BP Oil Spill – The Shift in Power

If you click on the URL below, you can watch a status update from a VP of BP, outlining the latest efforts to plug the leak and control environmental damage.
While it remains absolutely inexcusable that an organization of BP’s size, stature and experience would not have had a standard emergency plan in place, it’s fruitless to ruminate over it further. All resources must be forward-focussed on solutions.
What’s more productive and enlightening is to witness the shift in power that technology is forcing, and how this trend is a two-edged sword.
First, BP says in the video that so far they’ve received over 15,000 suggested solutions from the public(!)Of course, they’ve already deployed 20,000 professionals from the industry (even including experts from competitors)and given the complexity of the issue, I’d imagine the ‘right’ solution will come from the latter. But technology (the Internet)allows the public to easily and instantly vent their emotion and contribute opinion, and it also allows BP to keenly feel the full breadth and depth of public opinion. Perhaps even ten years ago, any one of the Seven Sisters oil companies might have simply ignored the public and dealt with this problem internally and arrogantly. They would do so today at their peril. A widespread boycott of BP could spread through the Internet like grass-fire, should the public perceive that BP was reacting irresponsibly. No company can risk that outcome.
Perhaps BP would have taken their current course of action anyway, but the fact remains that given the shift in power to the public, they are almost forced to do so today.
From a corporate perspective, it could be said that this shift in power is an annoyance; one that shifts management’s time, energy and resources towards something that before could be ignored. But there is another edge to the sword, so to speak, and it has a hugely positive benefit.
Any ability to interact with others on a broad scale, to collaborate, is a blessing by any measure in today’s competitive business arena. So while the Internet facilitates a ranting public, it also enables BP to engage in real-time conversation, to ensure they have their ‘day in court’ every day, through status updates. It allows BP to manage the rumour mill by supplying timely facts to any who care to listen. In my opinion, BP has done a good job leveraging this technology on their website. I am impressed by the high-cost, multi-tiered approach they’ve adopted, and while I’m certainly no expert, watching their video left me thinking that their approach was both logical, committed and sincere.
Even more important to ponder though, is how this shift in power might beneficially transform even the very structure of organizations. How will the capability to interact and collaborate in real-time with the global talent pool affect the traditional boundaries and definitions of employment in companies? P&G has already tapped into this capability in the area of product development, actively soliciting new product ideas from the public. In 2002, Goldcorp posted all their data for the Red Lake mine on the Internet, with a six figure prize for the geologist who told them where to drill next for gold. It worked; with many geologists collaborating successfully, none of whom Goldcorp had previously even heard of.
Immediate two-way access to all the intelligence on the planet is changing the rules of the game. The resultant transparency will force the ‘leaders’ of less conscientious companies to act more responsibly. That’s a good thing (are you listening Wall Street?) Many organizations will simply try to cope with the shift in power that the Internet has caused; to identify the ‘must do’s’ and grudgingly comply, but the smart ones will embrace it as a boundless opportunity to access brilliance, innovation, and creativity.
Regardless, the shift in power is here to stay.

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