Are age, assets, interest and usefulness all relative?
23 October 2020 by David Bott
After a run of Mondays in Swindon, it was good to get back to my old ways and catch a train to London on a Monday morning. Of course, I would miss the “start the week” meeting, but it was a small price to pay to be able to experience Tube disruption first-hand. Eventually I got to the Financial Services KTN meeting – although many didn’t because the 50 people there at the start were somewhat lost in the large room at the Grosvenor Square Marriott. The “compère” was thought provoking, although I felt his content was marginally inappropriate for the type of meeting. After an hour or so, I had to trek down to Tracy Island for a meeting with the COO of the BVCA. I cannot now remember the long story behind why we were meeting, but since at Innovate a number of companies we support were asking how they got normal money for the next stage of their growth, at least I had a theme to work with. Andrew Graham shared some of his frustrations with uncoordinated Government action, and we could probably have spent the whole time swapping war stories, but I pressed him on how we might do something to help the companies that were getting to the end of our support system and were looking to operate in the normal financial world. Andrew offered that the BVCA run a customisable course on “how to get money” and we agreed that it would be worth running a pilot where we made this course available to a small group of “our” companies and see whether it helped them on the next step up the ladder. On reflection, we might need a “how to get moderate amounts of money” and “how to get large amounts of money” variants, but otherwise it still feels like a useful extra activity.
After a short time listening to the chaos in the BIS Innovation Group as they answered requests from a deranged Cabinet Office for data no-one actually had, I set off down to the DoH for a meeting of the Therapeutic Capability Clusters Delivery and Oversight Group (CC-DOG). This is another OSCHR activity and they were trying – with no extra money – to get universities, hospitals and companies aligned in a way that would make evaluating new therapies more efficiently. They had got a little SIF money to help provide a central resource to help and we had been made responsible for the money (in BIS’s eyes) and, if they work, these clusters would be a useful adjunct to the Stratified Medicine Innovation Platform, in that they would provide patient cohorts and all the necessary resources to be able to move new therapy-diagnostic pairings into the real world as fast as possible. The 2 pilots, joints and respiratory had faired differently over the summer. Joints had started badly and their test drug had been switched, so they got more of the attention. Both had suffered from some confusion over the collaboration agreement. They had started with a DoH template but there seemed to be some difference of opinion about the goals between the Cluster Director and the DoH, so John Bell put on his headmaster voice and told them to do better. He then told us all that we should recommend to the OSCHR Board (who actually make the decision) that we recommend continuation and extension of the scheme. Meanwhile, the Cluster Director, who only has money until next March and kept calling himself the Interim Cluster Director, was explaining plans for a £500k standing directorate but couldn’t think where the money would come from!
The evening was spent celebrating David Godber’s escape from the Design Council with him and Sebastian in Covent Garden. DG is going to a senior role in a large renewable energy company based in Denmark so I don’t suppose it’s the last time we’ll see him! After the meal, we went into the Apple Store on the Piazza and I got a tutorial in good and bad industrial design from the pair of them!
Tuesday started with another visit to the Financial Services KTN meeting. A slightly smaller crowd was there although I am assured it got up to 70 on the Monday. I talked to David W and Andrew Milligan about the BVCA connections and we agreed we would use the FSKTN to help run the pilot, under Nigel Walker’s watchful eye, so that they had to reach out to the other KTN communities. I then watched Nigel give an introduction to our operations and thought again how difficult it is to capture what we do without a standard slide pack with sensible words. Although Nigel’s explanation of his own area was flawless, some to of the things he said about the rest of the organisation made me cringe.
Then it was off to rendezvous with Healthcare Man at Arthritic Research UK and meet out old friend Liam O’Toole. We explained our goals for the Stratified Medicine Innovation Platform and agreed that they would play an increasingly part. Liam tried to characterise ARUK as the small furry mammal to CRUK’s dinosaur, but only in a playful manner (Honest!).
