We welcome NESTA’s call for ‘Total Innovation’, the report recognises that true globally leading innovation requires much broader thinking, encompassing human skills, economic dynamics, political and international factors and most importantly, how technology impacts all of these. We can no longer consider innovation as an incremental or “non-core” activity, hidden away in R&D with the scientists or held at a safe distance in new product incubators rather like some form of communicable disease. This is often justified by the board as a means to minimise risk but is perhaps more an acknowledgement of a lack of information and understanding of how to manage it. The risk of change in the global market is, however, markedly less than the risk of not changing.
New technology and new international markets, even with existing customers, usually require completely different organisational, marketing and business models and yet many companies continue to control and segment their activities and staff in ways that match the market of the 70s. Such boundaries in teams and responsibilities inevitably leads to incremental steps and failure due to an inability to break through an unsustainable compromise to profitability.
Non-incremental thinking requires structures, individuals and teams of people (including the board) with the ability to synthesise and translate all the factors simultaneously into a unified assessment of the risks and rewards, to make the decision and to deliver the plan.
The UK is woefully lacking in these technology and innovation translators; those that can speak the language of both technology and business. The report has highlighted that innovation is not only being impeded by a lack of people with STEM skills, but also because these skills are rarely fused with business knowledge. What’s more, people in technical and creative roles are currently operating in silos, divorced from participating in the marketing, strategic, or financial decisions. These elements of the business model cannot merely be applied like a veneer, hermetically sealing the dangerous change inside, as they all are integral to the success of NESTA’s vision of ‘Total Innovation’.
Technical experts are facing a glass ceiling in UK plcs, through lack of business skills – this is seriously impairing our ability to compete with countries such as China and India where the traditional and specialist skills based – organigram locked – industrial structures have never developed and been institutionalised. As the report highlighted technical experts need to broaden their skill base – firms need to nurture management, marketing, leadership, change and project management skills across technical experts, otherwise the UK will not be able to effectively compete internationally.
SMF was set up over twenty years ago to bridge the gap between technical and business knowledge; we have been campaigning for UK companies to equip their technical experts with the necessary business skills