The need for resolution has never been more apparent

Again, the “start the week” meeting managed to cast its spell over us all as we gathered in the increasingly crowded Meeting Room 2.  I recovered to have a series of internal meetings – what’s Monday for?  A couple were of note.  DfT had been considering a competition-like approach to putting money into supporting the decarbonisation of the heavy goods market and had offered us a hospital pass to look after it – we declined, and Zahid, FL and I discussed the status report that FL will present to the OSCHR Board in a couple of weeks.  Then it was down to London for an event we had decided to over-attend.  The last Key Insight Business Briefing had been quite useful for us – we had presented on Assisted Living alongside the Continua Alliance and Chris Toumaz and had a lot of good discussions and contacts as a result.  This was a more “political” meeting, with Hermann Hauser giving his “this is how I see centres” talk and Peter Knight saying basically that they should all be situated at Imperial.  The audience was mostly the same as last time and composed of people who used to be very influential.   It was nice to see them at this sort of meeting.

Tuesday started with some time at Tracy Island interviewing for the Head of Transport role that Heidi is intending to vacate at the end of August.  Due to some re-arrangements, we didn’t get Cyrus in the room, so he is supposed to have the same presentation as Jan and I got, but I would be surprised if he didn’t have the same response so we probably have a person on final approach.  Then it was off to the Financial Times HQ in Southwark to take part in a “Science with Clive Cookson” Podcast.  Lady Claire was there to make sure I didn’t do anything too wrong and used the tactic of turning up dressed to distract.  I am not sure that Clive Cookson was distracted…  It was a one-take sort of affair and although there was some discussion beforehand, it was mainly an excuse for me to give a couple of polemics on what we do.  You can hear it here or download from iTunes.  I’ve now officially arrived as a media tart!  The link between the pre-recorded piece on oxytocin and stratified medicine was truly last minute and the only spark of originality in what I said. 

I then walked across London (to save money, of course) for a meeting with a designer who had cold-called me because he didn’t know how to connect with the Technology Strategy Board.  He told an interesting story of how he has been involved with our area for many years, how the Design Council is a government subsidised private consultancy agency and that the Creative Industries KTN is not trying very hard to engage beyond its own clique.  Interestingly, I found out later that his wife works for the British Design Association ( – the trade association we are not fully engaged with.  I sense a new front is about to open.

Given that I was many miles from Tracy Island, I had no real alternative to the Tube but there was an hour until my next meeting, so it was okay.  Once there, I sat with Lisa, the angel of death, and went through what I would cut and why if the Dementors from the Treasury come after our budgets.  It was interesting to note the debate between her and Guy about how much we could trust our friends in BIS to look after our (and by inference the companies we support) best interests.

Next it was off to a plush set of offices in St James Square to meet Sir Rob Margetts – so that he could lobby me about Ensus.  His secretary had made the mistake of sending me the slides Rob would use, so I knew all the arguments and had my defence prepared.  This resulted in a fascinating and educational discussion about how the project is flushing out all sorts of inconsistencies about how the farming market, the chemical industry and the fuel industry are regulated. I only hope I remember half of what was said.

The final meeting of the day is another step in my initiation into the darks arts that make up the skill set of the Design and Technology Alliance.  Michael Wolff – who Sebastian was introducing me to – is a legend, responsible for the brand identities of Audi/VW, Renault, BP (perhaps we should move on?), the Labour Party rose and the Ministry of Sound among many others.  He is not only the brand design bit of the DTA, he is also the new BDA ambassador for inclusive design, so we discussed everything from Neighbourhood Watch to our Assisted Living Innovation platform, which he has now volunteered to help to free!

Wednesday started a little fuzzily but I made my way over to the IET to rendezvous with David Way.  We had been slated to meet at Tracy Island, but Allyson had made such a pitch about showing willing at Entrepreneur Country at the “start the week” meeting that we decided to meet there instead.  We had our meeting in the nearest Starbucks, which seemed more appropriate as a location for budding entrepreneurs but instead only saw a used political lobbyist - . Afterwards we headed back to the IET and explored what was on offer for would-be entrepreneurs.  I should have guessed from the £400+ price tag we had to negotiate around, but it was more about the money making abilities of Entrepreneur Country that the cannon fodder who had paid.  I saw a few uninspiring pitches and caught some of the “I know how to do it” panel before striking iron pyrites with a presentation by Alex Cheatle of the Ten Group about setting up a lifestyle concierge business, where for £150 a month you can have someone help you achieve most things – to achieve everything takes £300 a month.  I made my excuses and left….

