What are some of the biggest challenges the mining sector will need to overcome over the next 5-10 years?
Social license to operate, enticing talented employees to join the industry, digitisation are issues of concern to mining executives. This is accentuated by changing societal expectations, the need to increase diversity and increasing productivity and safety.
To deal with social license, some commentators suggest that management commit and contribute to community, government, employees and environmental needs beyond life of mine. These issues were highlighted again at this year’s Future of Mining Conference in Sydney, along with improving safety, increasing workforce diversity, while coping with falling grades and compensating by improving productivity.
Jake Klein of Evolution Mining noted that there are 24 engineers studying towards mining engineering in Australia. This at a time when industry need would ensure that any qualified applicant would find employment. Turnover of highly skilled resources is also higher than the industry would like. Anecdotal evidence suggests that prospective engineers would instead work for high tech and software companies than miners, an industry that is considered boring and overly hierarchical. I am aware of quite a few young engineers that are dissatisfied with the limited opportunities they see for self-actualisation and contributing their skills and abilities in mining.
Jake highlighted the importance of people to future success and the need to get their best contribution despite everyone being time-poor.
Unfortunately, we did not hear much about game-changing ideas in the pipeline for sustainable mining in Australia. The industry agrees with the problems to address, but the strategy does not seem obvious. The recommendation seems to be that time-poor mining executives need to renew efforts to satisfy all stakeholders, and at the same time, they have to holistically transform their enterprises end to end to cope with the demands of automation and digitisation and simultaneously attract and retain highly skilled employees. This seems like a tall order, something we believe cannot be achieved within the current management paradigm.
How do we shift this paradigm to allow the industry to better deal with these issues? We’re thrilled to officially announce the launching of miningdifferently.com, a website dedicated to looking at how dominating paradigms are creating today’s problems in the mining industry, and more importantly, how to deal with these problems. Some paradigms are obvious on the surface, while others are deeply embedded.
Mining differently Articles Published with Austmine
If you have been one of over 3,000 readers following along in our series of Austmine articles (Overview, Industrial Age and Myths, Information Age and Myths, Ecology Age-Stability and Agility), you’ll appreciate that all business, technical, or social paradigms had good intentions at the beginning. Some continue to be very effective and useful. However, for others, unintended negative consequences emerged. Our aim in each Age was to understand what happened and why. And then offer a better solution — a Mining Differently solution that strengthens robustness and/or builds resilience in mining operations.
The two graphic images below describe how the real world has changed. COMPLEXITY has grown at such a dizzying pace that it’s more significant than the ORDER we love and cherish. And that’s not a bad thing. With complexity comes new ideas and opportunities for those who can make sense of it and act appropriately.
In the Australian Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) sector, there is a focus on “work-as-imagined” technology advancements and process improvements. But let’s not forget the critical role humans play to achieve “work-as-done.”
What is Mining Differently?
Mining Differently is observing what Nature has been doing forever, following the universal laws of the real world: Newtonian, complexity science, natural science. We incorporate what we have learned from Cognitive science and how our brain is designed not as logical processing units like computers but as pattern recognizers.
Mining Differently is perceiving the mining industry as a complex adaptive system (CAS). Within this overarching CAS are many more since every mining organization is a CAS. Since complexity arises from the relationships amongst CAS agents, we pay attention to the people, machines, ideas, and events interactions and how they influence each other.
Mining Differently means navigating complexity, not managing to eliminate nor reduce. Reducing complexity means reducing relationships, not a simple matter. The relationships still exist; you’re just choosing to ignore them at your peril.
Mining Differently is embracing technology and process to enable humans, not the other way around. Automation, data-driven supply chain, and resource fluidity (e.g., outsourcing) can boost productivity and innovation. However, if you lead with classical management theory and treat people as replaceable cogs in a machine, these forces will push your management approach to extremes and turn relationships with employees, contractors, and suppliers into an emotionless market transaction. It would not be shocking to see the emergence of negative consequences in Safety and Social License to Operate, two issues that reside in the complex space.
Mining Differently is acknowledging the limitations of humans. It’s human nature to make errors. As Edward de Bono (father of Lateral Thinking) says: “Mistakes are made by the way the brain handles information, not through stupidity or carelessness.” When designing processes do not assume humans will perform perfectly. Allow a tolerance for mistakes.
Mining Differently is accepting that the future is uncertain and unpredictable. It is not that we don’t govern with a vision for the future, but we govern in a method appropriate to the system. This is the key message on complexity: dependent on which system you are in, you can operate in a different way.
Mining Differently is envisioning the future as a vector heading with a desired direction and speed. Then launch small short-cycle experiments to learn, adapt, and evolve the present. The outcomes (including serendipitous accidents) that emerge determine what is the next appropriate step. Contrast with Order system thinkers who will invest scarce capital funds in a big bet transformation project backed by a business case citing face-saving assumptions and forecasts with disclaimers.
Mining Differently is not aligning people under a set of common values and top-driven goals. Forcing alignment (“Just trust us and get with the program”) can destroy much-needed diversity and creativity stimulation. More importantly, it can block the brain’s ability to recognize patterns (“I’ve got a bad feeling about this”, “It won’t work here”) and open a pathway to human-imposed disasters.
Mining Differently isn’t telling people what sort of people you think they should be. It would not be valid if we told customers, investors, and stakeholders how to behave. So why do we think we can with our people? If you think it’s valid, then be mindful you’re leading with a deeply embedded classical management theory paradigm.
Mining Differently changes the system, not human behaviour. Everything that science tells us is about systematic change, not individual change. You as a manager can adjust the constraints on a system, both those which contain and those which link people and things. Mining Differently changes relationships to influence interactions. Each individual can then choose how he or she will personally adapt to the systemic changes.
Mining Differently is no longer conducting surveys and interviews but collecting stories that people tell every day about how things get and don’t get done in the organization. And using the experiences to generate maps that visualize the culture. This is a map to navigate the uncertain and turbulent waters of complexity keeps you informed in real-time on vector heading progress.
We’re inviting anyone who has a good idea to share it on miningdifferently.com. You can be a regular or a one-time anonymous contributor. We’ll add your article as a blog posting. Click here to submit an idea.
Workshop on Mining Differently
If you are interested in the practical implications of Mining Differently and how these concepts can be applied, join us for our one-day Workshop “Mining Differently- Stability and Agility” in Brisbane on 8 November. Gary and I will cover issues such as; Why the mining Industry has come to operate the way it does, How the Theory of Constraints can achieve Stability (and increased productivity) in mining operations, Why dealing with Social Licence and Safety requires Agility and Stability and how to achieve this.