re perceived and used varies. The value of these technologies can be overlooked, but the application of this technology to what we’re doing is critical to lowering the risk of lost translation. We’re talking about geology, drilling, etc. It’s complex, but it’s one of the critical ways of reducing that risk. The business boils down to three questions: How big is it? How quickly can you take it out or put it in? What’s the economic benefit of it?
Matt Harriman: You’re still talking about oil and gas, right? Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
Jide Ayangade: We are all storytellers, and we strive to tell our stories in the best way possible for their intended use. Our goal is to empower geologists, engineers, and executives with immersive technology to tell the stories of the subsurface. This technology has already improved drilling operations and driven the kind of performance we want people to register and discuss.
Big tech companies invest heavily in this technology because it provides value. For example, 3D imaging of the brain is used for cancer diagnoses. Subsurface data is just another 3D problem that is difficult to explain or resolve in 2D. Immersive technology can help in planning operations and even reduces the risk of things going wrong — making a significant difference over time.
Matt Harriman: Using immersive technology drives people’s understanding of the reservoir or the part of the subsurface they’re examining, right? You generate a 3D model based on the data and then you can see it?
Jide Ayangade: Yes, that’s the core idea. We generate a 3D model based on data and then allow people to view it — the same way 2D screens replaced paper technology, immersive technology is replacing 2D screens. We see things in 3D, and now we’re able to capture and communicate that in 3D. Geologists can visualize things in 3D, but it’s not a closed loop until they can show it to someone who will take action based on it.
This technology helps people understand the scale and complexity of what we’re dealing with in the subsurface. Old school paper was as big as a whole table, and we had to distill that into a 2D screen that doesn’t fully capture the essence of what we’re dealing with. Immersive technology makes it possible to tell subsurface stories in a more compelling way and enables us to appreciate what we’re dealing with. As you can tell, I’m very animated about how we’re able to tell subsurface stories with immersive technology.
Matt Harriman: That reminds me of when I started at Chesapeake. I knew nothing about oil and gas. I didn’t grow up in an oil and gas family. Six months after I started, we began using Intersite for field development planning. In Intersite, you drag facilities and takeaway points around on a screen, then consolidate the wells so they’re not even visible. It’s like playing a video game. During my second year there, we went on a field trip to see the actual facilities, wells, drilling operations, and completion crews. It blew my mind. The complexity and immensity of these operations cemented in my head that when I dragged that little thing across the screen, I was actually moving an entire factory, attached to hundreds of people.
Jide Ayangade: Exactly.
Matt Harriman: That’s really cool. How do you value that perspective? And, especially, in a fairly traditional industry, how do you get people’s minds wrapped around the fact that we’re doing unbelievably complex things underground, but still approving 2 billion capital programs on paper, and some companies have their frack scheduled in Microsoft Outlook?
Jide Ayangade: Today, the technology is so accessible and cheap. What we do is very specific to the geology, which can be abstract — it’s like trying to describe an interpretive dance without seeing it. We know there are risks involved in the current 2D screen technology, with many near misses equating to millions of dollars. If immersive technology can help mitigate that risk, and companies see a pathway to doing so, then the value is realized.
The critical things that have enabled us to get to this stage are: companies investing billions of dollars over a decade; immersive technology is becoming cheaper and more accessible; and integration of 3D models that have been built for subsurface or office facilities for a long time, but never viewed in 3D until now. Because you typically require powerful workstations for 3D modeling, sharing those models can be challenging. There’s a story about a geoscientist who was tasked with building a 3D salt model. If she succeeded, the company could bid on fields that overlapped with the model — potentially resulting in a billion-dollar investment. When she finished building the model on her PC after six months of work, she had to take snapshots to share it. Resulting in a loss of information and data across the translation process.
From gathering expensive data to interpreting it and building the model, it all gets dumbed down to a PDF that’s then screen-shared. Despite the complexity of the data, the company makes decisions based on these simplified representations. Communicating this information is challenging, which is why even a 10% reduction in communication would be impactful. However, we’ve been able to reduce communication times by over 50%, which can lead to significant productivity gains. By successfully sharing the actual 3D model instead of a simplified representation, we can help improve shared understanding within the organization. There’s a lot of knowledge that’s sitting in PCs and databases that’s underutilized. By integrating existing geoscience applications, we can utilize that information and improve decision-making processes.
Matt Harriman: You mentioned communication, but even that word’s been overused to the point where people gloss over it. It sounds to me like this is a really strong tool for improving the shared understanding within an organization. One of the things that pisses me off (Saga Wisdom Conference I went to a few weeks back) is that so much of the work reservoir engineers do gets wasted because the outcome isn’t shared. The point of having an organization is so that there’s more people working on a problem — building together.
Jide Ayangade: I’m going to add on to that because I don’t think I’m going enough justice to what I’m trying to say. We build models. We take data that’s sitting in PCs somewhere or in people’s brains and make it accessible. This is key because the oil and gas industry doesn’t have as much talent coming in, especially geoscientists (reduced by 30% in the last decade) and it’s still forecasted in the next 10 years to lose another 30%. And so there’s a lot of knowledge that is going out, but there’s a lot of what’s called interpretive knowledge that they’ve also done that’s just sitting and not being utilized.
We integrate with those systems in a similar way to how you do with your software applications Pod2 builds. Then we take that information and data and allow you to distribute your work to your colleagues, or whoever you want to have access to it. By “visual way,” I mean that we are using Teams calls on a 2D screen. Imagine if we were meeting in 3D. You could give me a high five and I could give you one, even though we’re miles apart. I can share this cup with you, and you can hold it and move it around. I can see it from my perspective, and you can see it from yours. This makes for a more engaging conversation than just yelling at a screen while you sit miles away. These are the building blocks that we’ve built into the baseline, which touch on not just geology, but also drilling.
Imagine looking at wells with anti-collision planes, or a drilling supervisor who says, “Every time in this field, we always get stuck at this particular point. We can’t integrate the geology because all we have is just a PDF and it tells us this is the depth way I think you should be worried about.” When you move away from that, maybe you move two miles away, we’re expecting to hit something at this depth, but we don’t. Then we hit something at a depth we don’t know, and it’s costing us about $25,000 an hour. But even if we discount that, I would have to take pictures of the drill bits and send it off. Our phones are so powerful nowadays that they’re all embedded with light sensors, and you can do a 3D scan of the drill bit showing before and after, and upload it. We then (Baselinez) provide a very visual way for you to see the 3D model, along with the actual geology. This way you can be in the field while I can be in the office, and we can still talk about it.
Matt Harriman: It’s crazy to me. Our phones are so accessible now. When I first got introduced to it several years ago, I met Jim Dubois at a restaurant and he pulled out his Oculus from his backpack and handed it to me. I put it on and played with a 3D model of a piece of rock. It’s just wild. You might look like a goon when you’re sitting in a restaurant doing that, but the ease of use and just being able to get to that is really impressive. I’m sure you have some interesting stories about people putting on a headset for the first time, especially some old-school patch guys. Do you have any?
Jide Ayangade: I don’t want to discount what you just described. You have an image model of a rock that you’re playing with in the middle of Pluckers, and you also look like a goon doing it.
Those are two critical things you touched on. 10 years ago, that was impossible. You wouldn’t be sitting in the middle of Pluckers with a $300 headset that you picked up from Best Buy and be able to look at that model, and spin it around. People would fly in from all over the world to a particular visualization center to view what you just held in your hand in the middle of Pluckers. The cultural change surrounding the use of the technology works on a case-by-case basis. But, once people put on the headset, every preconception of what they had goes away. They quickly realize the value, accessibility, and novelty of it. They realize they’re doing what they couldn’t do 10 years ago in the middle of Pluckers — it’s like an iPhone moment. When the iPhone came out, no one dreamt that they would be staring at oil wells on an iPhone in the middle of Pluckers. Yet, here we are.
The accessibility allows us to tell that story to non-technical experts who we need to convince. We’re talking about energy transition, but in a way, it’s really energy expansion. We’re going to be doing more stuff with the subsurface than we wanted to, whether it’s taking stuff out of it or sticking stuff in it. This tool is valuable for highlighting the risks and benefits of these huge multi-billion dollar subsurface projects.
Matt Harriman: You made a connection for me that I hadn’t fully made before. The rocks aren’t getting any less important no matter what the future of energy looks like. We’re going to need to be doing things underground that are highly technical and require understanding. I’m not going to let you get away without sharing a funny story or two.
Jide Ayangade: There are several funny stories, but one interesting observation is that the pace of adoption for subsurface technology seems to be higher in Asia than in North America right now. I say “loosely” because these are just interactions and anecdotes. There are still old-school people who, when you tell them about this and give a presentation, say, “Oh, I don’t want to put that on.” Then they get curious and want to try it for themselves.
The way we look at it on the iPhone is like buying furniture from IKEA. You can place an object and say, “Oh, that’s my data.” Okay. And then they look at it on the iPad, and they can move it around. If a colleague moves stuff around, they can see it too. Over time, they get a little more adventurous and put on the HoloLens. For those who don’t know, the HoloLens is a headset where you can still see what’s going on around you. And they put that on and say, “Oh, wow. Okay. So you can touch, you can move, and I don’t need to be in front of a PC to do that!”
And then they put on the actual virtual reality headset, which locks you in, but has richer immersion. Then they say, “Oh, wow, I didn’t think this is what you were talking about. I had no clue.” It doesn’t do justice to what we’re trying to do because almost 90% of the time when people put on the headset, they realize the value of what this does.
Matt Harriman: They’re seeing the interpretive dance after you sketched it for them?
Jide Ayangade: Exactly. Hit me baby one more time.
Matt Harriman: I’m gonna need you to write out a verbal description of “Hit me baby one more time.”
Jide Ayangade: There’s another person who said, “Hey, this is a very impactful solution, but I look like a knucklehead in the middle of this open floor plan office waving my hands around. So because of that, I think I’m gonna pass, but it’s still very cool technology and I see the true value of it now.” The technology is still so new. We’re working with companies who have looked at this technology, but haven’t used it or thought of specific use cases to apply it to. They’re using it to look at surface facilities and design surface facilities, but also to see subsurface data. In a way, it makes me a little anxious that maybe we’re crazy because I haven’t seen anyone else doing this in the field.
But when there’s a lot of validation that we’ve gotten and a lot of encouragement that we also get, we know we’re on the right track. The problem we’re solving is truly impactful. There’s this chief geologist from a Scandinavian country who said, “The things that I can’t explain to our drilling engineers, it’s just, by definition of the subsurface, difficult for me to explain. I can’t show them on seismic because the resolution of seismic doesn’t quite capture it. I have to use my geological interpretation and experience to create this target that they have to hit. There have been so many close calls with directional drilling. If I can just say, “Stay away from here. One or two degrees of deviation can cause you to miss this, and if you do, that’s a hundred million down the drain.”
Matt Harriman: It’s exciting. We only have about ten minutes left — we could talk for eight hours. Looking like a goon comes back to ego and fear of looking silly, and I think that’s something people need to address in therapy if it’s an issue. I’ve noticed it’s a self-confidence issue. I do think it’s cultural, but it’s getting better. Pokemon Go changed the world with augmented reality and had more people walking around and doing stuff like that. As for what you’re doing and being on the leading edge of the technology in this industry, how you find balance? How does the anxiety of thinking about if people think you’re crazy impact your mindset day to day?
Jide Ayangade: As for being on the leading edge of technology in this industry, it can be nerve-wracking. It’s a sensitive topic, but we’re about five years ahead of what we should be doing. Oil and gas companies are actually interested in this and believe it’s the future of work — plus, hey’re well-funded. We’re pushing the envelope of technology innovation, but we’re also perceived as anti-diluvian. We need to connect with the right people who see the value and ride the wave in a sensible, cost-effective way. That’s what we’re trying to do right now and manage all the anxiety that comes with it. We are finding other crazies inside the oil and gas industry that believe in this and are pushing it. The pace at which it happens is what causes the anxiety, but we know it can happen.
Matt Harriman: You seem to be very confident that it’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when…and if you can make enough to keep the lights on until then.
Jide Ayangade: Exactly.