The afternoon was devoted to the first meeting of the Emerging Technologies and Industries Steering Group.  The young padawan and his assistant had laboured mightily to find a way to salvage something from the ruins of previous attempts to achieve anything in this area – including some of our own.  They had assembled an interesting group of people who, at the same time, managed to represent the usual suspects of those who could comment on this area, but all with a “twist”.  Nevertheless, the building of a new steering group is always difficult – no matter how much preparation you put into it!  As we went through what we thought was a logical framework for painting the overall picture and the work carried out to date, we got lots of questions, lots of discussion, lots of interest and lots of challenge.  Each individual member was simultaneously trying to work out whether they were interested in the group task, whilst making sure they portrayed themselves in a good light with the others.  Personal brand is showing up in most things we do!! Even though they had been hand-picked and prepared, we had to go through the role and ambitions of the Technology Strategy Board, how we operated, some of our history (and pre-history) and so on.  Then we described the work that has been done to date – the older DTI work that confused many, our own early attempts that came to very little and the latest initiative.  Everyone was waiting for their first look at the long-list.  When it came, the confusion, mixture of types and the very size of it knocked many for six – and not in a good way.  In hindsight, we should have displayed some of the pre-work – separating technologies from markets, positioning either at the appropriate point on the development timeline and so on.  At one point we challenged the group to tell us it was a waste of time.  This seemed to make the point and they started on a more positive tack.  Some left for other activities, but those who stayed experienced the alcohol fuelled resolution of many aspects of their worries and we all staggered out into the world with a new commitment to making it work this time!!

Thursday was designed to be a Cambridge day.  I set off from London on the train and the first stop was IfM.  On the way up I got a flurry of e-mails in response to one I had sent the evening before, but the risk of repetitive strain injury from using a Blackberry meant they went unanswered.  Dominic Oughton had been asking for a meeting for some time and recent activity had suggested a co-ordination meeting was appropriate.  IfM have just finished some work for the Australian Government that bears a frightening similarity to the work of the New Automotive Innovation and Growth Team – and they have been experimenting with using Sharpcloud to communicate their results.  We had a small diversion on the use of Sharpcloud and agreed to co-ordinate our work with them in some areas.  Then we talked about value mapping.  Jezza had alerted me to this work and it was worth it.  The idea is to combine the technology roadmap with the evolution of the value chain.  To be truthful, it is of limited use in the automotive industry, but I could quickly see real value in the Assisted Living area.  I pondered why IfM didn’t know about the current competitions focused on understanding the value propositions in the area.  I am still not sure whether they would be better employed helping us structure the activity or as a part of a consortium, but will leave Mike (the nice one) to sort that one out!!

After a quick fire drill and lunch, where we were joined by Mike the Wise Wizard and Peter his venal business friend, it was off to a nearby hotel for a meeting of the EEDA Science and Industry Council.  I had agreed to do this some time ago – indeed, David G and Brains had gone to the last one when I pulled out – but the timing did seem odd.  They are an interesting bunch of people who are trying to work out what the future holds for them – both the officers and the volunteers!!  In the back-handed compliment of the day, John O’Reilly told me that I had given the clearest exposition of the role and activities of the Technology Strategy Board he had ever heard!!  

Steve Visscher was on after me, and then the pair of us blagged a lift off Paul May, who was going down to London because he had tickets to the 20-20 match at Lords.  The first 50 minutes of the trip to London went well, but then the brakes came on for no reason and we stopped somewhere in bandit country.  After almost an hour, some fitters arrived from the station and we limped a mile or two to Finsbury Park where the train terminated.  The scrum into the tube took a while and I felt for Paul who might just make it to the final overs of the second innings.  Steve and I wended our way slowly to Paddington and caught the train to Swindon – the one that was late enough to have lots of already drunk people on it.  At Swindon, I climbed into my car and drove home.  Luckily, although we don’t have streetlights in Inkberrow, I found my house in the gathering gloom!!  FL (who along with a few others on Twitter had been following the saga) sent me a DM suggesting I worked at home on Friday!!

But no.  Friday started with a series of telephone calls, some planned, some late and some a total surprise. Then it was off to Aston Business School where I was the speaker at a lunch for the Chambers of Commerce Patrons.  It was a fascinating affair, with a mixture of local dignitaries and businessmen, most of whom knew nothing of who we are and what we do.  I learned a lot about the local politics of the possible transition from Regional Development Agency to Local Enterprise Partnership, something about the high-speed rail link but then had to speak and answer questions for an hour.  It was fun and all admitted to more interest in us than they had come with, a small and local result but a result nonetheless.  On the way home, the intermittent vibration that my car has suffered from for about 6 months managed to get going and I was able – at last – to prove to the local service guy that I wasn’t imagining things.  It’s a hollow victory because it will be very expensive to fix!

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