Many careers move along a common path, regardless of the level of schooling. We come into professions with whatever knowledge we possess, acquired from who knows where, and then we find out what the job is really about. It’s often not what we thought or were exactly trained for – many university grads acknowledge they remember the beer but little else of what they learned – and the unique characteristics of a given job can only be learned by doing it for a while.
This progression is the transition of skill application from operational, to tactical, to strategic (oddly enough, this from a university text book). Generally, we start off learning operational aspects – the mechanics of the business and how it functions at the most elemental level. Once enough experience is gained at those levels, the next move up is to the tactical plane, where thought goes into optimization of operations or similarly scoped positions. It is more of a conceptual stage, but still focused on the mechanics of the business.
Last comes the hardest part, the strategic level. Part of what makes this stage hard is that a mental shift is required. To be successful strategically, it is no longer enough just to be good at something. Strategic thinking requires development of a wider field of vision while at the same time becoming much more aware of the importance of subtleties.
The wider field of vision helps assess the macro landscape; to understand competition, competitive threats and opportunities. It is no longer about making great spreadsheets; it is about simplifying great spreadsheets to the essence of what you need to know.
Equally important, possibly more so, is the requirement to understand and deal with subtleties. A successful strategist needs to pay attention to things like work atmospheres/environments, compensation schemes, the attitude of all stakeholders, and then factor those not-simple variables into the decision making process. It’s not enough to say “just get it done” like you might in operations; that won’t fly when consulting with external institutions who have their own set of complexities to deal with.
There is a point to all this jabbering. We are now at a point in time where certain elements of society want to upend the existing order, demanding an immediate cessation of fossil fuel usage and a transition to green energy. As such we need to consider that many of those who want to do this can’t even begin to comprehend what it would take to do that within 10 years, never mind immediately. The progression of skills required to dismantle and rewire an industry, in short order, is beyond the ability of pretty much anyone, and for those whose resume includes only protesting they might as well try to build a car out of lentils.
The proponents have no experience in the operational or tactical requirements of, well, anything, but yet are more than happy to map out strategies as to how it will all work. The plans, where articulated, are generally touching but laughable, mapping out plans to solve every major problem with the clarity and enthusiasm of grade 6 science students.
From an energy perspective, plans like the one linked above simply state that fossil fuels would be replaced with localized green energy projects. There is no mention as to how this will occur. There is no demonstration of any sort of grasp of what this actually would entail. There is no evidence of understanding of the enormous amounts of energy that are consumed every day, where that energy comes from and how it gets to its end use. Ninety-five million barrels of oil and three hundred billion cubic feet of natural gas are consumed each day, on average. Imagine the infrastructure in use to get that from where it’s produced to where it needs to go. Imagine how many people and how much expertise that takes. Imagine abandoning all that and replacing it with green energy infrastructure. And while you’re doing that, remember that it took 7 years for Keystone XL to work its way through the approval process. And even if that’s an evil oil project, imagine how long it would take to get sufficient green energy infrastructure approved. Imagine how much rewiring of neighbourhoods would be required to install fast chargers in even half the homes. Your head should explode if you attempt these stunts.
There is no amount of windmills and solar panels that can heat Canada or the US or Europe or Russia or China on a January day. There is no amount of green energy that can secure an energy supply for 7 billion people that is now provided by fleets of diesel powered farm equipment. It is really easy to say “go organic” – but have you ever tried it? Have you ever tried to eradicate weeds from your yard, or dandelions from a playground, organically? It works just as well in a field of wheat; that is, not at all.
The sad part is that it takes only a few minutes of these mental exercises to understand the enormity of the challenge of switching from fossil fuels, and the speculations above don’t even scratch the surface. We could ask ourselves what the motives are of the people that presume the simplicity of these things, but that will drive you crazy too.
A better strategy is to simply ask these questions whenever you hear someone expressing a desire to get off fossil fuels. There’s no point debating their ideology unless you like a good (but un-winnable) scrap; it’s far more efficient to ask a few simple questions that require operational answers. The strategic fervour should soon evaporate.
Read more insightful analysis from Terry Etam here