`Innovate or stagnate’ says British science chief

A senior British scientist has issued a loud and clear warning to engineers and businessmen that will strike a chord albeit a somewhat hackneyed one with those involved in the fast moving process industries: get your act together or suffer at the hands of better prepared competition from abroad. Speaking at a luncheon at London’s […]

A senior British scientist has issued a loud and clear warning to engineers and businessmen that will strike a chord albeit a somewhat hackneyed one with those involved in the fast moving process industries: get your act together or suffer at the hands of better prepared competition from abroad.

Speaking at a luncheon at London’s Institute of Directors an appropriate venue, if ever there was one AEA Technology’s chief executive Dr Peter Watson urged innovators and entrepreneurs to get together and announced a new initiative aimed at matching inventiveness and commercial skills to bring ideas more quickly to the market.

Britain, he argued, needs to be more aggressive in bridging the gap between R&D, production and marketing if it is to succeed on the world stage.

Innovation Plus, as the new initiative has been dubbed, is aimed at promoting company growth through more effective R&D, allied to enhanced marketing and sharper commercial skills. Watson wants inventors to submit their ideas to AEA so that their full potential can be developed and fast.

There has for some time, of course, been a deep seated belief that Britain is slow to marry good ideas to good marketing, although even better marketing might have failed to catapult Sir Clive Sinclair’s C5 to the dizzy heights expected in the hype of the time.

Dispelling this preconception will be hard work. But if anyone can champion a sea change, it is Dr Watson. An engineer by training, he has a wide range of management experience, including those of being a member of the board at British Railways and chairman and chief executive of two operating divisions of GKN.

Watson admits that Britain is good when it comes to invention which he defines as the discovery of a new idea or technical process but fares less well when it comes to transferring brainstorming ideas into marketable products. The answer to the problem: better management aimed at creating an environment where scientists and engineers have the freedom to invent but where the structure is in place and the culture exists to ensure that exploitable technologies are brought to the market.

AEA Technology plc could be the ideal springboard from which to launch his campaign, it now being a highly mature spin-off from the world-respected UK Atomic Energy Authority and adviser, over the years, to a string of high profile organisations among them British Aerospace.

We will wait and see if the seeds of his message bear fruit.

* The luncheon was organised by Schenck.