We didn’t find an ore body – are we just unlucky, or crap explorers?

There are many, many times more prospectors and geologists exploring for mineral deposits than there are ore bodies to be found. It is entirely feasible for a competent explorationist to go through a career and never be able to claim sole credit for an economic mineral discovery.  It is even possible, for no other reason than sheer bad luck, to never have been part of a team responsible for major new discovery. If the sole criterion for success in an exploration program is ore discovery, then the overwhelming majority of programs are unsuccessful, and most explorationists spend most of their time supervising failure.

Success is going from failure to failure and staying enthusiastic -Winston Churchill 

But that is too gloomy an assessment. Ore discovery is the ultimate prize and economic justification for what we do, but cannot be the sole basis for measuring the quality of our efforts. The skill and knowledge of the experienced explorationist reduces the element of luck in a discovery, but can never eliminate it.  How do we judge when an exploration program was well targeted and did everything right, but missed out through this unknown and uncontrollable factor? How do we know how close we came to success?  If successful, what did we do right?  And the corollary is this; if we are successful, how do we know it was not merely luck, rather than a just reward for our skills and cleverness? If we cannot answer these questions, it will not be possible to improve our game or repeat our successes. Another complicating factor in judging our efforts is Attribution Bias. It is very human (we all suffer from this to an extent) to attribute any success we achieve to our own knowledge and cleverness, but to attribute our failures to outside factors such as bad luck, interference by others or poorly designed tools.


 Petroleum geologists have much the same problems

If we are to improve our exploration efforts we need better  feedback. We need a way to measure the success of an exploration program that is not dependent on actual ore discovery. Unless we can critically assess our efforts we are forever condemned to repeat our mistakes. As Einstein said : ”insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”


Here is one practical and effective way to judge the success of an exploration program.  Have your efforts to define and then explore a project produced a target from which at least one drill intersection of mineralisation with a potentially economic width and grade has been achieved? This “foot-in-ore” situation may of course have resulted from sheer serendipity rather than from any particular skill on the part of the explorer, but if an individual explorer or exploration group can consistently generate prospects which achieve this result, then they must be doing something right.  In this case, in the light of your success,  analyse carefully what parts of your exploration thinking worked, what parts not so good or effective. If you have not defined such a target, then then think critically about each stage of your reasoning in the light of what your exploration actually turned up.   The next time you commence an exploration project you will be that little bit smarter.  It is essential not to panic at initial lack of success.    You are allowed several trials at a problem.  

Optimism and self belief is an essential part of the psyche of the exploration geologist. Believe that it is only be a matter of time before  you find an ore body.



  1. This website inspires me everyday, you should update it more often

    • Thanks for the comment. When I started this blog it was my intention to add a new post at least weekly. But the mining/exploration industry here in Australia is starting to awake from its recents slumber and I have been somewhat busy of late. Also I am in the process of moving house. But I have lots of ideas for new posts and hope to resume blogging soon. Roger Marjoribanks.

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