I meet my hero, find that he is inarticulate but has strongly held ideas. Should I be disappointed or pleased?
04 July 2019 by David Bott
Monday, and I made it to the “start the week” meeting. Next came a discussion with the Competition team about how nest to handle the proposal from Gordon Murray Design and Zytek. This is (what we think is) a really good project bringing together the guy who designed some McLaren race cars, the McLaren F1 and who has come up not only with a neat design for a town car, but also a low cost manufacturing route to build it with the guy who has built the electric drive-train for the Smart car – and we actually did the connection!! The question of where we put the proposal in our overall framework of competitions and how we handle the proposal was thrashed out and – assuming they keep up their current high standard when it comes to the proposal, we would want to fund as quickly as possible. A run of lots of other internal meetings was broken by a negotiation with the nice man from BAe about my day in the North West to be indoctrinated about the wonders of the aerospace industry!!
Tuesday was a London day, beginning with the first meeting of the Sustainable Innovation Advisory Group. This has been driven by a team of technologists with Guy providing the capability and insight into building such a group. In preparing for the meeting, we had asked ourselves and lot of questions and (to be truthful) not liked a lot of the questions. They asked mostly the same questions and, because we had started to think about them, I believe we got good marks for being enthusiastic amateurs with good hearts, rather than coming across as a bunch of cynical quango monkeys (a new term I have learned reading chat rooms about our Low Carbon Vehicles Demonstrators programme!). We got lots of actions but all ones we ought to be doing, so they have already done good!!
I had to leave fairly sharply because David Evans had arranged for us to me meet some ex-BERR guys about them asking for more money from SIF on our behalf. David played a sophisticated version of the shell game involving pots of money and - when the music stopped – they had undertaken to ask for anther £15m to be deployed through us (I think, I was trying to follow David’s logic as well!). The next appointment was one I had been looking forward to a lot. David’s extra meeting had meant that I had missed Jackie giving out the Technology Strategy Board prize for Independent Living (see http://www.hhc.rca.ac.uk/194-2301/all/1/Helen_Hamlyn_Design_Awards_2009_.aspx) but I got to the RCA in time for the reception before the talk by Jonny Ive. Since I am known to be an Apple fanboy, I was a bit keen to see what the man was actually like. During the reception I spent some time talking to the Philips Design team, and a woman from the Olympic Delivery Authority who told me that they have just twigged that they ought to have some idea what to do with all that stuff they are building on south east London after 2012!! RCA had sensibly (Ive’s shyness is legendary) decided to liven up the procedures by making the event a conversation with Christopher Frayling (a bit of a media tart himself). Ive was hard work at first, laughing nervously and providing the sort of monosyllabic answers that would have slain a lesser interviewer, but Frayling knew that he could get gems, and so he persevered. They came. Ive likes the physicality of design. Not for him are computer based visualisation tools (ironic, or what?). He makes things out of different material to see what they would be like to use. The goal of Apple was repeated as a mantra - “we make good products, we don't aim to make money, we aim to make the best products”. Apple don't do focus groups - “focus groups result in bland products designed not to offend anyone”. The story of Ive taking a clock to pieces and contrasting the smooth and simple casing with the complexity inside morphed into Ive’s description of how he sees production - “all those pieces coming together to make the final product, like filming the disassembly and then running the film backwards”. When Frayling asked him about the difference between the UK and the US, Ive neatly dodged but instead talked about the importance of the company still being driven by the vision of its founder - “when it becomes all about money, the soul gets lost and the products get boring”. And I got a free iPod Shuffle!!!
I then went over to the RCA Summer Show to see “our winner” and the other exhibits. I talked to Sebastian and he introduced me to Sam Hecht (who Sebastian thought was now better than Ive). Our winner, Menno Kroezen, had recovered from being “Jackied” enough to describe his inspiration, his ideas and the winning product and there were various design glitterati and some rogue scientists and engineers who are learning about the design world.
Wednesday was obviously a day from cancellations. I was due to meet Sebastian and a lady from Icann in the morning but that was cancelled. As I walked down to Fortress Kingsgate, I caught up with Fearless Leader, whose meeting with Astrium had also been cancelled. Instead I had a productive meeting with a guy from ex-BERR who was project managing the Industrial Biotechnology implementation support. He disarmingly started the meeting by saying “I’m not after ring-fenced money. I’ve worked with the TSB before and know how they operate. Want I want to know is how we can make this work”. We now have a plan!! I then spent some time with Lisa finding out what her coterie of new men are up to and then made my way to Kings Cross to rendezvous with Fearless Leader. We have been talking to GSK for some months now about their proposal to build a science park on the north-west corner of their Stevenage site and we thought it was time to “kick the tyres”. What we found was a fairly well realised plan, a fair amount of support around the right communities, a large hole in their finances and their CEO believing that the Dark Lord had promised to fill it!! If it goes ahead, then it would make a good location for some of our community building regenerative medicine projects and possibly a centre for our stratified medicine work to be launched next year.
Thursday was a Swindon day, the most notable events in a sea of meetings being another step in persuading Andy Hopper that he ought to chair our Emerging Industries/Emerging Technologies Steering Group. He has proved a reluctant bride and the focus of his discussion, the politics rather that the business and the science made me wonder if he actually is the right person.
After that came my first real chat with Will – welcome!! – before more running around.
Friday was another Swindon day – that’s 3 this week – and started with a good clearing of the baffles on Media City. This initiative cuts across many areas and our interactions have been episodic and not yet fruitful, so getting everyone into the same room and sharing information and ideas was a timely event. Brain will tell us what we agreed!!
This was followed by a visit from McLaren Electronics. We had meant to visit them, but had timed it wrong, so FL told us clearly that the outcome had to be a visit to Woking. As it was, we found a clued up company, a moderately hard-nosed managing director and lots of market and technology overlap. We were having so much fun, that FL had to be dragged out to host our birthday party, so Mike, Nick and I finished the meeting. The party was amusing. Cyrus introduced me to a couple of his local friends and some guy who has the answer but no-one else yet has the question bent my ear for a while until I heard him say SBRI and passed him over to Mark (sorry, Mark!). The trouble with saying that we are here to help people who don't understand us is that the first thing they do is ask for money without the nicety of seeing where we focus our investment or understand the systems we use to ensure sensible investment. Luckily the ginger beer based drink was plentiful.