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Innovation – 100 years ago!

beamish-logo-1413277632During a trip back to my native North-East of England last week, I revisited a place I’ve not been to since school – Beamish open air museum in County Durham. This is an Edwardian recreation of an early 1900’s town (they tell me it’s stuck in 1913 – the museum, not Durham natives)!

Not only was it a chance for my little one to see ‘the good old days’ and taste some proper discipline in the local school, Beamish also reminded me of the Great British innovations dating back to the 1800’s, including the likes of Stephenson et al, as we literally forged our way in the World as part of the first and second industrial revolutions. This era is remembered fondly for obvious reasons (perhaps not safety or environmental performance), but the planners and engineers of the age still have our respect today thanks to their grand vision and commitment to try, try and try again (at Tideway we are looking for our 21st Century Bazalgette)!beamish

So what you may ask, well it got me thinking! With Article 50 now formally submitted, regardless of your persuasion (no politics here), things are going to change. Most experts now agree that UK PLC will need to upskill, invest, innovate and export our way to sustainable economic growth by realising the full potential of the 4th industrial revolution.

For budding innovators, I remember reading a paper written by (my then CEO) Andrew Wolstenholme at Crossrail ‘Never waste a good crisis’

I’m not sure this is the first time this phrase has ever been used (apparently it has been attributed to a certain Winston Churchill during post World War 2 reunification effort that led to formation of the United Nations (UN)), however in the ‘good old days’ of 2012 when Andrew Wolstenholme challenged academics and industry to ‘innovate18‘, I was fortunate to find myself in the thick of the action and this paper may well be the basis of all good things you see today @ i3P.

In 100 years time, projects such as Tideway and Crossrail may feature in the virtual docklands museum, not as cutting edge exhibitions of engineering (fantastic archaeology and tunnelling exhibition on right now), but as relics for our great great grandchildren to reminisce of what it was like in 2017 (cars were stuck to the road and needed a driver?!)

Here at the Great Think, supporting i3P, we have a unique opportunity to reclaim the visionary culture of our master designers, architects, engineers, construction trades and crafts to wow our descendants in 2120 and beyond. It may well be a once in a generation chance, so with Brexit on the horizon and change in the air, we probably shouldn’t waste a good crisis!

3 Responses to “Innovation – 100 years ago!”

  1. As a follow up to my innovation heritage article (I appreciate I finished ahead of the first World war) this was deliberate, but I’ve recently been reminded of a fantastic presentation delivered by Thomas Grady (Crossrail PDN Chair) at PDN conference 2016. Thomas described how the tunnelling technology we use today can be directly related to battlefield trenches and tunnels dug by the armies (and captives) of both the World wars. I’ll get in touch with Thomas and see if we have permission to share this with i3P!
    The reason for mentioning this relates to a ‘Great Think’ field trip to JCB headquarters last week. It was amazing to witness the story of a now global British engineering and manufacturing business with over £2.5 Billion of turnover, rose from the humble origins of agricultural tipping trailers in 1945. With a dedication to investment in innovation (and presumably a bit of luck) by 1952, the classic Mk 1 ‘Excavator’ (basically a tractor with a mounted hydraulic excavator) was born. The rest as they say, is history!
    If you’re on site today, look around and imagine where we would be without the innovations of companies such as JCB! Yes we have a productivity problem today, but prior to this, manual labour was your only choice if you wanted to dig a trench. Over 450 British soldiers were needed to dig 275 yards of World war 1 front-line trench (approx. 7 feet deep, 6 feet wide) within just 6 hours in total darkness!

  2. Paul, I use to take my son to Beamish many years ago not quite 100 but he is a project engineer in his mid-thirties so perhaps some of that Edwardian engineering rubbed off. If the rate of change continues apace as history shows it will who knows what 2117 will look like. The vast amount of innovation & change I have witnessed in my son’s life time will be just a blink of an eye compared to what is about to happen in innovation. It seems to me that we are on the tipping point to some extraordinary change.

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