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Alan Turing: Inventor of the Universal Machine

Today I was fortunate to be invited to MOSI in Manchester for the big launch for the Northwest Business Leadership Team’s latest thought leadership report on Science, Technology and Innovation.  Could there be a more appropriate location for such an event sitting next to the machine that in 1948 Alan Turing made possible?

In the presence of the Great and the Good and the occasional Rockstar of academia and business. Yes Nancy, you know who you are.

Great Innovation. Poor Publicity

The consensus from the panel is that, on the one hand the Northwest has great examples of research and innovation, it has done a poor job of promoting it.

Enter, this report “Exploiting the Excellence”.  A surprise appearance by David Willetts (MP) Minister of State for Universities and Science who crashed the party to say a few words about the importance of how science and innovation is being seen.  He seemed genuinely keen.

You Can’t be Good at Everything

In business, you need to become selective and excellent at giving your customers value.  The same is true of this report – Focus is the watchword.  So instead of delivering at 5% speed on 20 fronts, the NWBLT have made the tough choice to focus on four to ensure world class status.


From the NWBLT chairman, Juergen Maier we heard of his belief that innovation and science are key drivers.  We know that technology is a fundamental source of growth in any economy, which is why so many national economies are pushing up the value chain.  It is self evident that knowledge cares little of city, regional or national boundaries.  We will need to establish centres that know and respect this rule.  Certainly “be ” in the Northwest, or wherever your chose to locate, but think and operate independent of state.

Chris Dogherty of Astra Zeneca reinforced the point that “the northwest don’t do enough with the science it has or do enough to coordinate it.” Perhaps a reason behind his company’s move of R&D from the NW to Cambridge – a richer and more connected ecosystem? Or a gamble by their CEO to make a visible impact? We’ll see.

David Pinder of Baxi pointed out by “interconnecting the innovation assets, the northwest will realize its competitive advantage.” I see this as the crucial point. that innovation doesn’t really care where it is done, because knowledge moves.  Maybe creating the arteries and nervous system of the ecosystem you make the organism viable.  This is a crucial “job to be done” with a nod to Clay Christensen.

Andrew Miller (MP) who knows a thing or two about central policy making for science and industry, noted the failure to collaborate.  Where, then, was the Liverpool regional contingent?  A region split by it’s differences?  Get over them and fast.  The region needs to be pro-active in making the case for investment and it can’t rely on external factors.  Sounds an awful lot like running a business!

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell provided the key note and set out the case for the report.

What?  To focus of four big themes:  Advanced material and Molecular Manipulation, Energy Research, Cancer Research, High Performance Computing.

Why?  To inform others about the strength and depth of innovation in the region.  Would it surprise you to know that there is no mapping of research strength in the UK? So how can anyone choose to use or invest?  I offer the idea that we need something far more granular like an “ease of doing research” index as per the ease of doing business across the world.

Next? This report needs to get out there and around the world.  Demonstrate that the Northwest is the place to do business. Manchester is the City of Science in 2016 on the back of the Liverpool City Region hosting the International Festival of Business in June this year.

Warning:  If you do work and in particular, research, you need to do it at the best place to be world class.  So, for me, don’t force fit activities in departments and institutions that do have the best capability.

Other Surprising Facts

  • The NW is the leading regions in the UK for manufacturing GVAat £21bn.
  • On the problem of collaboration  between the worlds of universities and business – “businesses have problems; universities have departments…”

Call to Action

  1. NWBLT to consider ways to make the interconnections between the various NW regional agencies in the innovation system more connected.  A starting point we use in industry would be to Change the System, Change the Structure, by exchanging staff between agencies that might be in conflict. Engage the MBS innovation unit to research and suggest ways in which regional and national innovation systems may be made “efficient”.
  2. Create strategic road-maps for each of the 4 core technology areas using the resources available to the NWBLT.

Rob Munro, 28th Match 2014

Rob Munro

So, what do you think ?

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