Age does not diminish the extreme disappointment of having a scoop of ice cream fall from the cone
23 June 2022 by David Bott
I am obviously getting blasé about the “start the week” meeting because I was in Swindon before 9 o’clock on a Monday morning, spoke to FL, then left without attending! I did have a reason however, since I had to squeeze in a Funders Panel (for the final stage of the Building Performance Evaluation strand) at 11 o’clock and then be in the Royal Institution at noon. Happily the GWR train was only a little bit late and I got to the RI at just after 11 to find (as arranged) Sustainability Man setting up the telephone conference. It all went well – as expected we got a lot of proposals as this was the final round, and the quality was good, but we only had a small contingency (known in the trade as what Cyrus found in the back of the sofa) so could only add a few deserving projects.
Then it was into the meeting with the Royal Institution. This story has been rumbling on for a while. When they were setting up their RI Channel (see – http://richannel.org/) last year they invited us to get involved. We declined because we didn’t have enough resource to carry out the necessary work! I got involved in a personal capacity as a member of their Scientific Advisory Group (see – http://richannel.org/about/scientific-advisory-group). Then two things happened. The first was that the Strategic External Communications Project Team developed the idea of replacing our case studies with “success stories”. Although that hasn’t gone as fast as I would have liked, it did make us realise that we could develop those stories and broadcast them through the RI Channel. The second thing was that Mr Smith got involved – and immediately saw the potential for increasing our web presence and hence our “fame”. We set this meeting up to explore how we could structure an interaction. I took Sustainability Man, Healthcare Man, Technology Woman and Renewable Energy Boy – and Media Woman and Communications Man came along to make sure I didn’t over-commit. The nice RI people explained what they were trying to do and expressed interest in what we, and their desire to integrate our activities into theirs – they are feeling a bit “scientific” at the moment and wanting more stuff from the real world. By the time we had exemplified our thematic map with examples of challenges and products and services designed to address them, they were even more interested. At that point Media Woman explained her framework for “success stories” and comparing them to fairy stories (she did look a bit hesitant at this point, possibly worried that we would feel that trivialised our work). Actually, it makes a lot of sense – there is always a bad guy/gal (a challenge), an innocent (a company), a transformation (the discovery of the curative power of innovation), a happy ending (economic growth) and a lesson (a lesson). The only problem might be that Sustainability Man and I are now committed to the search for a company run by 7 short men! The idea went down well around the room – although Sustainability Man tried to give it a more educated gloss by citing Aesop’s Fables!! After some more discussions about examples (guided by our new framework) and practicalities, I think we agreed to think about what we had learned about one another’s drivers and capabilities, and regroup with a smaller team to do some prioritising and planning. (Later that day, the RI Head of Programmes tweeted that she had a headache after our meeting – but a good one!)
Bizarrely, the next morning has a similar feeling to it. Mr Smith had put “branding” on the agenda for the next Governing Board meeting and, because we weren’t sure what he meant, we thought about getting our Catapult branding consultants in to “talk to” the Board. Mr Smith accepted the idea but asked to meet them beforehand. So it was that I met Mr Smith and Michael Wolff for breakfast in the Landmark hotel on Tuesday morning! Under the guise of bringing Michael into the conversation, I asked Mr Smith what he thought the challenge was. His reply was beguilingly simple. When he had been thinking about the Chair role, he had talked to lots of people. They fell into 2 camps – those who had worked with us and thought we were wonderful and those who had never heard of us – sadly, the second group was a lot bigger. (Luckily for us, he never met any of the third group we are aware of – those who think that they have a God-given right be handed taxpayers money to develop their perpetual motion machine and spend an inordinate amount of time slagging us of when they don’t get it – even those who can’t even be bothered to fill in a form!) His question was therefore “what are we doing wrong, or what should we do that we’re not doing, to change this?” Michael averred that, from his meeting with people within the Technology Strategy Board, we had a strong set of brand values but needed to both articulate them more clearly and make sure they were universally accepted and applied within the organisation. I think his point was that we had been running a viral marketing campaign for 5 years, but that we mainly talked to the people we already knew and that we needed a lot more ambition and activity if we were to live up to Mr Smith’s aspiration. That led inexorably into a discussion about our negative press. Mr Smith seemed very well aware (which is interesting because I have never heard him mention it in a Board meeting). We get tarred with the “Government” brush and therefore the default setting is to believe that we are bureaucratic jobsworths. Every time we drop the ball on “customer service” we reinforce that reputation. Every time our system gets overwhelmed on the last day of a competition and we respond officiously we reinforce that reputation. Every time we ignore a (quite reasonable) request from a small company to understand their situation (usually about cash flow) we reinforce that reputation. You get the idea. What we ended up suggesting was a small team – with time allocated outside their day job (this is important) – to develop up the problem statement and engage with the Governing Board (all of who have tackled the issue of reputation and branding in their own organisations and who, therefore, have a lot to contribute to explore actions that we can take (over time) to address the issue of our lack of “fame” – as a precursor to increasing our effectiveness. And the pancakes were really good!
