August 2011

The power of imagination

William Westgate speaks about CMIC and the Canadian mining industry

By Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco


Then CIM president Chris Twigge-Molecey (left) with William Westgate | Normand Huberdeau / NH Photographes Ltée.

Throughout his 22-year career at 3M, William Westgate has held numerous technical, sales and marketing positions, all focusing on the development of new businesses and building new customer communities. In 1998, he worked on an innovative business model that created business solutions for national market segments designed to drive new business to the company. Instead of creating proprietary products, the new business model was based on building 3M solutions with customers based on their specific requirements. He is currently based in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he is the international market development manager for 3M’s Industrial Minerals Product Division.

Westgate, who graduated from Queen’s University with a master’s in science (chemistry) in 1986, is a speaker in this season’s CIM Distinguished Lecturers Series. He will be highlighting the role the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) can play in driving innovation in the Canadian mining industry.

CIM: What role do you see the CMIC playing in driving innovation in Canada’s mining industry?

Westgate: I think we’re in a unique position to build collaboration across the many silos, and to create and drive a united message, versus a fragmented one. CMIC works as an umbrella organization that can bring all the various players together to create a collaborative environment. It has the support of such key industry players as CIM, MAC, PDAC, CAMESE and NRCan, and coordinates research and development efforts across Canada. It prioritizes research to address the full spectrum of needs in mining-related activities that will help the industry realize the full potential of integrated, collaborative and applied research. We really want to empower our partners to maintain the leading position Canada’s mining industry has internationally, and to actually leapfrog other countries to brand Canada as a responsible miner.

CIM: Why is innovation so critical for the mining industry?

Westgate: For our industry to develop our potential and our knowledge, and to keep a leading position, innovation is critical. It is one of the lynchpins for our success. For me, I think research is the transformation of money into knowledge, and innovation and imagination are the transformation of knowledge into money. In order to achieve that transformation, you need open collaboration.

CIM: Many people would not consider imagination to be a business and development skill, though.

Westgate: They don’t understand imagination and what it can achieve. And you know someone doesn’t understand imagination when they describe it as a soft skill. It isn’t soft. If nurtured, imagination and intuition can be powerful skills. As I said, it’s what transforms research data into money.

CIM: Other than collaboration, what is needed to encourage innovation?

Westgate: You need to create the right culture, environment, leadership and processes to promote innovation and creativity. We need to empower people, foster imagination and encourage diversity of thought. Homogeny is not conducive to innovation. When you ask people “How does one innovate?” often their first response is “research.” They think if they do research, they are innovating, but really it is the end point of commercialization and the transformation leading to it that’s key. And to do that, you need such things as imagination and having the permission to fail, not just from your company’s leaders but also from your peers.

CIM: Why is the permission to fail important for innovation?

Westgate: Out of great failures come great opportunities. If you never feel that there’s a chance you’ll fail, you’re not going to innovate because you’re worrying about the wrong things. Fail now, fail often: it’s a message people don’t want to hear because everyone wants to succeed, but it’s very rare you can really understand why you’ve succeeded. On the other hand, you always understand why you fail because you analyze the situation further and learn from it.

CIM: Does innovation always begin with research & development?

Westgate: Innovation doesn’t always have to be ground-changing. Dollars spent on research and development are a leading indicator for innovation. By working with your customers, for example, you’re going to understand how they are using your products, and you might learn they are using your products in ways you didn’t intend. That shows you there’s another market available to you, if you work on a new application or product based on that observation.

CIM: What are the potential costs/risks to the Canadian mining industry of not breaking down the silos? 

Westgate: Canada must break down the silos or we will continue to be highly fragmented and will not be able to realize our potential.

CIM: In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge going forward?

Westgate: Ultimately, the industry must overcome its internal differences and stakeholder interests to collaborate together. The sustainability and robustness of our initiative will demonstrate how effective we were in overcoming these differences.

CIM: Why did you become involved with CMIC?

Westgate: I see Canada making a leading difference in mining and I wanted to be a part of it through the Canada Mining Innovation Council. CMIC will co-ordinate collaborative research and development efforts across Canada to solve the real issues of the mining industry. In order to remain competitive, Canadian mining must align industry, academia and government resources to address its needs and challenges here and abroad. By focusing our talents and resources, we can make Canada a leader in safety, technology and environmental sustainability. Together, we must foster the ingenuity of our greatest natural resource – our people.

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