Then it was back to Grosvenor Square to meet Jon Duschinsky of bethechange - http://www.bethechange.org/. They are a third sector organisation trying to transfer business practices between the commercial and charity sectors. It sounded interesting, but he was offering to help us operate better (Quango uses hippy consultancy to spend YOUR money as a headline? I think not)
Next up was a meeting with the young padawan and our team psychologist to discuss mutual development of working practices. I am always surprised how Adrian interprets the raw data and unlocks ways to work better as individuals, pairings and teams, and he didn’t disappoint here. We did have to go over – again – how good Paul’s presentation to the Board was!!
It had started raining by now, so the short trip to Kingsgate House wasn’t a dry one. I was there to meet up with Bob Driver of UKTI. We had exchanged several short phone calls recently and decided that we needed to meet to discuss why it wasn’t really working between our 2 organisations. We started by going through the “about to be released” sector analysis they had carried out to make sure they target more efficiently in future. They look at both ends of the spectrum – investment and trade – so it was interesting to note different priorities in each area. Not surprisingly, their Trade analysis correlates quite well with our future market size analysis. They still have difficulty with distinguishing between sectors and challenges, and since they used a combination of PA Consultants and PERA they seem to have got back a reflection of the world they currently inhabit – and they know the time!
Then we talked about Missions. We have now properly done 2 – the second Polecat WebMission saw Mrs Webster making new friends in Enterprise 2.0 companies and the Clean and Cool Mission saw Sustainability Man and the Media Dominatrix become firm friends with 20 Cleantech companies – and quite a few Californians! On both of these we worked with the UKTI San Francisco UKTI office but failed to connect with the UK end of things – thereby missing out on cheap flights and so on! UKTI run over 300 trade missions a year and so our few, although they are a big thing for us, hardly get noticed by them. We agreed that we needed to define a difference between what we did together and what they normally did. We could join their missions – in fact many use the KTNs to source “experts” – but we would run a small number a year as part of our activities and they would support us on them.
By now the evening was drawing on and we retired first to a bar and then a restaurant and discussion got freer! Bob asked if we were interested in merging Innovate with their Technology World. I averred that they were different events with different audiences and the UK needed to be reminded of how good we were at innovation more than once a year – but that co-ordination needed to be better. For this year, we would fully contribute with speakers, booths and attendance but next year, we would attempt to get Andrew Cahn to close our Innovate and FL open Technology World. Bob had drunk enough Malbec to think that was good idea. Also, since I paid for the dinner, he agreed to write up the notes. I hope that doesn’t mean our newfound working relationship dies before it is underway!
Wednesday started off as a transport sort of day. Before she had left, Heidi had agreed to talk at a Gov Today meeting on Sustainable Transport, and stiffed me with the responsibility when she did leave. Tim had written a talk on Low Carbon Vehicles, which is what we thought the organisers had asked for. When I turned up at Church House in the morning, I noted that there were about 400 local councillors and consultants registered and I only knew one other person at the meeting – Kevin McCabe of Atkins! That said, most of the speakers were the usual low carbon vehicles crowd, so I assumed it would be okay. I had to duck out for a couple of hours in the morning to support BIS, DfT and DECC entertain a senior guy from Toyota, who basically wanted to know if we would have a hydrogen infrastructure in place by 2015 so that he could bring 500-1000 cars to the UK for trials. Since I was in the presence of 3 senior civil servants he went away happy, and will not know he was conned until 2015! Wandering back to Church House, I sat in on “master-classes” on battery and intelligent transport technologies and prepared for my talk. I was on with a guy from Cardiff and Michele Dix of the London Mayors Office but was on first. I gave a fairly normal talk about economic growth going hand-in-hand with answering our transport and climate change needs but as the questions started, it was obvious the audience wanted something different. I was told that technology wasn’t the answer (a point I had made myself) that people should stop using cars and use bicycles and that the conference was “technical bollocks”. I made the point that we had 35 million cars and travelled 420 billion passenger miles a year (and it increased monotonically every year) but talking to an audience where over 25% didn’t own a car, I was definitely onto a loser! Funnily enough, Michele’s talk showed that over 60% of the savings London needs to make to meet its emissions targets would come from changing the vehicle park, but I was cast as bad guy by the beads and sandals wing of the meeting. Afterwards, the organiser apologised to me and told the main protagonist off for rudeness, but I talked to him (the councillor from Newham) and discovered that the meeting was subsidised by sponsored master-classes and that they had all been technical and that the places had been “sold” on relevance. What the vast majority of punters seemed to want was systems approaches to lowering transport needs and the conference didn’t give them that. I think I will pay more attention to the demographics of the audience before I talk on this subject again, but I have honed my debating skills. I recorded a short video piece trying to make my main points again, and then scurried up Whitehall to the ABPI.
