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How the Lizard Brain Kills Exploration Projects

Exploration is a complex business. Ore bodies are almost never straight-forward. And in most cases the only information the exploration team has about these complex structures is gained from pencil-thin (relatively speaking) drill cores. The rest of the interpretation has to be supposed from this tiny bit of info. Billions of dollars ride on this work.

During the course of a drilling program, the working deposit model often changes ten, twenty or a hundred times. On our project, we were coming up with geological surprises (some pleasant, some disappointing) almost daily.

This means you have to think on the fly. One new piece of information might totally invalidate the strategy you were using yesterday. And yet, there are four drill rigs turning on site. There's very little time to stop and consider the next move.

Too often, companies in this environment behave like clerks at the store. Any glitch or change in plans sends them into mental lock-down. We can't possibly change. We don't usually do that.

Seth Godin calls this "the lizard brain". The most ancient part of our cerebral system. The one that's optimized for survival alone. And the best way to survive is by not taking risks, not doing anything out of the ordinary that might expose us to failure. The lizard brain wants to maintain the status quo because it's safe (even if it's completely useless).

The lizard brain manifests in exploration all the time. When faced with challenging new information, an exploration team chooses to ignore it. They simply keep doing what they were doing. Continuing with the old model. Even though it's obviously wrong now.

Adapting to incoming information during an exploration program is frightening to the lizard brain. A lot of the time, it's unclear what the next move should be (except that there should be a next move, different from the last one). You have to try something, and by trying you might fail.

The interesting thing is, failing often isn't that bad. At least, failing in small ways.

Often, when you make an attempt (even a relatively wild one), it yields interesting new information. It may not be the result you expected. In fact, the outcome may have very little to do with your original working theory. But at least something new has emerged about the project. And that something new often leads you to the next step in the process, be it printing or finding a mine.

The trick is to know when a project still has enough legs it's worth spending time, energy and money to keep the machine moving forward. Could you crack this deposit open with metallurgical testing? Engineering design? Coarse gold sampling analysis and Gy's theory? Geophysics? Thin section work? Drilling at a different angle? In a different location?

At some point, options are exhausted and a project needs to be abandoned. But it's critical to properly assess the "walk-away" point. Making sure you've done everything you could do. Most major deposits are worked by at least three different companies before the discovery is finally made. Meaning the first two groups gave up too soon.

Especially, it's critical to make sure you're not spending millions doing work you knew six months ago was the wrong approach, but were too scared to change. Know which part of your brain is running the program.

By. Dave Forest of Notela Resources




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