Sunday, February 3, 2019

"Could" versus "Should"

I teach in the Energy Management Program at the University of Oklahoma, which was "the first of its kind" and recently celebrated its 60th Anniversary Diamond Jubilee.  Last spring, the title of a book in the office’s library caught my eye: Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should. The importance of prudence, a sensible and careful attitude when you make judgements and decisions; behaviour that avoids unnecessary risks, is often underappreciated, particularly in the area of financial market innovation.  Intrigued, I borrowed the book and began to read.  Although I’d never spoken with its author, Mike S. McConnell, I’d seen him in attending the Program’s Board of Advisors Meetings. 

The book’s Introduction has a great quote that I’ve now used in both classroom and lecture settings: "We did things because we could do them – not because we should do them.  I think Enron crossed the line between “could” and “should” and never actually saw it.  Moreover, it happened at many levels, from matters with the Board to our contention that “gray” financial structures were within the rules.  These structures may have been within the rules, but I’m not sure that means we should have used them.  If we had paused to contemplate “could” versus “should,” I am convinced Enron would be a solid and growing company today." 

Prior to the quote, McConnell explains the book’s title: “It is significant.  I watched a company that won “Most Innovative” in the country for five straight years move into bankruptcy, scandal and total chaos, literally overnight.  Why? I believe the truth is that it was coming to an end for a long time.  We just didn’t see it.  As I documented my own ideas about success, I recognized – in retrospect – the warning signs that had been all around us.  They were important items like culture, values, the way many leaders or groups treated customers and employees; situations that should have been noticed and corrected.”  

McConnell also mentions in the Introduction that not only was he successful at Enron, but also that he did not "get in trouble or get accused of any wrong doing" in the Enron scandal.  Understanding more about his experience at Enron appears to have been an important motivation for writing the book. 

In the Conclusions chapter, McConnell states “Someone asked me recently about what I look for in considering a new job or position.  The answer is simple. If I am asked to boil it down to just one sentence, I would answer with the statement, “I want to be an impact player.”"  McConnell then notes that he intends his use of the word “impact” to be understood broadly and that “The success of the business is a result of having an impact on helping people to live up to their potential.”

In this first Conclusion paragraph, I want to share with readers my excitement about McConnell’s new position: Director of the Robert M. Zinke Energy Management Program at OU.  McConnell “will take the reins beginning June 1” when Steve Long, the Director of the Program since 2006, retires.  Although I’ve only been at OU a short time, it’s abundantly clear to me what an important impact Long has had on the Program’s students and what a high bar he’s set for the Director position. 

In reading McConnell’s book last summer, I didn’t know that we’d soon be colleagues.  I'm looking forward to working with him, learning more about the energy industry given his extensive expertise, and hearing additional practical insights in the area of business ethics. Similarly, I met Joshua Fershee several years ago at the National Business Law Scholars Conference (a favorite conference whose call for papers ends February 15!) and spoke with him about my interest in learning more about the area of energy law.  Josh generously provided me with much helpful advice and directed me to an abundance of key resources (thanks again, Josh!).  Little did I know then that we’d be writing for the same blog today and that his encouragement to explore the energy area would be so impactful!        

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Colleen, Wow. I didn't see this coming and thanks very much for the comments you made. I can't wait to join you at OU. I'm really looking forward to working with all the young people and hopefully giving them an executive perspective of the energy industry.

Posted by: Mike McConnell | Feb 5, 2019 8:52:15 AM

Thank you, Colleen, for the kind words, and I am thrilled to have you as a co-blogger. We all are. And thanks for sharing, I will check out Mike's book. This looks like a great hire for OU, and definitely a good frame for assessing decision making.

Posted by: Joshua Fershee | Feb 13, 2019 10:15:34 AM

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