08 June 2018
Last week I went to a meeting for a European technology platform. It was the usual round of scientific papers outlining progress in tackling the challenges of the area, but it also contained a couple of sessions enabling attendees to “pitch” their work. I went along expecting the sort of pitches I was used to, but instead listened to more scientific papers – with one honourable exception. This got me thinking about how we communicate the understanding that science gives us in the context of business.
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.
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.
12 June 2015
With the increasing political emphasis on innovation-fuelled growth, the question of how to turn the UK’s scientific capability into commercial success is becoming more and more important. With past efforts largely unsuccessful, what is the relationship we need to build between universities and companies to enable a successful UK economy?
29 December 2014
It must be my age, but meeting old friends and colleagues often dredges up the beginning of beliefs and insights I frequently use but whose provenance I had forgotten, and which have been added to over the years and repeatedly demonstrated their value. So it was that lunch with the (long ago) ex Group Communications Director of ICI took me back to the genesis of my interest in branding in unusual places!
22 August 2014
There are three main components for a successful business. The first is an understanding of a specific market need. The second is a capability to answer that need. The third is the resources to move from the idea to a sustainable business – which usually involves money!