Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement
16 July 2021 by David Bott
Monday morning. The “start the week” meeting. No excitement. TIC Update meeting. No real excitement, but lots of anticipation. Given the wilful misinterpretation of previous documents we have issued, we agree to use Operations Woman and Digital Man as final “editors” asking them to assume an extreme cynical and exploitative mode when reading.
Most of the morning passes quickly learning what I am doing this week, and catching up with e-mails, but Human Remains Woman and I manage to finally have one of our planned HR Catch-Up meetings. And very useful it is too! I enjoy myself so much, that I forget my next meeting is in the Polaris House Bistro, so have to hot-foot it across to meet Celia Caulcott. We discuss 2 main things, but with lots of distractions and side issues. The first is the Pharma Forum. This was allegedly set up by the MRC to enable them to “talk to business” but they actually only talk to the big four pharmaceutical companies. We get a place at the table, but are seen to not take it seriously, because FL or I never go, but Celia’s worry is that even the second string pharma companies are ignored, and the whole biotech industry doesn’t get a look in – or the BBSRC! I undertook to discuss this with FL and Healthcare Man (I have reported it here, so it’s your move!). The other issue was with the Emerging Technologies and Industries interest in synthetic biology, and the need to make sure that we construct a programme that includes all the players. Given that “Programme Incubator Man” is on holiday, I promised to raise some of her specific ideas with him on his return. Returning to North Star House, I sat down with the Media Dominatrix to finish off the various pieces of “stuff” we promised to send Richard Tyler of the Torygraph after FL and I met him the other week. We had talked about how good the presentation to the Governing Board on Stratified Medicine was and agreed to share it with him, but realised when we looked again at it that it was Development Man’s (his real title, let’s be fair) words that brought the slide-set alive, so (given he is on holiday) I undertook to write a short précis of what I remembered!
Then our new Aero Boy wanted some courageous networking before we entertained some intellectual heavyweights from IBM. When they had asked for the meeting, it was at the height of the “problems” with their competition submission, so we fielded me and Digital Man to discuss why they thought they could gouge the UK government with their overhead rates. Instead, they came to talk about transport mobility! It turned out to be an interesting discussion in that they are working on developing algorithms that abstract the important bits from data to turn it into information, from information to make it into knowledge and will one day find a way to turn knowledge into wisdom – but just not yet. What was obvious is that they are not at all connected to the real world practitioners in this space, so we agreed to hook them up. I managed to catch the same train as Rashik going down to London, so we talked more about mobile communications (that’s code for we compared phones!) and Google+. I am now in one of Rashik’s circles – probably the one labelled “awkward person with money”!
I got to the hotel in time for my catch-up with Maurizio about the future internet TIC work-stream and adjacent things. It sounds like we need to move the individual components of the overall communities we see towards seeing the same vision themselves. I guess this is what thought leadership feels like?
Tuesday turned out to be a quiet day. I cannot now remember what had filled the day in London, but it disappeared a week or so ago and so Jools sorted out a catch-up day for me. Even BIS seemed quiet! I met up with Transport Man and we set out in search of decent coffee, discussing the mobility TIC, the various machinations of the remaining “bodies” in this space and the data for my talk at Asilomar in August. I got back to BIS to find Sustainability Man sitting next to me, so we caught up with his TIClike “opportunities” as well. After lunch, I met with Emma Vandore (see – http://emmamvandore.blogspot.com/), who is doing a Masters at the Bartlett and seemed to want to talk to me about Tech City. It turned out to be an interesting discussion, since she was looking at cluster phenomena and I have therefore put her in touch with Sustainability Man on the Future Cities front!
Wednesday saw a delayed start (we had negotiated a later start to the Executioners Meeting in the absence of both an agenda and FL) but the 8.15 train seemed to have quite a few TSBers on it! Walking in, I happened upon Christian and asked him how things were going. He was obviously concerned about the folding together of Collaboration Nation and Innovate, which I wasn’t fully aware of, but had seemingly been given no option “because we had promised it in the exemption case”. I was, of course, concerned that we were making people do things they thought were not right because we had made rash and unconsulted promises to the Cabinet Office, but the issue is wider. The problem as I see it is that the audiences for the two events are different and although there is a real argument that people wandering in from the larger Innovate might find something interesting out from Collaboration Nation, we really want those in the Collaboration Nation event to be heads down and focused on the event itself. Also, the Technologists have worked hard to build and interact with the Beacons community and requiring them to be in two places at the same time looks like a recipe for overwork or disaster to me.
