Not one day at the office - and I should be ashamed!!!
11 May 2018 by David Bott
A short week. But a busy one...
It started with the Microsoft Innovation Day at their clandestine UK offices in Cardinal Point. There must have been about 400 people there. Over lunch we got to look at a display of the various technologies Microsoft were pushing into any available market. Thinks – can we trademark “challenge led innovation” and train others – to help companies like Microsoft achieve their full potential? They had booked Denham but he was a no-show so we got Baroness Morgan (http://www.dius.gov.uk/ministerialteam/baronessmorgan.html), followed by Chas Sims of the Technology Partnership and Andrew Herbert of Microsoft Cambridge. Sims was pretty honest about balancing the hype with the real achievements. We then split in to pre-assigned to syndicates – I got entrepreneurship, but that wasn’t what we talked about. Then back into a panel discussion on “creating the 2020 wave of innovation” - we should prosecute them under the Trade Descriptions Act!!! The finale was a talk by Michael Gove MP ( http://www.michaelgove.com/index.phpwho had the best jokes of the day but otherwise fell into the usual party slagging-off routine. The top man in Microsoft outside North America then reported back on the syndicate I had been in – or thought I had. He wasn’t where I was, but managed to validate the points he wanted to make anyway about the importance of companies like Microsoft. A quick glance at the history of Microsoft – and the words of the Chief Borg "The standard strategy for us is to just hire great engineers and surprise people at how well we can compete, even with a company that's got a strong lead." - says it all. Let someone else come up with the idea, but out-engineer them and put them out of business. In the wind-down I discovered and talked to Professor Stephen Heppell (http://www.heppell.net/ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2YCOhljF6U) - bet you can’t guess on what subject!!
The next day started with the ETI Buildings Working Group. This is going well. Mainly because the guy from EDF who is chairing it takes the role seriously and because the partners have not attended if they didn’t see value/pork barrel. As a result we are moving towards a situation where they want to start on the retrofit market where we can’t yet – too big and not driven by government regulation or procurement. There is however, an obvious possibility of technology transfer.
Next came the ERA Foundation Lunch at the IET. Fascinating networking event. As well as the ubiquitous Peter Saraga, I met a large quantity of the usual suspects. Unfortunately, I had to leave for my next meeting before the speaker – so I did get a free lunch.
The first half of the afternoon was spent with Brain and Merlin at DoH. Bill Maton-Howarth is really doing a good job on answering the “what would success look like” question. He talked us through 2 scenarios and promised 2 more. He also told us the DEFRA are concerned about joining the group because they think we will ask them for money!! We also started planning the first definition workshop on June 27th – Bill has already booked a DoH room!!
My next appointment was an odd one. I had been approached by a “friend of a friend” who had just been turned down in the November competition. It was their first time and they thought the feedback was a bit odd. They bought me a cup of tea (I thought I ought to declare that) and showed me the letter we sent them. The feedback consisted of 4 short lines, 3 of which were mildly insulting and probably inaccurate and one – that they didn’t have a partner with a route to market – which they accepted and said they would address. What struck me was that the feedback told them nothing of value in applying again, nothing they could use to beef up their business plan and (I did check) a couple that were plain wrong. This is a good example of where custom and practice, coupled with a fear of the problems caused by a few applicants stops us from delivering our promise to be a knowledge transfer organisation. We feel like a funding body when we do this and need to consider how we can change. I talked them through the process as I understood it and they remained positive about us.
Finally, it was time for a free Wednesday dinner in London – otherwise known as the Foundation for Science and Technology. Pearson was a little underwhelming (for him) and Vicky proved once again that cutting data and playing with axes can prove black is white. The real passion of the evening came from Andy Goldberg (http://www.medicalfutures.co.uk/). We had heard a little about this at DoH. It is a neat model for finding good ideas and validating them, but apparently there is no real money to develop ideas and Andy is looking to build links with NIHR to get access to funds. Between the talks and the dinner I was sidled up to by the apprentice Dark Lord of BERR. He told me that they had been analysing the investments of the TSB (yes, he did swear) and that we were putting our money in the wrong places. Even for him, the logic was simplistic, but if he repeats it often enough it will distract us. I the discovered quite how keen Dougal is to court us because I got a seat on the top table (Fearless Leader gets one by right these days). I sat between Alex Churchill and David Cooksey. The dinner started with Andy hitting on David to sit on his fundraising board – an invitation he declined. I had really nice chat with David about his Biotech Report – he mused that the timescale for implementation of Government reports was close to that for full exploitation of new technology – 15 years – and how he is now trying to make London Continental Railways pay.
Thursday was, of course, the launch of our Strategy. It was pretty good, but I couldn’t help thinking that our almost traditional just-in-time approach will fail us one day and we need to actually come through on some of our promises to plan and consider all options. The dinner was also nice – shows that in the hands of an efficient organiser, things can happen without trauma. Actually, I wrote the last bit because we learned on Friday that the Assistants read these things, so I will now be really nice about them!! :-)
Friday was almost quite good – with everyone, including Fearless Leader on their third iteration of their talks, the data was a given and more of the humour and commitment came through. In the afternoon, the indirect psychometric profiling of the blind-rover showed that I trust Cyrus, Ian trusts me but that Cyrus trusts no-one. Unfortunately, I had to leave as the real Honda Pilot turned up, but I was most impressed with Dirkens roll. We have at least one person who takes risks!
Unusually, I have to include Saturday because this afternoon, Fearless Leader and I met with a 2nd Life Island designer – on the SGI Island – to discuss how we can build a 2nd Life presence for the Technology Strategy Board. We are now only a couple of years behind the Zeitgeist!!