Entzauberung and the rise of inflexibility

It is becoming a habit!  Yet another “start the week” meeting missed.  This time the reason was all about work, so I guess it’s okay.  On Sunday, I met up with Healthcare Man and David Way to (nominally) have dinner with the assessors for the Cell Therapy Technology and Innovation Centre.  As it was, only half of them turned up, but we talked about the philosophy behind the centres and the requirements for their success.  This discussion continued through breakfast and we duly assembled – with the remaining 3 turning up more or less on time (including a bravura “just off the plane from US” only slightly late one!).  The process has been an interesting one, with the original 4 proposed leadership teams jockeying for engagement and relative position.  All 3 of the written proposals were judged to be below an acceptable score and so we discussed the “nuclear” option of rejecting all 3 and managing the formation of the centre ourselves.  This would have significant political impact!  We went through the proposals identifying the concerns of the assessors (which, it has to be noted, reflected those we had discussed within the Healthcare team beforehand) and worked out what general and specific questions we wanted to ask the teams when they presented.  

The first proposal presented was a significant improvement on their written proposal, although they wasted a portion of their time showing artists impressions of their proposed new building, and had included some aspects which seemed to reflect the activities of their principals rather than the needs of the business community.  Overall, they showed a good understanding of what a centre should do and how it would interact with the wider community.

The second proposal was (in its written form) let down by its parochial approach and a lack of vision.  They did nothing to address these weaknesses in the presentation and, if anything, went backwards in the estimation of the assessors.  

The third proposal was the only one to address our oft-stated desire to see a commercial CEO appointed to lead the centre.  Unfortunately, the one they fielded was deeply unimpressive and was talked over by the academics.  They also demonstrated an almost amusing lack of teamwork between the 2 universities and when direct questions were addressed to specific members of the team, the senior academics mostly answered them.  

At this point, the assessors were hitting their stride and proposed that we invite one member of each team back to respond to the need to increase the number of clinical trials and facilitate the establishment of at least 2 sizable companies in this field over the next 5 years.  The results were enlightening.  The proposed interim CEO (a mixed heritage academic-clinician-businessman) for the first bid came in and listed off a number of specific actions the centre would take, and included the rest of the UK community.  The second bid came in with a confused and unimpressive list of more academic activities and when prompted for a plan to include the rest of the community, could not answer.  The third bid – who notionally had a CEO – sent back the senior academic who proceeded to lecture the assessors that it was the wrong question and ignore the rest of the community.  A spectacular own goal!  After discussion, a vote was held to see where everyone was and the result was 5-1-0, so we then concentrated on what actions we needed to carry out to build a centre on the basis of the first bid.  Everyone looked tired but were relieved that we hadn’t had to “go nuclear”!

Since we had (inevitably) run over time, I left quickly to make my next appointment – with Development Man and my “design guru” colleagues.  There were three items on the agenda – Design Option, the Design Panel at Innovate and our links to the Design Museum.  The young padawan explained the intent and practice of Design Option and received warm plaudits from the assembled guruosity!   They, of course, wanted to know how quickly we were rolling it out and offered more names for Design Mentors.  I explained what we would like from the Design Panel and again, they were keen to engage (except Sebastian, who feigned hurt that he wasn’t part of the panel!)  On the Design Museum, Deyan was keen to see how impressed FL had been by his visit and how much money he would put into the Museum.  I explained (for about the 4th time) that we didn’t do capital injections, that sponsorship was not a good use of our money, but that we were keen to showcase those technologies with strong design components to their success.  He seemed placated, but I expect another request for money soon!

Breakfast the next day was with one of the assessors from the previous day who had been very impressed by the process and outcome and was interested in what else they could do to help!

My morning was spent with one of my “other job” companies where we are facing the inevitable squeeze from investors and difficulty in making that all-important first sale.  What is interesting to note is the impact the short term financial drivers have on business logic, where longer term, potentially more important projects are put at risk by the desire for short term returns, even when the product sounds less impressive or likely to succeed!

On the way back to London I took a call from Rob Sullivan, who is now at Broadband Delivery UK, and proposing some joint activity.  Although superficially attractive we need to balance the goals of his organisation with ours rather than just “doing stuff”.

The evening was proof of the bizarreness of my life these days.  After the Telegraph article on us the other week, Julie Meyer had written to me (and probably FL as well) saying what a good job we were doing and inviting me for coffee – and offering me an invitation to the “Entrepreneurs supporting Entrepreneurs” dinner.  Since it was “business attire”, I accepted.  I made my way to the basement of the Royal Institution and enjoyed some amusing “so what do you do?” conversations and (apparently) impressed a number of lawyers who had never heard of us before (but probably now see us as a source of lucrative contracts!)  The dinner followed a days meeting and many were talking about the discussions during the day.  It was nice to see that Julie could see the interesting side of Austin Healey, who has apparently made the transition from rugby star to banker!

Wednesday saw a number of cancellations and so the first appointment – a discussion with PA about their role in recruiting a twin for Baron Eric to drive international inward investment was a relaxed affair in the hotel.  I pleaded ignorance but gave them a number of VC contacts for a proper input!

Then it was an interview set up by the new TIC media apprentice with the Guardian business guy (see – http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/rupertneate).  As luck would have it, he trained as a biologist so we got quiet deep into the cell therapy TIC and he asked for more backing details, engagement with David Willetts and is alleged to be writing it up for the Observer this weekend.  Maybe Julie will write to me again?

I then got a call from Phil Extance who was basically looking for insight into our TIC decision-making process.  Happily, I am ignorant!

