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Influencing Cognitive Capabilities: Connectivity among Geoscientists

Julia Hennings
ConocoPhillips, Houston, TX


As we consider the myriad factors that influence how scientists develop and use critical thinking and spatial cognitive skills, what role does connectivity play? In industry settings, our competitive advantage comes from our ability to learn faster than our competitors, and to turn that learning into action. As our mental models in 3D and 4D are developed, how can discovery of essential information be accomplished most efficiently? What has been tried before, and why did it work or fail? How does the order of discovery impact or bias the interpretation? With the complexity of the challenges we face, development of technical capabilities alone is not enough – connectivity, cohesion, collaboration, and communication are critical skills for today's scientists and engineers.

To encourage a culture of connectivity, we need to be able to describe it. In industry, government and academia, formal organizational structures are defined, but all of us know that it is really the informal organizational structures that enable us to use our trusted relationships to get our work done. Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) allows us to visualize the structure of these informal social networks. It shows us how information flows through the organization, how trust and energy drive cohesion and how expertise is distributed or stretched to the breaking point. It helps us to understand if there are situations that might be impeding the transmission of ideas, and therefore adversely impacting the creation of knowledge.

In 2011 we surveyed more than 1300 geoscientists and reservoir engineers at ConocoPhillips about the people they depend upon to do their work, and established more than 13,500 relationships characterized by frequency, type of energy derived and criticality of access. Twenty different types of expertise were documented, so flow of information through these topical networks could be investigated. Demographic characteristics such as geography, experience level and time with the company provided additional dimensions to the analysis. We are able to quantify "density", the level of connection within a group, and we can measure "cohesion", which describes the degrees of separation among those in a group. When we can tangibly describe our connectivity, we can raise awareness and make adjustments. ConocoPhillips is not a centrally organized corporation, we drive functional excellence across our geographical offices through more than 100 global networks – 18 of them related to geoscience. We have been named as a "Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise" for the past five years for excellence in networking and knowledge sharing, and our most ardent support comes from our CEO and executive leadership. And we know we must continuously improve to compete.

The ONA allowed us to target top networks and more than 100 top individual connectors so we could better understand how they make collaboration work. We shared the results globally. For groups with lower connectivity we proactively launched mutually beneficial projects requiring global relationship-building and face-to-face events. Cross business-unit workgroups actively collaborate to develop workflows, courses and curricula, and to document key practices for our most critical technical challenges. The great news for ConocoPhillips is that the groups engaged most with spatial cognitive skills also showed up as the most cohesive networks. Is it coincidence, or is connectivity required for spatial scientists to be effective at their work?


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #120140© 2014 AAPG Hedberg Conference 3D Structural Geologic Interpretation: Earth, Mind and Machine, June 23-27, 2013, Reno, Nevada