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Innovator / Entrepreneur

Inside CORE Innovation Hub: How a Focus on Problem Solving Creates Freedom and Meaning in Work

Tamryn scored her job 10/10 (ten being the most enjoyable job you can imagine).

by MK Ward


You would expect that everyone who works in mechanical engineering and the mining sector does tasks that involve machinery and tangible inputs and outputs. You would expect the work to be structured, precise, and measureable. Tamryn works in the industrial sector of mining and if you think her work is tangible with clear measures of inputs and outputs, you would be wrong. What does Tamryn do? The answer will take us around the world.


Tamryn Barker is the founder and CEO of CORE Innovation Hub. Tamryn’s journey to get to this point was full of bold moves, conversation, and passion for facilitating problem solving. What does that look like? The first step was failure.


Tamryn worked for a start up in the energy sector. Despite good quality products, the start-up failed, but provided some valuable lessons for Tamryn’s journey. First, speed to market is critical – you simply have to be fast enough to capitalize on the market opportunities. Second, Tamryn learned that it’s important to have “skin in the game”, to really have that buy in and be truly invested in the company. Subsequent jobs involved Tamryn scanning the world for interesting problems to solve, picking one where conditions and timing were right. And that’s why she moved to take jobs in London and China.

Creating a problem-sharing environment


A $71 billion opportunity of the mining sector drew Tamryn back to Perth where she and the team at CORE are working to build innovation and collaboration in the energy sector. “Perth is the hotspot for skills in mining problems, not Silicon Valley.” In order to unleash the potential of those skills in Perth, the culture in the industry needs to change into a problem-sharing environment. The unique thing about Tamryn’s work is how difficult it is to point at, define, map, and measure. For part of her work and much of her career, she has liaised between industry and government to bring about change, often to change policy. How do you make collaboration tangible? How do you get feedback about your work?


“In some sense this isn’t the question, because collaboration is the process and it’s not really about how many phone calls or new numbers are exchanged or the number of meetings. Rather it’s more meaningful in my mind to see if the industry sector has grown.”

Demanding beginnings


To achieve this type of growth requires continuously shifting attention from projects to the vision of CORE. So what does a work day look like? In the beginning of CORE, Tamryn was heavily involved in daily operations. How do they develop membership packages? Are the toilets clean? What does a maker-space look like? There were lots of meetings, emails, short and focused reporting with the goal of sharing a vision. There was lots of vision-sharing, and bringing different people together to get fast feedback. These were development-style activities, with the goal of collecting information quickly from others in order to make key decisions, test approaches, and adjust based on feedback. Information processing in work design is part of every job, it can be demanding, especially when Tamryn’s hours were 18 hours a day or overnight if needed.

Growth and work design changes


As CORE developed, Tamryn’s job changed to free up more of her time to focus on building more impactful partnerships and build resources to empower new enterprises and getting big players in this space to be open to new enterprises.They’re goal is tocreate and grow start-ups that don’t remove or push out the big players. Emma and Sophie now handle communications, events, membership, and skills development programming at CORE. Although they generally wear multiple hats in the organisation, the team of three has a clear sense of who is responsible for what--something called role clarity in the work design literature.

An all-female team


It’s rare in mining and in start-ups to have an all-female team at the top of the organization. Now that Tamryn has a baby, ensuring that her work is extremely efficient and very closely tied to strategic objectives, is nonnegotiable. Tamryn can no longer work the 18 hour days. She’s able to get childcare for a few hours at a time so she can be with her son every day and still be in the office.  Every hour counts.

Weaving work and life into each other


For Tamryn, the term “work/life balance” is a misnomer because there is little separation between the two.


“I don’t think the word “job” is useful anymore and I would like to see that vernacular change. The term “job” represents this archaic idea that doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t think it means a lot to students coming out of universities. Now work is so much more flexible and so much more beyond all the restrictions and structure that comes with a job. It’s more about self-direction.”


All in all, Tamryn rates her work 10 out of 10 because she doesn’t have a difference between a Monday and a Sunday.


“I’m never looking desperately forward to the weekend. If I wake up three days in a row thinking I don’t want to be doing this. Then something’s seriously wrong, especially in a society where we have choice.”


When work and life are intertwined, it makes sense that you want to use your freedom of choice to create work that’s meaningful and holds great significance.

A little more...

Will technology and automation make me redundant?

The mining sector needs to foster collaboration to keep up with the rapid technology advances that are set to change the work and work design of professionals in the industry.  Fear of technology and automation is not part of anything Tamryn is building. “In some sense, if you have a fearful mindset, then you have already lost.” At CORE, employees are supported and motivated to learn new skills to adapt to the challenges and complexities posed by new mining technologies. Tamryn says the future is going to shift work. The tools she uses in her job to communicate ideas, share information on projects, and track the business cycle, are all recent technologies. What’s more, is that she doesn’t see them as added job demands to learn, because they’re intuitive and she hasn’t needed any sort of training to make use of them. “It is conceivable to automate something to do my job and make me redundant, but no, I’m not worried and I’m not afraid.  I’ll just do something else.”

Meangingful work

In the mining and energy sector, organizations like CORE can have powerful economic impacts, providing meaningful work. “I can see people’s connection and see people develop from those connections. When the network grows there is a real sense of, “Oh my goodness we’re alive. We’re makers and creators.” I feel that level of thrill of creative expression that I imagine musicians and artists may feel when they create their works of art. I don’t necessarily need to be connected to the network myself in order to feel motivated and inspired by its growth.”

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