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Re-thinking the mining industry

- By: John P Sykes
Posted in: Blog, Management, Strategy


This week we’ve been re-thinking the mining industry, more specifically whether a change from linear modes of thinking to more systemic ways of thinking will help.

In the Strictly Boardroom article on we use the re-thinking of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ into an inter-related set of needs as inspiration to try this style of thinking in the mining sector.

Maslow originally hypothesised that human motivation is based on levels of needs – physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualisation, with people first desiring the base needs (physiological & safety) and then the higher needs (love, esteem & self-actualisation). Later research, however, showed the situation to be more complex with all people requiring all these needs, in a certain amount, all at one time. Even the lowliest worker desired something beyond pay (safety) and wanted to work in a good team (love) and be valued for their contribution (esteem & actualisation).

This is a movement from linear or hierarchical thinking (one thing after another) to holistic or systemic thinking (everything at once).

So how might this apply in the mining sector?

Firstly, it has relevance to project development. Too often we seek to resolve geological issues first, then technical, the environmental and so on (linear thinking). Realistically, we need to be moving forward on all these at once, as if one doesn’t move forward the whole project fails, so it is better to find this out earlier (systemic thinking).

Secondly, this relates to sustainable development and mining. Again, in the past, we have sorted out the economics of a project first, and then looked at the environmental and social factors later. Again, we should consider all of these from the beginning and try and balance them out.

Finally, this kind of thinking has already re-shaped health and safety in mining. Initial focuses were on safety (mine wardens preventing explosions etc.), then on physical health (stopping ‘black lung’ etc.), then most recently on mental health (e.g. in FIFO workers) – a linear style of thinking. However, in the 1970s there was a big move from prescriptive legislation to goal-orientated health and safety, as the realisation was that a strong safety culture was required to improve health and safety – it was a mental issue as much as a physical issue. Later, this led to the understanding the health and safety and productivity were linked, thus the safest mines, with the most physically fit workforce were the most productive.  Most recently, there has been the realisation that in a knowledge economy ‘mental fitness’ will be critical and this has seen the rise of the ‘wellness’ movement and greater implementation of meditation and other ‘mind-expanding’ activities in the workforce.

The full article is entitled “Re-thinking the mining industry” and is available to subscribers on Or contact me for a copy.

For keen followers of the Strictly Boardroom column, our book “Strictly (Mining) Boardroom Volume II: A Practitioners Guide for Next Generation Directors” was published last year and is available as a paperback or e-book from Major Street Publishing or Amazon. We’re pleased to say that the book received a very positive review in the AusIMM Bulletin.