It’s hard to answer the question “what’s wrong” when so little is right!
19 May 2022 by David Bott
In the pursuit of new and unusual ways to miss the “start the week” meeting, I came up with a doozy this week. The whole Innovation Programmes leadership team went off on a 2-day development course just outside Birmingham Airport! This meant me acting as chauffeur from the railway station for Sustainability Man, Manufacturing Man, Transport Man and Development Man, while we left Technology Woman to catch a taxi. We arrived after her because Transport Man walks slow! I guess he is exploring the parity of modes? This has been a long time in the planning. Each of us had undergone a psychometric profile, had individual coaching from an organisational psychologist, cross-checking with friends and family, taken time to grieve because we’re not as good as we think we are and then made the joint decision to share the learnings about ourselves to help us operate better as a team. (Apparently, I ‘m a bit of a salesman, an insult I took personally!) We used parts of the strategy to check that we had the right skills to deliver our bit of it, the profiling to learn how to support one another when required (reflecting both the “one dynamic team” and “committed to help one another” values) and realised that every problem we saw had an aspect that we could influence. I hope everyone found it as useful as me!
Wednesday was a London day, but things kept getting cancelled at the last minute, so I arrived in Tracy Island with a couple of hours unallocated in front of me. A chance to catch up! Rob Saunders had stood in for me at the Low Carbon Innovation Co-ordination Group meeting the day before and he and Energy Man joined me in a telecon to get us up to speed. Then it was a lunch with Celia from BBSRC, where we discussed synthetic biology and IKCs. We discussed the problem of getting people to agree when they are making their decisions based on beliefs and not facts! Back in Tracy Island I met up with Catapult Media Boy for a discussion about various media options he is turning up, then it was a meeting with Pip Brooking, an Editor of Business Voice, the CBI Magazine (see – http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=17375349&authType=NAME_SEARCH&authToken=BPit&locale=en_US&srchid=ea0408fd-eec3-46cc-902b-02b4dcab004f-0&srchindex=1&srchtotal=1&goback=%2Efps_PBCK_Pip+Brooking_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*2_*1_Y_*1_*1_*1_false_1_R_*1_*51_*1_*51_true_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2_*2&pvs=ps&trk=pp_profile_name_link) Although it was ostensibly about Catapults, she was interested in everything we do and this was a good opportunity to set the catapults in the context of the rest of our programmes. Not sure the timing of the output of this conversation!
Then I took a phone call from a guy in Dow Corning. He was a Brit who had moved around the world in his career and was now in Midland, Michigan and looking to return to the UK. He got my name through the KTN and was basically tapping me up for contacts. As I explained what we do, he changed his tack and has now written to me to ask if there are any jobs at the Technology Strategy Board. Perhaps my salesmanship is breaking through?
Then it was off to the Royal Geographical Society for what was billed as a discussion on “Keeping pace with a digital revolution” (see – http://www.21stcenturychallenges.org/challenges/16-may-keeping-pace-with-a-digital-revolution/) but turned out to be 3 interesting people peddling their books. Chaired by Rory Cellan-Jones (apparently a last minute replacement chair), it kicked off with Aleks Krotoski giving her psychologist view that the person is prime and that the digital revolution isn’t changing anything but is about appearances – that people are doing the same things they always did and for the same reasons, but that they now have some extra ways of doing them. She was followed by Nick Harkaway, who claimed to be a digital yeti (because he was old but had coded when young and was therefore the missing link). My impression was that he was more about pumping himself than addressing the issue. However, any nascent egomania was dwarfed by the final talk by Ben Hammersley. Ben can be amazingly insightful when writing, but every time I have seen him on stage, he ends up overdoing it. His claim that the digital revolution was causing the end of the nation state was only a small example of this! Afterwards, I chatted to Ben and Sue Black and restored my faith in the man!
Thursday was another Tracy Island day and started with David Way and I discussing how we would handle the upcoming Catapult Scoping Advisory Group meeting and unblock the “process” issue. Then it was down into the bowels of Tracy Island for a leaderless EMT meeting. Much of it passed without noticeable progress, but there were highlights when we tried to understand the strategic context of KTPs and work out how to develop the KTNs. Sadly, I had to leave after 6 hours!!
