Time to dig deeper


I read a story over the weekend about how new technology is reopening natural gas fields under the stormy North Sea. Sections of the ocean floor that a decade ago companies turned their backs on as either tapped out or just too difficult to work are seeing a healthy revival, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In addition to innovations in science and technology, higher fuel prices and what was termed “modest” tax incentives also have helped spur the exploration of these difficult areas, according to the paper.

The story got me thinking: We aren’t hard-core geologists scouring old seismic surveys for clues to new deposits, but we are hardened small-business operators, builders and designers, survivors of the biggest temblor we are likely to see in our lives.

But are we digging deep enough in our own businesses? Have we sufficiently hardened our drill bits to bore through the bedrock of old thinking and discover the opportunities that lie beneath remote waters? Ours is a wonderful industry, one that blends dusty (but practical) seafaring ways with astonishing new advances in propulsion, electronics, materials and other areas.

Success today requires having a few toes in both camps, but there is little question that technology and her digital handmaidens are outpacing the old ways with each toss of the lead line. Our world is being transformed, and it’s important to ferret out inertia, or even lethargy masquerading as tradition.

One of my favorite headlines of late chastened readers: “Don’t Be the Office Tech Dinosaur.”

“For many people in the back half of their careers, the meaning is becoming all too clear: To keep from drifting, or being nudged into an early retirement, it’s time to add more high-tech arrows to their professional quiver — to refresh their skills with, say, some social-media or mobile-app expertise.” (Wall Street Journal, April 17).

You get the picture. I circulated that one to the troops and it prompted a good re-examination of our digital skills and strategies.

Here’s one more story that I thought might be suggestive of the times we live in, although I take exception to its premise and conclusions. The story ran in a department in the New York Times in early April titled: “You’re the Boss: The Art of Running a Small Business,” written by Cliff Oxford, founder of the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. The headline: “Why I Like to Hire Great Recession Graduates.”

“Pampered. Pragmatic. Persnickety. These are not the employee attributes that build fast-growth companies, but all three describe a group of employees that fast-growth entrepreneurs must confront when hiring. Since the Great Recession of 2008, my advice to entrepreneurs is to run, baby, run when it comes to hiring this group.

“Oh by the way, I’m not talking about Gen X or Gen Y employees; I am talking about their parents — at least some of them.”

Ouch. (Click here for the entire story.)

Bold, ingenious entrepreneurs and risk-takers are unlocking vast reserves of oil and gas locked in shale rock through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling; new natural gas reserves are being rediscovered under the North Sea, and a longtime and respected investing “visionary” has identified the next big emerging market — the United States.

These companies aren’t run by kids who have been “hardened” for this still-difficult economy, as Mr. Oxford suggests, by staying home, going to local colleges and waiting tables. Sacrifice by staying local? Hardened by waiting tables? I was raking gravel after work a couple of days ago and had to explain to my perfectly normal 13-year-old son what the word “soft” meant as he attempted to drop his rake before the job was done and return to his computer.

Pushing around a load of stone does wonders at working the “pampered” out of young people.

Too old to change? Please. Consider the following.

I spoke with my brother, Peter the Boatman, last night, who told me a good friend of his was looking to buy yet one more boat, a Hunt with jet drives.

Nothing unusual about that other than the fact that this gentleman is 83 and has owned more than a dozen boats, from a 17-foot Mako to a Rybovich.

He’s not ready to swallow the anchor and he’s not, my brother assured me, “a tech dinosaur.” He still goes into the office regularly, sits on a number of boards and has forgotten more about boats than most of us will know.


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