Developing the right mindset for a new era of collaborative innovation

As Steve Wadey, our Chief Executive, highlighted at the recent Atlantic Future Forum, the special bond between the US and the UK is continuing to act as a catalyst for ever-closer collaboration across both the public and private sectors on both sides of the Atlantic.

Richard powell at the Atlantic Future Forum

Significantly, he took the opportunity to promote the considerable benefits and opportunities presented by “open innovation” for helping us to regain and maintain our strategic advantage in the face of ever-evolving threats to global security.   He also drew attention to the respective responsibilities that lie with both policy makers and commercial organisations as well as those issues we need to address to foster new and far-reaching collaborative ventures in the areas of space, defence and security.

The high profile event onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth during her deployment to the USA, was attended by over 250 business leaders, entrepreneurs at the cutting edge of technology and political leaders from the US and UK.  It was fitting that Steve Wadey’s comments followed the opening address at the event given by Admiral Tony Radakin CB ADC, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, who made specific reference to the areas of technology he considered to be of future importance for Defence and Security. 

It was clear to all those in attendance that there is widespread recognition of the importance of collaboration and a clear willingness to play an active role in not only consolidating established relationships, but also exploring new opportunities for working together. This is hugely encouraging and is a direct consequence of the strength and strategic significance of the trans-Atlantic alliance. 

There is, however, one critical element that transcends all forms of collaboration.  From my own experience as a senior officer in the Royal Navy and as a Defence Advisor and diplomat, I know that supportive words and encouragement can only go so far in helping to achieve a desired outcome. 

In any relationship, the real difference comes with that often elusive but vitally important feeling of trust.  Without trust and integrity, any well-intentioned move towards collaboration will soon hit the buffers or fall short of expectations.  Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the area of defence and security where, for obvious reasons, technological and intellectual advantage are of critical importance and mercilessly protected.

Trust and integrity cannot be bought and do not come from statements of intent or words from a conference podium. Trust is earned and it develops through practical experience and the application of integrity and responsible behaviour. Once established, trust provides solid foundations where progressive and collective plans for raising the bar in outcomes and expectations will prosper. 

I believe it is the single most important ingredient for any form of collaboration – especially between countries and between different commercial interests.  It is a foundation, however, that is never a foregone conclusion.  Trust needs to be nurtured and continually reinforced if it is to flourish, as it will be tarnished or lost forever with even the slightest oversight, unfulfilled promise or misdemeanour.

This is where I believe leading organisations and authorities on both sides of the Atlantic need to take the initiative if we are to capitalise on the many opportunities for even closer collaboration and to reap the collective benefits of our individual strengths. In some instances, there will be clear synergies between two or more organisations so a move towards some form of partnership may be a relatively simple step change. In other areas, there may be clear or potential conflicts of interest between two competing organisations.  However, where there’s a will, there are always ways to bridge such divides - even if it is within a discrete and firmly ring-fenced arena.  In both cases, however, clear and consistent leadership is a prerequisite.

Real progress comes from taking progressive steps into the unknown - and that entails risk.  With trust, informed insight and collective resolve, such risks become qualified.  This provides the scope for effective management and pre-emptive actions for developing an environment where no party risks being over-exposed or commercially or politically compromised.  Moreover, it creates the space for truly ground-breaking innovation and knowledge sharing, where the respective strengths of specialist operations can flourish to a far greater extent than if they were operating in isolation.

Truly understanding potential risks and the political nuances that exist within any relationship, will help to unlock the potential for deeper and wider partnership.  And, by taking the initiative to earn and reinforce trust, organisations will have the opportunity to fulfil the promise of increasingly ambitious and novel forms of collaboration.

It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to emphasise these points at the Defence and Security Trade Expo held on board HMS Queen Elizabeth the day prior to the Atlantic Future Forum.  As a member of the Maritime Nations Panel organised by Maritime UK, I pointed out the value, expertise and agility of specialist SME’s in rapidly evolving areas of technology such as human-machine interaction, data science, robotics, autonomy, artificial intelligence, sensor systems, cyber technology and materials science. 

Evidence demonstrates quite clearly that the ability to partner with such enterprises in order to take technologies and capabilities onto the next level will be crucial in the years ahead. Doubtless, such new forms of collaboration will pose challenges.  But with resolve, foresight and an open-mind, I believe the rewards to be gained across all domains will more than justify the effort and will demonstrate the real value and practical benefits of a truly collaborative spirit.