Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse
19 November 2021 by David Bott
It was Monday. FL was in India so Cyrus dispatched the “start the week” meeting with the efficiency of an abattoir worker. Then it was on the TIC Update meeting, with more pleas for guidance from those appointed as gladiators for the forthcoming tournament. Part of the problem is that we are still groping our way towards what would make a “good” TIC but we also seem to have fallen into the habit of doing everything at the last minute, so our famed internal communications are not up to the job.
I then had a much postponed and re-arranged “HR Catch-Up” with HR Woman. I am still trying to work out how the organisation has ballooned so much over the last year and yet we still seem to be under-resourced everywhere. I explained the logic of the manpower planning session we had scheduled for the Friday and promised to revert with a proposed plan.
Next was a double-decker courageous networking session with Alistair Gaw and Tim Leeder. As always, my allotted question was “what is the delivery plan?” so I had a chance to go through the path from goals, through strategy to delivery plan, highlighting how we ought to be joining up things against our agreed strategic thrusts. They are young and believed me!
Next was a badly timed Governing Board meeting. The timing meant that we didn’t know what we had to work with on the TIC front, but all agreed that it would require more that 2 hours. Instead, we talked about the “meet the people” section, which had not gone all that well last year because we had not thought through the consequences of the Board members being blitzed with lots of details and them seeing – and therefore questioning – the overlaps. Our plan, as I remember it, it to make a virtue of last years problem and emphasise the overlaps and consequent inter-working and even weave in the “case stories” meme to give them 4 or so threads of activity where we have joined up the internal organisation to deliver programmes that correspond to the strategy thrusts. Fingers crossed.
After a quick au revoir to Fionnuala, Healthcare Man and I closeted ourselves away for a catch-up on all the balls that are in play in his area and then I went down to London.
Tuesday started with breakfast with Sustainability Man and then we walked down to Tracy Island for the TIC Review Meeting. I am sure much will be written about what happened in those 5 hours and how decisions might, or might not, be made, but for me the important things was how our collective understanding of how many areas that we are active in see their futures, how much more we now understand about what might make a good centre led support mechanism and how everyone’s presentation skills have improved! I am also bemused that the market estimation part the Development Man had been commissioned to work up used 2020 for the market size. As the old saying goes, “it is always difficult to predict anything, especially the future”. Markets that can be predicted in 2020 are extant now, and so possibly don’t need the booster that is a TIC. This was exemplified by the fact that Cell Therapies and Offshore Renewable Energy both have small markets in 2020, as we would have expected – which makes them less attractive as TICs if we use this sort of simplistic quantification! We are starting to behave more and more like civil servants!
I left with Healthcare Man at the time the meeting was supposed to finish and we made our way up to Paddington to meet up with El Presidente and some very nice people from Scotland to sort out the misunderstanding about how Scotland are involved in the DALLAS development process. The problem has arisen because they have interpreted the MoU and the process in one way and my job was to get them to see it from our side. I think it worked!
Then El Presidente and I wandered back to the Telecare and Telehealth Conference at the Metropole where I was scheduled to give a talk and he was in the following panel to clear up whatever mess I made! We met the “compere” Roy Lilley (see – http://www.roylilley.co.uk/) whose default setting was that we were from Government and therefore totally useless! Since we had some time, we started explain what the Technology Strategy Board was, what we were doing and why we needed the community to understand and engage in DALLAS. It didn’t hurt that he had once been mayor of Camberley and remembered the drinking haunts of the 60’s and 70’s! The talk went well and Mike seemed to be in control of the panel so I gave a quick video interview for the conference, then rushed off to Westminster to the BMW Showroom in Marsham Street where BMW were holding a meeting about their electric and lightweight programmes. They had a new Series 1e, some bits of the new cars – the drivetrain of the i8 and the tub of the i3 (see – http://www.bmw-i.co.uk/en_gb/) and a nice man from Munich started with the video off the website and then gave a talk on the various components of the programme. Although a number of the usual suspects were there, it was a bit sparse and I think Jason appreciated and thanked all of us who went.
Next morning I got a text at 7.30 from Tim Kelsey (the Open Data Czar) asking to talk urgently. He was looking to progress the Open Data Institute (see last week’s Number 10 meeting) and had asked Nigel Shadbolt for an updated proposal. He wanted me to look it over and see what I thought about its fundability. I agreed and sent FL a text in case there were political dimensions I didn’t understand!
