Don’t expect too much and you’ll never be disappointed

I was at the “start the week” meeting but I am not sure I remember being there!  I do remember the Catapult meeting afterwards because we started to fall into the trap of believing that we were in control and thinking that all those nice people in the outside world that we are supposed to be supporting as they take real commercial risks hadn’t noticed that we seem to have been doing nothing of any consequence for some time – and not telling them what is going on!  Apparently, I pointed this out more forcibly than usual!  I also worried myself that the “why a Catapult” section of the annexes for the Board paper where less than convincing, an observation that resulted in David Way and I slightly modifying the Future Cities document, carrying out slightly more surgery on the Connected Digital Economy one and even more on the Transport Systems one – then checking with the teams that we hadn’t destroyed anything in the process.

After a quick catch-up with Jools, I had an interesting meeting with Strategy Man, Cyrus and Mahoo where we discussed how we could make the “overheads” bit of the application form more user friendly.  We are still using the old DTI spreadsheet calculator (that was probably designed to make it easy for Rolls-Royce accountants) and Cyrus and Mahoo have come up with some ideas to make it simpler – both for larger companies and for those very small ones where they don’t even pay themselves (or employ accountants) – so entering the salaries and providing proof that they are paid can be problematic!

Then it was into a Governing Board Final Paper review.  We trotted through the Chief Executives Report making sure we had captured all the nuances for the issues, mildly mentioned the Finance Review and Annual Accounts, agreed how best to take the Board through the current Catapult situation – FL will discuss at high level (involving other Board members who actually have experience rather than prejudice) and we will use Future Cities as an exemplar to reinforce the points FL has made about engagement, external interest, processes and so on, tried to work out how to handle the networking issue (since last time we had inadvertently confused the overall strategy with the KTN tactics) and squeezed in a short discussion on the branding/reputation paper I had thrown together to capture the discussion with Mr Smith and Michael Wolff the previous week.  It is interesting to note the Mr Smith has been mentioning this a lot in notes he has sent to important people – that we have not got the reputation we need to have to be effective in the outside world, and so don’t get the support we need within the Westminster village!

We ran on a bit so I squeezed in a couple of phone calls before FL’s Monthly Update – where he announced the well-deserved promotion of (now) Events Man and the Media Dominatrix (presumably now officially Media Woman?) – and a run of three Funders Panels.  First was the Agriculture, Food and Drink Feasibility Studies, then Digital Convergence (Hyperlocal Media) and finally Highly Innovative Technology Enables for Aerospace (I notice that we have a cheesy acronym for this last competition to make it acceptable to the industry that cannot speak without stringing together the first letters of their sentences!).  Afterwards, those of us who had taken part in all three had headaches!!

The day ended with HR Woman following me around and not allowing me to leave the building without giving her some piece of paper she attributed some importance to!  

Tuesday was to be a London day so I caught the train down.  Given the popularity of Warwick Parkway, it seems they need to build a multi-storey car park and so have cordoned off half of the existing car park to make this possible.  Cue chaos!  As I was queuing for my ticket, an old colleague from Courtaulds days rolled up.  We ended up talking to one another for the whole trip. I had always envied him his fitness (this was back in the late 80’s) so was surprised to hear that he had had a stroke and a triple bypass operation in the last 2 years – obviously constant exercise and a high metabolism are not enough!  I was still musing on this when Le Golding and I moseyed into the room for the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative Monitoring Board Meeting.  I thought I had escaped this particular slice of hell when the project kicked off, but BIS kept most of the same participants together to make sure it was delivered properly.  Personally, I think they just get lonely and hold meetings to stave off the boredom, because they certainly don’t do any effective monitoring!  Despite what we would think of as a spectacularly low translation rate from interest to proposals, they think they are doing well.  Despite the fact that no-one wanted loans rather than grants, they seem to have forgotten they lobbied hard to make it all loans!  They even managed to make it sound like we hadn’t responded to a request for help, despite they fact that they were convinced they were completely capable without us, and we made it clear that we couldn’t hold their hands through the whole process!!!  It remains one of the most depressing meetings I have to attend!  To compound my despair, Janice Munday even hinted (in a uniquely insincere manner) that the BIS Board had decided that we should get more money to discharge her sectoral policy – again missing the point that we started to get more traction in business when we stopped trying to deliver policy and started to aim for growth!

