Mining Paradigms

From Wikipedia: “The word [paradigm] has come to refer very often now to a thought pattern in any scientific discipline or other epistemological context.” …Since the 1960s, the term [paradigm shift} has also been used in numerous non-scientific contexts to describe a profound change in a fundamental model or perception of events, even though Kuhn himself restricted the use of the term to the hard sciences.”

Evolution of Mining

The mining industry has been part of a grander evolution of business. Since the turn of the 20th century, three ages or periods distinguish major paradigm shifts in business thinking.

The Industrial Age growth mindset in the early 20th century was heavily influenced by Max Weber, Henri Fayol, and Frederick Taylor. Together the three pioneers formed what is known as Classical Management Theory. Weber’s Bureaucracy doctrine, Fayol’s 14 management principles, and Taylor’s Scientific Management principles of productivity instilled order, structure, and discipline. The paradigm was viewing business as a machine. However, it couldn’t last forever when humans revolted over their poor treatment as mere cogs in a machine. A crisis point depicted as a “yellow bubble” was eventually reached resulting in declines in capital, labour, and material productivity.

The Information Age saw the rise of Systems thinking and Human Factors boosted by computerized information technology. A popular solution called Business Process Reengineering succinctly captures the shift to an engineering paradigm. People are no longer cogs. People, process, and technology are parts of a system: The whole is equal to the sum of its parts. Industries like mining rally behind “Faster, better, cheaper.”
The relentless pursuit of optimized efficiency has yielded unintended negatives consequences. Misuse of promising Information Age digital tools such as ERP have made operations extremely complicated and frustrating for local operations managers. Implementation of new technologies has not been easy. Change Management programs have focused on reducing employee resistance and forcing culture change. The change paradigm assumes cause & effect relationships apply to people as they do for mechanistic processes and technologies. Great, if valid. However, consulting firms (McKinsey, Connor, Kotter) have reported a dismal 70% failure rate of change management programs. Once again we’ve reached another yellow bubble and the decline of an Age.

Underlying the previous two ages is another paradigm: the Order system where the work environment is deemed stable, predictable, repeatable. In the Age of Ecology the real world is 3 systems: Order, Chaos and Complex.  Confusing dilemmas, ambiguous paradoxes, diverse conflicts are accepted as natural occurrences. Mining is a complex adaptive system. The unexpected emergence of new things means “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. People are no longer viewed as predictable cause & effect parts of a machine but are illogical, emotional decision makers. Culture is not a change intervention lever but emerges as system agents (people, objects, events, ideas) interact with each other. Culture is the emergent set of narratives people share everyday.

Learning to let go

The Y-axis of the Life-cycle diagram is labelled “Utility of the Paradigm” for a good reason. A subsequent age doesn’t start from zero but is elevated by the previous age. That means we carry forward the valuable lessons and practices and adapt them to the next emerging Age. And just as important, we let go of the myths and fallacies of the old Age. Three myths dominate current mining thinking:

Myth 1: The best way to run a mine is to focus on cost certainty and manage people as if they are parts of a machine.

Myth 2: Mine operations should be optimised from start to finish to produce the best results.

Myth 3: We can achieve social licence acceptance and safety aims within our current management paradigm by pursuing effective culture change.

Continuing with only a Systems Thinking mindset will mean a default future where the past becomes our future. Avoiding this means we need to rethink prevailing mining paradigms because We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. (Albert Einstein).

Mining Industry
Mining Strategies
Mining Execution