As an avid reader, Nick Vandivere, the 39-year old CEO of ThoughtTrace Inc., enjoys exploring new ideas and gaining different perspectives on unsolved problems. This seems appropriate, considering that ThoughtTrace has designed and implemented a software application that combines artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to read “words, sentences and paragraphs down to the thought or intent level.”
The application radically departs from convention, whereby a human user searches a PDF for individual words or simply reads a document. The application comprehends legal and industry jargon to rapidly identify contract clauses or data elements that would otherwise take days or even weeks to locate. Vandivere says “[the application] is trained to sift through ambiguity.” His team can “show the system examples how a given idea or thought can be represented in text, and [the system] will quickly become accurate in identifying that idea, even when it is presented in ways that the software has not yet seen.”
When ThoughtTrace launched in 2017, the application recognized 100 facts. Today, it has read almost 9 billion words and has helped the collective customer-base identify 155 million facts. This number grows every day.
The way ahead: Vandivere points out that the ThoughtTrace application “isn’t magic.” He clarifies this for industry clients, noting that “if you can genuinely focus on empowering end users, the conversation is less about technology or innovation and more about the creation of very real business value—in a sense, to understand ‘this is the thing that I can do today that I could not do yesterday.’”
Industry users already demonstrate this value. For instance, WPX Energy Inc., an Oklahoma-based E&P with acreage in the Permian and Williston basins, has found that the application can help its team identify and extract offset provision data in its leases and that it can efficiently marry to WPX’s own proprietary geospatial data. This has resulted in an automated, reliable set of tools for landmen, such that the WPX team can now almost instantly locate multimillion-dollar contractual obligations that once proved tricky to detect.
“Your first job as a leader is to be a force multiplier—to grow, mentor and empower your people.”
ThoughtTrace has benefited as a company, too. When Vandivere became CEO in 2014, there were fewer than 20 employees. Now, as the team works to adapt the application “to many, many more data types,” Vandivere oversees almost 70 employees, ranging from oil and gas attorneys to software developers, all valued for their “grit … [which he considers] the biggest predictor of success.”
Force multipliers: Vandivere grew as a leader during his military service, which he says “completely reshaped [his] perspective on life.” As a Platoon Leader in the U.S. Army, Vandivere learned “through some rather difficult circumstances … the importance of elevating the success of the team above everything else.”
He says, “Your first job as a leader is to be a force multiplier—to grow, mentor and empower your people.” As CEO, “[his] job is not to be the best at any one thing nor is it to necessarily own every decision that must be made,” he continues. Instead, “[his] role is to ensure that [ThoughtTrace’s] team members make the most of their talents.”
Later working as an advisor on a U.S. State Department team in Mosul, Iraq, Vandivere took his frontline lessons into higher level discussions that developed his executive abilities, but he never forgot that “as leaders, we should place tremendous value on persistence, hard work, and being a team player, and appreciate, but not over-value, raw intellect.”
The human impact: Vandivere sees AI as a tool to solve fundamentally human problems, and his commitment to oil and gas companies’ economic prosperity is rooted in his belief that “the energy industry is probably the greatest force globally for lifting people out of poverty and allowing individuals to realize their talents. Whether you work directly in energy or you support the industry, that is a big deal and something we shouldn’t lose sight of,” he says.