Be careful what you wish for!!!

I should start by welcoming new readers.  After an exchange of e-mails with David Golding, we realised we could have saved some time if I copied him in too and then leaving Paul Whittemore out seemed churlish, so here you are!!

I managed to make it down to Swindon for a “start the week” meeting and the following “Willets tactics” one (won't FoI have fun with this), then down to London for one of the regular Carbon Trust-ETI-Technology Strategy Board catch-up's as we grandly call the meeting between Mark Williamson, Andrew Haslett and myself.  Actually, I had a couple of pieces of real business to take care of, which made a change from sorting the presentation Tom Delay regularly gives ERP promising more joined up action.  Andrew had been in meetings at Carbon Trust since 9.30 (I bet he loves his assistant for that one, he lives on the Wirral) learning about the protocol CT use to judge the carbon impact of projects.  Mark went away to make sure he could share this with both our organisations, since it makes no sense for us to independently derive an alternative measure in what is an imprecise area.  I then floated our interest in seeding a KTN in the Energy Generation & Supply area – primed by Fil and Derek!  Both Mark and Andrew expressed strong generic support for KTNs and recognised the hole in our shared area but stopped short of offering to co-fund – for now.  My second task was to see if I could get a straight answer out of Andy on what intentions ETI had towards Carbon Capture and Storage.  Derek had picked up from the ETI Technical Committee that they were back-peddling and unlikely to act until 2010 and wanted to act to fill the gap.  Andy denied that they were not acting but, under cross-questioning, did admit that they were most likely to hold a workshop to see what they ought to do early next year.  I did the maths and came to the same conclusion as Derek.  Game on.

Then it was across London to Imperial College to meet our largest grant recipient. Imperial fielded a powerful team of senior academics and described their internal strategies.  The presentations were more or less as expected but the tour of the incubator was excellent.  I always like the real world.  Maybe one day.....

The next morning, David Way had invited me to another of his “I met this person at a conference” meetings.  Given the value of the last one I was moderately excited by the idea of meeting the KPMG Innovation Partner.  I wasn’t disappointed.  David, Richard Max-Lino and I had an interesting 90 minutes with Sarah and Heather, debating our understanding of the current “innovation climate”.  I think we agreed that they probably wouldn’t avail themselves of our funding support, but they would value regular exchanges of views and engagement with some of our more diverse meetings – as long as PWC and Deloitte weren’t in the room!!

Then back to Swindon for a series of meetings and teleconference about the Digital Economy sandpit, which is coming to one of its milestones.  It is interesting to note how easily people are distracted and forget what they set out to do.  We are planning a visit to the BAE synthetic environment laboratory in New Malden on the Wednesday morning and the weaker members of the team had started thinking that they could visit a local restaurant and continue the discussions about what they learned rather than slog back to the sandpit itself and get back to work.  The “break” is meant to increase the challenge and pressure on the participants and not give them a holiday!!  Doh!!

That evening I managed to get home to celebrate the return of sanity to my wife’s country – since she and the boys all voted, they were very excited – the phone call at 4 o’clock when McCain conceded was definitely from someone under the affluence of incahol.  This all made getting up on Wednesday more difficult, but I made it to Swindon.

First up was the selection of candidates for the Head of Technology function – the 60 or so who applied were a bit disappointing, but Penna had found some more promising candidates by search, so this won't be a complete waste of time. I got back to my desk to find a very excited Jools – she had just been called by Aston Martin who wanted to find out how they can get involved in the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform. I duly had a nice conversation with Bradley, their Government Affairs and Sustainability person and managed to mix in design and brand values, sustainability and electric vehicles. They may actually be the first motor manufacturer who only want our minds, not our wallets!!

Back to London for another of Dougal’s parties – this time to discuss ETI.  David Clark gave a brief and feature free presentation on the work of ETI.  He mentioned us once, as a complement to their electric vehicles demonstrator programme. He was followed by Mark Henstridge, the Group Economist of BP.  Mark managed to explain some complex relationships in the energy space using clear graphics and a minimum number of words.  I was deeply jealous.  Finally came Willy Rickets of BERR.  Usually, speakers at FST fall into one of 2 traps.  They stay at too high a level and don’t actually say anything or try too hard with details and get caught in the weeds.  I have never seen anyone say nothing and get caught up in the details. Weird.  Government taking this stance in public undermines their credibility that they care about the area.  Questioning, usually a boring affair with old duffers swapping in jokes, was enlivened by Rick Parker slagging off Carbon Trust for not funding the RR Fuel Cell programme, with its consequent loss to Singapore.   Since I was in Singapore when the RR guys were negotiating, and long before the Carbon Trust call, I thought Rick was being slightly disingenuous, but a wounded and aggrieved David Vincent tried to redress the argument and (sadly) failed.  Why do RR believe that the UK taxpayer owes them a living (someone said to me?!). Over dinner, I sat between the new Caterpillar person on the ETI Board (John Amdall) and heard the story of why Cat are there.  Serendipity is all.  On my other side was a guy from MarWind – a company without a website but with several patents – who specialise in transporting and erecting offshore wind turbines.  They hadn’t heard of the Technology Strategy Board and didn't like the ETI IPR model.

