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Energy Civil War: a bad habit?

Rezwan Razani - August 19, 2013

Conversations around energy often spiral into incivility.  This is no accident.  We’re trapped in an energy civil war. Can etiquette and routine offer a way out?

In “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg notes on page 162:

Most economists are accustomed to treating companies as idyllic places where everyone is devoted to a common goal:  making as much money as possible.  Nelson and Winter pointed out that, in the real world, that’s not how things work at all.  Companies aren’t big happy families where everyone plays together nicely.  Rather, most workplaces are made up of fiefdoms where executives compete for power and credit, often in hidden skirmishes that make their own performances appear superior and their rivals’ seem worse.  Divisions compete for resources and sabotage each other to steal glory.  Bosses pit their subordinates against one another so that no one can mount a coup.

Companies aren’t families.  They’re battlefields in a civil war.

This metaphor fits the energy industry perfectly.  If companies are battling internally, the fighting gets even more vicious between companies, and between different industry types within energy.  No wonder a whimsical yet challenging post like, “The Cinderella Energy Project” is met with vitriol.  It’s an auto-immune response as everyone protects their turf.  (In this case, I think the gentleman was admitting the trouble with solar power being intermittent.)

We have two worlds we’re operating in.

  1. One is NIMBY Land - our back yards, the world we want to live in, the world where we are devoted to the common goal of having the most beautiful, affluent, sustainable land to live in. 
  2. The other is JOB Land - the world where we make our living and get our status, the world where ROI COI operates (Return on Investment and Conflict of Interest). 

Is there a way out of this impasse?  “The Power of Habit” looks at the function of routine and the habits that make up a corporate culture:


…Among the most important benefits of routines is that they create truces between potentially warring groups or individuals within an organization.

Organizational habits offer a basic promise:  If you follow the established patterns and abide by the truce, then rivalries won’t destroy the company, the profits will roll in, and, eventually, everyone will get rich.

The problem with sabotage is that even if it’s good for you, it’s usually bad for the firm.  So at most companies, an unspoken compact emerges:  It’s okay to be ambitious, but if you play too rough, your peers will unite against you.  On the other hand, if you focus on boosting your own department, rather than undermining your rival, you’ll probably get taken care of over time. 

…However, sometimes even a truce proves insufficient.  Sometimes…an unstable peace can be as destructive as any civil war.

This is where where we find ourselves with the energy scene.  All the players are sniping at each other.  Aren’t we all in this together?  Don’t we want the whole planet to win?  Check out the rest of the Duhigg book.  The “habit” and “routine” approach is compelling.

What habits do we need to change in our energy conversation?  How can we change them to bring about a better outcome for everyone?  Your thoughts below.


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