Action is a consequence of thought, not a substitute for it
15 February 2009 by David Bott
For some time now, we have been working with the Design Council to try to find a way to build a greater element of “design thinking” into the front end of our programmes and projects. It is not that design is left out of many of the activities we support, but the systematic evaluation of the whole process before things happen was not encouraged by the timescales we used to use, and the expedient behaviour of many business technologists (and I include me in my previous life here) meant that often design got left until the back end of the process and failed to realise its potential contribution. The challenge for us is to get those on the scientific and technological side of the house see what the more creative side can do for them by involving them earlier in their thoughts.
Before Christmas, we were invited to join the Design and Technology Alliance by Sebastian Conran and immediately become embroiled in the Designing Our Crime programme. We are now in the final stages of launching a new joint programme with the Home Office and the Design Council and Thursday evening was a telephone conference with David Godber of the Design Council to make sure we were both up to speed with the project. Since it will probably be formally launched by someone in political life, it is not for e to spill the beans, but I think we are all proud of what we are planning – watch this space!!
Towards the end of the call, we started discussing the meeting last week at Number 11. Design Week had run an editorial on the event, criticising the lack of wider engagement of the design community. Whilst I was quite moderately proud that I had been name-checked in such a prestigious journal outside my usual sphere, the reference was ambiguous and David will help the Technology Strategy Board get wider engagement with a community we regard as vital for the sustainable success of UK businesses.
The following day, an apparently unrelated meeting brought me back to this conversation. The Industrial Biotechnology Innovation and Growth Team are nearing the end of their analysis and wanted to check their recommendations as they relate to the work of Technology Strategy Board. We went through the draft recommendations and discussed how various ongoing activities could inform and refine their thoughts. One that was of particular interest to me was the ability to test new biotechnology routes to basic chemicals. Having spent most of my business career in the chemicals industry, I am only too aware of the challenges that confront those wanting to bring radically new product or process to market. There is usually a need for new capital equipment, and at a level that the payback period is often measure in decades rather than years. Even before money became tight, that timescale of returns would scare off the most risk tolerant. What the IB-IGT team have done is think through this hurdle and come up with a well-thought through approach to the problem leveraging existing resource into a potential competitive advantage for the UK. It’s like they “designed” it!!