Afterwards, I was supposed to meet with Ashley and Fergus to discuss the “battery centre” proposal.  As it was, Fergus forgot and I had to go through the logic that this wasn’t simply an automotive issue – although undoubtedly automotive had a well-articulated performance specification and probably the shortest timescales! – with Ashley.

Next up was another meeting with Michael Hiver of Israel.  Given that there was one project with parallel funding in the water competition, Michael and/or the rest of Israel want to work with us again.  I sidestepped the Digital option (too fast moving) in favour of Healthcare but then offered him a choice between Stratified Medicine and Cell Therapy!  He has gone away to think!

By way of relaxation I had lunch with someone I knew from ISIS Innovation a long time ago.  He is now working for Foresight (see –, a shadowy organisation so successful it doesn’t need to advertise (I paraphrase, but that is roughly what he told me).  They seem to have been quite successful in the USA mentoring companies on the SBIR scheme and are now ready to help the rest of the world. 

I had a quick word with the new Mani about the continuing confusion caused by calling the Biomedical Catalyst a “fund” because Willetts had met a real fund in the USA (at BIO) last week and they wanted to work with us.  It is really difficult to explain to people who ought to know better (by that, I mean politicians) that we cannot enter deals with particular VC firms just because they met a politician – but we do see the value of having a “funder add-on” package once we have a searchable database of those we fund!!

I just about had enough time after that to drop my stuff at the hotel and make my way down to the Royal College of Arts (see – for the Awards (see – ceremony and show.  We have sponsored an award for inclusive design for 3 or 4 years now, and it means that Helen Hamlyn (see this as one of the few personal bits about her on the web – it is 9 years old) knows me, albeit as ”the nice man who works with Jackie”.   Jackie was too busy to hand out the award she judged, so Healthcare Man was deputising for her!  The awards were nice (although it was odd to see RIM sponsoring a prize for user centred design – given that their products are difficult to use as a younger adult!), but the post awards cocktails were interrupted by a fire alarm.  By the time we re-entered the building, we were on to the show that manages to make the open spaces of the RCA into a sweaty hell-hole rammed with the students and potential employers and aesthetes.  Eventually, Healthcare Man and I left, he to go home and me to make my first meeting of the Chemistry Club (see – for official line and for allegations!).  It was truly odd affair.  On entering the room, I met my “introducer”, Tessa, who, armed with an iPad, read off the names of people who wanted to meet me.  She then shepherded me through the throng to meet the first one.  After an hour or so, I was a little weary of contractors who wanted me to place them with small, potentially valuable companies, but spotted Bill McCluggage across the room (now at EMC, but once in Cabinet Orifice).  We chatted about the meeting before he started quizzing me on Future Cities – it seems that everyone is power networking at these events.  

John Moulton (see – gave a short talk where he presented an argument, allegedly based on real world data, that showed a correlation between economic growth and the size of the state.  If the public sector is below 40% of GDP, the countries grow.  When it is over, they don’t.  The UK is at 50%!  For an encore (not really, just his own version of “one more thing”) he pointed out that the target of 2% inflation was made up and has no basis in economic theory.  My dreams have been desecrated!

I ended the evening sitting at a table with the CIOs (or Chief IT Officers) of EDF, Marks & Spencer, DEFRA and the Ministry of Justice with them all very glad they weren’t the CIO of NatWest – and a clinical examination of what might have happened.  Listening to their “near misses” I no longer trust anything that uses computers!

I wandered back to the hotel for a drink with FL, but after 30 minutes gave up and went to bed!

Instead he appeared at breakfast.  Just to be clear, this doesn’t mean he spent the whole night out on the town (as far as I know at least) but that he came down to breakfast to have the meeting he meant to have the evening before!