Matt Harriman: I mean, if oil and gas companies are putting money toward this sort of thing, that means that it’s very real. They wouldn’t do it out of the goodness of their heart.
Jide Ayangade: It seems like more of them are doing it in Europe and in Asia though, than in the US but, we’ll also get there because I think the use cases are very different too. The US tends to be more operational in real-time.
Matt Harriman: Let’s start to round things out. We went to some places that I didn’t know that we would go to in our conversation! That was a lot of fun though. You’re obviously energized by the place that you’re in right now, and simultaneously dealing with that anxiety about whether you’re too far out in front or not. I feel like people deal with that kind of stuff a lot. As somebody who’s very engaged in what they’re doing, how do you deal with that kind of anxiety? What advice would you give to somebody that is dealing with some of those sorts of anxieties?
Jide Ayangade: I don’t like giving advice because it’s just gonna be different for everyone, but I’ll go back to, “One day at a time.” I also remember one thing, my dad said, “Don’t live your life according to someone else’s time.” I’m going through my own anxiety the best way I think I can — vastly different from someone else who’s going through some other kind of anxiety. It might be similar anxieties, but circumstances will always be different. The choices we make will always be different too. But I would love to connect with you who have this kind of anxiety and share stories.
Matt Harriman: If people want to reach out to you or learn more about you and what you’re doing, what’s the best way?
Jide Ayangade: I guess LinkedIn or at Baselinez. Fun fact, the reason we call it Baselinez is that we wanted everyone to be on the same baseline — the z was added for depth.
Matt Harriman: I didn’t know that that — that ties all the way back to that shared understanding.
3: Russell Greco – Adult Relationships & Curious Problem-Solving
Russell Greco is the Vice President of Strategy and Planning at Battalion Oil Corporation. In his 10+ years in the oil and gas industry, he’s worked at EP, Halcon, and Battalion — donning a few titles including, reservoir engineer, manager of assets, and director of corporate reserves. Despite these titles and the workloads associated with them, Russell is arguably one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. He always sees the brighter side (unless we’re on the golf course, then well, everything’s fair game there) and knows how to bring out the best in people.
In this episode, we cover the growing importance of training current employees due to the reduction in hiring and new talent in the industry, how to tactically maintain relationships, and how the impacts of AI within oil and gas.
In This Episode
[00:00:00] Opening clip
[00:01:04] Russell’s background
[00:09:35] Russell’s optimistic view of life
[00:12:48] Building and maintaining relationships
[00:15:47] The tactical side to keep up with people: Google Keep and Google Calendar
[00:21:11] Productivity and effectiveness and efficiency
[00:23:21] Life’s not a zero-sum game
[00:26:06] Middle managers are the least transparent
[00:28:14] Balancing success vs contentment vs happiness
[00:31:36] Work smarter, not harder
[00:34:01] The importance of defining your “good enough” at work
[00:35:16] What makes a “good day” at work
[00:37:20] Russell’s “perfect” Friday night
[00:38:48] Why is oil and gas still using paper folders for AFE?
[00:43:04] Slow adoption of the Cloud in oil and gas
[00:45:02] The lack of education on technology within Oil and gas
[00:48:00] Why training is more effective than hiring
[00:53:07] The benefits of ChatGPT for engineers
[00:58:05] The secret to happiness: Keep learning
[01:01:10] Where to connect with Russell
Links & Resources
Russell Greco LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/russell-greco-b8b198b/
Matt’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/MattMHarriman
Matt’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattharriman/
Matt’s book, Integrated Upstream Planning: https://amzn.to/3n9Obvl
Matt Harriman: Hey everyone, my name is Matt Harriman and this is episode number 3 of the Achieve and Enjoy podcast. Today I’ve got a really good friend of mine, Russell Greco, on — a lot of people can say that about Russ, he’s a friendly kind of guy.
He’s done some really interesting stuff in his career. He’s one of those guys that you’d probably describe as having a rocket ship strapped to his ass at some points with promotions, moving up quickly, and doing a bunch of interesting things. If you’re up for starting there, Russ, I wouldn’t mind just hearing your story and a little bit about why you were able to move into the roles that you did.
Russell Greco: I was actually reflecting on this recently. I can’t take full credit for it. You know what they always say, it’s equal parts, timing, luck, and opportunity, right? I was a non-traditional petroleum engineer. I started my background in computer science due to my passion for computers and all things computer science related. When I got into college, I decided more tangible problems were more interesting than just staring at a screen typing code (which has its merits).
I shifted around a bit and eventually ended up in petroleum — the perfect mix of entrepreneurship and business, but still engineering and involved problem-solving. I’ve always loved business and thinking about how to make a buck.
I think that gave me a really interesting edge because when I got out of school, I didn’t just approach things as an engineer or just as a traditional petroleum engineer working for an operator. I would approach anything by asking “What’s the problem?” And then I’d be able to think of 10 unorthodox ways to solve it. Or I’d add some of the skills I have that maybe the average person doesn’t.
I started out in operations funny enough. Operations, in some ways, is the most mechanical and the most, I hate to say, antiquated, but there are definitely some practices that have been passed down 20, 30, 40 years. They’ve always done it this way. It didn’t mean much to mean because I wasn’t a 20-year drilling engineer, nor was my dad a drilling engineer. So, I’d chime in with, “I think you could actually solve it this way. Have you ever thought about this thing?”
I definitely think that did a lot for me in the first three to five years of my career, where I was kind of making an impression. You always make first impressions. Whenever I met managers or vice presidents or CEOs, I think I usually left a mark on him to the effect of, “This guy thinks differently. At the very least, that’s interesting. I’ll put a tab in that and maybe it’ll come back at some point.”
Matt Harriman: Did you ever take it too far and upset people by questioning too much and bothering them?
Russell Greco: I like to think that one of the things — for whatever reason — my lucky random number generator came up with is my brain. I’m pragmatic. One of the biggest critiques I always hear when I told them my skills or when I explained a problem to them, is, “Wait a minute, you’re an engineer and you can talk like, what on earth? That’s bizarre.”
I try to be pragmatic. Ideally, I don’t get too far out in the theoretical world. I definitely ruffled some feathers of some of the older engineers, that were either, I hate to say close-minded, but, certainly stuck in their ways or focused on one way of doing something. Or maybe it was one of those “who moved my cheese” kind of situations where they’d done it for 20, 30, 40 years and suddenly here I am saying, “I can do that in five minutes and it used to take you five hours.”
This is really where I think a lot of the optimization, especially in the early to late 2000s started showing up. You had all of this software and tools that were coming into oil and gas at breakneck speed — even if they impacted other industries first. It was the perfect mix.
I mention the luck part because of the Shale Revolution. When I came out of school, the world was on fire with: drill as many wells as you can, as fast as you can. This train of thought was totally different than a lot of people’s. Even a guy who’d been in the industry 40 years hadn’t done that. It leveled the playing field, which lent itself better to automation and strategic planning stuff because you’re not developing 10 offshore wells anymore, you’re now drilling 150 horizontal walls. They didn’t know how to deal with that, which put us in the same position.
Matt Harriman: That’s interesting. Jim Dubois, are you familiar with him? He and I talked earlier this week about how the shift toward unconventionals and shale made people worse at probability and statistics. It took on the factory mindset that a lot of people were sold and led them to forget about the risk. He had some interesting stuff there. Walk me through your career. What have you been doing since? What roles have you had in the last five years?
Russell Greco: Cut my teeth in operations and then, in our world, at least in the operator world, very quickly the people that are the best at aggregating large amounts of data and managing projects or an asset, usually become asset managers. There are a few different terms for the role, but effectively you’re a manager of reservoirs or asset manager.
By year four, that’s where I found myself. They were like, “This is the seat we want you in because you understand all of the pieces involved. Now you can look over the whole business and safeguard it.”
When in this role, you’re the keeper of the purse — the economics, the planning. You become the interface for corporate planning and the strategic side of the business for executives. One of my other tendencies has always been to learn. I’ve always loved learning. Not to be cliche, but as an elementary school kid, I was probably super annoying to people. I was always like, “Tell me more. I wanna learn about this.” I actually like reading books.
Naturally, it led me to learn new things in finance, planning, strategic planning, and then my MBA. Effectively another means of cramming lots of information in your head in a short period of time on different subjects — acquired via a certificate, master’s, or reading a bunch of books. In the end, you’ll either get good at whatever it is you’re studying or you’ll find something you really like (or maybe both). As for me, I found myself doing more and more business development, which generally speaking can mean a lot of things to people. But to me, it means I value assets. I figure out where those assets land in terms of our current portfolio. Do we buy, do we sell, or do we develop? From there, you use all the tools that you have access to.
That’s really what I’ve been doing over the last couple of years. I’m currently at Battalion Oil Corporation, which used to be Halcon Resources — another interesting experience because we came on as part of the turnaround team. Aka, we took them into their second bankruptcy. We made a lot of changes. The whole experience can be good or bad, depending on how you view it. No joke, it’s like we were firefighters running into burning buildings while everyone else was running out.
Matt Harriman: To clarify, the bankruptcy was already foretold and you were hired to help take them through it?
Russell Greco: That’s exactly right. We came in to turn around the organization. A theme I like to state is collaboration, trying to grow others around you. We weren’t trying to hack them at the stem. We didn’t go in and fire everyone. There were a lot of good technical people there, they just needed a vision. They needed to refinance a lot of stuff. They needed a lot of things to happen.
It’s been an interesting ride. I’m still with Battalion. I think every smaller E&P company, even mid-sized E&P has had a very interesting ride these last couple of years, which could make its own podcast with COVID and the bank crisis. There are all kinds of things that people are having to navigate that make finances more complicated.
Matt Harriman: Entering into a company that’s on its way into bankruptcy is something. We’ve known each other for 10 years or so and unless we’re on a golf course, you’re always happy and upbeat, with an optimistic view of things. Where did you get that from?
Russell Greco: I know, it’s funny. I hate to say it’s genetic because I guess even as a child — probably to the point of being obnoxious — I was always quite energetic and happy. I think a lot of that probably goes back to my mentality around seeing solutions and problem-solving.
I’ve always thought about how do I make this better or how do I make this easier? Maybe as a kid, it was more, how do I do the least amount of work and get the most amount of effort? As an adult, it’s kind of the same, but maybe there are a few more restrictions that you put on yourself.
[00:10:48] I think that mentality tends to paint a brighter picture of the world. Meaning if you’re looking at tools and solutions all the time, you’re seeing what’s possible. I think that tends to make you just a more positive person, as opposed to someone who’s saying, “All I’m seeing around me, is suffering and destruction” — which is easy to see.
Especially in the last couple of years, it’s been really complicated for people. I’m sure there’s a mental aspect of it, which is just trying to process stuff — to think about what you’re doing.
I love to say, “Begin with the end in mind.” One of those phrases that stuck with me over the years. I think when you try to process stuff through that lens and you try to think of it as a problem-solving thing, you tend to be more on the positive side. I don’t know if that means you can turn someone who’s more negative, positive, or not, but it certainly lends itself to that.
Matt Harriman: You’re almost always thinking about progress and how to make it better? Your focus is more on how it could be better, as opposed to what’s wrong.
Russell Greco: Exactly. We all go through negative periods of our life — work or life — where we can’t always be positive all of the time. Everyone’s gonna mourn and go through whatever negative thoughts they have.
The question is, when that all settles, what are you gonna dwell on? What are you gonna try to do with that? You can’t change what already happened, but can you learn from it? Hopefully. And then do you continue to see the world as a constructive, positive place? For the majority of the last 50 to 60 years, civilization has allowed us to do that. There have been a few times lately where I think, “Man, we’ve gone a little too far.” But most times, I think keeping that lens allows you to see things constructively.
Matt Harriman: How do you feel your approach and mindset on other people is different? I’ll add some context to that. You’ve got more friends than anybody I’ve ever met. Not just mutuals on Instagram or something, but people that you genuinely care about and care about you. Real friends. You talked about at your wedding how important your friend group is to you. How do you see that? How is your mindset and approach to other people unique or different within work or outside of it?
