In his book about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, author Joel Achenbach explains the steps that were taken by both BP and the United States Government to solve the problem of the broken well leaking oil thousands of feet below the surface.  Our government eventually established a think tank task force of the best scientific minds in the country to address the problem in part by viewing it from new and unique perspectives.  One of the scientists brought on board was Dr. Steven Chu from Stanford University, and Achenbach explains why he was such a good addition to the team by referencing a graduation speech from Dr. Chu that outlined the way he thought about interacting with others in  the world.


In his speech Chu said, “In your future life, cultivate a generous spirit. In all negotiations, don’t bargain for the last, little advantage. Leave the change on the table. In your collaborations, always remember that ‘credit’ is not a conserved quantity. In a successful collaboration, everybody gets ninety percent of the credit.”


I really enjoy what Dr. Chu states in his quote and I think our society would benefit from hearing his quote more often. Whether it is scientific discussion, presidential politics, business negotiations, or marriage, trying to win any negotiation and take 100% of the credit will cut out some of the people with interest and input in the discussion.  Trying to instead find the best path to move forward while presenting an honest and valid view of world will help all parties advance.  Dr. Chu was invaluable to the BP oil spill team of scientists because of the way he could help arbitrate discussions and ideas for shutting the well. He was quick thinking, witty, encouraging of discussion, and also had everyone’s best interest in mind.


What the BP oil spill crisis showed was that no one could take 100% of the blame for the disaster, and that no one could take 100% of the credit for its solution. When we narrow our view of the situation we start to look at the problem in a black and white view, and we instantly start to assign wholesale blame and complete credit to single actors. We are much better off if we learn from the mistakes and see the ways in which everyone shared in the decisions that lead to the disaster, but also recognize the ways in which everyones’ actions lead to a joint solution.

Ask the Right Questions

Dave Birss writes in his book, A Users Guide to the Creative Mind, about being creative, finding new solutions, and combining ideas and perspectives to create something new. On solving problems he writes, “The best way to find the right solution is to make sure you’re asking the right question.”  I am a huge fan of this quote because it shows how important varying perspectives can be, especially when combined with persistence, a desire to improve, and flexibility.  Too often in our daily lives, be it business, our personal lives, and even national politics, we settle into a single perspective and we begin to approach problems from one side with everyone asking the same question.
If we follow Birss’ advice, then we begin to reach out to find solutions to our problems from new perspectives.  In my mind it is as if we take a problem, and leave a two demential space where we are looking at the problem as if it were a wall in front of us, and enter a three demential space and look at the problem as if it were a sphere where we could change our angle and vantage point at will.  When we begin to look at problems from new perspectives we find that we have different questions about our original problem. In fact we may see that our problem is actually a goal, an opportunity, or just a thought that others have not acted upon.
Asking the right questions is an exercise in persistence because you have to reach beyond the first thoughts and questions that you develop.  You must begin to think of things in new ways, ask others for their thoughts and advice, and not be afraid to voice opinions that may be different.  Our openness to new ideas will help us change our perspective, and our new perspective will help us ask new questions regarding our problem.  When we take this approach to push forwards and constantly grow, we will build new bridges and make new connections with a more well rounded and flexible mind.