Oil Spills and Trying Harder

Don’t take this as a defense of BP, but we need to keep reminding ourselves that accidents happen. Accidents not only happen, but “keeping the boot on the neck” of those trying to clean up the mess may not be all that helpful—not to mention the terrible imagery our government is creating with such rhetoric. Government attempts to repeal accidents and treat them as if they were deliberate and exact revenge for political purposes can be very destructive of needed innovation and risk taking.

I’m reminded of the joke about a car stalling in traffic. The guy in the car behind kept honking his horn. The fellow desperately trying to start his car finally went back and offered to honk the other guy’s horn for him if he would start his car. Honking is rarely helpful.

No matter how careless BP might have been in drilling an oil well a mile beneath the surface, they have every incentive to stop the gusher as soon as possible. They have no incentive to give it less that 100 percent of their effort. Yet, everyone seems to think they would be successful sooner if they just tried harder. Standing on the sidelines honking really doesn’t help much.

Yet, such irrational behavior may also be seen among sports fans, who often seem to believe that a poor performance by their team just means the team isn’t trying hard enough. Those who actually played competitive sports probably learned at some point that trying harder to hit the ball or catch the ball or put the ball through a strike zone or hanging basket often makes it harder to achieve those desired outcomes.

A more constructive and productive approach at game time usually is to “get in the zone,” “play within yourself” and to tell the little voice urging you to try harder to shut up. A tennis player is well advised to follow the advice of Inner Tennis and lose yourself focusing on the spin of the ball. A baseball player probably shouldn’t go for a home run every time at bat. Going for hits produces more home runs than going for home runs. A distance runner knows not to sprint.

The time to try harder is on the practice field—not the playing field. Training your body to play the sport with minimal input from your brain is good advice.

I know this from my high school basketball and my son’s tennis career. I was reminded of it this past week-end watching a 14-and-under tennis tournament. My son’s player won many points by staying in his zone, playing within his ability and by not trying too hard. That approach unnerves opponents who are trying too hard.

Our president must know these truths; you don’t hit more jump shots just by trying harder. Therefore, his constant reminders that the oil spill is BP’s fault and that they’d better hurry up and fix it, or else, is obvious pandering to the rest of us. I really dislike being pandered to. Don’t you? 

Comments (6)

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  1. Fred says:

    Obama’s mask slipped. He intends to be the boot on everyones’ neck.

  2. Rolo says:

    Maybe the boot metaphore will be more suitable immediately after the next Presidential election, except swiftly focused on another part of anatomy.

  3. John B says:

    I bet costs associated with BP’s “risk taking” accident will be socialized. The president’s chest pounding simply signals a warning to taxpayers.

  4. Emily says:

    Maybe the boot metaphore will be more suitable immediately after the next Presidential election, except swiftly focused on another part of anatomy.

  5. Robert says:

    You’re right, incentives are important. Unfortunately, federal law caps BP’s economic damages for the current $1 billion-plus spill at $75 million.

    Is it reasonable to think that this cap on damages may have discouraged BP from guarding as vigilantly against catastrophic risk as they would against ordinary risk? Doesn’t the incentive structure for economic damages encourage energy companies to treat the possibility of a $100 million spill no differently than a $1 billion spill?

  6. Honestly, Jeez. One of the best post on this subject everrrr!