Tag Archives: liverpool

The disrupting benefit of innovation

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:

  1. innovative technologies;
  2. culture & leadership;
  3. collaboration & supply chain;
  4. programme and risk management; and
  5. 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…

Sources:

Sherry AH, The disruptive benefit of innovation, NNL SciTec 2018 (including the graphic & title).

McGahan AM, How industries change, HBR, October 2004.

Cities: a sense of belonging

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’?

Sources:

James Rebank, The Shepherd’s Life, Penguin, 2016.

Nilanjana Roy, How cities reject the insularity of nationalism, Financial Times, 8/9 April 2017.

Climate change and tides in Liverpool

image-20141201-20565-1eoo7rhIf you live within sight of the sea, as we do, then your life is probably influenced, to some degree, by the rise and fall of tides.  In Liverpool, we are lucky to have a particularly long historical record of tidal heights and one of my colleagues, an oceanographer, Professor Ric Williams has used this record to discuss climate variability.  The record was started and maintained between 1768 and 1793 by Captain William Hutchinson whose achievement is commemorated with a fountain in Liverpool’s historic docks, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A few weeks ago I listened to a talk by Prof Williams, in which he described how there is a rather simple relationship between surface warming and the effect of future emissions of greenhouse gases.  If the predictions of surface warming are plotted as a function of how much carbon is emitted to the atmosphere, rather than time, then a simple response emerges: the more carbon we emit, the warmer it will get. Associated with the surface warming, there is an expected sea level rise from the expansion of the water column augmented by the effect of addition of freshwater from melting of land ice. Watch Prof Williams’ Youtube video to find out more.

Sources:

Woodworth, P.L. 1999. High waters at Liverpool since 1768: the UK’s longest sea level record. Geophysical Research Letters, 26 (11), 1589-1592.

Goodwin, P., Williams, R.G. & Ridgwell, A., Sensitivity of climate to cumulative carbon emissions dues to compensation of ocean heat and carbon uptake, Nature Geoscience, 8,29–34(2015).

Image: http://theconversation.com/our-equation-proves-climate-change-is-linked-to-emissions-34897