The Lindy Effect

July 27, 2018 · Blog

-By Duane Devall, Sr. Sales Consultant

Have you heard of the Lindy Effect?

According to one of my favorite authors, Nassim Taleb, who has written several books such as Black Swan, Antifragile, Fooled by Randomness, and his latest, Skin in the Game, the Lindy Effect is a measure of fragility in a system. When evaluating the life expectancy (or fragility) of a non-perishable entity, such as a technology, the Lindy Effect is the true meta-expert when it comes to predicting life cycles. In simple terms, if a technology (or other non-perishable entity) has existed for 40 years, then it is safe to assume that it will remain in existence for the next 40 years. If that same technology lasts for 10 more years, therefore existing for 50 years, then it is expected to last an additional 50 years. It’s pretty interesting to consider so I wanted to take it one step further.

Reflecting on the implications of this concept within my own lengthy water treatment career, the strong correlation between the Lindy Effect and produced water treatment in upstream Oil & Gas became abundantly clear. With conventional water production increasing worldwide and unconventional resources taking center stage on the global scene, what once used to be a waste stream that no one bothered to address, has now taken a prominent role on the balance sheets of Oil & Gas operators. In addition, the large amounts of freshwater used to produce unconventional oil and gas, has the public very aware of what the industry is doing with our precious water resources. Hard questions are being asked regarding the sourcing and final destination of the huge quantities of water used in oil and gas operations.

Do we dispose, recycle, or discharge to the environment? If we dispose of this water in a salt water disposal well (SWD), do we address the fact that this water is permanently removed from the water cycle? Is it possible to replenish our rivers and streams with treated oilfield produced water? Can we use produced water for agricultural purposes such as irrigation? A plethora of questions must be answered as we push forward into the unconventional space.

So this gets me back to the Lindy Effect. Due to the importance of water treatment in our current environment, customers are inundated with claims of new technologies, innovative solutions, and next-generation equipment. New businesses with minimal funding and a pilot unit are out in the water treatment marketplace with a mobile black box that will be a one stop “magic bullet” for all water treatment needs.

With all these claims, it is implied that there really is something new in the oilfield. But is there? Well, that’s debatable. Sure, there have been major advances in technologies such as materials science (membranes, metallurgy, etc.) and chemistries… and yes, these all have a place where they are effective, yet we still cannot get away from the laws of physics and thermodynamics. The fact remains that water treatment processes still follow the law of mass and energy conservation. The predominant oilfield water treatment processes still include chemistry, biological treatment, gravity separation, or filtration.

While there have been “tweaks” and improvements on the designs of each of the aforementioned processes, these same processes and equipment remain the leading method by which contaminants are removed from a water stream. Period.

Fortunately for Water Standard, our produced water subsidiary, Monarch Separators has been providing these robust water treatment technologies for over 45 years with the expected design improvements and tweaks as mentioned above. Since there are over 3000 installations worldwide consisting of primary (CPI’s), Secondary (IGF and DAF), and Tertiary (Filters) equipment, we can see the proof of the Lindy Effect each year these technologies stay “alive.”

Therefore, as we continue to develop and test new technologies to improve the traditional processes and equipment, we remain open and curious about the potential next “big thing” by asking our customers what they want 5, 10, or 15 years from now but our main goal is to simply focus on our customer’s requirements and offer the best available technology at the best price to meet specifications and make economic sense. And as each year passes, we definitely appreciate the concept of the Lindy Effect, which states that proven technologies operating for many years, will not be going anywhere, for many years to come.

What do you think? For those in the industry, do you agree with this concept? Do you see the Lindy Effect in your technologies as well?

Corrugated Plate Interceptor (CPI)

Monarch Separators CPI

Monarch Separators Heavy Oil Flotation System

Monarch Separators IGF System

Kirk Wagner
President, Monarch Separators, A Water Standard Company

Richard Feynman was a brilliant, Nobel Prize-winning American physicist (1918-1988). His accomplishments abound. One notable accomplishment that I find particularly useful working in the Produced Water marketplace (where complexity and jargon thrive) is his technique for understanding and explaining a difficult concept, or say technology, in simple terms. His successful mental model was coined the Feynman Technique.

In its simplest form, the Feynman Technique is as follows:
1. Choose a concept.
2. Teach it to a young person.
3. Identify gaps in your explanation then return to the source material.
4. Review and simplify.

Take a concept such as Produced Water Treatment. Is it clear to you what it takes to “treat” Produced Water? Could you explain this to a 10 year old? Or try to teach it to a fresh, out of college petroleum engineer that is now responsible for your project’s technical bid tab? One gap you may find early in the teaching phase is how does one define “treat”? Does “treatment” in Texas’ Permian Basin mean the same thing as “treatment” in Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg or DJ Basin? Can you explain if “Gunbarrels” (I warned you about industry jargon) really meet “treatment” standards in both basins? I assure you when you go back to your source material, you will find complexity in your explanation that should be reviewed again and simplified.

At Water Standard and Monarch Separators we have always tried to simplify; to take a complex concept, break it down to digestible pieces and provide it back to our industry colleagues and customers in an intuitive way. Like many in the industry, we don’t always get it right but we have found that collaboration and the Feynman Technique are helpful in getting better at it. In future blog posts, we will attempt to continue the spirit of this last sentence. My colleagues will collaborate with the industry by writing about arious water-related concepts and technologies in this blog that we examine and use in our daily work.

My challenge to them and the reader is the same. While collaboration is easy, you will find that to simplify difficult concepts or technologies is hard. That is, unless you use the Feynman Technique.

Reach out if you’d like to talk further.