The road to mediocrity is paved with good intentions
20 August 2021 by David Bott
An unusual start to my week in that I had to return the white van I had been driving all weekend and change back into my persona as mild-mannered public servant – and then drive to Swindon. I arrived towards the end of the “start the week” meeting but not too late to contribute to the event listing that passes for co-ordination! Then it was on to the TIC Update meeting – such japes! We are all still trying to make sure the High Value Manufacturing TIC delivers on its timescales without compromising the subsequent TICs with the decisions that often seem to be taken without that much consultation. Healthcare Man is also suffering from the intransigence of the academics who think they are running the process! After a quick instruction set download from Jools, Finger Man and I started a telephone meeting with Sherry Coutu about Silicon Valley comes to the UK (see – http://www.svc2uk.com/). Sherry is keen to have us involved in some way and we had suggested combining our LinkedGov activities with the Appathon that leads into the SVC2UK. She had been talking to the latest in the revolving door of Cabinet Office Data Czars and they were offering to do what we have already done – which shows their handovers aren’t that effective and that they are not a “learning organisation”. All too soon our 30 minutes were up and our next (joint) visitor was waiting, so I left Finger Man to close out the discussion and went next door to meet Charles Armstrong of Trampoline (see – http://www.trampolinesystems.com/ and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10322902). We were aware of Trampoline, but it is worthy of note that we strayed way over the time allotted to the meeting because what they are doing is both interesting and relevant to our own activities. All I need now is to convince FL to let me spend £40k for a years licence and we can track our interactions with the outside world! Next up was an Innovate Steering Group meeting – where we seem to have fallen back on the habit of making a decision and then revisiting it rather than implementing it! The final task of the day was meeting up with Alex Korda who has joined Strategy Man’s team to look at the innovation journey. He had done a thorough job networking at the TechCity LaunchPad Investors Workshop but is still working out the goals and activities of the Technology Strategy Board to set it all in context.
Next morning dawned bright and I made my way to Fearless Leaders Castle to drive him to Wales! It was one of those “sounds like a good plan” ideas that didn’t feel so sensible as I navigated the Bristol motorway Interchange at rush hour to collect him! We then drove across the Bristol Channel to be greeted by a torrential downpour. FL told me that Wales was permanently swathed in rain and that the people ate strangers! First up was a trip to General Dynamics UK, hidden in a valley above Newport. At the end of last week, they had asked FL’s protector if he could give a presentation about our activities and she had skilfully passed off the invite to me, so I gave a version of the presentation Strategy Man and I have been using in lieu of an official presentation. It seemed to go down well and we then talked about what GDUK did – mainly defence and security stuff. They then showed us their EDGE open innovation facility (see – http://www.generaldynamics.uk.com/news/gduk-gives-edgeuk) where they attempt to engage SMEs and help them across what they are contractually not allowed to call the “valley of death” because of their location! We drove back to Cardiff, managing to get lost a couple of times, checked into our hotel and got picked up by the GDUK head honcho to go to an ESTnet (see – http://www.estnet.uk.net/) dinner. This was a bunch of electronic companies based in Wales who seem to have banded together for warmth! FL went through the same presentation (but without slides and from a combination of memory and notes) and everyone asked questions. There was a priceless exchange from the head of IQE that was based on the premise that a TIC in photonics was the wrong intervention and what was needed was a more distributed programme of support – and that therefore the definition of a TIC was wrong! No matter how many times FL pointed out that he was describing the Collaborative Research and Development programme we had been running for years, he kept coming back to TICs as though they were the only thing we did! Other links were made, but it did strike me that they could have made them through the KTN or the Technologists without FL having to spend a day telling them this! We walked back through Cardiff to the hotel but saw none of the living dead I had been told about!
The next morning, we drove to Swindon and caught separate trains to London. I had to get there a bit earlier to join a pitch from Grayling for the DALLAS engagement programme. It was disappointing given what they had done for us on low carbon vehicles, but perhaps it’s a different area of expertise we need for this project?
Then it was off to Shoreditch for a Governing Board meeting. It was held in the same building we use for ICtomorrow, but I am not sure there was that much interaction. It wasn’t one of the better meetings, with the new guys trying to prove they had read the briefing appears but without having a real appreciation of what we do and how we do it – despite the fact that they have interacted with us on specific areas in the past. I reflected that we are now quite a complicated organisation and Board member induction is a correspondingly more complicated – and therefore probably longer – process than it used to be. It also felt like the chairman was a bit disengaged. Anyway, it was quite a relief to get out at the end of it and catch the train back to Swindon before driving home.
Thursday was a “Swindon” day and started with an Executioners Meeting. I think it must have been “National Drive Your Tractor Down Main Roads” Day because I got caught behind several tractors and ended up being late, but not as late as most of my colleagues! It was an effective meeting with several issues nailed. Of particular note was the discussion on the “brief introduction to strategy” thing that we have been trying to get off the ground since the majority response to our strategy document was that it was “boring”. Communications Man and Publications Girl joined us and seemed mystified that we didn’t know more about what they were doing, but admitted they were coming to the conclusion that the metaphor for the ”innovation journey” was probably a very personal thing and therefore difficult to capture in a simple graphic. There was a more productive discussion on the graphic to go behind the Milliganesque programme graphic, where the size of the coloured box equates to the relative budget allocation.
Then I drove off to Malmesbury where I spent an hour with Shantha Shanmugalingam (Strategy Director) and Scott Maguire (Head of Research) of Dyson. This was the third interaction with Dyson I know of. I think the Biddleyard Twins went there back in the early days and I met 2 of their research dudes on May last year – but nothing seemed to come of either of these meetings. They are (were?) pretty self-contained.
Something has changed and “James” has asked them to do more "open innovation". They are therefore meeting us and the research council dudes to see what they could/should do. They started with an observation that our web site was impenetrable, and they couldn't find out the details of what we did. They did find our strategy document but thought it was long-winded and, again unclear on what we actually did. It was at this point they had asked for this meeting. I went through the presentation FL and I had given on Tuesday – without slides and from memory but adding lots of examples – and we discussed it as we went along. It seemed to work. We have agreed to sleep on it, and probably "do a Cisco" with them.
They have an interesting approach in that they know all the technologies they need for their current products but claim that they are always looking for "disruptive" technologies that would enable them to move further into their markets. We discussed how healthcare is evolving, where energy conservation might go and so on. I suspect some of their stance is bravado, and they ran out of knowledge pretty quickly in every area apart from "air handling".
There was a whiff of "what can you do for us" at the beginning, but we explored how they could drive SME supply chain, challenge universities to develop more robust underpinning technologies and generally engage a lot more in the UK. That did seem to ring a bell.
Friday was spent “working from home”. Aside from an interaction with Strategy Man early in the day and a phone call from Declan at the MRC to make sure we knew that when FL attends the MRC Pharma Forum on August 30th he will be asked to justify the “a TIC in Cell Therapy will be a single centre” stance to the pharmaceutical companies, it was a productive day and a good lead up to a weekend where I decided to go “off grid”. But now it’s over, so it’s back to work!