I always knew you had to sift through a lot of rock to find gold, but I never knew how much. According to the article, “Halting the Rush Against Gold” (The Economist, February 5, 2005 edition), one of the best mines in the world “yields a gram of gold from each ton of rock.” Doing the math, that comes out to almost one in a million . . . and that’s for a top mine!
We also find in nature that one acorn in 10,000 grows up to be an oak, in art Picasso produced hundreds of sketches before tackling Guernica, and even in fairy tales we learn “to kiss a lot of frogs to find the one.” By nature the creative process, the search for THE game-changing idea in our lives, is one of sifting (testing) and persisting: in essence, trial and err.
This analogy’s real value is illustrating that finding that one part in a million is huge, huge business . . . literally and figuratively:
Astride the Andean watershed an hour north of Cajamarca is Yanacocha, one of the world’s biggest and most profitable gold mines. . . . At five separate sites, giant scoops slice the sides from mountains, loading 300,000 tons of rock a day into 250-ton trucks, each the height of a four-story building.
We can now visualize the effort ahead of us in our businesses. The moment we demand to see only gold and not rock to save time, we begin to shut ourselves out of the creative process. People won’t bring us any ideas for fear of ridicule and humiliation.
This analogy also helps us understand and appreciate why perhaps only one in a million companies is successful mining this gold.