Accidentally Adamant: The Story of Tisha Schuller

In this special edition of The Digital Change Podcast, we sit down with energy consultant and author, Tisha Schuller, to get an inside look into her first novel, Accidentally Adamant, available for purchase now at accidentallyadamant.com. Learn a little about Tisha's personal journey in the energy industry and how that led her to starting her own energy consulting company, Adamantine Energy. Read the full transcript below.

David: Welcome to another edition of The Digital Change Podcast. Great to have you with us today on a podcast where we talk about the idea of achievable solutions, impactful results and meaningful experiences. We're so excited today to have with us Tisha Schuller who is the founder of Adamantine Energy that provides thought leadership to transform energy policy and politics across the country and around the world. Tisha consults private clients from Fortune 500 energy companies to nonprofit environmental organizations in the energy sector. Tisha most recently worked as president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association in one of the most dramatic and contentious times for energy development in Colorado history. Tisha has a B.S. degree in earth systems with an emphasis in geology from Stanford University. Tisha, it is absolutely great to have you with us today. We're excited to have you a part of our podcast.

Tisha Schuller has a Bachelor of Science in earth systems with an emphasis in geology from Stanford University. She served as President and CEO for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association before stepping down to found Adamantine Energy. Tisha chronicled her story in the recently published novel, Accidentally Adamant.

Tisha: Thanks. Pleasure to be on.

David: Tisha is the author of a new book called Accidentally Adamant which was published in April of last year. Tisha, as I think about the word adamant, I think about words that like unshakable, immovable, unwavering and resolute. I'm anxious and I'm sure our audience is anxious to hear a little more about this book. Perhaps, when you share about writing this book it'll give our audience a little more insight as to the focus of Adamantine Energy. Would you mind starting today by sharing a little bit about Adamantine Energy and a little bit about this book and what it entails?

Tisha: Sure, I'd be delighted to. Thanks so much for having me. When I was the president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), I was an unlikely candidate. I had been an environmental activist. Then, as I matured, I became an environmental consultant. And then, ultimately, I ended up as the face, the representative of the oil and gas industry. The accidentally part of adamant is in those earlier chapters of my life. I thought I had all the answers. Then, as I continued to progress and mature in my career, particularly five and a half years at COGA, I really learned that the defining characteristic of my more mature phase of my career was changing my mind and being willing to learn. So, the book is really one part suggesting to the reader how to approach life in maybe a more flexible way. It's one part a case for the oil and gas industry to people who would define themselves as environmentalists. Then it's one part just interesting stories, hopefully. There's a fire. There's a flood. There's a bear. There’s a sheriff involved. So, try to keep it interesting and moving. I left COGA four years ago now. After digesting the experience I had and what I learned, I founded Adamantine Energy and now there's five of us full-time. What we do is work to deescalate conflicts around energy. We also work to help, particularly oil and gas companies, but any energy company think about the future and prepare for a future that is changing very quickly. I'm sure we'll talk more about that as we get through this podcast because it's unavoidable in the areas that we work.

David: Yeah, well it's an interesting issue. I am anxious to read the book myself because I really believe that all of us need to be thinking about how we can have a more open mindset as we face such a dramatic change that's happening in all industries. We talk about digital change, but as we look at the energy sector and any sector today, we're seeing a lot of disruption. I think, as you well described, we all need to be open to new contexts, to new ideas. I think, as we live in a world of big data, we all know that big data leads to more information and, hopefully, that information will help us all have greater insights as to how to face some of these challenges of our future. I've been recently reading a blog that you started. You've started a series called What to Watch in the Oil and Gas Sector and you mentioned seven emerging trends or fronts that are happening in the oil and gas sector. Would you mind sharing with our audience today what you see is some emerging trends and how the oil and gas sector should be prepared for some of those trends?

