Most scientific and technical conferences include plenary speeches that are intended to set the agenda and to inspire conference delegates to think, innovate and collaborate. Andrew Sherry, the Chief Scientist of the UK National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) delivered a superb example last week at the NNL SciTec 2018 which was held at the Exhibition Centre Liverpool on the waterfront. With his permission, I have stolen his title and one of his illustrations for this post. He used a classic 2×2 matrix to illustrate different types of change: creative change in the newspaper industry that has constantly redeveloped its assets from manual type-setting and printing to on-line delivery via your phone or tablet; progressive change in the airline industry that has incrementally tested and adapted so that modern commercial aircraft look superficially the same as the first jet airliner but represent huge advances in economy and reliability; inventive change in Liverpool’s Albert Dock that was made redundant by container ships but has been reinvented as a residential, tourism and business district. The fourth quadrant, he reserved for the civil nuclear industry in the UK which requires disruptive change because its core assets are threatened by the end-of-life closure of all existing plants and because its core activity, supplying electrical power, is threatened by cheaper alternatives.
At the end of last year, NNL brought together all the prime nuclear organisations in the UK with leaders from other sectors, including aerospace, construction, digital, medical, rail, robotics, satellite and ship building at the Royal Academy of Engineering to discuss the drivers of innovation. They concluded that innovation is not just about technology, but that successful innovation is driven by five mutually dependent themes that are underpinned by enabling regulation:
- innovative technologies;
- culture & leadership;
- collaboration & supply chain;
- programme and risk management; and
- financing & commercial models.
SciTec’s focus was ‘Innovation through Collaboration’, i.e. tackling two of these themes, and Andrew tasked delegates to look outside their immediate circle for ideas, input and solutions [to the existential threats facing the nuclear industry] – my words in parentheses.
Innovative technology presents a potentially disruptive threat to all established activities and we ignore it at our peril. Andrew’s speech was wake up call to an industry that has been innovating at an incremental scale and largely ignoring the disruptive potential of innovation. Are you part of a similar industry? Maybe it’s time to check out the threats to your industry’s assets and activities…
Sherry AH, The disruptive benefit of innovation, NNL SciTec 2018 (including the graphic & title).
McGahan AM, How industries change, HBR, October 2004.