Ego and Humility in Geology

It was exactly twenty years ago when I had my first geology trip to the Book Cliffs. Since then, I have led multiple field trips from analog-specific to the “standard sequence stratigraphy field trip” for the oil and gas industry. I consider Green River, Utah, my home away from home because I am there once a month, measuring sections, visiting locations others have published on and finding new spots to lead field trips. Despite my twenty-year history in the area, if someone asked me today who the best person is out there to lead a Book Cliffs field trip, I would say John Howell, without hesitation. If you are looking for someone in the US, I would recommend Mike Boyles or Bill Little. In theory, all of these guys are my competitors. But if I claim to be “the best,” I am either ignorant or assuming my prospective clients are unaware.

In his prime, a young Mike Tyson was once asked by a tv host who was “better,” and Tyson pointed towards a frail and shaky Muhammed Ali and said, “he is.”

There is always someone more qualified out there. There’s always someone who can do it better. A little humility goes a long way. Yet it seems that today the words “best” and “elite” are thrown around to the point that they are hardly meaningful.

                           Hugh Fenies with another perfect trench in the Gironde Estuary of France


I have been fortunate enough to take field courses from individuals who had turned teaching into an art form. Hugh Fenies in France has led a modern clastics field trip to the Gironde Estuary over 250 times over the past twenty years. In a macrotidal setting where the flood tide is indeed very flood-like and where timing is everything, his trip runs like clockwork, and never in my life have I seen a trench dug more efficiently and with such perfection. They say it takes 10,000 hours to develop expertise, and Hugh had it down. Despite all this, not once did he claim he was the “best at logistics” – he was full of praise for those he considered mentors.

Mike Gardner led a research program in the Bushy Canyon of West Texas and New Mexico that lasted over a decade. Over the years, his students collectively measured over 40 km of strata on a cm-scale in a very harsh landscape. For years this was considered the ultimate deepwater trip. I was honored to co-teach his last trip out there for Total. I got an opportunity to meet a man I had heard all kinds of stories about and found him to be humble, resilient, with a comprehensive knowledge of not just geology but the art of leading field trips. Not once did he claim he did a better job than anyone out there and was all praise for his colleagues alive and gone.

Mike Gardner on his last field trip – since he no longer runs trips there are plenty of bastardized versions of his trip out there 

I owe a lot to people who are far wiser than I. As the CEO of a company that has trained hundreds of geoscientists across the globe in the classroom and the field, I am the first to admit that I don’t consider myself or my team to be “the best” and feel that all of us have much to learn.

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