Tisha: The blog really came about when I realized that opposition to oil and gas development had reached a new level and maybe even possibly a tipping point where the public was more empathetic to arguments against the need for oil and gas than they were for affordable, always available energy. In this theme of being sensitive to changes amount in the world and changing our perspective, I went back to square one for myself. Instead of focusing on educating the public and helping energy companies educate the public, I realized we need to be more engaged in how they're thinking and looking at the world. So, that's where I started. What I identified from there were seven financial trends because that's one way we can some speak in the language of our clients, by looking at what are things that might hit the bottom line. One is shareholder resolutions. Companies can be targeted by environmental activists in one way, which is to set up shareholder resolutions and then ask them to do something like set up a two-degree climate scenario or measure their methane emissions or reduce their carbon emissions. In 2014, those kind of resolutions would gather maybe 20% of the vote, but by 2017, those were passing. Now we’re seeing a really significant trend of this being one of the areas that environmental activism is successfully targeting publicly-traded oil and gas companies. That's one of the trends. Another one is these aspirational regulations. We just saw last week that New York is passing a very aggressive decarbonization law of the land. The proponents that are looking at these kind of regulations do not have a path to a net zero carbon or decarbonization-- getting carbon out of the energy system-- but they're passing laws regardless. I think it's easy to be dismissive of these as aspirational but they're changing the way the public is talking about fossil fuels and oil and gas. I think companies need to be really aware of that. So my first advice, you would ask how do we prepare? The first is to start taking these trends seriously. To watch them to watch how the public is responding to them. To understand how they're perceived as victories, pretty well universally, for the future of energy and the future session around climate. In understanding them and taking seriously, then companies can begin to have an external conversation about how to respond.

David: Well, you said something there, a moment ago, Tisha, that I think all of us know, we appreciate ourselves, and that is really that idea of engagement. I think it is so important today that, as any organization or business, we engage even those who have opposite opinions of our own so that we can really begin to better understand what that looks like, what that means to us, what the risks associated with that are. So, I think we hear those words collaboration and engagement, we hear about crucial conversations, but that's not an easy thing. I guess I'd be interested in knowing what has been some of the responses from these insights that you've seen over the last several weeks?

Tisha: I've been, frankly, just shocked at the overwhelming response that I've gotten. I would say that more than half is curious and interested response from industry. So, I think all of us that work in the energy industry feel that a change is underfoot, are aware of the conversations happening in the public space around particularly fossil fuels and the future of fossil fuels and we share this generic unease. By focusing on specific trends and specific things happening in the news and putting them into the context of this larger conversation, it seems to me is providing a bit of a relief for an uncertain audience that wants to make sense of what's happening and wants to engage responsibly in thinking about the future for their company and for their employees. Then there's maybe another quarter of a response that is dubious and really want to encourage particularly the oil and gas industry to stand up and fight. Fight misinformation. Fight the perspective that fossil fuels are no longer needed or will no longer be needed and that's a perspective that I understand, that I empathize with, but I'm not going to focus on in my blog installments because I think that there's plenty of people talking about that and working on the fight. My interest is transcending the fight and identifying a shared future. Then, the last bit of audience responses are from people outside the oil and gas industry. That is really an interesting perspective to get because those responses are a little bit, ‘yeah, duh, we know this is going on.’ For me, the range of responses I'm getting highlights the divide in perspectives that often is more driven by political affiliation than by maybe experience with energy. So, I've been really enjoying getting this wide range of response. It helps me continue to think about making sure every installment I write is setting an opportunity to transcend these political divides and find a common set of values and aspire to articulate a shared future.

David: Yeah, that's outstanding, Tisha. I applaud that effort and their needs to be of more that type of thinking in today's, not just oil and gas sector, but in all sectors as we really see the proliferation of technology and new solutions and new opportunities. Tisha, in your original article, you talked a little bit about how oil and gas companies can seize the day, what successful companies actually are doing or will need to do in the future. And, of course, we could broaden that to be any entity within the energy sector. Would you would you share a little bit about it? What are some areas that you believe energy companies can focus on to seize the day?