Thursday was a full London day.  It started with a meeting between us, AWM and ONE about how to make the Low Carbon Vehicles Integrated Delivery Programme work.  It was a bit odd, with AWM (fielding a depleted team) going over the old canards of how they can’t put money into our early programmes and how they want to build something at Ansty, and ONE banging on about how we need to include off-road in the specification so that Caterpillar can join in, and that Denham had agreed to this (implicitly in his speech when he mentioned Cat it turns out). Overall, we made some progress, with Tim basically telling them what he was going to do and asking for money or we would run our ourselves and close the programme.  He tells me it’s called bluff Yorkshire charm!!

Next up came a meeting with a guy from Method - I had met one for the founders a few years back at a Sustainable Entrepreneurs Meeting in the US – see a slice of history!!  I had kept in touch and noted their development and did have Adam as a potential Innovate speaker – he is in the Tom Ilube class and I could get him for nothing – but he has entered the phase of his life when children dictate transatlantic travel and he couldn't come.  We keep setting up meetings that don’t happen and this time Adam was detained in the US but sent his head of European operations.  Richard Miller was also in Kingsgate, so I grabbed him and we spent an hour with James Tugendhat.  Method has developed an integrated sustainable/branding/upmarket cachet approach to the markets which is truly awesome and I could see Richard getting progressively more excited by this war story.  We agreed to send James more details of our programmes – characteristically he hadn’t heard of us, so didn't know what we did.

Finally for Thursday, Zoe and I met with James Lawn of Polecat.  He is also associated with Make Your Mark and WebMission, which was why he wanted to talk to us.  He had been in the audience at my stand-up impersonation of a Government minister the other week and – since he hadn’t heard of the Technology Strategy Board either – was interested in working with us.  Specifically, he would like us as partners in WebMission 09. Having ascertained that this didn't involve money, I continued the conversation.  The basic pitch is that we (by which I mean Zoe) takes part in the selection of 20 or so companies (this year it was Web 2.0, next it will be Enterprise 2.0 – see you’re as out of touch as me) but then gets to go to California for a couple of weeks with them and meet lots of trendy Californians.  We also touched on Polecat – see for a not very good web site – and Zoe has promised to work out how to explain it to a thicky like me, but it seems to be mildly Semantic Web, so is very cool.

Friday was a Swindon day, saying goodbye to Neville, going around the budget planning process again and trying to work out what we are doing with the Board on Tuesday. Guy has organised a really tasty filling to the sandwich but I came away with the feeling that the bread is a bit white. Hell, what else are weekends for? We also mostly agreed the layout of the new offices, although I got a bit of sticker shock when I discovered we had £300k and it would cost over three times that!!

Also, for those of you who didn't notice, we sent a group of our brightest and best off on a creative problem solving training course the other week.  Their feedback suggests that it is the best course we’ve run (so well done wrongly spelt Ian) but they are worried that ”the management” won’t support creative new ideas.  Since they are using Twitter to communicate, I thought I ought to join in. I have to admit, I have avoided micro-blogging as I suspected it might be the final nail in the coffin of my productivity, but I am beginning to see the usefulness of it.  For those of you who want to prove your youth (or your ability to listen to youth), go to and register.  I am david_bott, follow me and I will give you the names of our people who are already there.

I can remember an old HR colleague once ruefully telling me “we’ve telling people for years that they need to manage their own careers, but it much harder when they do”.  In the long run having creative people will make our lives easier, but unless we set problem that require creative solutions, we are likely to make more work in the short term.  Do we realise what we are creating?

I now need to write the beginners guide to Second Life, as construction starts this weekend, and am cursing the success of the Digital Economy sandpit call – we have 260 expression of Interest that I have to sift (with others) to select the 25-30 who will get to take part in December.  Good job it’s raining, else this 7 day week stuff would pale.

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