My first formal commitment was to an LWEC Partners Board pre-meeting to discuss what should happen next week. It is all the usual anodyne stuff – with no attempt to address the seething issues or reconcile the difference between the partner’s viewpoint that LWEC is a co-ordination group and the LWEC Executives view that they are in charge! I then wandered down to Tracy Island to catch up with Fergus on the ODI issues (I found him already ranting at Finger Man on the very same subject) and say goodbye (again) to Mani! I also talked to Terry Young about his failure to understand that we weren’t going to have an academic centre in healthcare systems but we were really interested in how hospitals fitted into cities. It was a lesson to me about how complicated it is to get feedback right – Healthcare Man and the young padawan had spent some time with Terry and written what I read as a balanced note, but he saw it differently. People read and hear what you tell them through the prism of their own experience and desires and we need to be able to get our message across, not the task off our to-do list!
Then it was a telephone call with David Way to discuss what we both thought of the TIC Review Meeting the day before. There were/are areas of agreement, areas of disagreement and areas of shared uncertainty. I still worry that it feels like we are making it up as we go along and, although I can justify that approach in hindsight, I wish we had a better idea of what we are trying to achieve other than keep lots of different groups of people happy!
Talking of which, the next meeting was the first of the newly reconstituted Low Carbon Innovation Coordination Group. Except that DECC had chosen that day to issue for consultation a paper than completely ignored all the discussion of last week and revert to the structure that gets them out of the hole with the Public Accounts Committee. There was, as expected, some sharp words! We then got onto business proper and so approved the executive summary of the Offshore Wind TINA (Technology Innovation Needs Assessment). Actually, I merely parroted Rob’s approval of the document! We then got down to setting agendas of the next few meetings to get through the workload. Towards the end (i.e. at 14.58) I got the e-mail from Tim Kelsey so sat in the Carbon Trust for an hour reading the “updated” proposal to look for anything that might make it vaguely in our space. It was basically still framed as an academic proposal with a few extra words to attempt to make it business relevant. It failed to start from a business challenge and then address it – it basically repeated the standard ask for money for Southampton! I responded appropriately. As I walked to my next meeting, I got texts from Tim asking if I could “improve it”.
The next meeting was dinner with Brian Collins. Brian is still not pleased with the way his double exit was managed, but he did tell me who his two replacements are and how John Beddington is currently feeling. There also seems to be some rancour over the Science and Technology Select Committees inquiry into the role of Chief Scientific Advisors (see – http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/science-and-technology-committee/news/chief-scientifiic-advisers-inquiry-launched/). We also touched on linking up his continuing role with Infrastructure UK more with the growing trend for “future cities” activities!
Next morning I updated Finger Man and his Open Data Assistant on the Cabinet Office/McKinsey request and caught the train down to Woking. Before we go much further with this part of the week, I should stress that I was going only because FL was in India! Anyway, I caught the McLaren shuttle to the McLaren Technical Centre where, along with Philip Rutnam, Bob and Aleshia from the Automotive Unit and Jonathan Lord, the Woking MP, we were hosted by the Managing Director of McLaren Automotive, Anthony Sherriff. After coffee, branded cookies and a chat, we were led through the “tunnel” to the McLaren Production Centre, where they make the MP4-12C. They currently make about 9 a day but will be scaling up to 4000 a year soon. They were making chassis 421 (I checked) but have sold out until over chassis 2000! They make a big thing about being British, but the carbon fibre monocoque is made with Japanese fibre in Germany, the body panels are made in Italy – but the engine is built by Ricardo in Shoreham! It seems that they have difficulty finding companies in the UK to make short run, high specification parts!! After the road car, we got the tour of the race car area. And, what a surprise, there’s Jenson Button doing his corporate sponsor piece. Actually, he comes across as a really nice bloke. We saw the “mission control” room, the simulator and just about everything you would want to (including large numbers of German machine tools!) before another cup of coffee. As we walked around, we realised that the other tours had luminaries like Paul Everitt, Richard Parry-Jones, Tom Wills-Sandford and Dougal Goodman, but were all a lot bigger and had lower ranking tour guides!
