Choosing a path in the yellow wood
02 October 2020 by David Bott
Monday started a bit later than usual because I had to re-import my wife, and so I missed the “start the week” meeting. Instead – and joy of joys – my first task was to take delivery of the MacBook Pro that those (sometimes) nice people in ISS had configured to be able to run on our network. Cyrus has one too (by design and unrelated to the fact that his Dell self-destructed at about the same time). Aside from some problems with printer drivers, it is working well and already 3 people have asked to join the “pilot” programme. However, I had to do some work and so went to the Funders Panel for the Trusted Services programme. We have learnt that running 3 separate competitions in the same area separated only by a month or so is a really dumb way to make it work (everyone waits until the last round) but seem to have flushed out some neat ideas from the (not fully defined) community. Then it was into one of our EMM Pre-meets. These were set up when we realised that we weren’t talking to one another about the context in which we were making decisions – so we set these up as a proxy for not having a clear and shared articulation of our strategy. As well as some tactical issues, we discussed how we were going to communicate our progress on defining a route towards our new strategy. I made the mistake of saying something and got saddled with a job. I wished I had taken my BlackBerry into the room and been distracted!
The final meeting of the day was another interview – this time for a potential person to take over the reins of the stratified medicine activity. The presentation was good, but as soon as we got into questions, it was obviously not going to work. Seeing people from outside I am always reminded how good our current people are – they know about their fields, but are curious to learn more, they want to help others, not themselves, they have learned to listen and assemble a (really) big picture. It’s getting difficult to get people across the entry bar without lowering the average ability!!
Tuesday was always planned as a WFH day to catch up, but by the time it arrived, I had a stack of new things to get through before I got to the catching up activities!! Interesting parts of the day included an interview by an external body hired by ETI to find out what stakeholders felt about them. Anonymous but recorded, the interviewer obviously had some ideas of the issues and we contrasted the feasibility of the goals and governance with the ability of the team to operate as part of the overall government support infrastructure. Then there was a panic telephone conference about the likelihood of the Cabinet Orifice IT Police shutting down ICtomorrow because it was a government funded IT project. Cyrus was the calmest one on the line! And finally came a telephone conference (delayed because one of the phones in the meeting rooms wasn’t actually connected to the outside world) on our idea of using “design vouchers” in lieu of a dating agency to get the design and technology communities to work together. Two things have muddied the water. One is the potential acquisition of the RDA run “innovation vouchers” scheme – or should that be the 9 separate and distinct ways the soon-to-be ex-RDAs have implemented the idea? The other is that we shared the idea with the Design Council and now everyone that talks to them gets lobbied on us asking DC to run the scheme – which is probably not the best way to reach the broad design community.
Wednesday was back to Swindon – but delayed by an unusual traffic problem at the Worcester end, which therefore dumped me into rush hour at the Air Balloon and then what passes for rush hour in Swindon! The morning was given over to communicating what we would like to achieve in the area of stratified medicine. First we did the presentation for Innovate – which has a plan A and a plan B version depending on whether the Governing Board approve our proposal for an Innovation Platform in the area or not. Then it was on to the presentation to the Governing Board to win the argument. His Spittleness seems to be very supportive and we have had separate conversations with Joe Feckzo and John Brown (the ones probably most literate with the technology and markets involved) but we need to dump the jargon and convey the complexity or the various factors and the power of getting it right in economic terms if we are to not repeat the problems with had with the Agriculture and Food Platform last year. It is coming together but will need constant attention to detail in both the slides and the voice-over.
I then had a pleasant surprise. As part of trying to draw together the various bits of measurement we are attempting to do to ensure we do what we say we are going to do, and with a generous helping of a private harangue from His Spittleness, I talked to Richard Harrison about how we are planning to evolve our monitoring activity. What we need to do is be more specific about that we are looking for as outputs from our competitions. What Richard is trialling is to examine the proposals that come in as a response to our competition scopes and work out which projects tackle which aspects of the overall scope. Then we will use basic project management techniques to monitor performance achievement (such as adherence to technical scope, adherence to timeline and tracking of budget) alongside the use of good practice techniques (having a sound and shared exploitation plan, use of appropriate risk management and contingency planning). At that moment, the heavens opened and a crowd of angels started singing – as I recognised all the “manufacturing excellence” ideology I had been propagandised with when I worked with a Du Pont trained manufacturing manager! I had part of the answer to the allotted task from Monday afternoons meeting!
Funnily enough, the next meeting was a planned one to address another part of that same task. The increasing Steph came in to take me through the logic and implementation of the infamous “metrics and measures” work that Obi-Wan had presented to the Board back in January to get us out of a hole. In truth, it didn’t measure anything, but was in fact a rather good estimate of potential market size for each of our platforms. Throwing away the nonsensical Return on Investment part of the work, the basic market analysis stands up well and can define what the maximum size of the prize is – if we do all the right things to deliver it!
Despite the alleged freeze on recruitment, the search for people we could put on hold continues and the final act of the day was to see someone who might be right for Energy. It is odd to hear people describe us as “the organisation that are deciding the technological future of the UK”, but unsettling to realise that people who are not that good want the power they see that represents. Another definite “no”, methinks!
