Heroes and self-inflicted pain - a good week then?
11 October 2018 by David Bott
The week started with me playing hooky again – which gave me a problem later on – and escaping down to London.
The first meeting of the day was with Beth Hogben. Beth is the deputy Chief Scientific Advisor to Brian Collins in his BERR role. Beth has recently moved to BERR from DEFRA and provided some real insights into the different cultures and problem-solving approaches in the 2 departments, and in exchange I explained what we are trying to do. We did end up with an interesting discussion about the links between the science base and our activities in terms of funding levels as well as integration. This re-awakened memories of Don Braben’s Venture Research Unit in BP and caused me to check up on his recent activities. As well as writing for Research Fortnight, he seems to have persuaded UCL to back him a bit – see- so I phoned him up and chatted. There is a new book - – which is too expensive at the moment but probably a good read.
I then had a long chat with Fergus about the agri-food area, SBRI and the Board. Interesting :-)
Then up to Islington for a final run-through of the talks by Jackie, Fionnuala and Tim. The scene in the BDC was one of controlled panic but things were coming together. Then on to Tower Bridge for the pre-Innovate dinner. It was a good mix of people and I had some interesting chats. At one point I noticed Steve Bold making eyes at me across the room and joined him to find he was being harangued by someone who thought the Technology Strategy Board was awful, having poor mechanisms and over-bureaucratic mechanisms. I thought about introducing him to Cyrus but didn’t want to ruin his evening. I then developed a thriving trade following this guy around and repairing the damage he was doing. As he got progressively drunker, he got more manic and his voice started jumping octaves during the rants. Lost track of him when we sat down and concentrated on my table. I had Craid Riediger and Joe Greenwell as new people on my table and we had great discussions – I was aided by David Pearson and Steve Bold who know enough about us to be part of our “associate” programme. At the end I discovered that rantman had fastened onto fearless leader. He didn’t need any help but he did tell me the guy had been in our video. We do seem to have some strange ideas about friendship!!
The next day we all got up early to help with the final preparations for Innovate 08. The Centre had a good buzz about it as we all filed into the main hall. Fearless Leader was in “preacher” mode and covered the ground in a new way, which chimed more with many I talked to afterwards. Tom Ilube was awesome and is my new hero but Farleigh was disappointing. After the break, we had difficulty getting everyone back in from networking and Denham looked discomforted by the background noise. The Q&A was sadly predictable with several pork barrel questions aimed at Iain and only one person who actually collected a proper industrial salary asking a question. Next year!! The planning left no time for lunch for many of us and I was into shepherding the “business of shaping” session in the main hall. Colin Drummond continues to amaze. He was looking at a small audience and hearing the noise of those eating food and he still launched into his talk with gusto. Peter Dunn got the benefit of the returning audience and overcame his nerves to do a good job. I would have wished for less chicken-wire but he pulled out the important points well and stuck to our message. Next up was the double act. I am not really sure what to say about Jackie and Fionnuala except that they were stupendous and did us proud. No longer are we a bunch of suits giving predictable talks on innovation. We now have passion and humour. Finally in the session came Brian Collins warming up the audience for Tim. Another double act is borne!!
The Great innovation Debate was an idea that came out of Lisa’s sugar fuelled meetings – I think it was a Biddle original – and although it seemed (to my eyes) to have lost its way midstream, the final concept still seemed good. Julia Hailles was right where we wanted her to be, Max decided that Farleigh was a tosser and started to take the Mickey and Drayson was truly impressive. Farleigh had decided that he would be “entertaining” (I am being charitable) and he came close to losing the importance of the issues we were trying to air. Martha Kearney also seemed not to understand what we were doing and allowed the discussion to drift of the point several times – until memorably this was pointed out by the Aussie Pitbull from the audience. Whatever vestiges of respectability we had were tested by the last 20 minutes of Jon Culshaw’s turn. It was really funny at first, but once people realised that they didn't have a drink and those who had already left did, the mood turned less indulgent. Memo to us – know when to stop!!!
Wednesday started with Fearless Leader and I meeting up with Davids Kester and Godber to discuss why we weren't yet doing real things together – other then they keep trying to charge us!! By the end of the allotted hour they had agreed to everything we proposed last time and hadn’t mentioned money – perhaps it was the drip-feed of put downs about “different business models” that FL used as a mantra.
A quick taxi ride across London got me to the final few slides of Meredith's presentation to the OAG. She was obviously doing well and they are loving the opportunity to join at the ground floor. It does mean that she and Brian will be criss-crossing the UK over the next few months, but there is real talent out there and we need to find it. Paul and I had to step out to join the Foresight meeting – leaving Heidi to pick up on the “funding issues” discussion. This is the 3rd of our regular meetings with the Foresight team and started with Sandy being extremely grateful that we had mentioned the provenance of the project within Foresight. I suspect that they will milk this but they did a good job so deserve it. The morning session was largely an update from them, but Richard did ask – and was given – early sight of their SEMBE report – because whatever they say, someone will use it as an excuse to complain that weren’t not funding them and should. The afternoon was a different matter and a good indication of what we could do between the teams. They described their Mental Capital and Well-Being work. Between Paul, Heidi, Richard, Nick, Sian and Jackie we came up with many potential impacts and implications within our portfolio of activates and ideas for future initiatives.
That evening David, Allyson and I went to see Tom Tether, Director of DARPA talk about their first 50 years. I had heard much of it before and usually at the same level of humour, but the questions from the RAEng retirement club provided some interesting insight. They see real value in the turnover of staff and Tom gave Singapore and “some guy he had met this afternoon” full marks for getting this point. So it came to pass that we have acquired the mantle of the “the DARPA of Europe”. I have pointed out to Iain that it was largely the ageing roué McConaghy that came up with that concept.
Thursday started with the increasingly frequent practice of catching a train to where I left my car so that I could use it for the rest of the week!! This got me to Swindon in time for a meeting with Bill Mawer, who heads up the new division of Smiths Detection aimed at Diagnostics. Smiths have been a continuous player in the development of DIIA and it was nice to hear a good, old-fashioned sales pitch about products and services, although it was largely wasted on me.
This was followed almost immediately by a meeting with Heidi, Tim and a telephonic Andrew about the various low carbon vehicle demonstrator myths and legends. There are changes in the landscape – the cooling off of ETI, the offer from BMW and so on that make a demonstrator programme a good place to plant our flag, so we met to pull together a plan to share with Fearless Leader. Note to Graham – this will cost unplanned money but we are going halves with DfT!!
Then a discussion with Neville and Zoe where I managed to display my total ignorance of the advanced world of ICT and confuse both of them. A good hour's work?
Friday started with a discovery that ducking the Start the Week meeting can have irritating consequences. If I had gone this week, I would have discovered that Kate had double-booked Peter for the Brussels trip. I had to move quickly to stop wasting his time. I was amused by how grateful he was not to have to go!!! :-) On a serious side, as we are now more popular we will have to work to avoid sitting on the same chat show sofa invited by different routes and I will be trying to make Monday mornings more often.
Friday saw the debrief of the Board meeting which took –as they always do – longer than Cyrus predicted and the SenterNovem visit. I always find the directness of the Dutch easy to take and enjoyed talking to people with similar problems and a neat “can do” attitude. I hope we can continue to share ideas and practices with them.
The day ended with a post mortem on Innovate. We all found things to improve on next year, but I felt that we were all enormously proud of what we had achieved – as a team – and recognised and celebrated (I spent too long in the US) those who had carried the majority of the burden.