I still wonder whether I should have stayed for the hand massage!

Once again no “start the week” but David's conscientiousness prompted into disclosing my plans for the week by e-mail!!

Instead I go to London.  First up was a coffee with Hazel Moore.  Hazel spoke at Innovate 08 last week but I had noted that she hadn’t registered yet for this year, so I was interested to know why.  It turns out that she found the website a little obscure and wasn’t sure the meeting would be of relevance.  I hope I persuaded her otherwise.

Next up was a meeting with Jordan Giddings, Brian Collins’ deputy at the DfT.  Jordan was a prime choice for the Digital Economy Sandpit but is in Phoenix – at a Digital Economy Conference – at the time, so we plotted to have him involved as a virtual mentor.

Then a long-awaited meeting with Richard Parry-Jones, chair of the new Automotive Innovation and Growth Team.  We have been trying to set this up since the IGT was announced – about 3 months ago – but Richard has proved elusive.  He seemed a little wary at the beginning of the meeting, but a combination of Tim’s winning charm and the fact that we had money soon won him around.  As you would expect from someone from industry, he was concerned about the plethora of initiatives in the low carbon vehicle area and understood our desire to bring the cats together and the progress made to date.

The final commitment of the day was to see Michael Braungart speak at the RSA.  The meeting was part of the London Design Week, and had been organised by the Design Council, MADE and Greengaged. Talking to one of the organisers, it sounds like a litany of organisational errors almost ruined the whole thing – which would have been a shame.  Michael has made quite a name for himself as a proselytiser for sustainable thinking.  He has links into many influential organisations, both academic and consultative, and the book (with its associated audio CD!) he co-wrote with Bill McDonough (Cradle to Cradle) is about to undergo a major reprint.  His style is relaxed and humorous, but his message is unrelenting – if you think that population growth is bad and that waste is, well, waste, you start the spiral down.  He sees waste as a new raw material, and the creative spirit of people as the solution.  At times, his fervour seems almost religious and I suspect that there were logical gaps in the narrative, but it was an entertaining and informative way to spend an hour.  The reception afterwards was a little “Australian” with the designers, environmentalists and materials scientists all staying in their cliques, but I did manage a chat with Ellie Runcie of the Design Council.  They want to expand their support for small companies but are having difficulty finding them.  I wondered whether the new, improved spreadsheet of projects (a Nick Appleyard production) could be used, with us working with them to identify companies who are getting close to needing their type of support and then brokering a relationship.  I have been informed that we might contravene all sorts of data protection agreements by doing this but cannot help but feel that we ought to be pushing this type of approach – providing a joined-up and validated support programme for exciting new ideas to come to market.

Tuesday was largely spent in Swindon running through presentations for the Governing Board Away-Day and Innovate.  The Innovation Platform presentations may well be the death of me, but the strategy presentations all had elements of greatness in them, but need more time and practice to realise their potential.

Tuesday evening will go down in my memory as one of the weirdest I have spent in a long while.  It started with the instruction to meet Sebastian Conran at 150 Sloane Street for a reception.  Being a boy, I had no idea who (or what) Jo Malone was ( http://www.jomalone.co.uk/) so it was a bit of a surprise to discover the location of the event.  It turns out that I was gate-crashing a meeting of the “Luxury Brands Network”. I was ushered inside by Sebastian, who introduced me a “his friend, a nanotechnologist” and then abandoned me to seek out new business.  I had a very interesting conversation with the marketing manager of Libertys, and had plucked up enough courage to have a hand massage (you have no idea how useful all those lectures from Charles Sell of Quest Fragrances were turning out to be) when Sebastian extracted me from a champagne induced feeling of belonging, instructed me to get on the back of his Vespa, and transported me to the V&A! The reason was the launch reception of the Cold War Design Exhibition ( http://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/future_exhibs/cold_war/index.html).  This turned out to be quite fun, with a Trabant, an old Messerschmitt single seat car and a model of Vostok 1.  The bit on the future of what we didn’t then call ICT was an eye-popper!!  At one point Sebastian was pointing out a Dieter Rams radio (Dieter is cited by both Johnny Ive and Sebastian as an inspiration) when a suit behind him pushed in an introduced us to Dieter himself, who nonchalantly leaned forward, check the exhibit and remarked that he “liked to check they get their facts right!”.  Another, slightly longer, Vespa ride took us into Kensington for dinner.

Wednesday was the “scoping workshop” for the Digital Economy sandpit that is being held in December.  We had about 70 people, across a range of disciplines in a new conference centre at Canary Wharf.  We used a range of techniques to get people into the mood to think about the research challenges.  One interesting insight was the questioning about why the Technology Strategy Board was involved.  The feedback seemed to be very positive with both industry and academia pleased to be able to contribute so openly to Research Council thinking.  Almost inevitably, the final list contained a broad spectrum of ideas, with some duplication of earlier or ongoing work, but the day yielded plenty to think about.

The evening saw me and Fearless Leader on a double date with Imperial College.  In fact, so scared were they of Iain’s reputation that they fielded 5 to our 2.  It was a fascinating evening, as they outlined some of their aspirations – and not a little of their confidence – for the future.  I also learned that Iain is not good as a straight man during an exchange about the provision of skills for the nuclear industry, when I innocently asked whether they thought we ought to commission a review of capability and needs in the area – he started laughing because he knew we had agreed to do this last week!!

Thursday is a day I would like to forget.  I had been scheduled to catch the early Eurostar to Brussels to talk to the Public Procurement of Technology working group – a follow on from my talk to a sub-group in Valencia a few months ago at the request of DIUS.  We had checked on Tuesday that the timetable was still valid – scare stories on the radio had suggested otherwise – and Travelocity had told it was all okay.  Accordingly, I dragged myself out of bed at 4 o'clock to get to St. Pancras in time for a 6 o’clock train.  I had made it into the lounge before I discovered that not only was the train delayed by 75 minutes but that it would take at least 30 minutes longer on the journey, delivering me to Brussels in time to miss my talk!!!  This being just after 5 o’clock in the morning, my brain wasn’t working too well, but I did realise that sticking to the plan was pointless.  I then discovered how difficult it is to go backwards through Eurostar security, but did have a nice long chat with the head of security as we stood around discussing my situation.  I walked back along Euston and Marylebone Roads to find that – mercifully – the coffee shop at Marylebone Station was open, although I did have an hours wait until the first train home.  I still want to kill someone!!!

Friday was back at Swindon.  A early meeting was about the debate part of Innovate was a bit of a non-event – we have engaged Innovaro to help in in this area (although God knows what they are costing us) - but we did get to play with the audience participation gizmos. Then came a meeting on how to work the complaints procedure – I have a live one – a meeting with Jackie on her talk for Innovate and a meeting on how best to present to the Board at their Away-Day.


Leave a comment

Remember to include the http://