Russell Greco: It’s tricky to say different because I’d like to think most people are doing these things too. For me, I don’t know how everybody views relationships, but as long as I can remember — maybe it was even the way my parents just emphasized it coming from a big family of two blood siblings and many step-siblings — my parents’ preaching harmony, friendliness, constructiveness, and being approachable.
If you’re kind and approachable, some of it naturally happens. I’m a very analytical person, but I do try to also think about soft skills. Is the other person introverted or extroverted? Will that answer change how I approach them? Being approachable to different people means different things. So I try to think about stuff like that with any communication I have, whether it’s someone in passing on the street or whether it’s someone at a networking event.
I guess I’ve tried to always think about things that way. Time is finite. Energy is finite. I feel like I probably have more energy than the average person.
Matt Harriman: You have a lot more than me, that’s for sure.
Russell Greco: I don’t know, Matt, you pushed that bat too, in a good way.
So I’ve got a lot of energy, how do I use it? Let’s try to be efficient with it. Let’s really work on the relationships that I’m getting something back from (energy-wise, not monetarily). It’s always about that — the balancing of a relationship. As you go along, you’ll start to figure out which relationships are strong, with a mutual connection, and require a conscious presence to keep them up. Doesn’t mean every day or every second. Especially in today’s world where everybody’s so interconnected. Once a month. Once a quarter. Think about somebody and send them a note or a text.
It’s a simple, “Hey, how are you doing? I’m thinking of you.” Or “Hey, we should go grab a drink.”
Matt Harriman: How do you tactically do that? Do you have any kind of a system set up? Do you use reminders? Especially since you’ve become a father, time just goes away even faster.
Russell Greco: In terms of the nitty gritty, I actually keep a list on Google Keep with a revolving, when’s the last time you talked to this person? I don’t keep it to the day. Moreso, I haven’t talked to them in a long time, let me reach out. I get a notification for the list every morning at 8 AM. It’s very quick, but it’s more of a here are some things and people you may want to think about. One benefit of today’s society is that there are so many tools available to check on somebody, both indirectly and directly.
Also, I know it sounds silly, but I keep a very detailed birthday calendar. At the very least, I’ll think about someone once a year and can then decide if I want to message them or not.
Matt Harriman: What would you say to somebody that might feel like that’s insane? To have a spreadsheet of your friends with birthdates and all of that stuff. What would you say to somebody who thinks that just sounds wild or narcissistic or overly calculated?
Russell Greco: I think it’s unrealistic in today’s world to have that viewpoint. We have too much going on. To me, having a spreadsheet with dates and information is almost the equivalent of being thoughtful. Maybe back in the day, you would’ve pinned a letter, licked the tab, and sent it to them, but not now. All you’re doing is putting energy into trying to organize your thoughts about them and what they mean to you.
Matt Harriman: I have a list just like that. I’m not as good with birthdays, but I do remember yours (we have the same one), but generally, I’m not great at remembering that stuff. My list isn’t kept to the day but typically has information for when we last spoke.
Funny enough, the person I heard this idea from first was Wayne Sim, the old CEO of Aucerna. He was a mentor of mine for a little while and he had this vision of combining all of those companies to turn it into Aucerna. So I asked him how he made it happen. How did he run his life? How did he do all this stuff? Basically, he has a spreadsheet with long-term goals, short-term stuff, and a big list of people. He wakes up every morning and reaches out to 10 people. He just keeps relationships going. It keeps him alive. He’s worth a kajillion dollars and credits that habit for a lot of his success.
Russell Greco: You could apply it to personal or business. The personal one has different emotions attached to it, but the concepts are the same for both. I’ve tried to keep in touch with my business connections. I have a separate list of the same nature for friends I would consider colleagues or work friends who are now scattered across the industry. The same thing goes for that: I haven’t talked to so and so from Murphy, let me reach out to them. Sometimes they’ll do it too, which is nice. It’s a win-win.
And the parenting part. I hear you, that one’s harder. I think that’s where you recognize that time’s finite and understand being organized is in your best interest.
Matt Harriman: When we had our first daughter, it sent me into the search for productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency. Half of the business we run now is predicated on those things.
The other part of that for me is that I just have a bad memory. I don’t keep track of data in my head very well. I was always bad at history in school and so I’ve started to keep notes when people tell me about their kids and stuff. Do you do anything like that?
Russell Greco: I do. I think I probably have it a little better on the memory side, but don’t like to just keep things in my head. I like to be able to reference a note — whether it’s for work or the household.
I’m prioritizing what information should be stored in my brain. Too much information. That’s everyone’s problem these days.
Matt Harriman: I’ve never thought about intentionally attempting to be approachable. The way I’ve always thought about is to be human, especially when we go in and work with bigger corporations, where people tend to put on masks and facades to protect themselves. There are just so many layers to corporate-ness on top of people, that I get, has its reasons and functions. Do you find that work also?
Russell Greco: I do. It probably depends on the size of the organization or the culture. That’s an underlying thing in all of this, company culture. I think that it’s very easy to detach from a lot of emotion and say, “I’m just doing a job. I don’t necessarily care about these people or I care about them, but only on a very basic level.”
I’ve just never been one to do that. My father and my uncles were all paramedics and firefighters. To them, a coworker was a brother or sister — you worked with them, but at any moment might have to entrust your life to them. Obviously, corporate planning is not quite as staunch as that, but I do think that that mentality was kind of pushed on me. I want my peers to be successful, personally and professionally. I want my coworkers to be successful. I don’t view it as a zero-sum game.
Part of me is trying to push a culture of approachability, feedback, and kindness. Doesn’t mean you have to be nice all the time. There are times when you have to be tough and argue and be constructive (but not right). You have to have tough conversations in both business and family. I prefer cultures like that.
You can ride the wave or you can steer it. Maybe that’s why I tend to work at slightly smaller companies. El Paso was fairly large and I enjoyed the culture, it was a great place to start. Since working there, I have steered myself toward smaller organizations (I’m not opposed to one day working at a bigger one day). I think the important distinction is to be thoughtful with your actions and how you present yourself to others. All of these things go hand in hand. You have to live by the creed the whole time or it’s fake — it’s like the mask you were talking about.
Matt Harriman: In my experience, the higher up in an organization you go, the more transparent and honest people are. It’s odd. I think it’s because middle managers and lower-level managers are the most scared — they have the least power, but the most responsibility. The people at the top are open and honest. They don’t have time to beat around the bush. The exception is when you get an executive team with a guarded, secretive relationship. In that case, the company is fucked.
Russell Greco: I’ve seen both sides and would agree with that observation. It’s almost like a bell curve. I’d like to think that the people that are probably successful or in the upper echelon, but maybe not quite at the top, are some of the most transparent. Maybe that’s why they got there?
I don’t know if it’s self completely self-fulfilling, but it could be because they can balance it all. After that, it’s tricky. If you get to the upper tier, you’re hopefully either really good at what you do (full package) or you’re part of the package. I can see an organization succeeding in the short term with guarded leadership, but can’t see them being sustainable in the long term. I’m not saying it can’t be done — I’ve seen a lot of fractures — but when it gets to that point, leaders at the top need to quickly identify the people that can help patch those cracks fast.
Matt Harriman: How do you think about striving for whatever you define as success and contentment? I find that it’s tough for a lot of people to balance: more impact, more money, promotions, and happiness. In terms of your career, how do you think about success vs contentment and happiness?
Russell Greco: It’s probably evolved as I’ve aged and I’ve progressed through my career and life. Priorities have shifted around quite a bit. When you’re in your twenties and don’t have kids, and might not even be married, you have a different outlook on the world. My point is, it moves as you age and is a combination of things.
When I first started my career, I was excited just to contribute. As I moved along, I came to the realization that I knew more than I thought. And you pay attention to the people you’ve been standing in the shadows of within an organization or industry, and you start to ask yourself, “What do I need to get to so and so’s level?”
Some of it depends on your view of mentorship. I was always trying to engage with executives and those at the upper level — didn’t have to be the CEO, VP of something will do. I wanted to understand how they were successful at what they did. What could I learn from them? How could they help me with my path?
Sometimes, after learning about someone, I’d figure out I didn’t want to be them. I didn’t want their role. I didn’t want to do business the way he did. Those insights are just as important. Success is complicated.
Matt Harriman: I learned more from what I would call my “anti-mentors” — people I’d met and worked with, who I did not want to be like — than my actual ones. As you’re finding your way, it’s easier to find the thing that you don’t want and run away from it. But to really sort things out, you have to figure out what you’re running toward. I’ve felt that with the business (Pod2) and other things.
Russell Greco: Sounds cliche, but the pandemic changed the lens for a lot of people, myself included. You and I both talk a lot about efficiency, it’s woven into who we are. I want to do the best job I can, but I also want do it in the most efficient way possible. A lot of people say, “I’m gonna work harder than anybody else.” There’s nothing wrong with it, but my addendum to that has always been, “I’m gonna work smarter than everybody else.”
Back in the day, during high school, I worked in construction. There were a bunch of 18-year-olds (myself included) working with these old dudes who’d done construction for 20 – 30 years. When working, I tried to always be tactical with how I did the job. At the end of the summer, they asked me and one other guy to come work on some extra projects (there were 10 of us).
The reason? They said we weren’t lazy. We worked hard, but we also worked smart. When given a task, we’d think about it for a minute and then act. We didn’t just start slinging hammers. We’d think, “How could this be better?”
I always think of that story when I think about success. I want to work well to achieve whatever goals we’re trying to achieve (usually includes some amount of monetary happiness). Title doesn’t matter as much to me, but on some level, titles are how the world views you externally. There’s likely some amount of success wrapped up in that. However, at the end of the day, it’s about, do you have enough time to take a breath, spend time with your family, travel, or do whatever else makes you happy. On top of that, is your work mission aligned? Ideally, that’s where you should intersect those things.
It becomes, “Okay, I need to put not the least amount of work in, but the right amount of work considering the efficiency and things I have access to.” My view of success now is, how can I achieve that (statement above) while doing the optimal amount of work.
Matt Harriman: Sounds like an attempt at balance. I hate the term work-life balance for a lot of reasons, but I think what you’re saying is there’s, you have a definition of good enough at work. You want to get to that hurdle as efficiently and effectively as possible so that you can spend time and energy on other things.
Russell Greco: Exactly. In order to achieve that, you’re going to have to do a bunch of really good things. In other words, you’re going to have to be current with your knowledge. You’re going to have to understand how to use the tools around you in the best way possible — those are not mutually exclusive. They are the opposite.
If I’m sucking wind at work and barely hitting my goal, then either something’s wrong with my structure, or I’m not using the tools I have or don’t have, appropriately. I really should be able to do that. I think that’s where the Pandemic made it even more apparent for a lot of people (myself included). I can be more places and get a lot of work done, but other people can’t. They’re not very good at it. They either need to adapt and get better at it or we have a problem. There’s a mismatch.
Matt Harriman: What needs to happen during a day for you to look back and say, “That was a good day.”
Russell Greco: I had one of those days this week. It can come in a couple of different ways. For me personally, it can often be learning something new or applying something new and achieving some level of success with it. In that situation, it means I’ve grown both personally and professionally, in addition to furthering the business in some direction.
An example would be if I showed my CEO how to do something in five clicks, that he used to ask 10 people about. I don’t have a problem teaching a man to fish. I think some people are scared of it due to the loss of job security, but it doesn’t bother me. If people can help themselves, great. I also think that creating a vision for what you’re building long-term and the direction you’re going in is fulfilling. And any days where you do something to progress yourself along that is successful.
Matt Harriman: It sounds like progress, not just taking another step forward, but also becoming more capable by learning or enabling somebody else to be more capable by teaching.
Russell Greco: Absolutely. Otherwise, what are we doing? Send me home. I can do a lot of stuff at home with my family or I can go play golf.
Matt Harriman: What if we expand that question to not just work? Let’s say you’re perfect, Friday night. What would have to happen today for you to lay in bed and be like, “Eh, it’s a pretty good day.”
Russell Greco: I’m not the veggie kind of person. I’m not gonna sit on the couch and do nothing ( probably shocking to you). I’m a big advocate of doing interesting things like watching something on YouTube for brain fuel, doing a puzzle with my daughter, cooking something new, or reading about the bank crisis.