Thursday was another Swindon day but the traffic was lighter and Jools, in an attempt to work me into an early grave, had arranged for a teleconference at 8.30, so I took it in the car, on hands-free, to while away (http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-whi3.htm) the final miles to the bejewelled city of Swindon. It was Celia from the BBSRC and she wanted to get my assurance that the things she had put into the BBSRC part of the research councils CSR submission aligned with what we had put in – because apparently, that’s the question the Treasury is asking! She also wanted to discuss the new interaction group between the research councils and ourselves, which has been restructured but still not managed to get a coherent way of arranging meetings! I reserved my judgement until after the first meeting.
First physical meeting of the day was with FL to discuss what he might say at the beginning of his panel at Boris’ thrash on October 7th on the subject of whether London got the technology is deserved/needed. We discussed the vision of Joseph Bazelgette, the London based projects in our focus areas that are doing well enough to crow about and how to tie it all together into a story, so that people would remember it. He seemed to like what we said and since Sustainability Man and I will be in the audience, I will report back on how good he will be/is/was. Then it was another go around the “what shall we tell the Board next week” meme, but with a bit more passion and a whiff of closure.
Next up was a meeting with Lady Claire to agree how to handle the media side of the 2 upcoming Missions. The first, to be held in January and now carelessly titled “Future Heath Mission” (“careless?”, I hear you ask – look up www.fhm.com and see what I mean). Having gone a long way towards a winning formula with the Clean and Cool Mission, I was anxious not to lose any of the planning that went into that, and the learnings from having our very own media goddess as part of the team. Claire agreed to drag out her plan for C&C and upgrade it and then help ensure that we don’t lose anything and perhaps even add to the impact.
Next, although it was in my diary, because it was an SBRI competition, my role in the Funders Panel on Ultra Efficient Lighting was no more that to admire the winning entries, both of which hit all the buttons and which we should buy for our office!
Stuffing an old book down the rear of my trousers, I then went into my quarterly assessment by the headmaster. His nice guardian had sent me the Word equivalent to the online PRP forms, and I had transcribed our last discussion, bloodstains and all, into the correct format so I immediately got 75%. (see here). http://bit.ly/bGVYHb
Because the meeting ran over a bit, I missed a telephone call with Digital Man but instead went into a meeting with Transport Man. Aside from a general catch-up, I had recently discovered that our dearly departed ex Head of Transport had agreed to give a talk on October 20th and then stuck me as her replacement, so I needed to conjure up a new, short talk on Transport! We also reflected on how our role at LCV 2010 had grown and how much impact we continue to have in the area – and started wondering how we could apply the same formula in other areas, and whether it was actually possible!
Friday was a London day. First up was a meeting with David Parry and Bill Dawson of SEHTA (South East Health Technologies Alliance) – www.sehta.co.uk, a SEEDA funded club for companies in the wider health market. They have 1200 members across big pharma, small biologics companies and diagnostics, which they claim is about 70% of the UK capability in the area. They are also looking at a financial cliff face next April! David is looking at not having a job, but Bill is the non-executive chairman and ex-Eli Lilly and quite balanced about the whole thing. I suggested that we wouldn’t have the money to replace their funding, but that we were always interested – as part of the overall KTN arena – that we had access and a route to communicate with such companies. I suggested they looked at joining _connect to replace their current website and that they talked to the other centres (West Midlands and Yorkshire) to offer us a single proposal to support both Assisted Living and Stratified Medicine an a SIG-like mode. They seemed to be happy, so I must not have been hard enough.
Next up was what is beginning to seem like my weekly phone call with Nigel Shadbolt, this time joined by Mrs Webster. We heard that Monday evening with Willetts had gone well – which we had heard from the BIS side too, with praise for Mrs Webster’s excellence briefing document! We still have to emphasise the need for clear focus on outputs in our world and are beginning to home in on the market size and timing as the key issues. Watch this space!
Then it was off to Wardour Street for lunch with Ern Edmonds of Solvay and chair of the Sustainable Technologies Advisory Board of the Chemistry Innovation KTN and Mike Pitts of Chemistry Innovation KTN. I have agreed to talk to STAB at their next meeting and Ern wanted to make sure I understood the context of the invitation – that STAB are looking to make sustainability core to CIKTN decision making. Aside from the quality and persistence of the company, one of the treats was the interactive menu tables at Inamo – not a place to go when drunk.
Then it was back to Tracy Island, getting very wet in the circumstances, to rendezvous with The Queen of People and a pair of jobbing psychologists. We have been putting those with potential through an assessment and development process with Human Factors International for the last 3 years and they wanted to discuss their growing picture of what our organisation is like and how it might develop further. Core to their pitch was the idea of “talent management” (one of the recent trends to sweep through US companies) whereby, we use the same process to define the job needs, assess during recruitment against those needs, provide support and further development opportunities once employed and use 360 degree assessment once a year to check that people are actually developing along the desired lines – people would select their own personal development goals based on the assessment output. We also got the feedback that, on average, we have a very group of very talented people but that it feels that they are not truly operating as a team. We assured them that soon we would have a proper strategy with objectives and that everyone would operate guided by that strategy. No, they didn’t believe me either!
Given that it was raining and miserable, the Queen and I shared a cab to our railway stations and the week drew to a close.