In my world, sharing an idea, taking an educated guess on the unknown resources hidden in the rocks, means being comfortable with uncertainty.

But I soon realized that not everyone is as comfortable, well, being uncomfortable. I wondered what it would be like if we could take ‘what if’ for a ride and test new ways of thinking.

Drawing from my Oglala Lakota background, I thought back to the idea of Hochoka (literally “sacred circle”), a healing circle for like-minded individuals to gather in a safe space and express themselves. But a space for expression wouldn’t be enough. We needed strong concepts, and a mechanism for getting them into the funnel of exploration and development.

For that reason, I took inspiration from another practice in many Native American cultures: a Council of Elders, in which honored individuals in the community are nominated as leaders to share their collective wisdom with the community. I decided that we too could create a council at ExxonMobil, where senior employees could fill this leadership role, and eventually become mentors for innovators with big ideas.

With these two guiding traditions, and the help of many other team members, we launched the Idea Council, a new idea incubator, and then the Geo-Science Innovation Accelerator to test and bring concepts to life.

And from that space we developed a new way to see the Gulf of Mexico and the drilling rigs operating there. That new tracking technology today helps pinpoint the world’s rigs in the Gulf, providing an expansive look so we can operate safely in a busy space with costly equipment and challenging weather.

These two groups have come up with many great ideas, and new ones are forming every day.

Now, a new culture of ideas is taking root, where ideas can sometimes fail, and improvements are just a Council meeting away.


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