Innovators’ Network: Actually, we do want experts!

17 Oct 2016

The votes were cast. The date is set. “Brexit means Brexit”. The value of sterling has fallen. The FTSE has gone up. The global political landscape is in flux.

But what does this mean in practice for businesses big and small in the future?

The seventh Innovators’ Network event, held at the Royal Academy of Engineering this month, was focused on a live challenge: how can we progress, and make good business decisions during times of uncertainty, like this?

Our speakers, Kevin Baughan, Chief Development Officer at Innovate UK and Dr. Dick Whittington FREng, Director and Chief Strategy Officer of MooD International, both talked about their experience of what works in practice.

In times of great change, you don’t necessarily have all the information at your fingertips; lacking data on future risk and operating environments. But, wait around, and you are “at risk of responding rationally to a world... that we understand and recognise, but no longer exists”, as Dick reminded us. And on the flip side, too much data can lead to ‘analysis paralysis’.

Moving forward is the only option. So what approaches can we take to make decisions that both manage risk and create opportunities now?

Drawing on past experience was something that both speakers agreed is vital. Despite the protests in the media, people really do want experts – at least, when it comes to buying products and services. When building a business or selling an idea – be it to your CEO, your customers or your team - personal credibility is key. This can be built from deep technical knowledge, market expertise, experience or skills. Regardless, if you are credible, and know what you’re talking about, you more likely to get a good result.

Listening is also vital to making the best decisions, and ensuring your business ideas get traction. It is hard to influence a stakeholder if you don’t know what drives them. Take the time to truly understand the people that you are selling an idea to, to ensure the message lands. Likewise, when shaping an idea, get different inputs at an early stage to refine, challenge and improve it. Be comfortable with allowing colleagues to kill your idea, or tell you where you are wrong. Even if the process is painful, you’ll have a better product in the end.

Unfortunately we couldn’t cover everything in one evening. Certainly listening will be a focus for future discussion, specifically on customers:

  • How do you understand and influence people you have never met?
  • If it is hard enough to influence one senior stakeholder, how do you influence thousands or millions of people?
  • How can we be better at listening to the needs of many - not just the few?

Watch this space for an Innovators’ Network event in the New Year, covering these topics. Meanwhile, be sure to catch our next session on November 28, ‘An evening with Sir Robin Saxby FREng FRS, most well known for being ARM Holding’s founding CEO and then Chairman.

But, for now, a final word on this event. What I found so inspiring about the discussion was the appetite to take risks and drive innovation, and the opportunities that are present in engineering right now. It leaves me thinking that awareness of change and risk doesn’t hold you back - perhaps it even gets you more battle-ready for the future?


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