This was for a small party Richard Barker was holding to celebrate the successful launch of the Innovation Platform on Stratified Medicine. I did wonder what he would have done with the event if we had failed, but instead, we shared wine and bizarre nibbles with most of the people who have been involved in the development of the area and were nice to one another.
However I had to leave before the end to make my way up to the Wellcome Trust for a meeting organised by the “I’m a Scientist” – see http://imascientist.org.uk/ – crowd. It was billed as being an exploration of public engagement by scientists, but spent most of the time talking about how the “Science is Vital” movement had started, grown and (on the evidence of the day) been successful. What was interesting to note was that, although the initial growth spurt had been driven by Twitter and Facebook, the real explosion of awareness had come from the use of a web-based petition and e-mails. I suspect I was the oldest person there by about 15 years and I was also the only one in a suit, so it was nice to see some old friends. I spent some time with Alok Jha talking about our activities and the wonders of the Guardian canteen crumble, with Gail Cardew of the Royal Institution about how we probably have lots of examples, ideas and connections to upgrade the “growth” side of the RI’s discourse series and with Sophia Collins of I’m a Scientist about how they have almost exclusively academics scientists on their roster and would kill to be able to engage industrial scientists. We discussed whether a short piece in our newsletter might be a good way to show our support or whether the KTNs would be a better route. By the time it had finished I had been drinking for 2 hours and not eaten for 8, so I had an executive burger in Euston Station!
Thursday started with an emergency meeting with the IBM/Met Office crowd. Rashik and his assistant had been bugging Jools for this meeting and turned up mob-handed at the hotel for breakfast. It turned out they had some questions about how they filled in our application forms, but instead of calling the Help Desk, they thought asking me would be quicker. They were wrong. Their questions were about internal transfer pricing between global and national bits of IBM, charge out rates on the project and how pricing worked in a cloud service. As I asked some basic questions to make sure I understood why they thought this required 4 senior people to meet, I think I noted the met Office guy looking embarrassed! Anyway, they have now sent in an official e-mail and we will deal with it, but…..
Once again, in Tracy Island they were in chaos, but now it was a combination of trying to work out what had actually been said the day before and trying to organise a suitable event for the PM or SoS to announce that we were thinking about TICs – as if any of the people besieging David and Mike with their cases didn’t already know! It was a blessed escape to the Treasury for the first meeting of the Engineering and Interdependency Expert Group of Infrastructure UK. Since the overall report won’t be issued until Monday 25th October, the meeting was a bit premature, but it did show how limited the palette of people in this space is. I knew almost ¾ of the white, Anglo-Saxon, over 50 (I’m being generous, in contrast to the evening before when I was easily the oldest, I suspect I was the youngest at this meeting) men – although there were 2 women not in “assistant” roles. It’s amazing how we fall into the same trap of using people we know rather than looking outside our limited rolodexes! It was also sad that, from the number of references to it I got, most of them watch the News Channel in the evening! After being talked at for 75 minutes, we had a 10-minute post-it session before the round-up started. So, usual suspects, no time for proper consultation, 2/3 meetings in the course of the project and “people we can do business with”. What makes me think this is a stitch-up? I did enjoy myself by teasing John Beddington about how he (and others) were all talking about how science had done well in the CSR but avoided noting that so had “innovation”. After the meeting, he ran up and told me I was right and requested some bullet points for him to use!
I met up with ex-Lisa for lunch and glimpsed the outside world a bit before plunging back into Tracy Island and getting involved in labyrinthine discussions about how much money we had actually been given, what we could do with it and who was after taking it from us! I met up with Graham Bell, our new Stratified Medicine person and then sauntered back to the hotel discussion various stuff with FL.
