The third and final session of the Heriot-Watt crucible followed the same format as the previous two with two venues, a half-day of talks and the rest of the day focused on facilitated group activities. I think by now it is clear that I am gaining more from the activities than the talks, but to someone who hasn’t heard them before and is interested in the institution specific content I am sure they would be very useful and informative.
Day one was held at Selex-ES, one Edinburgh’s biggest tech employers and suppliers of some fantastic RADAR and LASER systems to some of the world’s biggest civilian and military users of these systems. Given the products the company makes, security was more stringent than some of the other venues, and we were ushered into a suite of conference rooms separate from the main rooms in their facility in Edinburgh.
We were introduced to the company by one of the senior engineers/executives. I’m not blind to the tensions surrounding STEM outreach/recruitment by some large companies and it was clear that we were shown the somewhat sanitised version of where the technology the company makes goes. Saying that, the civilian applications are really cool, with some high-resolution software RADAR that are capable of seeing a person bobbing around in the Pacific ocean from 20,000 feet. You can imagine what the military applications of such technology might be. We were given a tour of the facility and considering the value of the product that leaves the site each day, there was very little visible activity on the engineering floors.
I’ll skip any analysis of the talks on knowledge exchange, useful for members of H-W, not so useful to me. The rest of the day was facilitated by Kevin Parker of KKi Associates. Who is clearly an experienced facilitator and set us up for the day’s team challenge. We were briefed on thinking outside of our narrow academic mind-set; to consider the language used when advertising people sell ideas; to think about the benefits of things, not features. This was a really engaging talk and drew on Kevin Parker’s background as an industrial chemist and then executive working for BP. He gave some good examples of technological advances that spawned amazing products with great features, but which were sold on the intangible benefits they brought to consumers. Transistor radios were a huge technological leap from the old valve sets, but the benefits were not realised until Sony popularised miniaturised sets and cut the power cord. With that innovation came the ability for people to enjoy music in their own space, in public, and on the move, and radio suddenly became sexy.
We were split into four teams and set the task of devising an iPhone app to fill an as-yet unidentified gap in the market. I assume this task is now commonplace at professional development events and it may have seen its peak appeal already, but it was an engaging challenge and got us working together really well. My team came up with a few throwaway ideas for a travel concierge service, a microscope for identifying bacteria and a few others, before we struck gold with a great idea that I won’t tell you about because it has some potential and I don’t know whether my fellow team members are considering taking the idea further. Throughout the task we worked well together as a team and because no one had a strong research agenda to push, or a level of technical skill to actually realise the idea we all participated in the discussions on an equal footing and it made for a fun task.
Each team presented their app idea in front of a declawed panel of dragons to be awarded a plate of biscuits as the prize. It was interesting to see the presenting styles of the other teams, even if some of their ideas were almost identical to current applications. I’m not sure how our presentation went, as I seem to be an unreliable judge of my own performance when presenting, but the judges liked our pitch and we were voted the winners of the task. I found out we had won via twitter on the way home to Newcastle.