Matt Harriman: Makes sense. I wanna go back to something you said earlier about, being effective and working smarter. When I had my first “real job,” I had a boss bring me into his office and hand me a map. It was a map of the business unit that we were working in. He said “I wanna know how many PDPs and how many pods are on this map. Take this back to your office and count the wells.”
For people that aren’t oily, PDPs and pods are two different categories of oil wells. Looking at the map, there had to be, close to like a thousand wells in total.
I went back to my office and thought, somebody in this company made this map on the computer. They have to have these numbers. I found their number, called them, and they told me what I needed to know. It was done.
That’s an extreme example, but it ties back to technology and data use in oil and gas. Downhole, we can drill three-mile wells, two miles down within a 10-foot landing zone. Stuff’s insane. But in the back office, we’re still using paper folders for AFE approvals and Excel sheets for data. I talked to my friend the other day, who works in a proper tech company, that everyone in oil and gas uses Outlook, and they laughed.
What have you seen change and mature, if anything, from a technology perspective, in the industry over your career? What do you wanna see change?
Russell Greco: This is one of my biggest marches. In the last 10 years, I’ve certainly seen a lot of things change, which is good, but it’s been a lot slower than I would’ve liked to have seen. I’ve always been an early adopter and a pusher. You and I met when we were implementing Intersite — which blew my mind at the time that it didn’t already exist. Sure, you can make a really big complicated Excel model, but why? There are software engines that can create this. This is not new.
I’ve seen slow adoption of instant messenger — slack and Teams. I’ve seen also slow adoptions of communication. I still have a Cisco phone in my office that’s probably 15 years old. It drives me crazy. I’ve argued with my executives about needing it at a time when we have digital switchboards and cell phones. It would literally save the company a bunch of money. They always come back with, “I like having a phone in my office.” Okay, fine.
One day, when it’s my decision, we’ll go a different way. I’ve seen planning software come a long way. I’m doing the “what I’ve seen change” vs the “what I’d like to see change.”
There’s been a lot more in the space of trying to digitize the oil field (a bit scary). While the world can get caught up in a lot of things, it seems like everybody is trying to do what you were talking about: stop using paper. We’re talking structured data formats and data warehouses — tons of progress over the last 10 years. May be a bit overkill in some instances, especially bigger ones like Exxon, that have these huge data repositories. But, they’ve got lots of data, so they’re gonna try and pull it together to structure the data.
I’ve also seen some cloud adoption, but adoption is slow. It seems obvious to me to invest here and build applications using it, but it scares people.
Matt Harriman: I can’t remember what year it was, but it was surprising to a lot of people that Conoco was one of the first big companies to move to Office 365. Just to think, 7 or 8 years ago, Microsoft and the cloud were very controversial!
Russell Greco: Now we’re swapping war stories. Halcon had traditional Microsoft Office and it was very, very expensive. Talk about a big bill from a Microsoft account manager. It was one of the first things I was like, just cut it out. I still struggle with getting people to understand the concept of the cloud. It sounds so abstract, but it’s really not. The simple version of it is, I’m going to share this file with you and it’s going to be available for multiple users to access and edit. It’s not that scary. We can control access.
Outlook just rolled out a feature where you can have a live graphic in an email, and have normal email traffic — the object will update live, without having to continuously send. Doesn’t matter what email you look at, you’ll always be able to reference that object. Effectively, it’s the cloud.
Matt Harriman: A live attachment.
Russell Greco: That’s a much more eloquent way to put it. I’ve told people that this update was exciting, we should try it. I’m immediately met with skepticism.
Matt Harriman: Reminds me of that senator yesterday who asked the TikTok CEO if TikTok accesses the wifi. The CEO was like, surely I’m not understanding the question.
It’s a real thing though. The education around how these things can work — I don’t claim to know how the internet works beyond, it’s just a set of tubes — but it’s tough, even for people our age. A lot don’t understand how computers work and operate.
Russell Greco: I don’t wanna sound ageist, because I do know some younger people that don’t understand a lot of things and don’t seem that interested. Regardless of your age, I think a lot of people are scared or don’t know what to do with the technology we have access to.
I’ve watched our capacity, grow a lot with tools. The problem is that a lot of management comes from an old-school background. They think, “Oh, I can run a thousand scenarios now, so that’s what I’ll do.” You need to be thoughtful with the power you willed. I think your comment about risk earlier is another one that I see a lot. The term “risk” is almost meaningless to me now. It used to mean something more when we had, the at-risk school of thought — they still one hundred percent exist. I disagree.
And then training and young talent is another thing I’ve unfortunately seen go the wrong way in the last 10 years. I think that training has been cut and just suffocated by most organizations. I’m sure a company like Oxy, still has a very healthy training budget, but if you work in any kind of smaller-ish company, everything has been so crimped, from liquidity and access to capital markets. The first budget that gets cut is hiring new people, interns, and training. We don’t even talk about going to campuses anymore — a big part of the first 10 years of my career. We would have interns in the office all the time, even if we didn’t hire them. Our goal was to support college programs and help influence young engineers on how to join the industry.
As for training, it’s not just the training of young people. It’s training in general. If you don’t understand what ChatGPT is, go learn. I don’t know if we need to make it more structured, but it’s a real thing. Maybe that’s where people can take charge? Maybe there’s a thought leader in every organization who can lead a town hall or a fireside chat or whatever term you want to use for it, to talk through things like that.
Matt Harriman: I think there are a couple of facets to the training conversation. One is, I agree, it’s a nice-to-have for a lot of people, so it gets cut when budgets are made. On the flip side, I would argue that a lot of the training that is offered is bad and ineffective, especially leadership training. If you were to design a training program that would not change behavior, I would design exactly what most companies do. Which is, take people out of their day job for three straight days, dump information at them, and then don’t follow up at all.
But it doesn’t even matter if leaders don’t prioritize developing people. Right now, a lot of people are scared of hiring because they’re afraid of a recession. They don’t wanna grow a headcount because they’re afraid they’ll have to make layoffs down the line. Training is exactly the way to get more out of your people. Not just process improvements. Think, if you can make a person 5 or 8% more effective, or more capable, that’s how you get more out of the same number of people. When it’s phrased that way, people realize 10% more from people looks better than hiring.
Russell Greco: I completely agree. I think it’s shifting into the latter part. I follow the petroleum engineering graduates in the nation and the number has dropped significantly in the last 5 years. Not shockingly in some ways, but that’s also a testament to our commitment to hiring people and trying to keep young talent in. I’ve seen less young talent in general, on all fronts. Again, maybe that’s a testament to our lack of engagement or how we’re viewed in the world or training in general. In the next 10 years, I want to figure out how to get young people engaged in oil and gas-related spaces. Or, if we don’t do that, we’ve got to figure out how to train people and get more out of them.
To me, the lowest hanging fruit is to utilize software, AI, or current data analytics tools. If the industry was a little more dedicated to it, we could get more out. Same for planning. Sure, your process works, but you could get more out of it. It’s like if you’re not going to buy a new car, you’ve got to service your current car. You have to make sure it’s running well. It’s a choice. To take your car to 250,000 miles, you have to take care of it or it will break down.
Matt Harriman: It has been cool to see some of the smaller shops be able to do a lot more than they used to be able to. Now, someone with a team of 10 can run a couple of rigs — pretty impressive. This setup would have taken 5x as many people to do with the old ways. It’ll be interesting to see if and when bigger companies get closer to that kind of model and really embrace it. I think everybody chips away and tries to improve things, but the force of the status quo and protecting what’s already happening and all of that is very strong.
Russell Greco: I’ve witnessed that firsthand. Both in terms of organizational change — I’ve worked in smaller organizations where we were capable of a lot — to organizations that were going bankrupt and needed to have stuff cleaned up.
You have to figure out what skeletons they have in the closet and what you’re going to do about it.
I’m very impressed with the latest AI tools. I’m personally using them in my day job. There’s a lot to be desired, but talk about a tool you can marry with upstream planning or general processes. I think it’s going to make someone very effective — I’ve already encountered it. But people are so scared of it. We have to change the mentality towards it. We not going to get many more young people, so we have to do more with what we’ve got.
Matt Harriman: The whole AI and ML usage as buzzwords has made me wanna puke for the last 5-8 years, especially in oil and gas.
Anybody that had a scheduling algorithm said they had AI. It was brutal. I’m not one to hop on trends or get excited about new things, but the stuff that’s coming out now is very interesting. We’re on the cusp of something. I’m not sold on ChatGPT yet, because I’ve seen the founders and people who are creating content using it and it’s obvious. The images and image generation stuff is crazy. It’s getting better fast.
Anything else on your mind on that topic, oil and gas, upstream, or data tech?
Russell Greco: For oil and gas in general, I think there are a lot of bad practices. A lot has been weeded out over the last 10 years, but there’s still a lot. Hopefully, we’ll continue to break it down even more. What I mean is, there are a lot of egos. People still make decisions off questionable data or gut feelings. I’m not saying you can make a decision 100% off of data. Analysis paralysis is a very real thing — I’ve seen people churn through as many scenarios as they want and they can’t make a decision because they don’t know what to believe. You’ve got to check it on both ends.
Other than that, right now I’m encouraged by some of the recent tools I’ve seen and even used personally. I think it can revolutionize a lot.
Matt Harriman: I think it comes back to a mindset shift. A lot of people feel threatened. It’s scary and new. The question becomes, how do we get those to work together (the human component and the technology)? The same way that people thought that books were destroying people’s minds because they couldn’t just do stuff back 100 or 200 years ago.
What I’d like to see happen is technology being used appropriately, in a way that enables humans to do the stuff that they’re really good at — centered on creativity and problem-solving. Not soul-sucking data entry stuff. A long time ago, the idea was that technological advances would allow us to work less and focus on the stuff we actually wanna do. So far though, we haven’t let them do that. We’ve filled up the time with stuff.
Russell Greco: I’ll give you a quick, tangible example that would be near and dear to most engineers’ hearts. ChatGPT is a really interesting tool. As a classic engineer, you’re intimately familiar with Microsoft Excel. You love to make spreadsheets. Let’s say you encounter an issue where you need to build a spreadsheet to do some financial modeling. Traditionally you’d have to Google something and you’d spend 30 minutes to an hour digging through forums, maybe looking for similar problems or examples.
But you could also ask these language models (ChatGPT), “Hey, I have this problem, could you recommend a solution?” It will then generate a code snippet effectively. This applies to programming too. It will generate a code snippet and you can even provide it with the spreadsheets and it will do things for you. I love sharing that with people to hopefully get them excited. Why not take that thing that takes you four hours, and turn it into an hour or less problem? Immediate gains. People need to realize you can harness some of this stuff really easily.
Matt Harriman: For sure, awesome. One last question for you, for anybody that’s listening and wants to achieve whatever their definition of success is (work or elsewhere), but also be happy and content, what advice would you give?
Russell Greco: It sounds a little cliche, but I think that you have to keep learning. Keep learning about your industry. Keep learning about your area of expertise. Don’t restrict yourself. It’s so easy to get to a point in your career where you feel like you’re coasting. Or even if you’re still working hard, you might not be growing by trying new things and inserting yourself into situations that’ll propel you farther.
Push yourself to learn new skills and meet new people. It’s amazing how many people don’t do that. They get stiff. You’ve got to stay a doer. Doesn’t matter if you’re an entry-level person or a manager or an executive, you’ve got to stay a doer. You have to keep doing things well. There’s no doubt wisdom is gained as you age, it’ll happen regardless — you’re getting dragged down the river either way.
Keep learning new concepts. Have an open mind. If you keep doing all of that and you’re going to be more successful and complete, personally and professionally than those who don’t.
Matt Harriman: Never stop adding wrinkles to your brain. If you don’t wanna do things, just become a venture capitalist and you can tell other people what to do. I’ve heard that you lock in your music tastes when you’re 16, and dads lock in their fashion when they’re 35. After that point, it never changes. I think never changing is okay for music and fashion, but not for your thoughts on life.
Thanks for doing this. It’s been great to talk to you. We need to do this more. If anybody wants to connect with you, what’s the best way for them to do it?
