It is a late, slightly muggy, summer afternoon and I am sitting at the window in the last carriage of a train waiting for it to leave Liverpool for London. So far, it has been a busy day with meetings in the morning at the University’s facility at Daresbury followed by a couple on the main campus before I walked down to Lime Street station. I stopped for a bite to eat as I travelled from Daresbury to Liverpool; but I am hungry again, so I have a sandwich that I bought in the station. However, I don’t like to unpack and start eating until the train starts moving, just in case I am on the wrong train or we have to change trains. Finally, the train starts to move and as it builds up speed I reach for my sandwich. Suddenly it stops. My carriage has not even reached the end of the platform. Station staff appear outside my window talking into their radios. What’s happened? Did the train hit someone? I thought there was a small thud just before we stopped. But the station staff seem unflustered. Wouldn’t there be more urgency about their movements if there was a casualty? We sit in silence for ten minutes before the train starts to move again and the train manager announces that someone pulled the emergency handle because they decided that wanted to get off the train. Why did they want to get off the train? Did they realise they were trapped on the train to London with someone who was pursuing them? Was it a police officer who realised that their quarry had jumped off the train just before it set off? Or, have I been reading too many Eric Ambler stories (see ‘The Mask of Dimitrios‘ or ‘Journey into Fear‘) involving train journeys across Europe? Maybe it was someone who just decided that they didn’t want to go London after all and didn’t care about inconveniencing several hundred people or paying the fine for improper use of the emergency handle. But that seems unlikely too or perhaps not… I contemplate these options as the train accelerates towards London and I munch my sandwich. It reminds me of a quote from Gillian Tett (in the FT Weekend on June 17/18, 2017) about people believing they have a ‘God-given right that they should be able to organise the world around their personal views and needs instead of quietly accepting pre-packaged options’.
I wrote this short annual report in anticipation of being on vacation this week. However, as my editor commented, it is ‘a bit of a non-blog’ and so I have written a second post for today that will be published a few minutes later.
The painting in the thumbnail is by Peter Curran and shows a view of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral that is almost the same as the view from the seat at which I usually sit to write this blog. The blog is read world-wide as shown by the distribution of visitors to the blog during 2018 in the temperature map in the graphic below. The weekly readership dropped by 60% at the beginning of April 2018 after I deleted my Facebook page and cut the link between Facebook and this blog (see ‘Some changes to Realize Engineering‘ on March 28th, 2018). However, I am pleased say that the visitor numbers have recovered; and last month’s visitor numbers were only 4% lower than the corresponding month in 2017. So many thanks to those readers that stayed with me, or found the blog again without using Facebook. While, I enjoy writing ‘to make life more fruitful’ to quote Sylvain Tesson (see ‘Thinking more clearly by writing weekly‘), it is also encouraging to know that people are reading the blog.
For those of you that enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing, there have been more than 330 posts since the first one in July 2012 – that’s a huge archive for you to browse, if you have nothing else to do. Happy New Year!
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).
While we were walking in the Lake District [see my post ‘Gone Walking’ on April 19th, 2017] I read ‘The Shepherd’s Life’ by James Rebank. Rebank describes how his flock is hefted to the land. ‘Heft’ is a word used in Northern England and Scotland, and means to become accustomed and attached to an area of pasture. In our modern society people tend to become accustomed and attached to cities. A few weeks earlier Nilanjana Roy, writing in the FT Weekend on April 8/9, wrote about the growing belief that national identity is an outdated and insufficient concept, whereas cities reflect the common identities of their inhabitants and have been home to peoples of diverse origin and belief for centuries. Many of us who travel frequently have a map in our heads of cities in which we feel comfortable, happy to return, accustomed or ‘hefted’. Roy calls it ‘a map of belonging’ – the cities that your spirit chimes with the most. Mine would probably include Liverpool, Ottawa, Santa Fe and Taipei [see my posts entitled ‘Out and about‘ and ‘Crash in Taipei: an engineer’s travelogue‘ on December 7th, 2016 and November 19th, 2o14 respectively]. To which cities do you feel ‘hefted’?