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Unlocking human creativity – people, technology and the changing role of organisations

Bev Kubat MAusIMM
· 1200 words, 5 min read

With the fourth industrial revolution rapidly shifting the way companies – including those in mining– do business, a shift in organisational culture could influence an innovative, collaborative mindset that is prepared for the rapid pace of change in the external environment.

This article is an edited excerpt of a paper presented at the Fifth International Future Mining Conference in 2021.

Mining has followed the trajectory of each of the industrial revolutions, and each advance has affected the way organisations manage their resources. Mining companies have at various times reached for the levers of cost reduction, productivity improvement and capital efficiency in order to find a competitive advantage. Often these levers have been deployed in a command and control style, where all-knowing leadership has focused efforts on cementing knowledge through the identification of best practice, an emphasis on efficiency and the assumption that replication is possible.

We are at the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution, which is characterised by system-wide innovation brought about by the interplay between digital, physical and biological fields. New tools are cheap, quickly scalable and accessible to all, meaning change and innovation is coming from more sources than ever. The pace and interconnected nature of change, and the resulting increase in complexity, means that one off organisational adjustments, targeting a well-defined solution, is no longer sufficient.

Instead, organisations will need to focus their effort on the process of continual response to an unfolding future if they want to realise the potential of technology adoption. This will require

  • paying attention to information that flows from actions
  • making sense of that information from the viewpoint of multiple perspectives
  • utilising collective sense making to drive decisions
  • and, ultimately, delivering adjusted action.

The term I’m using to describe this process is ‘adaptive development’: ie the ability to learn, change and become more advanced in response to changing conditions.

Adaptive development requires two forces to drive it. The first is the process of learning, of acquiring new understanding that accumulates into knowledge. Learning first passes through the process of noticing information that emerges from our actions and then it proceeds to the process of sense making where we decide what that information means to us.

The second force is the process of change, where we utilise the new knowledge developed to take action and, in so doing, accumulate know-how. Change passes through the process of deciding based on the knowledge accumulated and then the process of doing, converting learning to action.

There are different levels of maturity in the adaptive development process that match the requirements of different levels of complexity that have emerged from the various stages of the industrial revolution. The four levels of maturity are shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Maturity levels of adaptive development.

Silo adaptive development focuses on the learning and change required within individual departments or elements of an organisation. The assumption is, that if each section performs well, then the whole will perform well. Focus is on compliance to known and understood practices.

Linear adaptive development understands that there is a dependence between elements, but it tends to be thought of in terms of clear cause and effect with connection flowing one way. This level of adaptive development can be useful where there is little variation in context and conditions between operations, eg factory settings. Focus is on improvement to existing practices.

Collaborative adaptive development begins to recognise a more interconnected nature of elements in an organisation, with cause and effect being less straightforward and operating in multiple directions simultaneously. Focus is on generating creativity and developing new applications from a wider scope of knowledge.

Complex adaptive development starts to build a more nuanced view of the complex ecosystem that we operate in, paying attention to the subtle influences from a wide variety of elements both within and external to the system. The focus is a move to the collective view, where wisdom and innovation is developed.

The ability for an organisation to shift to a more complex level of adaptive development relies on the interplay between three levers: technology adoption, individual mastery and collective capability. Each lever impacts the other as shown in Figure 3.

There are three categories of skills required to support the development of each of these levers:

  1. Technical skills, which are the skills and knowledge you need to undertake organisational tasks
  2. Uniquely Human Skills (UHS; McGowan and Shipley, 2020) are the skills that are often less tangible but make us better at our job, both better as an individual and better functioning within a group, eg sense-making, social intelligence, novel and adaptive thinking, etc.
  3. The third category of skills can be thought of as our world view – our constantly evolving selves, how we view ourselves, how we view others, how we make sense of the world around us.

Adult development theory (Garvey Berger, 2012) can provide us with a framework that shows as we encounter increasingly complex situations, our way of making sense of the world also continues to evolve throughout our adult lives. Many believe that the fourth industrial revolution requires more of us to step through these later stages of adult development than we have previously required.

And so we come to the changing role of the organisation. In the rapidly changing context of the fourth industrial revolution, the organisation’s role is to provide the conditions in which individual development can thrive and be matched to organisational objectives. The delivery and implementation of each skill category is supported or inhibited by the organisational culture that individuals operate in.

Mining brings many positive cultural attributes to play: optimism, resilience, action orientation, pragmatism and determination are some elements that spring to mind. However, mining is also known to display attributes that inhibit an organisation’s ability to respond to the changing world: risk averse, conservative, hierarchical, conforming, hero-leader and bureaucratic. To shift the culture to one that supports an internal rate of change to match the rate of change demanded externally, there are a number of themes that companies need to pay attention to. These include diversity and inclusion (ie building blocks to access a wide range of perspectives and experience); psychological safety (ensuring every person can contribute and a learning and experimental mind-set is supported); system thinking (understanding interdependency and complexity); transdisciplinary thinking (in order to build a shared understanding and develop novel solutions); and participation of all (utilising the full human potential available to an organisation, not reliant on top down).

The shift in focus from individual achievement, control, efficiency and set outcomes to one that emphasises context, process and collective learning and change will not be easy but for those in the increasingly complex mining sector that succeed, it will be rewarding.


Garvey Berger, J, 2012. Changing on the Job. Stanford University Press.

McGowan, H and Shipley, C, 2020. The Adaptation Advantage. Wiley.

AusIMM Members and Fellows can access the full paper here using their digital library subscription.

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