What’s in a name?
24 January 2013 by David Bott
A little over a year ago, the Prime Minister announced the setting up of a network of elite centres to drive faster commercial exploitation of UK science. They were given the working title of technology and innovation centres - which inevitably became abbreviated to TICs. We were very proud to be chosen to implement them. We had been working with the complex innovation ecosystem that is the United Kingdom, could see the range of capability in both science and business and realised that, although it would be an enormous task to develop a process for selecting select the right initial centres to reflect the enormous potential of the UK, the prize was worth it. Also, and hidden in the announcement, was another task that didn’t seem so large but which has proved to be a challenge and a journey for us – to name them.
The Hauser Report nailed its choice of name to the mast; the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology had similarly made its recommendation. In fact, over the first few months we seemed to get as many ideas for names as we did for focus areas. We had a lot of names of past UK scientists, technologists, engineers and businessmen – and even a few current ones. We had famous battles the UK had won, various biblical descriptors, parts of the scientific method, some artful acronyms and even some people who thought TIC was a good name!
What we came to realise is that, whilst it is easy to prove the claim that you are an expert on quantum physics or tax law, almost everyone has an opinion on naming and branding – and they’re all different.
It was clear that we needed some expert guidance to sort through all the ideas and pick the right name. It was then we had an idea. We could use our own networks to reach out to people who knew what they were talking about. We had known Sebastian Conran since our birth in 2007 – he was a speaker at our first Innovate in 2007, and now chaired our Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network. We had also met Michael Wolff through our Assisted Living Innovation Platform, where he was helping us ensure that the solutions we developed would actually work with people! We decided to ask their advice.
So it was in April that Sebastian and Michael met with some of our Lead Technologists to discover what we meant by a technology and innovation centre. I can remember talking to them later that day; they were blown away by the commitment – even passion – that our people showed to their areas and to finding the right way to provide innovation support in those areas. In a quote that has become legendary inside our organisation, we were told “for one of the most exciting, forward looking, prospects for the UK I have ever heard, it seems wrong to name it after a dead guy!” They also told us “you need a dynamic-but-poetic name that sounds like it will really make UK science successful.” Rather than just offering advice on how we might select a name and develop the brand, they both signed up on the spot.
Over the next few months Sebastian and Michael worked with our whole team. They attended some of the workshops where we developed the ideas for the first TICs, and they asked challenging questions which we had to think hard to answer, because they weren’t the usual questions we get asked. They showed us that a compelling name could be more powerful than we had imagined in making these centres the world-class success we were aiming for.
We discovered that naming something as important as these centres was a lot more complex that we thought it would be, and there were false starts and reversals due to legal requirements, but when they made their final recommendation, everyone involved recognised that it was the right end to the journey we had been on. We also recognised that we had added another skill to our set – we had learnt a great deal about the art of branding!