I drove up to Birmingham to impersonate FL at one of the HVM TIC dinners.  Being in the Midlands there was a preponderance of automotive souls that we know well, but a token chemicals guy and the inevitable Rolls-Royce person completed the table.  Manufacturing Man started with an overview of the goals of the HVM TIC and then that nice bloke from Cambridge went through a process designed to collect their “front of mind” challenges.  Interestingly, although there were overlaps with his pre-prepared list, there were some new “opportunities” and a different focus on some of the more common problems.  We then went on to dinner (where I was told how well FL had orchestrated the discussion in Manchester the week before) were we had a more open (jazzy) discussion.  The main topic was finance, both the short-term cash flow related inadequacies of banks and the longer-term needs for more patient money to support innovation.  There was an idea that getting the senior guys from the various IGTs/Councils together with some leading financiers might at least start a dialogue, but who knows….it is predicated on the idea that there are reasonable bankers!

Since I had managed to get back to my own bed for Wednesday night, I had to drive down to Swindon for an Operational EMT meeting.  It was as productive as usual.

Then we had a Funders Panel for Eracobuild, one of those cross-country funding clubs we joined as an experimental engagement in Europe.  I was surprised to discover that such European activities are not managed by the Competitions Team, but LIB Boy had convened the meeting to make sure we were joined up.  The process we saw wasn’t as thorough and we need to work out why we do basically the same thing in two different ways in two different parts of the organisation!

Then I had my quarterly interrogation by FL, where he uses various devious Jedi management techniques to overcome my basic laziness and make me work harder.

We overran, so I joined an Innovate Steering Group late, but in time for the discussion on the logic flow of the main stage.  I had thought we had discussed that weeks ago, but apparently we need to discuss it several times to make sure we agree it – and only then implement what we have been discussing for weeks!

I then had a discussion with Christian about my role in parallel Collaboration Nations.  I hope the “I kick off Technology, Finger Man kicks off Digital, then I close Digital and Manufacturing Man closes Technology” idea works in a consistent manner!

Friday was another Swindon day, and started with another Funders Panel – and my evil twin turned up for this one so I was happy!  This was an SBRI process used to deliver an Assisted Living goal, so everyone was in the room and had a piece of the action.  In yet another twist to the process, the small number of applicants allowed us to ask for presentations (albeit done over the web) to probe the teams for more than skills at filling in forms.  This radically changed the results – but the process hadn’t recorded the logic of that part of the process, so we wasted time trying to reconstruct that logic, and got ourselves into all kinds of knots.  We also discovered that the SBRI contract letter may proscribe us from developing services – which this was about!

We then went into a discussion about the Delivery Plan for the Financial Year 2011-12 (yes, that’s right, we are halfway through it, but…).  Strategy Man has been trying to produce a document that reflects the goals of the whole organisation in terms that people in business would find meaningful but we seem intent on dragging it back to reflect what we feel is important – or what we actually do!  Needless to say, it overran.  The next meeting to discuss what we are doing at the Governing Board meeting next week therefore started late!  This process had started while I was on holiday and I am still struggling to work out why we are doing what we are doing, but since my actions went straight to the young padawan, I am not going to complain too loudly.  I have had no time to catch up and have considered throwing a sicky on the day!

Eventually we finished and I rushed to my next meeting – only to discover Declan from the MRC was on a train for London and delayed.  Declan has 3 issues at the moment.  How the MRC can look important by standing next to us over the Cell Therapy TIC announcement, how they can make lots of fuss about Stratified medicine and how they can get more money out of the OSCHR inspired bid to the Treasury.  On the first one, I described a repeat of Healthcare Man’s Regenerative Medicine Therapeutic stage-gated competition and suggested that we design it to be scalable in case we do get any extra money.  On Stratified Medicine I described the use of the roadmap (we haven’t got the logic for the document right yet, but the basics are there) to lay out our next competitions and that the scalability this time could come from running the next 3 competitions over a shorter timescale if we do get extra money.

I then went over the see the Goth Heidi in the “soft seating area” of EPSRC and discovered there is someone working in our organisation on the links between SMEs and universities, that we discussed last month and which were reported in my blog at the time, who I have never heard of.  I’m guessing they’re in Communications!    We discussed the shared links with GE, Dyson and P&G and what we might do about Siemens.

Then it was back to North Star for a discussion with the US dudes about the Road Trip Healthcare Man and I had made and extracting learnings and next steps.  I went through a cleaned up version of blog 176, and discussed the new Heads of Innovations Programmes “we’re all going on a holiday” strategic intent!  We will turn it into a more formal looking document and make sure they get the credit they deserve, but that people know it’s about specific individual rather than the umbrella organisation.

I also got an e-mail for MD asking if I could do an interview with Research Fortnight about the PACEC Report we snuck onto the website last week.  I therefore thought I ought to read the finished document, so downloaded it.  I was amazed to discover that the report bears no resemblance to the snippets Obi-wan has been feeding us over the last few months.  It does not point out that the majority of the projects analysed were born in the DTI days and therefore were primarily designed to support specific technologies in the aerospace, automotive and electronics industries.  It recommends that the most effective project is below £750k, has 5 or 6 partners, includes at least 1 university (although it does say projects with 2 universities were more successful!), gets more government money from somewhere else, does both technology development and addressing market needs but has less associated bureaucracy.  Buried in section 6.2.7 is a single statistic that suggests project started after 2007 (i.e. when we started as a Quango) are 3 times more impactful than those started under the DTI.  I probably missed the EMT when we discussed in depth the implications of this report but I cannot help thinking it will do us enormous harm as it misrepresents what WE are doing!

Then it was another hospital field trip that managed to include an analysis of motorway congestion.  I am living the challenges we are supposed to be addressing, but cannot yet see progress.  Maybe PACEC are right and we should stop?

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