Russell Greco: LinkedIn works. I actually use it. I don’t post a lot, not because I’m not listening, but I currently don’t feel the need to broadcast my thoughts to people. Maybe I will one day.
Matt Harriman: Cool. Thanks, man. This was fun.
Russell Greco: Matt, really appreciated it.
2: Jim DuBois – “I don’t have ‘f**k you’ money, but I do have, ‘I’d really rather not’ money”
Jim DuBois is a retired oil and gas engineer and portfolio consultant. After roughly 45 years — 20 as an engineer and 25 strategy portfolio — in the industry, he recently put his hat up and has begun to adjust to retirement. Jim has such a wealth of knowledge in both oil and gas and in life — part of why he’s one of my most impact mentors. “If someone had to work 60 hours a week every week, then something was not right. Someone had not delegated properly or something similar.”
A few highlights from the episode are discussing the value in working backward to solve problems (everything from what to do with your life to strategy planning for 3 billion dollar companies), why success needs to include the “whole package”, and why models are just tools, not surefire answers.
In This Episode
[00:00:00] Teaser clip
[00:00:25] Podcast Intro
[00:01:06] Jim’s background
[00:01:31] What f “strategy” and “portfolio” mean in oil and gas
[00:02:38] Why the strategy for spending $200 is the same as 200 billion
[00:04:38] F**k you money vs I’d rather not money
[00:08:26] Why people think they don’t have agency
[00:10:54] Addressing problems head on
[00:15:15] Matt’s conversation with Jim about starting Pod2
[00:20:21] Business and life success are tied together
[00:22:30] How to find your “why” behind your goals
[00:25:08] 2 questions to ask for clarity about what you should do (in life)
[00:27:32] John Howell
[00:29:59] Jim’s view of work-life balance
[00:37:32] Additional learnings from Jim’s dad
[00:37:59] Importance of tooting your own horn
[00:40:03] How people are misusing portfolio models
[00:46:02] Aligning model learnings to strategy and execution
[00:51:36] Thinking about emissions as another constraint
[00:57:32] What Jim wants to see change in oil and gas over the next 10 years
[00:59:52] How dealing with uncertainty has gotten worse
[01:03:16] C-suite misunderstandings of linear optimization
[01:06:49] Jim’s thoughts on Jaguars (the car, not the animal)
[01:08:21] Why Jim hates French wine
[01:08:59] Success has to be the whole package
[01:12:15] Retiring better than ever
Links & Resources
Jim’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jim-dubois-a6543712/
World Enough & Time: https://amzn.to/3MJbNlr
Matt’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/MattMHarriman
Matt’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattharriman/
Integrated Upstream Planning (Matt’s book): https://amzn.to/3n9Obvl
[00:00:00] Matt Harriman: My name is Matt Harriman and this is the Achieve and Enjoy podcast. Today I’ve got a guest who is one of the most impactful mentors — not sure if he knows that or not — from my career, my perspective on life, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Welcome, Jim Dubois. Thanks for coming on to this conversation with me.
Jim: Thanks for the compliment already.
[00:00:27] Matt Harriman: Might as well start there. Let’s start with your background. Jim, you worked in strategy and portfolio in the oil and gas industry for 20-something years.
[00:00:41] Jim: After 20 years of being an engineer of various descriptions in various, sometimes management, sometimes not. Sometimes the hedge manager role. After that, I was in the strategy portfolio world for about 25 years. I just retired.
[00:00:56] Matt Harriman: For people that don’t know what “strategy” or “portfolio” actually means, what is that work?
[00:01:04] Jim: Strategy can mean a great deal of things. In our world (oil and gas), we use it to mean getting companies to tell us what they want to achieve numerically.
An example would be, “In X number of years, I want to have this much cash flow; this much in oil and gas; this much production; I want to have spent this much money and made this much profit; these projects done.
Based on these answers and numbers, our software would do an optimization to find different options for the company to consider. We’ll talk about this a little later, but literally what we were really doing was giving them thinking tools to think about if this was the world, this would be the best decision for you to make. Ultimately a human being would have to make a decision, but they’d know all of their options and potential outcomes. The consulting part largely had to do with getting people to tell us what they knew, but never said out loud. From there, we’d just have to make sure they had an internal agreement on the things that were said. Essentially “ What is this company really about?” and “What do we really want to achieve?”
[00:02:13] Matt Harriman: What type of companies did you work with? What scale of decisions were being made?
[00:02:26] Jim: We worked from everything from the largest of the super majors to larger IOCs (International oil companies) and NCs (national oil companies). Our bread and butter though was mid-sized companies in North America. Which eventually spread across the world. We even helped some startups put together a pitch deck for, “This is what I want to achieve, and here’s I’m gonna achieve it.”
Clients were everywhere from a company that didn’t really even exist to companies that are unbelievably huge. The portfolios themselves had billions and billions and billions of dollars in them. There’s always a debate as to what our contribution was. You could create an artificial straw man who says if you’d made this decision, you would’ve saved 20 billion. No one ever paid us 20 billion to make that decision. What we were doing was providing thinking tools, and structure to sometimes very large decisions.
[00:03:30] Matt Harriman: The decision-making process and what should be done is not that different when you’re dealing with 200 bucks or 200 billion. What varies is the amount of energy that you put into it.
[00:03:43] Jim: Well, the guy dealing with the 200 bucks is probably putting more energy into it. We found that the smaller the company, the more complex the portfolio because every single thing was important to them. Sometimes those were so complex that they were beyond manageable. Whereas a super major that’s maybe worth a billion dollars could be easier to work with. Complexity and difficulty don’t necessarily scale.
[00:04:13] Matt Harriman: The impact and importance of the work that you’ve done is interesting. The other interesting part — and one of the main reasons that I wanted you to be the first guest on this show — is that you always, at least on the surface, seemed like one of the happier people that I worked with. You didn’t seem all that stressed out as I’d expect someone to with all the things you were doing. You didn’t seem to be working nights and weekends (which could have been the point in your career that we overlapped).
I wanna start with your most infamous quote. The first time I heard it (or remember hearing it) was when we were in a frustrating meeting. Management wanted to do something that you and I didn’t think was a good idea. You didn’t say anything in the meeting — you just let it go. Afterward, I asked you, “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Your response was, “I don’t have fuck you money, but I have I’d really rather not money.”
I took that to mean, “I’m not gonna get in their face, but I’m also not gonna do the thing that they wanted to do. That I know is stupid.” I want to hear more about the difference between “fuck you money” and “really rather not money.”
[00:05:57] Jim: On an extremely practical level, because we’ve sold the previous company, (Aucerna) and because my parents and my wife’s parents were good managers of their money, I had enough that I could have retired in my late fifties if I really wanted to.I wouldn’t have had exactly the lifestyle I wanted, but I would’ve had a reasonable one.
The point of the story is that made me even more aware than before that I had agency. It was me — a person with choices — choosing to be in that meeting and choosing to do what I thought was right or wrong. Generally in business, I would not do what I thought was morally wrong, but I would execute a decision I didn’t agree with. That’s just part of the whole, whole thing. If I’d wanted to have sacrificed my life to be higher in the decision stream, maybe I would’ve gotten there. Maybe I would’ve been the one making the decision that you didn’t like. But the ultimate thing is that I felt like I had the agency to do or not do whatever I considered right or wrong.
The bigger story here is that almost everybody — I can picture somebody working their second job to make sure their children get enough medicine — does have more agency than they think they do. They shouldn’t ever consider themselves to be a cog in the wheel. You’re a person. You have choices.
I also always had a rule that if I didn’t agree with something, I would bring it up one time and I’d make absolutely sure that whatever I was saying was understood. Once it was understood, if it wasn’t immoral or illegal, then I was willing to follow along. I didn’t feel it was my job to stay completely silent with stuff where I had better information or a different point of view. I also never thought it was my job to just become some screaming maniac over something that wasn’t life or death.
[00:08:01] Matt Harriman: I’m pretty sure in that meeting that we were in, you had already voiced, at other times that you thought whatever was gonna happen was a bad idea or that you disagreed with it. I think that’s a level of maturity that is hard to get to for a lot of people.
They understand my opinion and they disagree with it, but they have the decision authority. And that’s part of the agreement if I work for you — you get to make those decisions. Why do you think people don’t think that they have as much agency as they actually do?
Jim: It boils down probably to a combination of fear and the old story about the elephant in the circus. In the circus story, you start out with a baby elephant chained to the ground. As the elephant grew, it eventually got so strong it could pull the chain. Obviously, you just had to hang the chain from the elephant’s neck and they would stay where they were. They were used to it.
I think most people — including you and me — tell our shining moments. We get so used to “this is the way it’s always worked or I’ve always worked and I will continue to work this way because it’s the path of least resistance.” That’s fine as long as you’re not immoral or legal unless it is making you unhappy. At which point, you are giving up the life that you want in order to, not cause temporary stress.
I am extremely, confrontational averse. What I learned to do is to get anything that might be a disagreement or anything else might be uncomfortable out as early as possible in a relationship. If I’m working with a client and I see a problem with this part of the software where the process might not work, I bring it up. It drives the salespeople crazy, but I point out problems we might have down the road. The salespeople say, “Just let him sign.” But I’m not constituted to hold that secret in the back of my mind for the next six months hoping that something doesn’t go well. The client and I need to be partners in this.
[00:10:29] Matt Harriman: That’s awesome. I was talking to Leslie yesterday about, a situation that we’ve got with a client.
We were thinking through it, processing it. What we’re dealing with right now is basically exactly that. We intentionally decided a few months ago that we’re gonna bring problems to a head as fast as we can and not let the things fester or drag on — something that felt really soul-sucking to both of us in a corporate environment. When you know something sucks, but it’s not that bad and nobody disagrees with it. It’s just this extremely mediocre product, idea, or whatever, and everybody just goes along with it. Only because it’s easier to reduce a shit thing than it is to tell 10 people, “Hey, we need to stop this. This isn’t working.” We’re dealing with some of that now.
How did you realize that bringing up a problem or an issue earlier lessened the controversy or the confrontational aspect of it?
[00:11:56] Jim: The facts are true, it just may not be the one moment that I realized that. When I first got a management position, I was in my later twenties, but I was still pretty young taking over a department of 10 people. There was somebody else in that department who felt that they should have gotten the job. Looking back, he had a pretty good argument. I’ve subsequently realized why I handled this situation the way I did. He (the guy who didn’t get the job) became a bit of an obstructionist.
I’m just a twenty-something kid with this big responsibility. My dreams were coming true — I got this job. And then, I spent the next month with a constant stomach ache. I didn’t even want to meet his eye. He’s working for me at this point and it’s absolutely miserable.
One of the earliest things I think of is, why did we ever get here? Why didn’t we just sit down on day one and say, “Hey, I didn’t give myself this job. Somebody else gave me this job. Can you work here or not?” I’m willing to back you 100% at the end of the day. I think you’re good at what you do. Looking back, I thought, why did I put myself through that? Why didn’t I just go ahead and get it out?
Later on in life when stopped working on the operating end and started working in consulting, it just became obvious that every time I got anxious, it was because I was hoping somebody didn’t find out some deep secret that we didn’t disclose fully at some point or a doubt that they weren’t fully understanding.
The communication hadn’t taken place. We told them what we could do and they heard what they wanted to hear. Better yet, we let them hear what they wanted to hear. We didn’t do this on purpose, but it happened.
I’d never ever told anybody anything that was gonna be a problem coming up. But I did. I’d say, “Hey, if this happens, then it’s not going to work the way you think it is.” I’ve never heard anybody get outraged at that or say “We’re done because of that.” It was just, “Okay, that really disappoints me. But, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. As long as we maintained a partnership with the other party in this thing and said, “Here’s what we have to navigate around.” The only times this ever became more of a problem (which happens more than people would think) is when all of a sudden new management comes in and says, “Here’s how we’re gonna do this.” It’s hard, no, we can’t do it that way and we won’t. Other than that, anybody that you built a relationship with (anybody you’ve worked with in a consulting world), they can handle that as long as you don’t make them look bad in their world. As long as they’ve had all the tools to deal with the problem from the beginning.