Rushing back to Paddington, I caught an only mildly delayed train back to get to Swindon in time for the Heads of Innovation Programmes meeting. First up was an opportunity to discuss the new definition of the strategic goals of the KTP programme that had surfaced last week at the EMT. It is interesting how the slide said one thing and the words came out “old skool”, so we still have a lot of work to do internally. Nevertheless, the Magnificent Eight (well, the 5 who were there at least) embraced this new approach and committed to implement it. As a sign of that commitment, Finger Man even wrote up what amounted to an internal prospectus!! Next came Strategy Man’s process apprentice and a discussion of critical success factors. This arose from me using the CSFs at the recent Team Building Event in Birmingham and being told they were wrong, and boring anyway. Since Ian had derived them from our strategy document, this suggested to me that either he’s not very good at his job, or our strategy document fails to capture our strategy. After the discussion, I’m convinced it’s the latter – the best quote being that “the new Delivery Plan, with it logical explanation of why we do what we do, is more like a strategy than the original strategy document!”
We then caught up on HR issues, the question of whether or not we are running Innovate this year (different versions of the truth from different people and the usual poor internal communication) and some organisational stuff!
I then had a run of PDR discussions – where I am assuming the goals are the same as last year, because I haven’t had mine! – with Sustainability Man’s eventually occurring in the bar of the Swindon Hilton.
The next day was in Swindon and started with a telephone conference about the Future Health Mission. We think we have beaten off the young blades of UKTI’s attempt to fold our Entrepreneurs Mission under their bigger Trade Mission (presumably to show their lords and masters they know how to save money) but you have to watch regression to the mean in their discussions, they seem to lose sight of the high level goals with horrifying regularity!
After diary programming by Jools, a catch-ups with Development Man and Strategy Man, it was time to follow the Fosse way home.
Thursday was booked as a holiday, but that didn’t stop the need to take part in an interview with the BBC on the Cell Therapy Catapult. Keith Thompson was the star, but David Hulmes and I were there to fill in the wider picture. Who knows where it will end up. Some of the rest of the day got caught up in the Deputy Prime Minsters finest hour – his announcement of the Greenius Competition, see – http://news.bis.gov.uk/Press-Releases/Deputy-Prime-Minister-launches-search-for-the-next-Green-Genius-67bb7.aspx, and, yes, we do know it’s a bit imprecise and possibly wrongly directed, maybe even not aligned with all the work we have done previously in this area, but it’s publicity, right? See this http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/jun/22/rio-20-summit-final-day-live-blog?newsfeed=trueand scroll down to 4.24 pm for the most positive thing I can find on the web about it! And remember Mr Smith thinks we need help with branding!!
Friday was a London day and started with a telephone conference to discuss progress on the Biomedical Catalyst with Declan and the 2 co-chairs of the MAC – John Stageman and Kay Davies. We had just closed and knew that the registrations were at 197 for Feasibility Awards, 156 for Early-Stage Awards and 106 for Late-Stage Awards. This is higher than I anticipated and, although we are used to a lowish translation rate into applications, suggests we are hitting an important and popular area of support. The discussion was mainly about things that have been around for a while, but where I suspect they aren’t hearing because they are different, we aren’t explaining that well because they are familiar to us and the differences between our approach and that of the MRC are not fully bottomed.
The next meeting was of the Cell Therapy Catapult Interim Advisory Group, and followed on from a Board meeting of the proto-Board, so we had Legal Man and his young assistant join us for a while. Healthcare Man and his remaining Catapult sidekick had done a good job responding to the suggestions at the last meeting and the milestones, CEO’s report and update on location (which had been announced by David Willetts in Boston earlier in the week – go figure!) all went well. The Communications piece was less satisfactory, with Keith being openly critical of our support for him and the new organisation, and Ruth requesting that we report more fully at future meetings. On the “lack of support” theme, Keith also took a pop at our IT support, where apparently, he still cannot organise the calendars of his small team!!
After a quick discussion with a man who would join us, I caught the train home and tried to catch up with e-mails! And then the weekend came to pass, and I got a nice letter from FL.