We do not stop learning because we grow old: we grow old because we stop learning

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I admit that the title is not the true quote of G.B. Shaw, which goes “We do not stop playing because we grow old: we grow old because we stop playing”. But there are already eminent different versions, such as the Gabriel Garcia Marquez “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams”.

Our species has a unique ability to learn: our hundred-billion neuron brain makes us the ‘marvellous learning animal’. Language, ethic, sports, art, music, and science.

When we join in society, if we research, study, we share and teach, we create a huge learning potential: and we progress. Since thousands of years.

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Learning is the basis of our human development; as individuals it is the core of our personal progress. We acquire new knowledge, skills and values, and we discover.

It is possible that learning becomes more difficult with age. But it becomes just impossible if we don’t make the effort to learn, if we don’t study, especially in some fields.

In our industry, studying and learning throughout a whole career are key and essential to keep a high scientific and technical level. Our discipline is diverse and vast, you can’t have learnt enough in school, and the progress of methods and applications, if not of theory, is fast.

On the other hand, today there are less excuses not to learn: the digital access to information, articles and books, courses, often to codes and data, makes learning easier and often affordable.

To be geoscientists we have to keep on reading, studying, practicing. It can be hard, and it requires time, effort and discipline. It is like physical training.
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The need of studying (and studying, and studying…) and understanding is even stronger for research geoscientists. Our job is to change things, hopefully improving them: and to win the resistance to change, which has a component related to learning.

Obviously, progress is impossible without change. But change itself doesn’t ensure progress, and change certainly creates fear: and this is part of the resistance to innovation.

This is true in geoscience as in other fields, such as the high-tech gadgets. The effects of self-efficacy were examined long ago, in the seventies: our perceived ability to use a product successfully impacts our response to the product and our resistance or adoption. When it’s about geoscience, the ability to use new methods requires understanding, and sometimes a considerable effort in learning. In order to change methods, practices and habits, it is essential making the innovation understandable and understood.

We often hear that the O&G industry is particularly slow in adopting innovation. The size of the companies, the economic pressure, and the large impact of operation failure can contribute to this slowness and resistance.

The resistance is not only from adopters: we see it inside organisations even when it is about developing innovation. And this resistance can be even stronger, since innovation involves failure. We call the tries, attempts and tests ‘experiments’ and not failures, and they are the essence of scientific progress. But in sectors where failure can have large or catastrophic consequences, the conservativism can become the dominant attitude, even when it’s about changing geoscience tools to reduce risks, with a controlled development process that doesn’t create operational risks.

Anyway, early adopters are not so common in the oil and gas industry: and maybe even the expectations of innovation are not so high. Many geoscientists and engineers accept and prefer basic tools, and sometimes actively resist to changes.

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I am not talking about the cool factor, or about latest and greatest shiny new gadgets in the seismic industry, but about basic changes, sometimes towards efficiency and speed of execution. And, incidentally, I think that learning and knowledge are also crucial to discriminate between a cool gadget and a technology that helps delivering value.

Anyway, change happens when its forces are stronger than resistance. The well-known Gleicher formula says that you need dissatisfaction with how things are, vision of how they can be, and the first concrete steps towards the vision: and the product of the three has to be greater than resistance.

DVF>R

The multiplicative relationship between D, V, F is important: if one of the factors is zero, even a little resistance can stop the progress.

The industry was booming, and people were quite satisfied with basic tools and methods, even if paid as golden screwdrivers, golden scalpels, and golden Butterworth filters.

And, as far as the resistance, often it combines the comfort of not having to study and understand, with the perceived smaller assumption of responsibility when doing things as they have always been done.

With the great crew change and the new pressure on efficiency, both elements can fall, and maybe we can witness a real phase of progress.

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When you don’t want to change, you risk to find your head in a drum:

poorCow

The morale is: Toppling the drum to drink the last drops of water is safer than squeezing your head down to its bottom. Even if, until that moment, drinking from the top worked well.