[00:14:50] Matt Harriman: A couple of weeks ago Adam Grant said something about communication being direct and kind. That’s really what you can fall back on. It’s hard to go wrong if you’re actually coming from a reasonable, kind place. No matter what the news is, if you have the best intentions, then you should be okay. I’ve found with consulting, the buyers and the people that I’m working with directly really appreciate that. But the others, involved, but not directly are uncomfortable because they’re not used to it.
In a lot of big organizations, people don’t tell the truth. There’s a lot of “happy talk” and washing over (everything is always good). The end of the year comes around and the numbers are 80% of what they should have been. Everyone seems to know this except for the one person who’s going to get fired for it — that’s scary.
You talked about why don’t people have the agency or think that they have the agency they do, is because of fear. I think it’s a good time for another story. When I was thinking about starting Pod2, I didn’t even know what it was. Right before I was going to take a sabbatical and I was talking to you about what I should do. Option 1 was, I could go take a new job. Option 2 was to wrestle with the unknown and pursue my own thing. It was your response that pushed me over the edge.
You said, “You are young. You are educated. You are motivated. You are white, in America. You’ll be fine. Given the circumstances, given everything. Whatever you do, you can go try something, and if it doesn’t work out, you can go try something else. You can save up. You can get a job again— you’re not going to go unemployed. You’re not gonna go homeless if your startup doesn’t work out.”
It was a level of perspective that I needed to hear — the final push toward Pod2. I’d gotten over some of the imposter syndrome, entrepreneur misconceptions (that they are superheroes), and a few others, but that was the last chip waiting to fall. And it did. Thanks to you.
How did you get that perspective? How do you think about that?
Jim: You may not remember the rest of that conversation, but I told you that was, in my opinion, the best advice for you. It wouldn’t be the best advice for me. It comes back to my belief that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for people.
It was obvious to me that you were not going to be happy until you stepped out and tried this thing. Therefore, you were putting your best life in jeopardy. You were taking a risk by not doing this — of being miserable for the next 30 years — which was then going to seep into your family life, your personal life, and everything else.
On a practical level, you and I are both privileged people. For better or for worse, it is difficult when you’re young (I’m not young anymore) and you have all those advantages. It’s difficult for you to end up failing, almost unless you become mentally ill or bittered or something like that. As long as you keep the perspective of, “I took this risk.” I’ve never seen it turn out badly for anybody.
That said, your best life, would not have been my best life. I did not have the drive to go out on my own. I worked for a very small company for a long time and enjoyed that, but I got to make believe somebody else was taking care of me.
And he was. He didn’t have the full agency to do that either. He could only do what he could do. But it all worked out. I was always pretty good at taking whatever official job I had — after my first entry-level one — and turning it into the job that I wanted. Because of that, I was never super frustrated. I would find a way to do what I wanted to do. That was me. That was not you. For you, I took a look and said, where’s the risk here? Is there a bigger risk that he’s going to starve his family or is there a bigger risk that he’s going to be a miserable person? All other things true, you and I are privileged and we are the least likely people — because of a lot of things that aren’t our fault, or benefit, or credit — to end up in the trash heap (or it’s very hard for us to).
[00:19:56] Matt Harriman: I’m thinking about that conversation and I think that’s an important thing to realize. Especially as the advice-giving market is probably bigger now than it’s ever been. Especially on the internet. Especially with all the dudes selling PDFs about how to sell people PDFs.
The moral of it is, it all depends on the context.
Jim: You can’t really separate success in the business world, I don’t think. Or you can, but it’s hard. Success in the business world comes with success in life itself. It would benefit anyone to take the whole picture into account when you’re defining success and when you’re striving for it.
One of the things in the success industry that drives me crazy is to find a very specific goal and concentrate on that goal. Take, for example, I’m going to be president of General Electric. A is that a lot of other people will go for that job too. B is that you have gotten yourself into a narrow spot. You’ve put this thing as your goal, but haven’t said why. You haven’t asked any deep questions about where you want to be. You haven’t answered the proverbial, “I’m on my deathbed looking back…” It’s not going to be, “Thank God I was the President of GE.” That’s not what it is.
Another thing is parents who drive their children to the point (I’m all about high expectations for your kids) of not having a childhood so they will be successful, what’s the end game? What happens then? They become doctors and lawyers; driving their own kids crazy. I was never a permissive parent or anything, but, I think at some point you’ve gotta think a little more deeply than success.
[00:22:05] Matt Harriman: I’ve got an answer on this, but first, what questions do you ask yourself, or would you advise somebody to ask themselves to dig a little deeper to discover the why behind the goal they think they have? (read: how to discover what success looks like to you).
Jim: I think you can play the (you’re much closer to having young kids than I am) say something and say “why” game. So for example, I want to start a business. Why? Because I’m tired of my boss or because I want to make a difference in something that I don’t see anybody making a difference in. Why? I want to have work-life balance. Work-life balance doesn’t mean anything to me. Why do you wanna have work-life balance? What does that mean? Does that mean that you define a relationship with your wife and kids, and with outside interests? Or is the kind of person you wanna be one who’s achieved these things?
And if you achieve all those things, which includes something in your work life, something in your spiritual life (whatever that might be), and something in your home life, that’s the package. I think the question really is “Why?” You tell me what you wanna do and then tell me why. Don’t stop at something super superficial or something that puts you in competition with millions of other people that want the same one job. You’re gonna drive yourself crazy. One person will get that job and then they’re gonna do an interview saying, “All I had to do is believe in myself.” You’ve gotta define what it is you really want to be driving your life. It’s not a position, and it’s usually not an income level.
[00:23:42] Matt Harriman: A couple of different directions we could go with this. One is, I think a lot of people have a hard time coming up with an answer to, “What do you want?”
Or I know some people want to be x level person at this company. But I also think there are a lot of people that really just have no idea what they want. I think there are two things for them to do. One is to write it down whatever comes to mind as an option. Test it and improve it over time. But I think these questions about what you want out of life change over time. Do you agree?
Jim: They do. Either because they change or because you learn and mature — probably a combination of the two. You find out that one thing you thought was really great either wasn’t that great or wasn’t fulfilling. You got close enough to realize the people that got there were sacrificing something that you wanted — a red flag. What were they sacrificing? Why were you uncomfortable about taking that next step? Yeah.
[00:24:43] Matt Harriman: That was my experience. For a long time, all I wanted was more. More impact. More promotions. More.
Every time I got another promotion or a raise or whatever it was, it wasn’t satisfying. It was quickly apparent to me that it was a ladder that just had no end to it. That’s why when I started the business (Pod2) in October 2019, I knew what I didn’t want to do. So I built it first as an anti what I was doing before. Then, COVID hit five months later and I found some questions that helped me get clarity into that endpoint I was looking for. A combination of these two questions resonated the most. The first was, if you had six weeks left to live, what would you do? This helped me figure out: What would I regret on my deathbed?
The second was, what would I do if I had all the time and money in the world? This one uncovered aspirations that weren’t tied to money and time. What would I want to spend my free time doing if those were a non-issue? For some people that could be art or all kinds of different things. Those two questions together — I’ve talked to a few people about this and it helped them figure shit out — seem to trigger a lot of useful kinds of thoughts and answers.
Jim: That sounds great. Neither by itself would work because if it was just the six-week one, you’d cut out anything that had to do with getting better at anything. You’d just enjoy things — you can only do that for so long.
By the way, that’s one thing they warn you about in retirement. The first year is known as the “vacation year,” where you do whatever you wanna do. After that, you realize it’s getting boring and you need to go out and achieve something. Something exactly to your taste. But, after about a year, most people find some kind of hobby to occupy them or they just sit and watch tv. But most successfully retired people find something at some point that they want to do to grow and improve. Gets back to what’s important to you. Doesn’t have to be much to do with work, although some people’s work is so satisfying and fulfilling to them that they just want to keep doing what they’re doing. Some people will never retire for a number of reasons. Some because they just can’t stop, some because they’re workaholics, some because they need the money, and some because they just enjoy the hell outta it.
[00:27:07] Matt Harriman: We’re trying to build a company and our own work in such a way that we wouldn’t want to retire. Obviously, everything changes all the time, so who knows how far that’ll go, but I feel like that’s a pretty good guiding light for us to make a company that we like the work that we do, we like the people that we work with, and it’s sustainable for us. I heard someone say that a lot of startups don’t fail because of money. Obviously, their business sucks, so they run out of juice. But the other big reason is that founders actually hate the work that they’re doing. They run out of gas. Financial success could be either way — they don’t want to do it anymore.
I remember John Howell saying you’d never worked more than 45 hours in a week in your life. I don’t think that was totally true, but I think what he meant was a compliment. Essentially, I took it to mean, you kept healthy boundaries around your work and other things.
Jim: I love John to death — my favorite boss ever — but, I have worked over 45 hours in a week. He would say he worked 80 hours. I don’t see that’s possible, but I do know he did work a lot of 60-hour weeks.
Matt Harriman: I know how it’s possible, I saw his time sheets. When he was on an international flight, the flight time was 10 hours, and he would work for those 10 hours. Boom, that’s 20 hours, right?
Jim: John is one of my all-time mentors and he would have a completely different perspective on this because he throws himself into everything. As a young man, he was a world-class sailor. He says he stopped sailing (picked it back up in retirement) because he couldn’t work and sail at the same time. Still managed to have a nice home life and be happy, even with all of his hours spent working. He’d be great to have on here. I’ll leave most of his stories for him to share, but I know he has some great stories about realizations he had at certain points in his career where he was going down the wrong path. During those times, people were brave and kind enough to point it out to him by saying, “This is not the way for you or anybody around you.” Taking those observations to heart, he acted.
[00:29:34] Matt Harriman: Interesting, sounds like I need to call him. Back to the 45-hour work week or not. I’m pretty sure that the week Jim made the comment, you were actually working quite a bit because of some project. I know work-life balance has a lot of baggage to that topic, but how did you think about it? More specifically, how did you think about the time that you spent working?
Jim: I have two answers. The first is that, the example that I got from my father. He was successful, came from a blue-collar background, and went to college thanks to the GI Bill after he served in World War II.
After college, he ended up in charge of all construction projects for a cement company — a pretty big deal. Except for one year when he was a consultant between jobs, I don’t remember him ever not being home by 5:30. He worked in downtown Dallas and back then, you could get to the Dallas suburbs in half an hour. I’m sure occasionally he was late. He did travel, so he was sometimes out of town. But for the most part, he was home at night for dinner. I don’t remember him ever tying himself down with work on the weekend or anything.
My mental image of what it looked like to be a father and a successful person and someone that lived to be 90, who could pass money onto his airs was him. It was never this person spending all their life at the office and having ulcers. To me, that was just how it was supposed to be. And I think a lot of people who grew up in the sixties and seventies get that example. But now, I don’t think he could have held that position he got and held it from pure competence. There’s a political end to corporations these days. You have to be seen in the calls. It’s a very American thing. Even in Canada, people don’t quite buy into that whole myth. I always thought that was the mental model. It never occurred to me to try to kill myself to become VP or something.
The second story is quite different. When I was in my late twenties, I managed a department of 10 people. At the time, I was on an upswing in my corporate career and was highly regarded. However, I was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and had to spend a quarter of my time either in the hospital or at home preparing to go to the hospital. It was a very stressful period. The unit I had worked for had been sold just before I got sick. As a result, there was no management position available for me and I was placed back in a lower position. There were two lessons I learned from this experience. First, like anyone who experiences a critical illness, I had to confront my own mortality. I was 32 or 33 at the time and had always thought of myself as invincible. But the experience made me reflect on what was truly important in my life.
The second lesson was more interesting. Having been on the corporate ladder and then being stuck back at the bottom, I had a chance to reflect on what I had been doing right and wrong, and how I would handle things differently if given the chance again. I realized that I would never again work long hours just for the sake of being at the office. If something needed to be done, I was willing to do it. But if someone had to work 60 hours a week every week, then something was not right. Someone had not delegated properly or something similar.
This experience gave me a unique opportunity for reflection, something that is often missed as you climb up the corporate ladder. As you move up, you rarely have the chance to stop and look back. I always believed that life was about enjoying time with my family and children and that this was not in conflict with becoming highly competent at something. This experience gave me the chance to reflect on and confirm my beliefs.
