31 January 2017
In the early seventies, I went to the University of Sussex. It is about 4 miles outside of Brighton, where many of the students lived. There were buses and trains to cover the distance, but the preferred means of getting back into town was hitch-hiking – it was an almost industrial process, with a self-organised line and amazing efficiency. It was so much of an institution that the Students Union welcome pack for students contained the (pre-enlightenment) quote “Patience is a virtue, or a pretty girl. Both of which are useful when hitching”.
I have learnt, in the many years since I left Sussex, that patience is a useful virtue to have in business – and certainly in government. However, it is sadly lacking.
22 November 2016
Last week I was invited to a roundtable discussion on the future of the “smart factory”. It was couched in terms of Industry 4.0 and majored on the disruptive nature of the changes facing companies in the manufacturing sector. I was asked to lead the discussion by talking about my experiences. I am not sure it was what they wanted!
15 October 2016
Back in early May, the CBI held its annual conference at the University of Warwick. Alongside the plenary sessions, there were two workshop sessions, one on digital skills and one on innovation. From what I saw, the innovation workshop ended up being mainly about the skills needed to be innovative, as many participants said they couldn’t be innovative because they did not have the right skills in their organisation. There seemed to be an assumption that if only they could access those skills, life would be easier.
26 September 2016
One of the stranger ideas mooted in recent months was to replace the grants used by Innovate UK with loans. One of the things I discovered in my time at the Technology Strategy Board was that government views “revenue” and “capital” as different types of money, and for a while they preferred giving out capital to revenue. This may be part of that tactic, but profoundly misunderstands how Innovate UK has an effect on growing companies.
05 September 2016
Long ago, I was taught that science is about understanding the world around me, and being able to predict behaviour in a set of circumstances not yet observed. The ability to clearly communicate that understanding to another human being is an extra, and very important, skill, but is not given to everyone who does science. When I took the route into industrial research, I learnt that science is the start of another process. But whether you call it development, applied research, or innovation, the process of using the understanding to develop new products and services is separate and distinct from science on which it is based.
02 August 2016
In the late 80’s there was a trend for “teamwork” training for management teams based on popular activity based TV programmes. So it was that in late 1989, I ended up in Theakston with my colleagues at a nice hotel on a Friday evening poised for a weekend of active team-based problem solving. On the Friday evening there was a sumptuous dinner, and in the briefing afterwards the leader of the organisers gave us a pre-weekend pep talk. Part of his spiel was that no activity we would undertake over the weekend would be more strenuous than a brisk afternoon’s gardening. There was a pause before our Research Director announced from his table that ”he had a man to do that for him”.
30 April 2016
One of the things I have been doing in my enforced inactivity is reading those newsletters that pick up on your past interests and force-feed you their views. I have therefore seen a lot of speculation about my old employer – the organisation formally known as the Technology Strategy Board, but now known as InnovateUK.
03 April 2016
It started late on Christmas Day – a sharp and continuous pain in my lower abdomen. At first I put it down to having eaten a larger than normal meal for Christmas and assumed it would pass. Even as I went to bed, I thought it would be gone by morning, but instead I spent a restless – and sleepless – night.
12 November 2015
Earlier in the year, I went to a meeting that was opened by Sir Mark Walport with a talk about the difference between evidence and values. I think I have watched this thought process grow within the office of the Government Chief Scientific Advisor since Professor Sir John Beddington first pointed out that the clue to the limitations of his role were in the title – he is an advisor – and mostly politicians make judgements based on their values. Mark has developed this theme, and his talk gave examples of not just where evidence was used to make policy, but also where “values” gave rise to policies and (most damagingly) where the reasoning was confused.
22 October 2015
One of the joys of working at the Technology Strategy Board was that I met lots of very bright, committed people with visions of how our world could be improved. We worked to help them realise their dreams as commercial realities. In my more optimistic moments, I revelled in what we were helping them achieve. However, every now and again, I was brought down to earth by everyday experiences. Here is a recent one!