Welcome to BIG POTATOES: Join the debate!

SOME TIME BACK, the authors of this Manifesto came together in London to write 10 case studies on innovation in 20th century recessions. We found ourselves impressed by some of the innovations of the Great Depression, pioneered by companies that have since proved durable – companies including Nestlé, Penguin Books, General Electric and Texas Instruments.

But we also noted how times have changed. Despite sitting on the precipice of another global economic depression we could not see much evidence for any appetite for groundbreaking risk-taking innovation that became apparent during and after the Depression of the twentieth century. Instead, we noted how contemporary society shuns innovation while paying it lip-service.

How the state is a roadblock to progress

Sparked by the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Science and the General Election 2010 event, Manifesto co-authors James Woudhuysen and Norman Lewis have written in spiked-online on how red tape-obsessed, visionless governments are holding back the kind of big and risky innovation society needs.

Professor questions innovation

Manifesto co-author James Woudhuysen spoke about BIG POTATOES at the University of Plymouth on 5 March. In a report published in SouthWestBusiness Colin Searls, associate Dean in the University of Plymouth Faculty of Arts, said:

We were delighted to have Prof Woudhuysen come to the university for what was his first talk in the South West, and one of the first nationally to cover this topic.

He provided some fascinating insights into the research and background that led to the manifesto being produced.

He has a knack of registering trends before other people, and offering counter-intuitive proposals on what to do about them – so it was a very thought-provoking session.

Big Potatoes speech, University of Plymouth, 5 March 2010 from Martyn Perks on Vimeo.

Event: Innovation, R&D and the General Election

Election event graphic

Despite its importance to our economic future, innovation has largely been overlooked since the credit crunch and is being largely ignored in the UK General Election.

As a remedy, the R&D Society and the authors of BIG POTATOES: The London Manifesto for Innovation, in association with Epoch, have together organised an eve-of-election event at The Royal Society in London on Tuesday 27 April. [Event announcement on the R&D Society site]

Speakers include Steven Cousins, managing director, Axon Automotive Ltd; Eliot Forster, CEO, Solace Pharmaceuticals; Norman Lewis, Chief Innovation Officer, Open-Knowledge (and BIG POTATOES co-author); Munira Mirza, advisor for arts and culture to the Mayor of London; Stefan Stern, management columnist, Financial Times; and James Wilsdon, Director of the Science Policy Centre, The Royal Society. Booking is now open.

In partnership with the R&D Society and in association with Epoch

Article: Explaining the neglect of scientific and technological innovation

In an article on innovation in spiked‘s Election 2010 Question everything series James Woudhuysen explores the roots of the establishment’s neglect of scientific and technological innovation, and calls for the creation of new industries for the twenty-first century. On the neglect of scientific and technological innovation James argues:

the categories of consumer society – and, more recently, personal greed – have expanded. Compared with the idea of innovation, these categories tower over the brains of bureaucrats, and over the thought of society as a whole. Few, for example, see failure to innovate outside the arena of finance as in any way a cause of today’s economic downturn, even if they will ruefully concede that, too often, innovation itself can be a casualty of such a downturn. Instead, political economy has been reduced to consumer habits of buying and use, to consumer behaviour, its psychology and its economics, to consumer depletion of the planet and its resources, to population and its control. And that is why the scope for scientific and technological innovation is now unconsciously taken as very, very narrow

Question everything #4: Innovation, James Woudhuysen, spiked, 8 April 2010

James Woudhuysen interviewed on business models

James Woudhuysen was interview by Grant Thornton at the The Economist Redesigning Business Summit The Big Rethink in March. The two day conference, produced in conjunction with the Design Council, was aimed at ‘giving business leaders the opportunity to sample the fresh thinking needed to seize opportunities in today’s volatile world’. In the interview James notes:

I can’t get excited about business models. They distract from the much harder work of scientific and technological innovation.

[Note: The site address in the video is incorrect]

James Woudhuysen on Material World (Radio 4) on scientific development and the economy

James Woudhuysen appeared on Material World (Radio 4), 29/04 with Sir Martin Taylor of the Royal Society (who oversaw its Scientific Century report) talking about whether scientific development and innovation can push the economic recovery forward. The show is repeated on Monday (03/05) at 21:00, and is also available on iPlayer and as a podcast from the above link. The show trail asks:

Can scientific development and innovation push the economic recovery forward? The authors of a new report “Big Potatoes: The London Manifesto for innovation” believe so. Launched at the Royal Society the report highlights how there is currently very little debate in society about research and development. It has become socially acceptable not to know about science, argue the authors, and this change in public and political attitude is stifling economic recovery as well as limiting future innovation and therefore the creation of new industries and jobs for the future. Quentin is joined by one of the reports co-authors Professor James Woudhuysen and the former vice-president of the Royal Society, Sir Martin Taylor.

Article: Martyn Perks interviews David Hansson of 37Signals

In an ever-changing industry and uncertain economic times, is it really wise to invest so much time, money and effort into long-term business plans? David Hansson, partner of 37Signals and Basecamp supremo certainly doesn’t think so, and his new book ReWork has been hailed as an anti-management manifesto that sees short term cutbacks as the way forward. Martyn Perks met up with him to discuss whether corporate culture is stifling industry growth. “Unless you’re a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy” Hansson told him. Martyn’s reflections appear in his column in NetImperative.

BIG POTATOES Workgroups announced

As announced at our Election event, we have been developing a number of Workgroups in which we want to engage BIG POTATOES supporters and others serious about determining the landscape of, and issues around, contemporary innovation. The first Workgroups – Information technology, Energy, and The Arts – have now been planned and further information can be found one our Research page.

The Cities and transport, Medicine and health, Design, and Media Workgroups are in planning. We are also keen to convene Workgroups on Manufacturing, and Materials.

Workgroups will meet monthly or bi-monthly, and people outside London will be able to participate online or via a conference call.

The first Workgroups take place on the evening of Wednesday 16 June. If you would like to take part in a Workgroup please contact the Workgroup convenor via our Research page or contact us directly.

[This post is now out-of-date. See the Research page for up-to-date information.]

BIG POTATOES Workgroups underway

We have been developing a number of workgroups involving BIG POTATOES supporters and others serious about determining the landscape of, and issues around, contemporary innovation. The first workgroups – Information Technology, and Energy – have met, and further information about them will be posted on on the Research page.

The Arts, Cities and Transport, Design, and Medicine workgroups will meet shortly. In general workgroups will meet monthly or bi-monthly, and people outside London will be able to participate online or via a Skype conference call.

If you would like to take part in a workgroup, please contact the workgroup convenor via our Research page or or contact us directly.