Celebrating British Inventiveness

Celebrating British Inventiveness
Published: 7 May 2020

This unprecedented shutdown is challenging everyone, and optimism appears to be in short supply, certainly if you follow the news. The Easter weekend was a strange affair. Normally spent visiting family and sharing the company of others we were home alone, reliant on games in the garden (at least the sun was out), exercise and the joys of TV. A free trial of Disney+ helped to fill the kids’ time, enjoying uplifting films from the past.

Walt himself once commented “I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” And so, it seems at the moment - the human race thought it had cracked it with our enlightened technology, social structures, prosperity and disease eradication. Then a global pandemic hits and shakes our very existence to its foundations, proving that there will always be events that are beyond our control.

The ease of connectivity has been horribly demonstrated by the remorseless international spread of COVID-19. What we saw as a positive, the role of Global Britain in a post Brexit future, has quickly been challenged by the lightning speed of infections. Manufacturing organisations have had to completely or partially shut down their facilities in some cases; quickly adjust to making something completely different or ramp up production of critical items - with reduced staffing capabilities due to social distancing measures and self-isolation. This situation will, I am sure, cause a rethink as to how we work, travel, collaborate and live in the future, with leaders having to adjust to a new normal.

As we emerge from this crisis it is important to remember what makes us ‘Great’ Britain. World class educational institutions; the City of London’s financial might to support investment and capital deployment; sporting prowess (sometimes); the Monarchy; proud democratic principles and, of course, our manufacturing capability to produce products with wide appeal and a globally recognised stamp of quality.  

We need to remind ourselves we have much to shout about. Our ability to innovate is unsurpassed, evidenced recently by the ‘Ventilator Challenge’ consortium and by our scientific contribution to vaccine discovery efforts. As a nation we have historically produced a litany of technological breakthroughs. To select just three - the pedal bike was invented by a Scotsman, fuel cell technology was pioneered by a Welshman, and the hydraulic press developed by an Englishman. More recently the invention of the world wide web ensured all-encompassing information connectivity, changing the shape of modern life forever.

There will, no doubt, be changes to global supply chains, productivity will be challenged by new factory hygiene measures and consumer confidence will take a while to return. Through all this the one thing I am sure we can be confident of is the traditional British ability to ‘keep calm and carry on’. Our stoicism, spirit and creativity will stand us in good stead to deal with the ongoing complexities of modern life.

Leadership that embraces disruption and change will be a critical facet of our recovery and future prosperity, in combination with the inventiveness that is the hallmark of our great nation.  

David Thomas is a Partner in Berwick Partners’ Manufacturing & Engineering Practice.

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