The Road Less Traveled
This week I was privileged to be part of a panel speaking to the Civic Leaders Fellowship program. It is a summer program for college students in a variety of fields. The program is sponsored by the Parkersburg Community Foundation and WVU Parkersburg. My role was to share leadership information they could implement. These students are our future leaders. I was impressed by the nature of the questions they asked. They are concerned about the future of our region. These articulate young people are doing summer jobs in addition to this program. Our country needs good leaders. I liked what I saw. Our future is in good hands if we can continue to develop future leaders like I saw this week.
We talked about the importance of example. People look at what a leader does more than what they say. If a leader wants their people to work hard or be on time for a meeting the leader first needs to work hard and be on time. If a leader treats people with dignity and respect they will find their followers doing the same. We need effective leaders. Sadly, we see many more followers than leaders. Many of the followers are not even following leaders they are following other followers. We see this routinely in riots or mob violence. People follow other followers based on emotions at the moment later regretting their actions.
In my college dorm room, I had a poster of Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken. The poem was first published in the August 1915 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Here is the ending.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by. And, that has made all the difference.
I have always interpreted Frost’s words as, we need to follow our own path and not just follow the crowd. I learned the crowd never goes the best way. They go the average way. Those going the best way are way ahead of the crowd or on the other path. Leaders don’t follow the crowd. The crowd also goes the safe way. Taking the road less traveled requires risk most people refuse to take.
Back when I was in corporate sales and had a new product, I never took it first to my large corporate customers. It was too risky for them. They stuck with what had always been successful until they were forced to change. Instead I shared it with my small customers where the owner was the decision maker. If they could see upside value they were willing to take the risk and try something new. These entrepreneurs typically made money on new ideas and got an edge over their large slow-moving competitors.
I challenged the young people this week to be leaders and follow their own path. I warned them it will take courage to do this. The crowd doesn’t always like people who break out and go their own way. I suggested when they look at a problem to solve or a process they want to improve, always start with a blank sheet of paper. Don’t first look at what others have done or are doing. Develop your own ideas. What others are doing probably isn’t the best way. Keep an open mind and search for truth. The best way has yet to be discovered. Here are examples.
At Shale Crescent USA, four years ago we looked at the U.S. Gulf Coast where almost the entire U.S. petrochemical industry is located. The Gulf Coast has been the right location to build a petrochemical plant for over 75 years. We realized the world changed when the Shale Crescent USA (SCUSA) was producing 30% of the USA’s gas supply up from 3% a few years prior. We believed SCUSA would have an advantage because of its proximity to energy and feedstock. It made sense but we couldn’t prove it until we commissioned IHSMarkit to do a study comparing a cracker built in SCUSA to the Gulf Coast. IHSMarkit found it was 4 times more profitable for a petrochemical plant to be located here where over 70% of the demand is. In 2018 our Study was presented on the Main Stage at the World Petrochemical Conference in Houston, Texas. We turned the petrochemical industry upside down. Companies committed to the Gulf Coast or those building projects there were NOT happy with SCUSA. We took the road less traveled.
The common assumption is the USA cannot compete with China in manufacturing. At SCUSA we used the blank sheet of paper approach and are comparing U.S. manufacturing costs directly with China. We are finding U.S. manufacturers can be very competitive with China and are in the final stages of a study that will show the advantages of SCUSA over China. USA manufacturers have an energy and feedstock advantage as well as a large location advantage.
The accepted solution to climate change and global emissions for 30+ years has been the elimination of fossil fuels. In the last 30 years global emissions are still increasing except in the USA. The pandemic helped us realize many critical items are not made in the USA anymore and need to be. We found products made and consumed in the USA have a much lower carbon footprint than the same products manufactured in China using OPEC oil, electricity from China’s coal fired power plants then shipped halfway around the world to the USA. American manufacturers save a lot of money and transportation costs by manufacturing on top of their energy and feedstock and in the middle of their customers. One of the major solutions to global emissions is manufacturing in the USA. There are people following the followers who may dislike this solution.
For leaders, following the road less traveled is challenging and requires courage to go a different way, as per Robert Frost “that has made all the difference.” Anything is possible.