If you have to explain it, it isn’t that well built
29 October 2021 by David Bott
What was this? It’s Monday morning and I was in Swindon! I got there in enough time to have a cup of coffee before the “start the week” meeting. It had been so long that I had forgotten the awesome power of talking about diaries, but it was over all too soon and I had time to catch the beginning of the TIC Update meeting before joining the newly ennobled Human Remains Woman and the young padawan to interview a potential interim project manager for the Emerging Technologies and Industries strand of activity in the Incubation Group. He turned out to be an interesting person with that strange familiarity with Frank Herbert books that only teenage boys ever really achieve. The interview segued seamlessly (but with a 30 minute break) into a catch-up with the young padawan and then an attempt by Jools to get hold of my rapidly spiralling out of control calendar! Then it was the External Communications Away-Day Project team meeting, where Daniel volunteered to give the presentation next week (just before he lost his second fingernail!).
Next came FLs monthly staff update with an update for the staff.
Then we assembled mob-handed for an EPSRC-TSB bilateral. There used to be 2 sets of meetings. In one the CEOs met and discussed stuff and in another the senior staff got together and tried to work out what the CEOs had agreed, and do some other stuff. We had suggested combining the meetings to save time and this was the first one. After both CEOs swapping updates and rumours we talked about what the 2 organisations did together, looked at what seemed to be a mildly inaccurate table of joint activities (that hadn’t been checked with either side fully) and then it finished. I have no idea what we agreed or learned, but I suppose it ticks a box in the “joint working” form, so some people were happy.
Tuesday saw the first real “all the way to the station in the dark” morning because it was a London day. The new 70-minute trip to London suffered some delays and so took the same 95 minutes it used to before the expensive track upgrades. Having swapped words with our BIS colleagues, I took a call from the 2iC at Castrol Innoventures to make sure we had the same expectations of next Monday’s “doing a Cisco” meeting. Plans and expectations were surprisingly aligned, which I put down to Jools ploughing the field for us. Then I met up, with Security Boy, with a plain-clothes spook. It turns out that intelligence agencies the world over are worried that the bad guys have better technologies and ideas, so are using open innovation to try to catch up. The Americans have pooled resources to fund In-Q-Tel (see – http://www.iqt.org/) and are pumping money into keeping the US intelligence agencies at the forefront of modern technology. Our boys have formed the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Innovation, who may have up to £5m. They are talking to various people they know (and, let’s face it, they should know everyone who is active) about how to make the most of the money. We suggested a fusion of Feasibility Studies (possibly run through SBRI) and Collaboration Research and Development run against their “challenges” (interestingly, they grasped that idea of generic challenges very quickly as a way of disguising their true intent). He left expressing some enthusiasm for working with us, but, as a master of subterfuge, who knows what he really thought. Nice bloke though – knows Herman Hauser and does some VC stuff (is he allowed to, given how much he knows about things?) More interactions with BIS happened about lots of things but then Mani and I joined the inimitable Allen Mayo and the guy working for Greg Clarke on Cities to discuss what the government wants to do about cities. Sustainability Man phoned in. We learned that the new Minster for Cities is solely focused on devolving planning to the lowest possible level and has no interest whatsoever with the sorts of things we are thinking about. We tried to arrange a meeting between this urban Luddite and David Willetts in the hope that some of David’s sagacity and enthusiasm would rub off. Our hopes are, apparently, not high. Then it was a chance to dodge the rain and join the manufacturing crowd down at Number 10 for a reception with a well-known Sheffield MP or two to celebrate the 10th birthday of the Sheffield University Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (which apparently, is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult Centre!). It was a good chance to catch up with that nice bloke from Cambridge, the VC of Sheffield, my old mate from ICI and meet David Dougherty from CIHE in person rather than over a phone (to discuss the e-infrastructure stitch-up by the research councils). Since I was standing next to the VC of Sheffield when Number 2 came out, I was favoured with a limp handshake from that man who is a heartbeat away from the premiership. Talks nicely though!
