Thursday, 2 August 2012

In search of endangered business species.

Watching the London 2012 opening ceremony last week got me to thinking how incredible our past is, how colourful, how innovative; but also have we lost our way?  The transition of a green and pleasant land to an industrial one, the impact of Brunel and his contemporaries, where is that inventiveness and courage today?  I ask this to generate thoughtfulness and that is also why I say the following:

In the late 1600's, here in the UK, communication was accelerated and revolutionised; this period marked the beginning of the building of our interconnecting canal system.  A system that allowed information, goods and materialise to be transported in bulk and generally faster than had previously been possible.  This investment started with the Bridgewater Canal, not because it was close to Bridgewater, but because it was the initiative of the third Duke of Bridgewater.  (Yes the Romans had done some work before, but nothing like the system of navigable water ways that would evolve up until the 1800's.)

Now the Duke was not seen as an intellectual, but he obviously saw the potential of this new way of doing things and soon became the richest noble in England; due to his involvement in the new technologies, coal and canals.  (The coal was mined on his land and transported on the canals he had built.)

Perhaps ironically one of his projects was granted approval in 1762 and this was an improved waterway between London & Manchester.  I say ironically as on September 15th, 1830 the worlds first twin track railway opened between these two locations.  Designed to move greater volumes of freight, more efficiently than the canals; the railways soon made the canals redundant.

There is however a link between the growth of these new technologies, that is how they were embraced and delivered.  Not by government, but by merchants, land owners, bankers and industrialists; today what we would call the private sector.   They were not built for "public benefit", but for wealth creation, to reduce costs and increase efficiency.  These asset and wealth creators put Britain at the forefront of growth and innovation, they lead the way, we were setting the standard for others to follow.

Like todays athletes competing for gold they had a vision of being the best, being the wealthiest, the biggest and the passion to make it happen.  (I accept, that through modern eyes, some of the morals and ethics around the how may be questionable, but the fact is most took risks and delivered.) Today we are looking ahead at different evolutions, genetics and communications especially.

If we specifically look at 4G and Broadband technologies our 21st century corporates and bankers, the equivalent of those early pioneers, etc  cry "foul" that the government, which boils down to the tax payer at the end of the day, is unwilling to finance the infrastructure to maintain Britains' place in the world economy.  Had their 17th, 18th and 19th century ancestors done the same, would we not, very probably, still be using the horse and cart?  Is it for us, the small business and individual taxpayer, to deliver the infrastructure upon which the larger private sector makes its wealth?

Do we not need more risk takers, more individuals and organisations looking at the longer term and less of the quick win and the fast profit approach?  Our athletes have not rushed to get fit and expect to win in a few short days or weeks.  Listen to them, they have invested 4 years, to 30 years, investing their time, passion, money and private life; not looking for a quick ROI, but playing the loner game.  The cost of the Worsley to Manchester portion to the Duke was in 2012 terms money just short of £24million (About the same as the opening ceremony last Friday!) I give this figure for you to be able to compare to the costs often cited around broadband infrastructure.

If we want a competitive Team GB in the business world, able to use the best equipment to compete against the rest of the world, perhaps our "fitter", "stronger" organisations should be coming to the starting line with a bit more passion; looking to the legacy and what they can pass on to the next generation - just as was done with the lighting of the cauldron in the opening ceremony.  Do we still have these brave and old people as residents in the UK, or are they either extinct or endangered?

This is meant to be a bit provocative, I'll be interested in your comments, observations and thoughts.

Thank you for investing your time in reading my words and remember with Passion & Action you can make things happen.