[00:33:56] Matt Harriman: Many people have faced the possibility of death — which can bring clarity and positive change. The events of 2020 brought this possibility to the forefront of people’s minds, and it made me realize the importance of balancing career success with being a good parent and taking care of family. This also became clear to me when my first daughter was born with a medical condition and spent time in the NICU. Since then, there have been other close calls with death that have kept me aware of its presence.
Reflecting on these experiences has given me perspective on what really matters in life. It’s important not to get too caught up in work stress, but it’s also not healthy to swing too far in the other direction and give up on trying. Balancing priorities is key to a fulfilling life. Have you ever found yourself swinging too far in either direction?
[00:35:20] Jim: Probably not too much. I always admired my father, who had been in World War II and experienced some pretty heavy stuff. However, he never talked about it until he was 80. Somehow, I developed a philosophy that no soldier should be left on the field. Therefore, I would never leave anyone in the lurch, whether as a consultant or in any other situation. Even if a project wasn’t important to me, I would never abandon anyone else. If someone else was going to catch flak for it and I could help them through a bottleneck, I found myself compelled to do so. I was willing to put in an extra hour to earn an extra dollar, and I was also compelled to put in an extra hour to avoid leaving someone else in a bad place. I believe that this philosophy saved me from ever being a complete zero commit.
Matt Harriman: And that was the thing that brought me back. When I was in more of an individual contributor role, the risk of thinking “This stuff doesn’t matter” was high. It was difficult to motivate myself to do things. But as I started managing other people, the team became the reason that I put forth the effort. I believe that taking care of people is a good approach. I’ve told people that on their deathbed, they won’t remember whether they made the Q2 2019 target, but they’ll remember if they mistreated someone or if they could have done more for somebody. Those are the things that will stick with you. So, yes, I think we landed on similar points. Even though I had a job at that time, I find my work in Pod2 to be more meaningful and passionate than before. What else did you learn and take from your dad?
[00:37:07] Jim: Regarding business matters, the two most significant aspects were probably that he never attempted to haggle for a raise or anything of that sort, but he was very conscientious about performing well. Doing an excellent job was crucial to him. While he enjoyed being able to support his family well, it always appeared that a job well done was much more important than making a quick buck.
[00:37:34] Matt Harriman: I see it being really tough for people in companies because there are so many people playing politics and self-promotion. I don’t think that managers and leaders are aware enough of what’s going on. They probably know it, but they still succumb to it and promote people who talk nicely but don’t do as good of a job. I know that was something that I really tried to do when I was a frontline manager. If I knew that somebody was really good at their job but wasn’t the type to toot their own horn, then I would go try to toot it for them. That sounded awful, but I think there’s something to it. I’ve been thinking about this with the business also. It’s not enough to just do good work. There’s an aspect of having to tell people about it.
[00:38:23] Jim: Hopefully, the organization can automatically tell. But if you have faculty doing the same job, it’s not clear who did what. Then, it has to be the manager’s job. I think that’s what you were inferring. The manager’s job is to clarify or identify the really great people who can get the job done. There’s another aspect. I had several people at various times responsible for work that were wonderful people and tried very hard, but they were completely in the wrong role. They didn’t really want to hear that, but ultimately there was some sort of kindness in me saying it. Both of the ones I’m thinking about would have been — I think one of them eventually became what he should have been, which is someone who essentially spent all his time dealing with people. They were people who had technical roles and just got lost in details and technicalities, never could find their way to a solution. But they were wizards, in relationships. This one guy, I remember walking from the Dallas Museum of Art to our building, which was a block and a half, and he made a friend. I’m going, how did you do that? But he would just get lost and sometimes his office looked like a murder scene where he had all these things with strings going from one place to another. It’s never going to come to a conclusion.
[00:39:38] Matt Harriman: Raul is someone who reminds me of that person — someone who’s never met a stranger they can’t connect with immediately. It’s really cool to see those people because I’m not one of them for sure. Do you want to talk about oil and gas a little bit?
We mentioned at the beginning what your role was. I’ll summarize it as helping executives primarily figure out what the company needed to be when it grew up and turning that into some numerical targets they could start to put actionable plans to. And then putting those plans into portfolio optimization to achieve those different targets and learnings. We haven’t talked about this in a long time, but what are people doing wrong most often in that space? Like how are they misusing portfolio models or how are they misrepresenting their own strategy and what they want?
Jim: Yeah, so I think portfolio models — really, any model — you create an artificial world that in certain aspects looks like the world you’re dealing with. In doing so, both in creating it and in running it, you make a number of assumptions (probably more than you’re aware of sometimes). Anywhere from what the future price is going to be, to what the ratio of oil and gas price might be or availability, to what capital is going to be available, and what cost to make a ton of assumptions.
Given those assumptions, you can run the model out and say, under these conditions, what is the best combination of projects to do? By the way, that’s not even real because, in the real world, you get to remake some of your decisions every year. But this is like looking at the whole future in one big room — a very useful if you have the right mindset, which is “I’m running an artificial model with a bunch of artificial assumptions.”
In that world, I get this answer. Isn’t that interesting? Now I’m going to change a few assumptions. I’m going to run it again. I’m going to see what changed and what doesn’t change.
Isn’t that interesting? This is never forecasting the future for you. It’s never giving you the right answer. It is allowing you to learn how the system that you’ve approximated your approximation of the system, and hopefully the real system behaves under certain conditions. You’re never going to create those same conditions in the real world.
The real world is going to work out differently. It’s running these models and then pretending that you just saw the future and this is the answer. I’m not saying I think the models aren’t extremely useful, they are. Only if you have in the mindset exactly what you’re doing. One of my favorite quotes for myself is always telling people, “Let’s not pretend we know what we can’t know.” We ran this out with an assumption of the next 40 years of oil and gas prices — pretending we know something we don’t know. Don’t keep asking to rerun it until you think you came up with the right price. You haven’t. You won’t. That said, let’s hit a high and a low. Let’s see what it’s like in extraordinarily high, extraordinarily low, and immediate prices and see if there are any commonalities. What’s moving in and out?
It’s all about learning from a model and not expecting a model to be the answer. And that requires another process, which is the person that’s running the model day-to-day is low enough in the organization that they are learning, but no one’s listening to them. That’s the problem.
The C-suite can’t really be sitting around and running these models either. That’s ridiculous. You’ve got to have someone with clout and a lot of people listening to you to run these models. Even if somebody believes what’s happening, they understand what’s happening, they’re not trying to constantly boil it down.
[00:43:34] Matt Harriman: I’ve seen cases like this in other areas, such as field development planning. Sometimes the person running the model analyzing scenarios understands things very deeply, but they get only one slide and two minutes in a one-hour meeting to explain what they’re thinking. It doesn’t work.
What you’re doing with a portfolio model is you’re creating an artificial world. That’s something I distinctly remember in a conversation with a company, and I was talking to some folks with the business and some people in IT. We were talking about integrations and how to make an intersite link with a portfolio and connect it to SAP — how to make data flow through the whole system. At the time, I was parroting some of what you and John would say about what you get out of the portfolio model. The portfolio analysis is not a budget, it is learnings. And the IT guy at the time said, “How the f*** am I supposed to integrate learnings into SAP?” I was like, “Yeah, you don’t.” That’s such a different way of working. I see a lot of companies take a portfolio model, get the outputs from it, and turn those into capital allocation, budget, and targets for each business unit. That seems wrong.
Jim: Someone might use that as their major tool in making those decisions, but that’s a different thing. For example, “Okay, I want to have a little bit of pat in case prices go down.” Maybe they don’t, and they say, ‘I’m all in on this price valve.’ I know it’s not real, but I’m all in.” That’s fine. But sometimes we end up talking as if the model was a fully cognizant person making decisions. People either objected to that 100% or they bought into it, and neither is correct. It’s a tool that you should be using to add to your own intelligence.
[00:45:37] Matt Harriman: How do you think about aligning those learnings that you get out of portfolio analysis and how they inform the strategy? How do you think about aligning that work and the company strategy with the execution on the ground?
A little context to that question is the classic issue of the business units; corporate thinks the business units are sandbagging, so corporate adds 10% of production with no more capital and all of that kind of crap. Communication and trust break down. It gets nasty. There’s no way that the optimal decisions are being made in that kind of environment. So how should that work? Or how do you advise somebody that’s trying to figure that out?
Jim: I think there are two separate issues there, but how should it work? What we always said was your highest strategy should come with insight that came from a portfolio model. Then you work backward into, “What have we decided to do this year?” which is a budgeting thing almost. In order to put ourselves in the best place to enact that strategy, there may have been what’s called “business planning in the middle,” which is kind of like a middle ground. And you work backward.
For instance, what does a guy on the ground need to know this year? Dollars per barrel might be a very interesting number for him to know because that’s a goal for him. Dollars per barrel is not a good way to design your portfolio because in a portfolio you have goals for how much profit you want to make. That’s going to automatically be created when you have decided what you’re gonna do.
$8 per barrel, because you’re gonna make barrels, you’re gonna make a profit, and it’s gonna cost you some money — or you assume as such. There are metrics that are used to make people run short-term plans through a business, that often end up getting kicked up to higher than they deserve because again, it goes back to, what do you really want to do?
An example is, “I don’t really want to keep my dollars per barrel here. I want to make money.” In the corporate world, “I wanna make X money and make sure my investors are getting their return.” Everything else is just details. Those things shouldn’t be running the model. Unless, for instance, a very famous geologist once convinced me that production goals were as important as cash flow goals because production goals are real. Nothing is real, but you can have more control over your production goals than you do over your cash flow goals.
Things that we use in the field, we sell. Your contribution unit is X this year. We need this much cash from you and we can give you this much cash to generate it. Now I can tell you what went into the model, how the model got there, but it doesn’t make a difference as long as you take X cash and give me back X cash, and whatever else I promised the world. Happy to tell you how the model got there, but you are not constrained by it. You’re constrained by getting the model what it really needed.
[00:48:58] Matt Harriman: I believe that over-constraining business units can suppress creativity, problem-solving, and optimization potential. While it’s necessary to have maximum capital, minimum production, and other targets, some companies are taking that next step towards optimizing for NPV, profitability, or cash flow within these constraints, depending on the role of that asset in the portfolio. By guiding the people on what is a better field development plan, they can achieve better results.
It’s similar to how a portfolio works. You have your set of constraints and then the thing that you’re trying to maximize. By guiding the different pieces within those constraints, you can achieve the best possible outcome.
[00:49:53] Jim: Communication is key. I’ve seen it go wrong many times when those making longer-term decisions communicate with those executing the short term. They can explain the game, what the goal is, and each person’s role. Then, you go off and do your job to the best of your ability. Don’t say, “I didn’t make what you told me to, but look at all this profit I made.” That’s not what we needed. A lot of people don’t get the information they need. When everyone understands what they’re trying to do, we don’t need to know better worlds.
As for sandbagging, I always say that if we let one year go by where nobody adjusts anybody else’s numbers, we’ll quickly find out who’s not having a good year statistically. The reality is, if I’m constantly adjusting your numbers, you’re not responsible for the numbers anymore.
[00:51:11] Matt Harriman: Let’s save the statistics talk for round two with fajitas, burritos, and scotch. What about emissions and the transition to net zero carbon transition? How should companies approach this?
Jim: I’ll stick to my wheelhouse in the portfolio world because this was just starting to come up more and more as I was phasing out.
What you’re saying is interesting because I would say, “Well, portfolio-wise, it’s actually just another constraint you’ve added to the model, and you have to know what it is that you’re trying to maximize.” And I said, “No, I tried that. It doesn’t work well.” “No, you didn’t really try it because you thought there was a complicated step in the middle.”
It may be technically complicated, but as far as planning goes, you need to know what your carbon goals are. How much you’re going to reduce carbon by, over what time period, and how to determine the goodness of that to maximize something.
Are you going to get carbon emissions to zero or net zero or x, y, z? Are you doing it because you’re a good person (you’ll have a hard time with investors at some point)? Or are you going to do it because the government is telling you to do it?
