February 2011

President's notes

Innovation is a social activity

By Chris Twigge-Molecy

Innovation, the theme of this issue, is a much overused word and misunderstood process. In a business context, it is the process of turning an idea or situation into a commercially successful proposition. It is not about numbers of patents or levels of university funding, although they are important inputs. The key is moving the concept through test work and trials to piloting to demonstration scale and finally to market acceptance. Unless it results in appropriately defined rewards, it is not innovation.

Like exploration, the development process often needs substantial capital with no return over very long periods. On this basis, I suggest we need a flow-through share concept to spur innovation, similar to that which junior explorers have used to great advantage.

As Elizabeth Hunt, president of the University of Calgary, recently wrote in the Globe and Mail, “We must ensure that our resource industries are not only innovative, but also seen by Canadians as drivers of innovation.”

A number of current initiatives deserve recognition. The commitment by Rio Tinto to establish a centre for underground mine construction at the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation in Sudbury is a serious endorsement of our global leading expertise. The formation of a consortium for oil sands tailings management research is another significant development. Seven oil sands majors that have historically shared minimal R&D or operational information have agreed to pool their knowledge and expertise to further accelerate the development of tailing reclamation techniques. Another interesting development is the commitment by CEMI and CIM to develop an online mine design handbook based on the open-access principles of a “wiki,” an innovative way to fill a gap in the rapidly developing field of mine design. Readers can learn more about all three of these initiatives in this issue.

Innovation occurs in cultural environments that encourage it and expose practitioners to a wide range of ideas. From this perspective, I encourage all members to bring more colleagues from non-traditional disciplines, such as environmental, mechanical, electrical and civil engineering along with other social and financial fields, into CIM. They will inevitably infuse the conversation with different perspectives and spark further innovation.

Chris Twigge-Molecy, CIM President

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