February 2009

Seeing the power of innovation

An interview with CIM Distinguished Lecturer Gord Winkel

By R. Pillo

The next time you are at work, take a good look around you. You just might see it: your colleagues actively engaged and excited over finding a better way to do something. Innovation – everyone is doing it, including the Canadian mining industry, whose high-tech wizardry and ground-breaking concepts have propelled it to the forefront of the global market. Staying at the top of this high-stakes game will be a challenge; however, innovation has never been more imperative. Canada needs to harness the power of innovation, and CIM Distinguished Lecturer Gord Winkel’s presentation, “The Innovation Imperative,” might help to point it in the right direction.

CIM: Why innovation?

Winkel: In my early experience in mining research we were challenged to significantly improve heavy surface mining equipment performance, and I had the opportunity to work with many talented people from different areas — from maintenance and engineering, to management. Each played an important part in making a given initiative a success. Major improvements resulted. I began to realize that when people worked together in an environment that enabled successful collaboration, they could realize solutions that were simply outstanding. Setting this positive environment makes innovation happen at every level in the company, from the dozer operator optimizing pit performance to the executive strategizing on asset management.

CIM: Does your lecture look at specific aspects of innovation or does it cover a broader perspective?

Winkel: I am happy to say it touches on both. It takes a very national view of our industry by tackling some of society’s expectations for mining, ranging from environmental responsibility to meeting social challenges and delivering on sound economic performance. And mining has done a great job. We discuss the history and trends in innovative mining practices and achievements. In support of this, we introduce the Canadian Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) as an effort that sets a national agenda for innovation and promotes research and technology development within the industry.

The lecture then shifts gears and discusses the importance of implementing an innovation culture through principled leadership, and backstopping this with supportive systems within a mining company to reach higher standards of creative achievement.

CIM: What is the agenda for CMIC?

Winkel: CMIC seeks to establish Canada as a global leader in the mining industry through leading-edge research and innovation. This effort looks at prioritizing research efforts and resources, addressing skill shortages, leveraging research effort through greater collaboration, reinvigorating Canada’s mining innovation systems and culture, and communicating and strengthening the Canadian mining sector’s brand and reputation for excellence and sustainability.

CIM: What is innovation culture in a mining company?

Winkel: An innovation culture is one that recognizes the importance of being diligent and vigilant in understanding what’s out in the industry in terms of best practice and new technologies. It then enables employees to integrate these new ideas or technologies into practical operating procedures or improvements, and ensures that these improvements are effective and enduring. It is providing the right environment to regularly harness talent, ideas and creativity and apply them towards a tangible result.

CIM: How prevalent is leadership in an innovation culture?

Winkel: I think that principled leadership in a company is absolutely instrumental in setting the stage for employees to feel connected and to collaborate successfully towards that next level of innovation. It becomes a source of pride and achievement for both the mining firm and the people involved. Innovation leadership is an imperative towards making a successful mining business.

CIM: This is your second time in the Distinguished Lecturer Program. Why do it again?

Winkel: This program is supported by progressive mining leaders in Canada to share results that promote mining excellence in various fields. It is a learning network — a network that allows people to share knowledge, information and innovations across the country. In turn, being a distinguished lecturer is a great learning experience. In sharing your experiences you learn from others as well.

CIM: What is the future of innovation in mining?

Winkel: Simply — moving forward. Innovation has always been with us and always will. People are continually innovating to attain that next step of performance excellence. That will never stop and we will continue to see innovation in mining.

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