The reason was to join a select group of (self-appointed) visionary energy people at the Chemistry Centre to hear Nate Lewis talk (see – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_Lewis and http://nsl.caltech.edu/nslewis). The event was the launch of the Royal Society of Chemistry report on “Solar fuels and artificial photosynthesis” (see – http://www.rsc.org/ScienceAndTechnology/Policy/Documents/solar-fuels.asp). Obviously megalomania was in the air this week because Nate started by claiming that seeing his lecture had caused Al Gore to write The Inconvenient Truth and that many influential figures in climate change politics were his disciples. Happily, his lecture lived up to the billing, as it should do having been honed over almost 2 decades. He makes the points about anthropogenic climate change well and the extension of his logic into energy policy is logical and well articulated (see – http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/lectures/feb08.cfm for an early version). The basic premise of the (energy bit of the) argument is that more than enough solar energy is incident on the earth to satisfy all its energy needs. However, there is a problem with when (during the day) and where (most in pre-industrial countries) it is incident. Since we have become dependent on solid and liquid fuels laid down millions of years ago from molecules produced by conversion of that solar energy into chemical energy, why not short circuit the process now? Storage of energy in chemical bonds is one of the most efficient ways to do so. Why not (as his own research group does) look to find ways of using solar energy to produce chemical compounds that are designer fuels? I had an interesting chat with John Perkins and Alec Broers about the basic premise before Alec asked about the Transport Systems Catapult. Given that he, in his role as Chair of the Transport KTN, convened the dinner last November that moved FL and I from sceptics to believers, he is now concerned that we are taking a long time to move. I put him in touch with Andrew Milligan in his role as co-chair of the Interim Advisory Group for the Transport Systems Catapult!
After the meeting ended, met up with Mike Pitts in a local tavern. It seems his experience with us has not put him off and he is applying for the Future Cities role!
Friday was yet another London day and I once again made my way to Tracy Island. First up with the meeting David Way had convened with the Scoping Advisory Group (6 weeks after the last one) because, although ¾ of them had agreed a path forward at the last meeting, the missing one thought we were doing something wrong and so had delayed the whole process. Following our game plan, we asked the miscreant to explain their position and then I took them through the history of our experience with the different Catapults and how we have learned what works and what doesn’t and how to match a process to a community. The other 3 then piled in on our side and we got the outcome we wanted, with only mild sour grapes and a promise to test our capability and progress at the next Governing Board meeting.
David and I reconvened to simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief that we had got the required approval to proceed and then decided there was too much to do to make a normal catch-up a priority, so went off and did things!
Next up was a visit from Sarim Khan of Sharpcloud (see – http://www.sharpcloud.com/). We had started using their visualisation tool about a year ago and had some success, but life being what it is, we had slowed down our use (people move on, too many fires, you all know the problem!). Meanwhile, Sarim had bought out a troublesome Angel and then got a bit more sassy with corporates – making them pay rather than offering free trials. It had been surprisingly effective as a strategy and so he was looking for more feedback from us and continuing endorsement of the product by us using it throughout our network! He also has an IPad version coming out soon – whoopee!
My lunch date had bailed on me, so I spent more time talking to our friends in BIS and generally catching up. Then it was time for a meeting with Polecat (see – http://www.meaningmine.com/ and be confused by brand migration!). We have used Meaning Mine on projects and Communications have used it at the organisational level, but since we had forgotten to renew their contract in March (although we went on using the product), James and Bron asked for a meeting. They have now offered us a really good deal, mainly because we are a good test case and our use (and tacit endorsement) round out their example users. I, for one, see the advantage of making the tool available to technologists to find out things about companies in the wider world (since we still cannot find our about what we do with them internally after a couple of years of promises), Paul is already a user, so presumably sees the potential of quantifying how we are perceived in the Internet (I think we promised FL that 2 years ago when we first started the conversation with Polecat) and David Golding sounded quite excited about being able to look up things too! I assume therefore that we will accept their offer?
I caught the train home, grabbed a cup of tea and then the e-mails started. It appears that Number 10 and the Cabinet Office have not been particularly joined up and Rohan Silva was asking for details of the Open Data Institute Media Plan – at 7.23 pm and to Tim Kelsey! Tim forwarded it a large but inaccurate circulation list at 8.35 pm, but the final response to Tim – not to any of my questions – came from Rohan at 11.39 pm. Media Woman was on it fast and I now know what is going on, but we have to move fast on Monday morning to make up for what is obviously pretty poor communication between Number 10 and the Cabinet Office (this after Rohan had asked for the Implementation Plan for the ODI to be changed after it had been approved). Since I have therefore been watching e-mails quiet carefully this weekend, I also caught Tony Smee’s latest pop at us – see http://my.telegraph.co.uk/engineertony/engineertony/58/19th-may2012-technology-strategy-board-success-story-no-1/ and http://my.telegraph.co.uk/engineertony/engineertony/61/19th-may2012-technology-strategy-board-success-story-no-2/ and http://my.telegraph.co.uk/engineertony/engineertony/65/19th-may2012-technology-strategy-board-success-story-no-3/. What is interesting from my point of view is that the External Communications Working Group suggested that we move from case studies to success stories last summer – the idea that we capture the narrative of developments, often over time and involving several companies rather than slightly clunky single project format we inherited from the DTI and never changed. What we seem to have done is merely relabelled what we had and made ourselves liable to accurate, if pedantic, criticisms of a man who we mostly ignore but who contributes to the _connect statistics at a prodigious rate. Yet another own goal!!