Thursday, May 27, 2010

Economics: BP in the Emotional World

TORONTO, ONTARIO - When referring to Meridian Personality Theory, I have been known to refer to countries as having personalities. It's not just people and nations that can be classified in this way. Companies often exhibit personalities that can be determined, even when the company employs thousands of people. A case in point comes out of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico--BP is proving to have quite a "bladder" personality.

This thought was already forming in my head when I heard the skit on CBC Radio One's The Current this morning (at the end of the third segment) making fun of the names that BP has used for its attempt to stop the leak in the Gulf of Mexico. All of them have a masculine, even macho theme, including "Top Hat," "Top Kill," and "Junk Shot."

Yet, this is really nothing new. The company has been trying to control its image for quite a long time. In 2001, BP ceased to stand for "British Petroleum" in favor of "Beyond Petroleum," coinciding with a new, green-and-sun logo. While it did increase investment in alternate energy, there is no question that this was a pittance compared with its traditional petroleum business. By the company's own numbers cited here, investment in petroleum projects out-stripped alternative energy 25:1 since 2001.

The macho theme was also not new. Besides the "Deepwater Horizon" that has now become infamous, other names used in the Gulf of Mexico included "Horn Mountain," "Mad Dog," "Atlantis" and "Thunderhorse." So, this naming convention comes up whether the company is in crisis or not--it's a part of its culture.

What personality type does this sort of thing? While macho traits are generally associated with the "physical" world, the emphasis on image is not--that's a trait of the "emotional" world. Managing one's image in the interest of self-promotion without any regard for the underlying reality is most likely to occur in a "downside" or less than healthy "bladder" type within the emotional world.

As for whether this personality is well-suited to actually solving a problem like a leaking underwater oil well, it's actually not bad. "Bladders" are known as people that figure out ways to get things done, usually involving deals with others. So, while the "bladder" type might not be the one to actually fire the "junk shot" at the well, they might be just the type to find the right person or organization to do that. Or, at least, so we can hope.

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