We slipped into our dinner jackets and returned to a bar full of similarly attired men all going somewhere else before taxiing down to the Science Museum for the Economist Innovation Awards. We already knew that our bête noire from the LaunchPad would be there but FL had sensibly written a firm but fair rebuttal of his accusation that we were incompetent so we started on a neutral note and got better. For a man who fires off e-mail Exocets, it was interesting to note that his date for the evening was the customer services manager from Virgin Atlantic! I had an interesting chat with the Editor of Wired and suggested that we should talk more often, an invitation he has subsequently accepted, met people from the Carbon Trust and AWM, and then sat next to a lady from the Open Innovation Group of Boots. It was interesting to note that all the winners did their best work 30 years ago, or where from large companies, or were Steve Jobs! I couldn’t help thinking historical innovation isn’t a good thing to celebrate in these challenging times and that the Economist would do well to institute a more up-to-date award.
Having had the fun bit of the Economist Innovation Summit, the next day we got down to the serious business of thinking about what other people do! First up was a tour de force presentation by Chris Anderson from TED – see http://www.ted.com/speakers/chris_anderson_ted.html . The basic message was that video sharing was the new black and that the temporary backwater that was the written word as the main channel of communication was over and we were back to the oral campfire tradition but is was global and instantaneous. He also had a great set of (presumably) PowerPoint slides, with fades and jumps and post-doctoral transitions and animations! During the Q&A, Tom Standage just looked admiringly at Chris as though he wanted his babies. Next came a panel session where Tom, interviewed those of the winners that hadn’t jetted out immediately after getting their gong. The man who invented DSL came across as a really nice bloke (both FL and I had talked to him on a 1-2-1 level during the past 24 hours and can confirm it), the other Mike Biddle, who had worked out how to recycle a whole range of polymers told the almost compulsory story that he was told his idea wouldn’t work when he first had it and the duo from Vodafone talked about M-Pesa – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M-Pesa explained some of the problems of truly disruptive ideas – where regulation and vested interests come out as the main enemies of progress. After that we had a humorous, if slightly self-aggrandising, turn from Richard Seymour of Seymour Powell – see http://www.seymourpowell.com/ , where he told us he had designed the Virgin Galactic http://www.dexigner.com/news/9370 but got the most laughs for his description of how a child today would describe a typewriter – “Cool, a laptop that prints as you write and you don’t have to plug in” and the most applause for his closing slide that stressed the need for optimism, truth and honour!
After a networking coffee break (not just a normal coffee break!) where I got a chance to catch-up with Tim Jones and understand that the Economist has lost most of its external sponsorship for the event, it was back in for another panel session – this time of how people make decisions. Interestingly, the panel were all social entrepreneurs (best definition I heard at the event is “someone who feels good about the way they made their money – Lily Lapenna of MyBnk – see http://www.mybnk.org/the-team, Ron Gonen of Recycle Bank – see http://www.recyclebank.com/about , and Andrew Falconer of Ashoka – see http://uk.ashoka.org/team . Although the stories were interesting, they seem a long way from the sorts of companies we deal with – and the questioning form the floor heightened that impression, with people questioning the relevance of the panel’s experiences in their world. The final talk of the morning was Matt Ridley, author of “The Rational Optimist” – see http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rational-Optimist-How-Prosperity-Evolves/dp/0007267118/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1287838320&sr=8-1 . This was a more philosophical exploration of how innovation has evolved as a human activity. His analysis of history suggests to him that innovation didn’t happen that much in the past and didn’t correlate with walking, the size of our brains or even the use of tools. He asserts that it is related to advanced communication and the uses of knowledge exchange. It’s a nice, theoretical idea but once again, in questions, the rough end of the audience managed to probe whether it informed decision making in the real world or merely kept Matt on the lecture circuit. The lunch break was interrupted by phone calls from BIS looking to sort out a venue for an SoS announcement of TICs to be given early Monday morning, some lobbying for our involvement in the European stem cell activity and the basic day job. By the time I had cleared most of it, the afternoon was in full swing and I have difficulty re-engaging. The moment of theoretical euphoria had passed, and I felt the need to make something actually happen, so I sat in the café and answered e-mails. It made me feel less of a fraud!