When [X] marks the spot: A mentoring journey

Sylvain, you’ve recently been mentoring as part of the panel for Unearthed Accelerator program, where energy tech innovators can go from prototype to product in 6 months. What skills do you think you have contributed to the mentoring relationship? 

Written By Claire Spencer

Sylvain, you’ve recently been mentoring as part of the panel for Unearthed Accelerator program, where energy tech innovators can go from prototype to product in 6 months. What skills do you think you have contributed to the mentoring relationship? 

Honestly, I had no idea what I would bring, but it goes without saying that working in the oil and gas sector you amass a lot of knowledge about the industry, key issues and drivers. Sometimes just that knowledge is hugely valuable for those trying to break through.

I was also able to provide help as a subject matter expert, guiding the innovators and providing insights from big business. For example, what we do, where is the value, what are the challenges and the opportunities?

What do you think you’ve gotten out of mentoring on a professional and personal level?

Really, there have been 3 things; the first being how I feel about myself in my own role. Secondly, I have further developed my mentoring and communication skills and last but most importantly I have learnt how rapidly results can be delivered by using new ways of working, and talented, cross functional teams.  

For point one, the thing that comes to mind is that it’s energising to be part of a program like this. You’re valued as a professional and honestly, it’s been deeply satisfying.  I’ve refreshed my long-term view of technology and innovation. I felt I was outdated, even though I’m not that old!! The experience showed me that to stay on top of the ever-changing environment, especially in the digital space, you need to watch beyond your industry, you need interaction with other disruptors, those people who will bring fresh perspectives to the Oil and Gas industry.

The second thing I noticed was that the program was a great opportunity to practice my mentoring skills. Being effective, simple, meaningful, accurate and useful, asking lots of questions to guide without constraining and making sure what you’re doing helps quite a few passionate people; these attributes are important at a professional level, enhancing my leadership capabilities, way beyond my role in the program.

Finally, what I realised in a very short period is that a high-functioning team with cross functional skills can pick up knowledge and apply those skills to clearly define the problem and prototype solutions extremely quickly. This changes the way you think of rate of working and how you approach issues, it sets you with an intense rhythm, a very lean metabolism for problem solving.


What are you looking forward to next (as part of the program and professionally)

I’ve been offered to sit on the advisory board of one of the companies which graduated from the Unearthed Accelerator Program. I’m meeting with them in April, it’s challenging, exciting and interesting.  They’re really looking forward to making a living, generating revenue and thriving. I’m looking forward to seeing those innovators continue to grow. They have changed a lot, they were already good when we selected them to come into the program, and they are now in a truly different league.

Professionally, I’m looking forward to Origin leading in innovation in QLD and the wider community.

We can’t shy away from being a social actor, we need to be part of the ecosystem, work more closely with universities and innovation platforms to deliver and create tangible outcomes.

As much as I’m passionate about the industry, this opportunity came just at the right time.

It’s provided me with a new horizon and exposed me to the technology path that we need to part of to be competitive.

Our ambition should be to be leaders of this industry and to support that we have stood up a tech team to grow and discover those opportunities as well.

What are your top tips for anyone getting involved in mentoring as the mentor or mentee?

As a mentor; my advice is to be generous of your time and information. Show the kind parenting attitude for the benefit of the start-ups, even if it isn’t always directly related to the role you do day to day. Look further than the short term, some ideas are rough and need refining, give people the time and the space to develop it.

There is an aspect of open-mindedness, accepting that as good as we may be at Origin, there are other great minds outside of the organisation as well. It doesn’t diminish our value at all to work with other people who have other ways to do things.

If you have a strong technical background, it can be difficult to understand that things can be done differently. It is also about trial and error, things may not work; if you fail, do that fast, learn and then pivot. It’s about being adaptable, agile.

For the mentee; don’t jump to solutions, ask loads of questions, identify the pre-conceived beliefs and be thorough about defining the problem. The experts sometimes won’t know the answer. They may be stuck in their own way of thinking. You must listen, extract the useful information and challenge in a constructive way.

For people willing to create a team or create a start-up, cross functional skills are a must. People who are different complement each other to find new ways and unlock opportunities. A good team alchemy creates a situation where people are open and can best analyse the problem. It’s quite unique to see a team working well together. As mentors, this creates an emotional attachment, you genuinely want to see them succeed; you become invested in how well they do because of their attitude. Resilience is also important as it takes time for ideas to come through.

Above all, it’s important to remember that we can trust the technology but we’ll always favour trusting a team or the people before we invest in solutions.


A bit about Sylvain

I am a petroleum engineer, with a strong background in drilling. I joined Origin as a team lead in 2014 and was presented an opportunity to move into innovation and transformation roles leading a development cost improvement program first, and more recently the Unlocking our Resource program within the [X] team. My role is to focus on the subsurface, wells and gathering systems, to rapidly increase APLNG’s production output and enhance the economics of our future developments.


More about the author

Claire has been with Origin for 9 years and working in Digital for 20
years. A self-confessed lover of food, travel, tech and all things
mindful, she also runs the Lojong Meditation school
with her husband Tamkey, a former Tibetan Buddhist monk. Together they
have a 3 year old son and are currently building their eco-dream-home in
Daylesford. 

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