In which case if the government is telling you to, put that goal on there — might ding your bottom line. But you need to understand how you can minimize the impact on the bottom line. Or are you doing it because you think it’s actually going to be required to compete in the stock market in the future?
The last scenario isn’t NPV-related, or it’s going to be more difficult to get into the NPV. You have to find a metric that you think will maximize that. The more you reduce your carbon, the better this other thing will be — you have to find that number. It ends up being a simple constraint problem.
Being: I have to describe the carbon behavior of my investments and holdings; describe the cost of reducing those; not describe any benefit that I’m willing to acknowledge; balance the portfolio.
What people object to is, “Okay, that could let this dirty plant in southwestern Mexico continue because I can’t make it up someplace else.” Certainly, it’s your decision to shut down the dirty plant, but if your goal is really to reduce carbon emissions, leaving that dirty plant and putting super clean plants somewhere else might be the most cost-effective way to do it. I’ll leave it to environmental scientists to determine if that’s valid, but portfolio-wise and planning-wise, it might be the best option.
[00:54:35] Matt Harriman: If the forecasts are reasonable, comparing the alternatives could give you a quick answer. I was talking to a client yesterday and they pointed out that when different business units see lower-emission projects being funded and capital allocated toward the lower-funded or lower-emission projects, that incentivizes the higher-emission ones to improve. I find that interesting.
From a planning perspective, it’s another thing to forecast and optimize. The optimization here is around cost, technology, and reduction, as opposed to maximization of production. Carbon intensity sits there next to NPV or the rate of return or another economic or production target metric of choice. Some even quantify their carbon price: here is the dollar amount of NPV that will give up to reduce a metric ton of carbon intensity. From the outside, consulting firms and technology companies talk about it. It seems inflated — it has no impact on the eventual change for workflows.
[00:56:24] Jim: Planning is not a difficult thing to set up.
It’s, here’s a new constraint. Tell me if there are any benefits that you want to quantify. Doesn’t have to be money. Any benefit you want to quantify that’s going to drive the model? In your example, when certain units are seeing that lower emission things are getting the green light, that means that somebody is running some numbers in their head as to what they want to achieve. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could just communicate that to everybody so that everybody gets on the same page?
[00:57:07] Matt Harriman: I think the example is, we have two projects. One has a slightly higher NPV, but the other has slightly lower emissions. The lower-emission one gets picked, so it then becomes about communicating the reason and process for making that decision. That’ll drive the incentives.
What do you want to see change in the industry(oil and gas) over the next 10 years?
Jim: I don’t have much hope in the near term for it in the planning world, but I think that plans need to be more sophisticated in terms of the uncertainty and how it’s handled. It doesn’t have to be handled through Monte Carlo or any particular thing, but it would be great if we could understand the uncertainty, or be able to communicate and discuss it in a more sophisticated way.
Uncertainty is interesting because our brains aren’t very good at dealing with it. I think we have to make some assumptions and deal with some uncertainties — acknowledging that we haven’t covered them all, but have so with the ones we can think of.
This goes back to what I was talking about before, there are people in certain positions that are either fascinated by this or believe that’s important. These people very seldom get much of a hearing as they go up into the upper levels. That could change as people move on and retire. Those people on the upper levels that want to pay attention, don’t get much of a hearing in the investment community.
But, at every level, no one wants to learn all the subtleties. To me, we end up with these plans where people think that they are promises. It’s an inherently uncertain industry. Most of your major projects fail, not by design but by definition.
When you are creating long-term projects on a commodity price, and you have an uncertain future as to what your commodity is going to be — the appetite for it in the world or the healthiness of it for the world or anything else — there’s almost overwhelming uncertainty, which can be a problem too. The language of uncertainty and thinking about it would be an extremely useful thing to get higher in the decision process.
[00:59:27] Matt Harriman: Have you seen that make progress?
Jim: No, I’ve seen it do whatever the negative of progress is — it’s gotten worse in the last 10, maybe 20 years. A classic example was, you go out in the Gulf of Mexico and you drill a well. You’d know what the chances are on the Gulf of Mexico of getting a big, small, medium, and all kinds of other things.
Then we got into what I called “unconventional”, which is now “conventional” in North America (i.e., shale gas). People thought there was no risk in that because you couldn’t drill a dry hole. In fact, you’re just asking yourself to invest several billion dollars before you know whether it’s probable or not.
It’s an enormous risk, but it’s a different kind of risk. It’s a correlated, not an uncorrelated risk. It comes down to the same reason that the banks failed in the great recession. But anyway, people didn’t understand that, if we all die, we all die together. All these projects are worth nothing. Or they extrapolate on six months of production in the next 60 years on six wells. They say, “Okay, let’s go drill.” Regardless, people stopped even trying to do risk because, at some level, somebody was convinced that they were now in risk-free manufacturing.
[01:00:45] Matt Harriman: Are you saying that the Toyota Factory Model that all the big four consultants were selling for millions of dollars was actually BS?
Jim: I’ll be kinder. At least it doesn’t consider the complexities involved.
Matt Harriman: That’s a nicer way to say it’s BS. There are some things to learn from it, but the way that I saw it trying to be implemented was disgusting. The people that have worked offshore, the people that have worked conventional fields and things, they have an understanding of what piece of s is, don’t they?
A lot of people that have only worked onshore, unconventional, maybe they’ve heard of it — remember it from school — but they haven’t applied it. I ask because I haven’t really seen anyone new thinking about risk and uncertainty in a mature. Seems like the same people who were doing it 10 years ago are the only ones there.
[01:01:57] Jim: I think that the problem changed enough from the people you’re talking about that could do it in a mature way. They were convinced that it was a whole new world. And it’s not, but it is a world you have to have enough sophistication to realize it’s a different way of applying risk.
Oftentimes, the application would be the same if you’re thinking about, “Is this unconventional field likely to be profitable?” as opposed to that unconventional field? It ends up being a statistical problem.
You’re drilling so many of them that you will drill to the mean. But the question always was, what was the mean? If you were in the Gulf of Mexico and you had a bunch of numbers, you kind of knew what the mean was, or you could assume what the mean was. You just want to know where you were around the mean. Now you’re saying, “Okay, I’m gonna drill so many wells, I’ll hit the mean. I know what the mean is.”
[01:02:51] Matt Harriman: But a 1% difference on what the mean is could make or break a lot of things. David Fulford says “Hi.” He wanted me to ask you stories about C-suite misuses and misunderstandings of linear optimization.
Jim: I’ll let the C-suite off the hook a little bit because David used to ask me questions after the SPE papers that made me uncomfortable too.
By the time you’re communicating with the C-Suite, I don’t think you say the word “linear optimization.” Unless they really, really are super into it, you want to say, “Here’s the world that we created. Here’s how we can tell you it differs in the real world. Here are some learnings that we got. Here are three different options we’re suggesting to you to go forward.”
If the C-Suite really understands linear optimization, then they may very well say, “You know, of your three options. I wanna take number four, to change these assumptions and run it out and tell me to.” That would be sweet. If we drop a level below them, there are all kinds of abuses of linear optimization by the people that are actually managing or doing them. It goes back to the things we did before, which is saying that “I am not acknowledging the model of this model. I have this really cool thing that I hit a button and eventually, and maybe very quickly an answer comes out and therefore, it’s even better than magic cuz it’s magic that somebody understands.” David Fulford understands it. I understand it enough to talk about it for 15 minutes, then I’m done.
It’s the same magic as the light bulb to me. I basically understand what goes on — you flip the light switch. The bottom line is, it takes assumptions, variables, and a goal. You enter the right conditions unknowingly, and it finds you the mathematically precise answer to a completely imprecise and made-up question.
Some people just can’t keep that in mind. Just because this is an incredible piece of math, but you fed it a bunch of straw — very useful straw. It considers all the things and just spits out the optimal plan. But it’s just not there yet. And I think the workforce will reduce by quite a bit if that technology does come to light. Also a good point for why you want to keep the number of digits that show in your portfolio model pretty low. Round to the nearest hundred million or something. We used to have a difficult time with the programmers. Every time we got rid of it, it showed up somewhere else where we’d get, literally not lying, 10 numbers to the right of the decimal point. It’s a machine. It’s not a decision.
[01:06:24] Matt Harriman: Made up intelligently. He also asked about your feelings on Jaguar nowadays.
Jim: I used to be, and I still am, a Jaguar enthusiast (the vehicle) to some extent.
I had one wonderful car for 10 years or more. Ended up getting another one. The closest thing they could make to take a regular sedan into a sports car — the same engine as the F250 at 5 liters. Great car that would occasionally not start. I always worried whenever I went anywhere. Now I have a very boring little Mercedes sedan.
[01:07:33] Matt Harriman: I have two more questions for you that came from other people I told that I was interviewing you. They are high-level and are from heavy hitters. Rebecca Allison asked you to sing a little song.
Matt Harriman: Okay. That was the answer I expected.
Jim: I’ll sing tonight under the camouflage of people that are paid to sing.
[01:07:56] Matt Harriman: And the last one from Raul. Why do you hate French wine?
Jim: I hate French wine because it’s thin and acidic. I used to have this argument with Wayne Sim. I generally don’t like French wine because I grew up on California wine and I just never really liked it. I am told, and I am completely convinced it’s true, that if I spend enough money, I would change my mind.
I have never had a French red wine in my price point — which is not high — that I enjoyed more than the same price point for an Italian, American, or South American wine.
[01:08:34] Matt Harriman: I think that was a good foray into the pretentious topics of somewhat expensive cars and wine. Let’s bring it back down. This has been awesome.
It’s been really good to talk to you, Jim. It’s been too long. I want to bring it back around to the idea of enjoying yourself while also striving or attempting to achieve something, whatever your definition of success is.
What would you say to somebody that is struggling with finding their own balance between striving for their version of success and being happy along the way?
Jim: I already gave my answer, but I’ll reiterate it. You can’t define success and then bolt on balance or also be happy. Your definition of success, in my opinion, has to include the whole package. It would also be very helpful to get them to be in the same package. If you can define your success as something that you have control over — to a large extent none of us have control over life 100% — but achievement and actualization, not getting to a certain position or something else.
If you can say, I want to be highly competent in this very needed field, I think the rest will take care of itself like we were talking about in another context. That definition also has to be, I want to truly know my children. I want my wife or significant other, anybody that’s important to you, to feel like I’m fully present when I’m there. And that there’s time for these people, and there’s time for me to be more than just a person going for that one single goal. Being a multifaceted person who can say, “This is actually what I want. I know I said I wanted this, but I kind of want that.” I do have a book to recommend, it’s called World Enough & Time by Christian McEwen. It’s 12 chapters, one for each month, about reviewing what it is that you are looking for in life and how you’re getting there. My favorite thing is about children and how children’s playtime has just decreased so drastically in the last 25 years. It’s just a wonderful book.
[01:11:24] Matt Harriman: Yeah. We’ll find it and get the link and put it in the show notes and description of the video. If people do want to connect with you are you open to that, or are you gonna become a hermit?
[01:11:50] Jim: After three months of not thinking about work at all, you got me back in it with this podcast. I’d be more than happy to connect. It’s interesting when, regardless of what we said before, now whatever I say is truly zero risk. In other words, I have nothing to lose. I’m 100% willing to tell anybody, politely because I’m a polite person, what my opinion of certain questions is — they can take it or leave it.
I know I’ll very quickly to come outdated, but it’s interesting. The company that we worked for went through many, many changes, to the point that I just didn’t want to be there anymore. In those last five years or so, I felt like was at the very height of my powers because I wasn’t afraid anymore to say what I thought.
If someone wants to fire me, that’s fine. Or some client wants to run off, then that’s fine — they wouldn’t have been a good client anyway. Nothing ever happened to me that wasn’t 100% positive. I became a better employee, a better analyst, and a better everything when I reached the point that I thought, I could say what I wanted. I think I retired better than I ever was.
Do I love waking up and doing what I want to do? I do 100%. I recommend it to anybody who has the money. But it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t into the work itself. I enjoyed it to the very end because I got to the point that no one was ever going to ask me a question I didn’t know the answer to or couldn’t talk about why I didn’t know the answer to. I was very confident there wasn’t somebody else going to say, bs everybody knows that. Because they would have said it by then.