I went off to Marylebone and met Mr Smith getting off the train I was intending to get on – and he was going for a meeting with FL!!  Isn’t symmetry wonderful?

I was first going to visit the team of psychologists to discuss the team-building event we had held for the Heads of Innovation Programmes a few weeks ago.  We discussed our high and low points as a team and suggested some specific and general actions.  I have agreed that the individuals can go back and discuss how their own profile fits with the team profile and aspirations and that we will meet again next year to see if we have improved!  I then sat down and looked at e-mail – and found some interesting questions from Communications Man and Media Woman about the Delivery Plan.  I hadn’t seen a copy for some weeks – since the Communications Team started pruning it to make it about half the original size and therefore more easily digestible.  The Heads of had approved the pruning in each of their areas, but the questions were about consistency and clarity.  Some of the numbers didn’t add up and some of the high level numbers could be interpreted as strategic decisions we hadn’t even discussed, let alone made!  I tried to help, but finding stuff on the road is problematic and even my 11” screen, although an improvement on the BlackBerry, was not up to the job.  I also realised I hadn’t actually seen the version we were discussing!  It duly arrived later and is difficult to read on a BlackBerry!

I was distracted by a telephone conference of the Low Carbon Innovation Co-ordination Group (see – where about 8 people sat on the end of the telephone and listened to Andrew Haslett of ETI debate the finer points of energy strategy with David Relph from the Carbon Trust when we should have been discussing the Nuclear TINA.  

The final event of the day was the dinner for the Chemistry Innovation KTN Annual Stakeholder dinner at Aston business school.  It was nice to see a lot of old friends from the chemistry and chemistry using industries – but of course the tossers where also there!  The awards included the linear descendants of the ones we fought so hard for 10 years ago in the Royal Society of Chemistry and a special one for Dominic Tildesley, who appears to be moving on from Unilever!

I ended the evening looking again at the Delivery Plan, and getting worried.  We appear to have introduced a triumphalist, loadsamoney tone to the introductory section, telling people how much money we have (which, where we are lobbying for more money because we don’t have enough to do the job, seems odd), how much we spend (£500 a minute according to the text – and I accept my experiences of the last 4 months may have coloured my vision, but comparing that to my alleged salary and FLs expenses might have been a jolly journalistic jape) and bigging up our organisation.  I may be old-fashioned, but as the spender of £400m a year, we are not responsible for growth ourselves – it is the companies we support that are the heroes and grandstanding feels uncomfortable to me.

I also got a “worried” phone call from Bob Driver and a request to meet the next day.

The next day started at the Stakeholder Event.  Graeme Armstrong emphasised the importance of the KTN in the industry (but failed to mention that it was part of the Technology Strategy Board’s outreach programme and that we paid for it.  Indeed, it was difficult to see out logo on his slides!) and then Andy Scott of the CBI gave his whole presentation without once mentioning the TSB – but stressing how the goals of the CBI aligned with those of the Chemistry Innovation KTN!

I was beginning to stress a little myself but the next 2 presentations made my heart leap.  The first, by Gionfranco Unali of Unilever, was about TSB Project 100695 (I know that because he put it on every slide).  They had explored mildly derivatising cellulose as a rheology modifier.  It had worked spectacularly well, with not only measurable performance but with a “luxury feel” when rubbed on the skin.  (Having worked in personal care, I can attest that there are qualities of materials that are difficult to measure, but easy to substantiate by personal use!).  Not only that, but it allows the removal of several components from the formulation and consequent lowering of cost – a businessman’s dream!  This is a classic case study.  Next up was Gareth Jenkins of AMRI (see – and another story – this time of industrial biotechnology.  It is also interesting to note that at one point it was part of Excelsyn, the plaything of Ian Shott! 

By now it was running late and I had to leave and so missed Mike Pitts apparently excellent presentation.  On the drive back to the railway station I talked to Jools about overturning my diary next week to make myself available for interviews about the Delivery Plan which was going to be published on Monday 2nd – 5 years to the day after we started!

