NJF Consulting

I’ve just spent two days attending and helping out with a workshop on “Advanced Thinking for Exploration Leadership and Decision Making”, presented by Tim Craske, Robbie Rowe (who spoke specifically about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning) and myself. My role was to illustrate how the “thinking theory” relates to the business of mineral exploration.

The following types of thinking were explained during the workshop:

  1. Critical: to ask questions and test assumptions.
  2. Creative: to generate new ideas, brainstorming.
  3. Analytical: to break a problem down into component parts.
  4. Abstract: to investigate relationships and connections; to develop concepts.
  5. Concrete: always practical.
  6. Divergent/Lateral: to generate new ideas by taking jumps and being provocative.
  7. Convergent/Vertical: to combine or eliminate ideas to generate solutions.
  8. Sequential/Linear: a step-by-step approach.
  9. Holistic: to consider the big picture.
  10. Reflective: to be devil’s advocate, to look for lessons learned.

But I believe there is another pressing problem in our business that no-one seems able to fix. Essentially, this is our preoccupation with new data generation – without an appropriate allocation of time for proper data analysis and interpretation. How many times have you been asked “How many metres did you drill last month?”, or “How many samples were collected?”, or “How many assays were received?” Now consider how many times you’ve been asked about your evolving ideas on the geological interpretation (and understanding) of that new prospect? I thought so… The bottom line is that we are obsessed about generating new data as quickly as possible, but we don’t pay enough attention to getting the most out of that new data to realise its full potential. For want of a better term, I refer to this problem as “exploration productivity“.

It might be argued that exploration productivity is at least partly a result of the perceived need to be in the field as much as possible. After all, how else can you make a discovery? But a word of caution. There’s no point spending a lot of time in the field, collecting samples, and generating a huge volume of new data if you don’t accept that it will take time to analyse and interpret those data properly.

Exploration Productivity

  • The ongoing chase for new data…
  • How many metres did we drill last month?
  • How many samples were taken?
  • How many new assays were reported?
  • How can we accelerate this programme?
  • Why is this job taking so long?

So what can you do? As an Exploration Manager, ask the right questions; specifically those that test for geological understanding about the prospect, target, area of interest, or tenement package under investigation. And, if necessary, facilitate (or lead) a discussion amongst the exploration team to tease out ideas. In my view, this is the fun part of the entire mineral exploration process and it will always be time well spent.

Two other points are worth making: first, you will never have enough data – meaning that there will always be more data that you could generate. But you must draw the line somewhere. Don’t be fooled into assuming that more data will make a decision better – or easier. Sometimes you just have to make do with what you’ve got – learn to trust your intuition.

How to set priorities is a key aim of the new book on Mineral Exploration Management, by this author – soon to be published by the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG). And a common theme throughout the book is to engage with experts – often. Colleagues, consultants, academics, or anyone else with experience to share.

And second, Pareto’s principle (the 80:20 rule) always applies: this states that 20% of your data (and effort) will generate 80% of the value from your results. It’s worth keeping both points in mind, as you plan and implement your exploration programme.

These ideas are presented in my new book on Mineral Exploration Management, which will soon be published by the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG). Feedback on the new book will be greatly appreciated, contact me via my contact page or email me directly.

Enquiries about future workshops on “Thinking skills and decision making” should be directed to Tim Craske. Email Tim or visit his website Thinker Events for more information.

Nick Franey

About Author
Nick Franey is a geologist with a broad range of exploration management experience, at grassroots and advanced project level, having searched for most types of gold and base metal deposit in a variety of geological terranes.