The seven secrets of exploration success

THIS week Allan Trench draws upon more than 20 years experience in exploration – if not 35 years experience in pubs and clubs – to identify the secrets to exploration success, with a little help from his friends.
The seven secrets of exploration success The seven secrets of exploration success The seven secrets of exploration success The seven secrets of exploration success The seven secrets of exploration success


Staff Reporter

Airport bookstall tomes claim to offer many secrets, including, among others, the secrets to stockmarket success, the secrets for a stress-free life, to achieving harmony in relationships, to even starting a relationship and for a toned mind and body.

To this scribe’s knowledge, no airport bookstall has yet described the secrets of exploration success – and there remain some people who question whether there are any secrets to it at all or whether luck (and of course some dollars to play with) have a greater role to play.

This week an ongoing dialogue at the Centre for Exploration Targeting at UWA sparked an email from one very accomplished explorer who tendered the following organisational success factors.

The insights were not his alone; they stemmed from a 2011 event held at UWA termed Discovery Day, attended by some of the most experienced and successful explorers Australia has seen over the last few decades.

I will not name names here as one common trait of good explorers appears their humility – but they all know who they are. The six success factors arising from their collective wisdom are as follows:

1. You need to creatively generate a new search space idea or model paradigm; discovery may simply need a different set of eyes, or metal prices or even time (era).

2. You need to proactively and aggressively collect your own primary quality data, ensuring that you are not just collecting data for data’s sake.

3. Continuously feed your learnings back into the exploration model, remembering this is akin to trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle without all the pieces. The learning loop is a key process.

4. You need to develop a discovery culture by being able to upwards sell your model ideas to management to ensure their ongoing support. Discoveries beget trust and further discoveries, and this is a two way street – the trust of the board in the exploration team and the trust of the geologists in the exploration management. When Roy Woodall was asked what advice he would give a 23-year-old geoscientist he replied that “he/she should concentrate on selling their ideas upwards”

5. Persistence pays. It takes time for big gold camps to develop.

6. A culture of “teaming” is critical – the sum of the parts is greater than the whole and everyone contributes and brings something different to the table.

To these six key success factors I would add a seventh: maintaining access to funding, ideally through both the thick and the thin of the commodity price cycle. To some extent this is implicit in acquiring the trust of the board and in the “persistence pays” referred to already (the road to success being paved with failure).

Luck of course does play a part but those explorers who have delivered significant exploration success generally take the view that good explorers often make their own luck by putting in place good processes as described above.

So that’s it. Simple on paper really but each of the above success factors is very difficult to put in place in practice.

Those explorers reading Strictly Boardroom will no doubt recognise the attributes of successful exploration teams of which they have been a part over the years – and also recognise the great difficulty in locking in each and every one of the success factors when they are not already in place.

As a set of KPIs in exploration, companies could do far worse than set themselves the task of delivering on all the above attributes from an organisational perspective. The probability of success would heighten as a result.

In February next year the Centre for Exploration Targeting will host a further Discovery Day, when discovery case histories will aim to unlock further success attributes and/or cement those listed above.

There is still time for new 2012 discoveries to make the cut and to deliver new findings into that event – but not unless those drills keep turning rapidly in the interim.

Good Hunting.

Allan Trench is a Professor of Mineral Economics at Curtin Graduate School of Business and Professor (Value & Risk) at the Centre for Exploration Targeting, University of Western Australia, a Non-Executive Director of several resource sector companies and the Perth representative for CRU Strategies, a division of independent metals & mining advisory CRU group (

This article first appeared in ILN's sister publication

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