Tackling the Crisis in Mineral Exploration

Mineral exploration is in crisis. Despite a tenfold increase in spending from 2002 through 2012, the number of discoveries has remained flat. Many observers lay the blame for this decline in productivity on a belief that the low-hanging fruit is gone. Today’s explorers must literally and figuratively dig deeper.

Despite huge advances in exploration technology, productivity is waning: Why is the industry still falling behind in exploration performance? Are microlevel concerns—matters of leadership, management approach, talent management, or even culture—causing the exploration drought? What should explorers do about this now that budgets have been halved over the past two years? To better understand the forces underlying the crisis, The Boston Consulting Group began by interviewing six of the world’s best-known “explorationists.” We asked them, What do you consider the secrets to your success? What do you perceive as the impediments, at the company and industry levels, to exploration performance today?

The explorationists we interviewed were unanimous in their conviction that the discovery of ore bodies is not a mystical art. Nor does it require an investment of vast sums such as those spent by mining companies in recent years. To these legends of exploration, successful discovery is about leadership—in the field and the boardroom.

The experiences and collective wisdom of these legendary explorationists provide real-world lessons and guidance in the four critical areas that govern success: exploration strategy, exploration management, innovation, and talent development and people management. Their insights reveal ways that exploration leaders can do more than just resist management pressures: they show how exploration leaders can earn permission from senior managers and directors to build a path to success over time—even with no previous history of success.

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