technology traintechnology ladytechnology thingtechnology concordetechnology planetechnology wheelbarrow

I was looking through my computer for something at the weekend and knowing that I hadn’t written a blog article in some time, I was quite happy to find almost started blog article. With the pretty pictures above, I thought great.

Unfortunately, the problem with blog’s is that they’re very much a picture of the time they’re written (much like the news). This was written in the patriotic frenzy that was the Jubilee and Olympics.

I have of course, deleted the text from the previous article and started again….

Funny, at the time I had missed the startlingly obvious. Everything above, was a game changer, it was something new, innovative and British. Well okay the French had something to do with Concorde, possibly why it looks nice.

So what is the startlingly obvious? Despite every single one of the above innovations being a triumphant British technological and engineering marvel – none turned out to be a commercial success.

For the un-initiated I have pictured the APT, British Rail Engineering’s Advanced Passenger Train – the tilting train to you and me. Yep, wasn’t Italian technology, wasn’t made in France and it was long before Richard Branson put his logo on trains. It was ahead of its time, there wasn’t the computing power really available to make the control systems work and of course, they were up against Maggie cutting their budgets.

The computer was invented in the UK, was used to decipher German cryptography but the technology was deemed so dangerous it was kept secret and out of the public eye and no commercial success was made in the UK.

The Prototype Fast Reactor at Dounreay has never been evolved into a commercial reality. The government lost its nerve on investing in nuclear technology and much like the tilting train and computer pulled funding.

Few know that the Concorde itself was actually a prototype, hence it being small, having small windows and a few other quirks. Due to its size it simply wasn’t going to become a commercial success. Of course, the company that built the aircraft later became Airbus.

The De Havilland Comet, to me, looks better than the Concorde, sleek lines the engines hidden in the wings and the first commercial jet aircraft. Unfortunately, when you push the boundaries of engineering and technical knowledge something’s are only found out by experience. The Comet first production run had a fatal flaw in the materials used and the planes flew themselves apart. What should be realised here, but this was the first iteration of air accident investigation. The aircraft were taken apart, analysed and the problem identified and fixed.

Unsurprisingly, whilst the company fixed the problem, the aircraft never became a commercial success. Interestingly, it did evolve to become the Nimrod, an aircraft that most of us in the UK have heard of. De Havilland’s commercial failure came about really through creating a new jet specifically for the state owned British Airways at the time, which reneged on the deal and left the company with a jet that nobody else was interested in.

My favourite of British inventions – the ball barrow. This is what James Dyson did before he reinvented the hover. Arguably, some did sell but you certainly don’t see many in the hands of respectable builders. Lucky for James, he managed to use the design again on vacuum cleaners years after.

It’s no wonder that us Brits often feel, that we can’t or shouldn’t do technology. It’s only our small innovations that seem to get anywhere. However, that said, it’s generally the ones that have little or no government interference involved. Especially when you look at the examples above! The other side of the argument is that no private company could or would do some of the projects mentioned above and sometimes a government push is required to force a step change. That argument will of course rage on for some time.

So I guess the point of this article is really, what can we do? As a British manager or director you’ve probably been educated to be a bit technophobic and not an early adopter of technology. For many this would be a wise strategy. Of course, those who free of themselves of this thinking, either lead themselves to great success or fantastic failure.

The great problem is you’re that used to hearing about IT failures such as the NHS debacles, the London Ambulance IT problems, the Air Traffic Control Projects and listening to many call centres excuses for IT being the reason they’re not delivering the service that you expect.

What nobody tells you is about their IT successes, your competition won’t tell you they’ve virtualised and saved a fortune on server consolidation. Nobody will tell you that because they had a good disaster recovery solution in place, their head office flooding had minimal impact on their business. Nor will they tell you that new IT has enabled them to changes processes, become more efficient and save money. After all, why would your competitors tell you about their commercial activities? You’ll probably not believe me that there are far more many technological successes than failures.

Talking about failure ultimately appeals to the media more than success. Success stories happen every day, even in the technology world! Unless you’re working on a government project the likelihood for success is also quite high.

As a manager, you should really look at the following:

  • Are your partners up to the job? Have they done something similar before?
  • Do your partners have innovative technology, there’s no point implementing the same stuff as your competitors, the aim is to leap-frog them.
  • What assurances have you got that the project is going to work?

Ultimately the two biggest things you need to think about is letting go of your fear of technology and embracing it, once you’ve done that then you can begin to open up to other ideas.

I firmly believe that adopters of technology are also the most innovative businesses around – they are always keen on looking at things differently. Would you come up with an idea of using standard 3D TV’s for medical imaging, if you didn’t use a 3D TV yourself? Would you come up with the idea of the next big software as a service website if you didn’t even do online shopping?

So the moral of the blog is adopt the technology, keep your mind open, choose your partners carefully and think of the future possibilities.