After another 2 hours, I found myself back in BIS and meeting up with Bob and Steve from UKTI.  There were couple of agenda items.  The first was Innovate.  Back in early February, FL met with Nick Baird of UKTI and they agreed that we would merge Innovate and Technology World to be the one heavyweight innovation event of the year.  Our first submission to the Cabinet Office was rejected months ago, and the resubmission was rejected on June 1st.  At that point we decided to take a “Glastonbury Holiday”.  Since then, some heavy pressure has been applied by various ministers to the Cabinet Office and they had apparently accepted the submission with some requirements to save money, add sponsorship and pay for a consultant to make sure we are managing it properly.  It has also emerged that UKTI have quotas of “meeting companies” to make and that they want to hold the meeting early in 2013.  The reason we hold Innovate in the Autumn is (or so I always thought) that it forms part of our annual cycle.  We publish the Delivery Plan in April or May, then summer happens and everyone goes away.  Then we gather our extended family at Innovate to make sure they know we’re serious and explain the details of what we are doing.  Originally, Innovate was the annual announcement of competitions, then it became about the KTNs, then it evolved to its current format.  For us, putting Innovate back to March makes no sense at all.  Also, although UKTI outsources a lot of the organisation, Innovate is, as FL famously puts it, “the Technology Strategy Board in a day”.  Everyone is involved, from Technologists setting up the seminars, through to the Executive Assistants organising the hell out of the rest of us.  We need about 4-5 months to make it happen.  

Bob and Steve had met with the Events team the day before and were not happy (hence the late night phone call!).  I retold the story and made the points above.  They tried the “if you take a year off, the Cabinet Office won’t believe you need it” and the “if we don’t use the exemption, then we might not get one next year” lines and seemed to be quite desperate.  All this is made more piquant because FL is meeting Nick Baird again next Tuesday!!

I guess FL will need to do some decision-making!!

The next item was about the Future Health Mission.  We have long dreamed of going somewhere other than San Francisco for a Mission and so Healthcare Man and I reconnoitred Boston last year, meeting the sorts of people we thought the Missioneers ought to meet.  Unfortunately, we picked a timescale that clashes with a normal trade mission to Boston and it has taken way too much time keeping them separate as people in UKTI who don’t understand the difference see a way to make their lives’ easier.  Both Healthcare Man and I are prepared to pull the plug if it gets too stupid and Bob has worked this out, so I got the “kid gloves” treatment.  It seems to be better now, but it does emphasise for me the need to communicate incredibly clearly what we do and why we do it, even within government.  It also underlines the importance of key people in organisations and reminded me of Adrian Atkinson’s statistic that only about 12% of people add value in any organisation!!

I then wandered along to the Crowne Plaza for the first meeting of the Transport Systems Interim Advisory Group.  We have assembled a stellar and broad-based group, chaired by Andrew Milligan from the Governing Board.  Because there have been previous sub-meetings, this group gelled quicker than the Connected Digital Economy equivalent.  Andrew pushed it along at a rate (because he had tickets for Sweeney Todd at 7.30).  I explained the background, and answered that the “terms of reference” were from a template we were applying to all IAGs, so we got down to brass tacks quickly.  Despite my repeatedly making the points, we seem to have not realised that the job descriptions for the CEO and Supervisory Board Chair were also templated and that the “vision”, “blueprint” and “process” were all tested quite well with Cell Therapy and can be adapted to suit the specific of the final three Catapults – so shortening the learning curve for them!  We have a timeline that might just work and a good advisory group, so we are closer to being on track than at the beginning of the week!

Despite the fact that Friday was a holiday and that I deliberately left my BlackBerry at home, I got a number of phone calls and texts and got home to find that the Delivery plan had been edited a bit and that its publication had been put back a week.  I still find it a bit odd that we weren’t more interactive over it and that it might well go the way of the Strategy document, which doesn’t quite seem to capture the excitement of the day job and feels more like a civil service publication that one from a vibrant business-led organisation.  Maybe I just expect too much?

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