We were then taken down to the central area, where we had named chairs. Philip Rutnam was in the front row next to Martin Whitmarsh, and I was behind – the row order was Jonathan Neale (Managing Director McLaren Racing), Richard Parry-Jones, stand-in for Iain Gray. Mark Cavendish (see – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Cavendish), Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. But the final three weren’t there! Martin said a few words, then it was Jonathan Neale (talking about racing), Peter van Manen (talking about McLaren Electronics) and Geoff McGrath (talking about McLaren Applied Technologies). Then the compere called Whitmarsh to the podium again because the “guest” was late. A few minutes later, in swept Ron Dennis, His Daveness, Cav, Lewis and Jenson. Cue a speech from Ron (see – http://www.mclaren.com/page/ron-dennis-speaks-at-official-opening-of-mclaren-production-centre) and one from Dave (http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/pm-opens-mclarens-new-production-centre/) then the entourage swept out again. I did note that Dave was in a Jaguar! At this point Lewis told the heart-warming story of a 10-year-old boy groomed by an older engineer, Jenson made jokes about the Prime Minsters staying power and Cav mumbled something. Then we all got to leave!
As I made my way back to my car in London, I was pushed off the pavement and twisted my ankle, so driving home was more painful than usual. On the way home I took several calls about TICs and other of our programmes, but decided that going into Birmingham and attending the Lord Stafford Awards wasn’t worth the extra pain, so spent the evening at home – intermittently talking to Finger man about the Open Data “challenge” and MD about the upcoming Clean and Cool Mission.
Next morning, I found the counter proposal Finger Man had sent me at 2 o’clock in the morning, tidied it up a bit and submitted to the Cabinet Orifice and BIS – with the standard caveat that we didn’t have the money to pay for it because of last years 20% cut, then made my way to the Innovation Programmes Quarterly Offsite.
We had a full agenda but started (in an innovative manner) with AOB. We discussed progress on the Away Day Projects – particularly with the Management Information Systems one, where Sustainability Man had a request for us to respond to the request for critical facts (i.e. the ones we needed to be able to manage!). Then talked about the TIC process. There was a feeling that either we don’t know what we are doing and are making it up as we go along, or there is some great conspiracy to keep them in the dark about what we are doing and how we are making decisions. I reassured them that it was the former. Then I got a fair amount of critical feedback about the process and manner that the Monitoring Liaison Officers have been redistributed among the programmes. I was especially embarrassed to be told that in one competition, we have 2 Monitoring Officers and 3 Monitoring Liaison Officers! The thing that makes it all a bit odd was that the concept of MLOs was introduced to carry us over the 2007 changes – because the MOs reported to that the Technology Managers (what they used to call Technologists in the DTI) who acted as the MLOs, but they were all leaving. We just seemed to have kept them. It makes the job of keeping up with the technological and commercial progress of the project that little bit more complicated to have the extra layer still in place. We also tackled the Social Media Policy where it was pointed out that the CEO and other senior figures (I think they meant me) regularly flout the policy. Since we have such policies for the protection and guidance of employees, it was suggested that we had over-reacted to one incident and that a draconian policy that was ignored wasn’t actually worth having.
The main subject for the morning was to respond to the recommendations of the External Communications Away Day Project Team and set up a process for identifying, prioritising and developing case stories. We were joined by MD and Karen to make sure what we suggested would work in the Communications Team. We spent a little time confusing ourselves about the audience – when we went through the stories we liked telling, MD pointed out that none of them were that interesting to journalists. We realised that what we really wanted to do was develop stories that demonstrated our strategic activities and make them available to everyone within the organisation to be able to tell in whatever forum they found themselves! We agreed to work with Karen to make sure we capture all the facts, talk to the company or companies involved to make sure we told stories they were comfortable with, and that we would think more about the format – 2 pagers are not that good at capturing the subtlety, and perhaps we should use videos or animations? Above all, we need to build a portfolio of stories and make them easily catalogued and found so that they could be used to support media stories if they corresponded to current needs.
After lunch, we tried to sort out a manpower plan. We have functioned well below strength for some time now – we were meant to be 56 at the beginning of 2009, somehow lost people in the big plan of the following year but had them added back in as TIC resources this last year, so have remained at the same level whilst the organisation almost doubled in size. I won’t reveal the number we think we need to deliver our roles effectively, because if we get more money we will need more people in every aspect of what we do!
The final part of the day was a discussion with Adrian Atkinson of HFI about organisational psychology. Being Adrian, he had to frame it as a proposal for a workshop, but he did go through the sort of team we mostly are (there are 2 who haven’t done the specific evaluation yet but have been through it in other organisations, so know the drill!). At the end everyone agreed that they wanted to progress the discussion and hold the workshop, so Adrian the salesman trumped David the chairman!
I ended the day on the phone to the Vice-Provost Enterprise of a major London university to talk about where (in London) a Cell Therapies TIC might be located. I think I got sold to again!