Tisha: Sure, the first thing I think that companies can be doing and, in fact, employees can be doing is to take stock and take seriously of these conversations that are happening in public spaces about the future of energy and also paying attention to the conversation climate. Although both of these topics have been polarized and politicized, if we were in a war, we would want to study the opposition. We would want to understand the way they think and that we would want to understand their tactics. I prefer not to think of this as a war, but regardless, the first thing we need to do is understand the conversations that are happening out there and think about whether or not they pose risks to the companies. After taking stock, my second recommendation for companies is to really do a risk assessment, internally. As companies, we’re very comfortable thinking about risks in the future. Whether it's a recession, a price collapse, a weather event and we can think of these external forces as risks. So, we want to assess and mitigate. That's one way to take them out of this politicized, charged arena and instead just think about them as risks that we're going to look at and manage like any other. Then, the third component that I think is important is that companies look at their response in a very authentic and unique way. For example, my company gets called a lot by companies that want an environmental social governance, an ESG report, or help getting a permit, but usually, this is a superficial request. Something to tag on to the way the company is operating under the status quo. What we're really interested in, what we think is going to transform the risk is for companies to look at these issues, tie them to their values and deeply change the way they're thinking about the future and engaging with the public. So deep, authentic and unique change. The other thing I'll say, because that's pretty scary, is I think it's completely fine to tackle in an incremental way. Having a three-year strategy to take baby steps in how these questions are addressed and ultimately, to be visionary in the way that we are with other aspects of our business. We can have a visionary long-term goal, but we can conduct our implementation in a very measured and incremental way that manages the potential for risk and the actual risk.

David: Those are some very good insights. As I listen to you, Tisha, I’ve heard these thoughts that I believe really will resonate with our audience. The first thought that I wrote down here is “deeply change our thinking”. I noticed you used the word deeply which I find interesting because I think that that whole idea of thinking differently is not an easy thing. Would you agree?

Tisha: Absolutely and it's even harder to do when you think of yourself as in battle because it is so difficult to work in the energy business or really any infrastructure where you face opposition and regulatory uncertainty. Then, it's easy to think of our job as right and when we're entrenched or we’re defensive then it's really hard to think deeply about doing things differently because we don't want the other side to win. That's why reframing is such a key component of the thinking in a big way, thinking about the future. That helps us to think deeply because we're not worried that we're giving the other side a win. We're actually crafting a future for a company that transcends the politics of the moment.

David: Coming from the energy sector, I can really agree with you that we need visionary leaders. I think we need people who can see beyond current circumstances, see beyond current conflict, current context. I would just like, in closing if you would, when you think about that idea of visionary or visionary leaders could you take a moment and just define for our audience what you see that looking like, not only in the oil and gas sector, but in the broader energy sector?

Tisha: Sure. To do that I like to ground in history a little bit because we're not asking of ourselves things that are impossible. The energy industry has conformed radically maybe every 30 years since we started changing our way of life and creating prosperity around America and around the world. What I think visionary means now is asking what does the next 30, 60, 90 years for energy look like? We know the way we deliver energy and the form of services is going to change radically. We know technology is going to change the types of fuel and the way we use fuels. We know the public expects it to keep getting cheaper and more available and more invisible. With all those things, there is also the potential to have a shared vision of reducing environmental footprint with all these components. Whether for some that is reducing carbon, for others it’s their emissions, for some it's a smaller footprint, but I think a visionary leader also adds this component and the aspiration of meeting the expectations of the public with a very realistic, pragmatic implementation plan in the present. The last thing I'll say is I want to acknowledge that energy companies are challenged to meet their current development programs or delivery expectations and I'm not saying we drop that and move to something radical. I think the vision is in identifying a future that includes these shared aspirations and then working very pragmatically to set a path there that includes delivering and also the flexibility to change into the future.

David: Well, Tisha, I'm certain that our audience has had the opportunity to visit with you today and to see that you're a visionary leader. I've had the opportunity to meet you in person. Again, I have enjoyed visiting with you today and do appreciate your leadership and what Adamantine is doing in that broader energy sector. We need visionary leaders like yourself. I have such respect for individuals like yourself who are creating a greater dialogue that's needed in the broader policies and how we can begin to leverage new technologies, new ideas to meet the demands of our future. So, thank you so much, Tisha, for coming on today and sharing these insights. We hope that perhaps in the coming months we can have you back to share more insights with our audience. I really enjoyed it.


Tisha: David, thanks for having me. I'd be honored to come back and see how this continues to evolve.

David: Well, thank you so much and thank you to our audience for joining us for another edition of The Digital Change Podcast. We hope that you'll join us again next week.

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