Wednesday 8 December 2021

How will the Business of Innovation become Business as Usual? (2013)

Heseltine Institute Fresh Thinking session 15th October 2013

Over the past 25 years I have been lucky enough to have worked on the ‘business of innovation’ and have been paid to do it.

Although I have specialised in technological innovations, what I have learnt is that innovation is not mainly about university science labs or high-technology or patents or start-up companies or venture capital investment. Innovation is mainly about taking seriously what you already do today and believing that: There must be a better way

This thought process can be applied to each and every aspect of your daily life:

  • On a ward in a national health service hospital
  • On a factory floor
  • At the forecourt of a car showroom
  • At a University chemistry lab
  • At a call-centre
  • Whilst greeting a new visitor to the city
  • Whilst visiting an elderly person or their carer in their home in Anfield.

You can define what these places and activities are for your work and home life.

Innovation is about identifying the thing that nags you most and finding a weak link. And once you see this weak link, a way that things really could be better, innovation is about using your native smarts and your networks and their networks to get other people to help you define what that better way is and then making it a reality.

The particular innovation I am now working on is called The Materials Innovation Factory.

This is a hugely ambitious project the University of Liverpool in partnership with the UK government and Unilever believes that there must be a better way of doing materials science that can simultaneously have an academic, commercial and societal benefit. We all believe that Liverpool is the right place to do this.

The project has attracted £55 million in funding and it has a vision that will ensure it can create innovation after innovation over decades. But the existence of this project is itself founded on an innovation.

More than 10 years ago two early career scientists, Andy Cooper and Steve Rannard, believed that there must be a better way to do chemistry. They created a vision on a whiteboard of a new way for a University and commercial organisation to collaborate and they spent about 4 years convincing people that this idea of theirs was the right way to do things. They were right. The Centre for Materials Discovery that they had imagined became a reality and the number and breadth of innovations delivered from that centre have exceeded all the expectations of both Unilever and the University of Liverpool.

The Materials Innovation Factory takes their idea and turbo-charges it. Within this institute about 300 academic scientists and commercial technologists will be mingling together and using the latest robotic equipment and high-tech methods to create a ‘production line’ of innovations. Over the next 10 years Liverpool will become known as one of the key innovation centres for new materials in Europe and perhaps the World.

But no matter how exciting the Materials Innovation Factory and other projects like it appear, they are not the whole answer. Any city or region that believes its future prosperity requires innovation has to create a culture of innovation amongst its citizens. All of its citizens. Not just the people at the Universities or science parks or incubators who declare themselves as innovators.

This is one of the most pressing imperatives I see for Liverpool City Region. How do we make the spirit that motivates innovators into a commonplace?





Individually we each need to look at what we do on a daily basis. Find the things that aren’t great and decide to find a better way. And because most of you in this room are lucky enough to have a big influence, the innovations that come directly from you, or from your instigation, are likely to have a significant impact in Liverpool.

Collectively we have to create an ethos that says the future can be built through innovation. To encourage our young people to see innovation as a way to create their own future and a future for their generation.

To help them understand that they can be an innovator - the kind of person who believes that there must be a better way, and that Liverpool is a place where innovations thrive. This will I believe also allow Liverpool to attract even more innovators, people who want to share with us both the journey and the destination.