Just before the meeting I also took a call from Transport Man about the IDP6 Assessors Panel where I heard him say “the assessors decided these projects were out of scope”. This is an old chestnut and drove me further into despair about our ability, as an organisation, to maintain a consistent and coherent policy.
As a diversion on this one (because I regard it as important), the competition scope is a vital step in our strategy and metrics process – the exact scope is derived by the Lead Technologist after wide-ranging consultation and much thought. The words in the competition document are, necessarily, a high level view of this body of work, but seek to capture the essence of what the Technologist understands to be the important step needed to advance the field. The assessors have not gone through this wide-ranging analysis and are inevitably partial – which is why we have a number of assessors looking at every proposal and why the spread of scores is very often quite large! It is therefore a dangerous nonsense for the assessors to define what is in or out of scope. This has been the case since the start of the Technology Programme but, for some reason I do not understand, we keep asking the assessors to decide on scope. It causes lots of unnecessary work and dilutes the original analysis.
Given these two discussions, I went into the Executioners meeting frustrated and worried about our leadership and follow-through. FL obviously thought I was being unnecessarily grumpy!! The main purpose of the meeting was to take the basic legal training everyone else has had, but we started with a discussion about branding of the TICs (as an exemplar of intellectual property law). We had met with Michael Wolff and Sebastian Conran 3 weeks earlier and, although we have added some data, the conversation came down to the same point – if we use a commonly used word as the “name” for the TICs what is our position? Since other people use it widely, there might be thought to be no restrictions, but we cannot ourselves obtain protection – is this problem? Our favourite lawyer started out saying his advice was we couldn’t do it and we should abandon all our work and go back to first principles. After discussion, he admitted that if we sent out letters to the main potential protagonists and they didn’t object, then we could proceed as planned. I saw this as a radical change of position, but apparently lawyers do this all the time. It appears that there is no right answer, and what we do depends on how much risk we are willing to take. The siren voices saying “how would we explain it to a minister?” would probably stop us from doing anything, and I am not convinced the reputational risk of having to do a “U-turn” on naming is a strong under this administration as the last, and I think we decided to both right the letters and think again. It took an hour!
The rest of the meeting went fairly smoothly, if slower than planned. Since I was going down to London I did have a small attempt to filibuster but my efforts were as nothing to the rest of the group, so I missed stuff I am sure.
First appointment in London was with David Gann at Imperial. This had come about from our joint attendance of the Stephen Green meeting the other week and he basically wanted to know what our intentions were on Future Cities. This all goes back to a meeting FL and I had with the Imperial Stormtroopers a couple of years ago on this subject and our position hasn’t really changed – we see an opportunity for UK based companies to develop, market and export products and services which enable more efficient management of cities. I explained our position, the TIC development process for the Top Ten and suggested he talked more to Sustainability Man.
I then walked down to Bibendum for our evening tryst with the Design Glitterati. When the TIC prospectus was published, FL had received a letter from Sir Terence Conran asking why there wasn’t more design thinking and practice mentioned in this initiative for the future prosperity of the UK. He had copied in His Cameronness. We crafted a careful response, listing the things we were doing about the overlap of design and technology and offered to discuss further over dinner. This was it. On the design team were Sir Terence, his offspring Sebastian (who is the chair of the Creative Industries KTN and a serial offender at sandpits) and Deyan Sudjic (CEO of the Design Museum). On the Technology team were FL and me. Unfortunately, at the appointed hour, only I was there because FL was trying to beat my “exorbitant taxi fare caused by congestion” record. While we waited for the credit card holder of choice, we discussed Evan Davies and Gordon Murray. Once FL arrived we got down to a wider discussion about the silence of electric vehicles, the move of the Design Museum from Butlers Wharf to the Commonwealth Institute, the RCA, and how to build more design thinking into the TIC network and our wider activities. Deyan had to leave to court some Japanese billionaire about sponsorship of the Design Museum, and we carried on being creative with a man who exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit of the 1950’s and 60’s. I did catch him and FL having a discussion about how he had just bought the last of the hand made Bentleys – is FL thinking of doing the same?
After Sir Terence wandered off, FL briefed Sebastian on the TIC branding situation – he apparently was unaware of our latest batch of worries. As part of the conversation, I was characterised as “at the more risk tolerant end” of FL’s colleagues and my position and advice thereby pigeonholed. Ah me….
