Why technology can do little for innovation without trust

Despite their different backgrounds and contrasting subject matters, the presentations by Dr. Brad Ross and George Hemingway at HxGN LIVE Mining Tucson shared common threads: trust and people. For an industry abuzz with buzzwords, this was a pleasant surprise and a timely reminder that technology is only part of any equation to solve a mining problem.

In “Rising to the Occasion – Lessons from the Bingham Canyon Manefay Slide,” Dr Ross recounted the dramatic events of April 10, 2013 and the largest mining landslide in history.

Faced with scarps towering over 600 feet, no access for large equipment to go into the mine and limited ore because debris had covered more than half of what had previously been exposed, Dr. Ross and his team faced a daunting task: develop the geotechnical studies and mine planning to demonstrate the long-term viability of the mine. He experienced how leadership, teamwork and dedication can create a culture of innovation to accomplish near-impossible goals.

Among those near-impossible goals was to have a small part of the mine back in operation within 48 hours of the slide.

“We didn’t make it,” admitted Dr. Ross in an interview after his presentation. “Midnight came and went, and we were not in operations. By one o’clock in the morning, we were – unbelievable! And we all thought that was an impossible goal to begin with, and we missed it by one hour. And it could have taken months … but we didn’t take any shortcuts.

“We went from a workforce that thought they were out of work to a workforce saying, wow, we’re back to work. We went from a community that thought they’d lost their largest employer to a community that was saying, how can we help?

“And so, how do you shut down a mine forever that’s already back to work?”

Ingredients for mining innovation

The ingredients for innovation are not necessarily contingent on adversity or a record-breaking landslide, argued Dr. Ross, who today is the Founder and Director of the Geotechnical Center of Excellence at University of Arizona. Trust between staff and management is key, he said.

“We knew the failure was coming,” recalled Dr. Ross. “We didn’t know exactly when to begin with. And we were still working at that point. We were still having people go into the mine. And we, as managers, every day would ask, well, what was the movement the day before? Because we knew that if it’s starting to accelerate, that’s when you have to really start worrying …

“And so, at some point somebody said, well, if we, as managers, wanted to know that information, what about our employees that go down into pit every day? Don’t they need that information?”

The decision to share all slope movement information between managers and the entire Bingham Canyon workforce was pivotal to the teamwork that would follow the slide.

“That communication actually built a really strong trust between the leadership and the workforce that followed through,” said Dr. Ross. “And when we started creating these possible goals, it was that trust that was built on and made a big difference at the end of the day.”

As partner and innovation practice lead at Stratalis Consulting, George Hemingway is also well qualified to address the principles behind innovation. He advises executives on that very topic, as well as growth strategy and futures. He is a published monthly columnist and frequent keynote speaker.

In an interview after his HxGN LIVE Mining Tucson 2019 keynote, “The Future of Mining,” Hemingway identified the same key to the mining industry’s attempts to transform.

Greatest challenge facing mining is trust

“I think the greatest challenge facing the mining industry is really the same challenge that’s facing a lot of industries, whether we’re talking about banking, or oil and gas, or even technology companies right now,” said Hemingway. “And that’s trust. I think trust is critical because the mining industry is trying to transform.

“Like no other time in centuries has the mining industry had an opportunity to transform. It has tools, it has technology, it has will, it has knowledge. But what it really needs is trust: trust from society to allow it to transform, trust from regulators and politicians to give it permission to actually change itself in such a way so that it doesn’t face the same pressures that it had before.”

Without trust, innovation and transformation cannot follow, argued Hemingway.

“Trust is critical because without it, people won’t work for you, people won’t buy from you, people won’t allow you to do what you need to do. All the machines in the world don’t count for anything if you can’t turn them on.

“And it’s people that give us permission to do that.”


Watch the full videos to learn more.

  • Recent Posts