Wednesday had been hijacked in many ways, but started with a discussion with Declan from the MRC about the handing over of control for the joint MRC-TSB paper to OSCHR from them to us that happened the other week. Their period of mourning is over and they are now engaging – bizarrely, they had assumed we would change the plan we put forward once we “got control” and took time to fathom that we were still on the same page. Who do they usually deal with? Then it was time to break the news to the disorganised ones from the Economist that I wasn’t going to take part in their panel next week (because FL has pulled rank) before once more dodging the showers to visit the Ministry of Magic to discuss LCIG. It is beginning to dawn on DECC that they joined us rather than vice versa and that we do actually know what we are doing and that this group is not a fig leaf to cover up their lack of organisation when the NAO comes around again. Some of them even believe that we might be right. There is a big meeting in a couple of weeks and they good guys in DECC are anxious to help make it productive. On the down side, it looks like they have their own delivery team within their Innovation Group, so that means Carbon Trust will shrink more but also that we won’t pick up the contract to deliver on their behalf.
Back down Whitehall for a phone call with Daniel about the External Communications Away-Day Project Team slides for next week and then a chat with Strategy Man about all sorts of things that he is doing. This flowed (via the medium of a shared cup of coffee) into a preparation meeting with FL for our meeting with David Willetts. Willetts wanted to discuss a number of things. First up was TICs and progress. We detailed the on-going High Value Manufacturing Catapult progress, the machinations to get the Cell Therapy Catapult Centre announcable in time for His Daveness, the developments on Offshore Renewable Energy and the down-selection process. He mentioned some lobbying for things that might, or might not, be Catapults and even used the word! Then we talked about our selection criteria – he is apparently unhappy with the content of the Innovation and Research Review and wants to put something in it (he is only a new politician obviously). He had been briefed on the process we put together for the Emerging Industries and Technologies work and how it related to the selection of areas, innovation platforms and other chunks of work. He seemed disappointed when I told him it was just a knitting together of things we, and others, have been talking about for ages and would be moderately familiar in concept to any business planner from the last 4 decades (he wanted me to say that it was all radically new and worthy of an announcement, I think!). We also talked about how we might prioritise international activities, rather than just doing every one he pitched at us (we didn’t say it that bluntly though!).
Then it was off to the Hospital Club, first for a reception for entrepreneurs from London and New York. It had been organised by the Glasshouse (see – http://www.theglasshouse.net/) but was focused on the work of New York City Economic Development Corporation (see – http://www.nycedc.com/Pages/HomePage.aspx). They interrupted the drinking to make some speeches (the Americans actually played a generic promotional video), I met someone I know who was very drunk and lecturing young start-up people, and 3 people came up to me to thank me for the work of the Technology Strategy Board. Yes, that’s right, people came across the room to thank me for what we do. Life is truly weird! At about 8 o’clock , a select few (we were told) were ushered upstairs for a special dinner to discuss interaction between London and New York. As well as the usual suspects from Number 10, Tech City, Seedcamp, Google and Coutus’r’us, there were real people who ran transatlantic start-ups like Toptable, Fabriety, Rightster, Horsesmouth, Area/Code and Adjug. It was a great evening and I think I learned more by listening about the start-up scene in London that I have ever got at one of our meetings. We got mentioned by Sherry and Eric but Rohan resolutely never mentioned anything he hadn’t started (although he is developing an odd series of tics and winks). The meeting technically ended at 10.30 but I was still there an hour later answering questions from the New Yorkers.
The next morning saw a rushed breakfast and a cab ride to Paddington (I hate not to eat the free breakfast but then don’t have enough time to use the tube) to make it to Swindon for an EMT meetingfest. We started in the morning with our “operational” meeting, then segued (late) into the strategy equivalent. It was as efficient a use of time as usual, but I had to leave just after 5 to be able to get home at a reasonable time (8 o’clock!) so apparently missed a discussion about the need to define what the attributes of our various tools are and therefore why we deploy them in different circumstances.
Friday was originally to have been spent at the Met Office, but John Hirst cancelled so I decided to work from home and catch up on work. Obviously everyone else had a different idea and I spent the bulk of the day on the telephone. Stand-outs included a discussion with the Governing Board 3 to discuss the progress on sorting out the Cell Therapy Catapult Centre, a good catch-up with David Way, some sublime lobbying by a man at Manchester University about graphene funding and a call from our friend at ParcelGenie asking whether a rushed job stood a chance in the Grant for R&D competition about to close!