Thursday started with telephone calls from my hotel room. The first was about the Economist Infrastructure Summit in November (see – http://www.economistconferences.co.uk/event/infrastructure-summit/5600). FL had been invited to speak but was unable to do so because of the interim all staff awayday, but declared me to be available, so – after some vetting for my inspirational speaking skills – I was added to the programme. This virtual meeting was to discuss how the programme was evolving and start planning my section.
After that, I participated in a Funders Panel – on IDP6 – and checked out. My next appointment was in Bermondsey but Google maps failed me and I walked for 20 minutes more than I needed to! The meeting was with David Tonge of the Division (see – http://www.the-division.com/). David had been to the same university (okay, so it was a polytechnic in those days) as Jonny Ive, worked in California for IDEO and now returned to the UK to “settle down”. Like many of the design consultancies we meet, he and his team are a wonderful mixture of the artistic and the practical and the meeting reaffirmed my belief that we need to bring the design and technology communities together for mutual benefit and economic growth.
Afterwards, I meandered up to the Design Museum to meet with Socrates Wife to discuss her involvement with the Southampton University “not a TIC” bid for an Institute of Web Technology. This has been going on for quite a while – the last lot offered money to set it up, the new guys took the money away and then Willetts was lobbied by TBL and so recanted slightly, and wanted to make a TIC out of the idea. Since the main movers were strongly academic this wasn’t going to work, but we had a good go at persuading them. Now they are courting the Fraunhofer Institute and form part of the quisling cohort that will meet with FL and the team when they visit the lair of the German barbarischen Horden. SW had waved a “70 page business plan” at Maurizio at the Future Internet TIC Workshop the week before, but what she showed me was 50 pages of explaining things and a short business plan, with a surprisingly sensible management structure and closer to TICness that I had feared. We discussed how best to move forward. Apparently, the Southampton academics believe that Willetts has a private stash of money for things such as this and that they don’t need to align with our activities, but (allegedly) she and the Southampton Business Development team are more prudent.
I made it back to Paddington to have a catch-up with Neville Hargreaves, one time CEO of the Crystal Faraday Partnership (see – http://www.chemistryinnovation.co.uk/roadmap/sustainable/files/39014_1581448/2004Roadmap.pdf for one of the few bits left on the web from its existence and proof and the Sustainability Man and I did things when we were young!) and the second interim that worked on SBRI. He is still ploughing an environmentally responsible furrow at Ortus Energy (see – http://www.ortusenergy.com/) but it sounds like he might have to make some decisions soon. The usual bad planning that is my travel life, meant that I took the train back to Swindon before driving home!!
Friday had been designated a “WFH” day, so I duly did so. First up was a telephonic Innovate Steering Group meeting with 3 of us present only virtually. Every time I do this, I realise that meeting management when there are remote participants requires higher than usual chairmanship skills. We talked about the main stage speakers (lost two, but enough still in play not to worry), the vexatious issue of folding Collaboration Nation into Innovate (it turns out I had been partially responsible for the confusion in one of my too gnomic answers to a question from Huw. Memo to self – be more specific in answers!) and the selection from a wonderful range of suggestions from the Technologists for seminars. Needless to say, we ran out of time, but Strategy Man dropped out earlier because his battery was drained!
After some immensely productive triage on my inbox, it was time for a telephone conference with the Home Orifice about the m-commerce work-stream I appear to be leading. Talking to the Home Orifice guys and Mat Hunter from the Design Council, I got the impression that the HO mainly want not to have to do any work! Luckily, we see this as an interesting area to scope out for future activity, so nothing we do will be wasted. Now I need to organise the internal team better to work out what information we need and how we can engage the potential business interests in the area.
The final task of the day was a chat with Healthcare Man, mainly about the Cell Therapy TIC Workshop next week. In the run-up, he is becoming acutely aware of the drives of the individual (largely academic) proposed leadership teams, and worried that the political pressure for an elegant answer might get in the way of us constructing the optimum TIC to drive UK progress in this area where we have worked hard over the last few years to build a business community and link it productively to the knowledge base. We also touched on how best to represent healthcare at Innovate and our Fall East Coast Roadtrip – which has now degenerated into a madcap rush from Boston to New York and on to Washington to meet as many people as we can. Once the workshop is over, we promised ourselves some “sorting out” time on this.