Voiceover: The Ideas to Innovation Podcast from Clarivate.
Joan Walker: Hello, I’m Joan Walker and welcome to the Ideas to Innovation podcast. In this series, we’ll be talking to the people who live and breathe the process of turning ideas into innovation. The technologies that we depend on, the medicines that we rely on, the electricity that powers our day-to-day life, they were all once ideas before becoming inventions, inventions that have changed our lives for the better. Join the conversation with experts and industry leaders to discuss innovation at its core. As we approach the second quarter of the 21st century, the pace of innovation is accelerating.
The landscape of technical ideas is evolving more rapidly and in more directions than ever before. The need for new ideas and fresh thinking is growing, and innovators, with their inventions, are increasingly in the global spotlight. In today’s episode, we look at the state of the global innovation landscape and the direction of ideas still to come as revealed by Top 100 Global Innovators 2022 from Clarivate. An annual list that recognises the organisations that demonstrate consistent, above-the-bar innovation excellence, and which sit at the very top of the global innovation ecosystem.
In a world where data and inventive activity are evolving fast, we also explore the refreshed model for calculating excellence for the Top 100 Global Innovators, a programme that has served to benchmark innovation for more than a decade. We examine the organisations that are reaching furthest and leading the way in generating new ideas, the ones that make the greatest change in the way the world works, shift market goalposts the most, embody modern innovation, and deliver new value for the world. Joining us today are Davy Brown, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Industrial Solutions for TE Connectivity. Hello, Davy.
Davy Brown: Hello, Joan. How are you?
Joan: Very well, thank you, and Ed White, Chief Analyst and Vice President of IP and Innovation Research at Clarivate. Hello, Ed.
Ed White: Hello, Joan.
Joan: Very good to talk to you both. Just tell me a little bit about where you are. Because, Davy, you and I have not spoken before, where are you today?
Davy: Joan, I’m located at our headquarters here in Schaffhausen in Switzerland.
Joan: Oh, now I’m imagining you in some Après Ski Chalet. You’re sipping on something?
Davy: Your imagination is running wild.
Joan: It is, hahaha. Is it glorious out there?
Davy: It is at the moment. Yes, it’s lovely. It’s been very sunny today.
Joan: Fantastic. Ed, where are you?
Ed: I am still in my home in rural Buckinghamshire, just north-northwest of London. Yes, it’s the four walls of the office, the home office, is starting to feel a little grating after two years or so.
Joan: It’s really good to have you both here today. Thank you for joining us. Now, before we jump in, I would love to learn a little bit more about you both. Davy, let us kick off with you. Can you tell us what you do and how you got there?
Davy: Yes, certainly. I’m the CTO for our industrial solution segment. That’s one of the three segments that makes up our company. I originally joined TE just about 10 years ago. Prior to that, I’ve worked in a variety of engineering and technology leadership positions across multiple industries spanning telecoms, video, consumer electronics, wireless, and semiconductor.
Joan: That’s quite a background. Do people come to you and say, “Can You mend my phone, Davy?”
Davy: I’ve had many years of that, yes, unfortunately.
Joan: Hahaha, and is that something that actually you enjoy? Can you take things to bits and put them together in a working way?
Davy: I can. Really, that’s probably what inspired me when I was very young to move into a career in research and development. My background is, I grew up in Northern Ireland on our family farm. My grandfather was a farmer. My father was a telecommunications engineer. For me, working on a farm really forces you to be a problem solver every day. It forces you to be very creative and very practical. On the other hand, I did get the chance to spend a lot of time in telephone exchanges or central offices for US listeners and tinkering a lot with home computing during my teenage years.
All of that led to a real love of technology. That’s something that I have to this day. For me, the combination of real-world problem solving and the passion for technology is what inevitably led me to a career in engineering and all the roles I’ve had in research and development.
Joan: That’s very, very interesting. I know this is not about me, but like you, actually, I’m from a farming background. My family are in the Peak District. It’s very interesting, isn’t it? Being raised on a farm, you do learn to problem solve because if you don’t solve it, then nobody else will, or it’s going to be a costly [unintelligible 00:05:23].
Davy: Yes. Back then, you didn’t call it innovation. You called it fixing an issue.
Davy: Really, when we look at it, it’s the same thing.
Davy: It’s discovering a problem, understanding a problem, and coming up with a solution.
Joan: Yes, indeed. Ed, over to you. Tell us a little bit about what you do and how you got there.
Ed: Thank you, Joan. I’m Chief Analyst at Clarivate for Innovation and Intellectual Property Research. I’m one of the people that’s involved in the design, and the direction, and implementation of the Top 100 Global Innovators programme that you so kindly introduced, along with, it has to be said, a big team of enormously talented Clarivate colleagues who put it together each year. My background is electronic engineering, and actually, similar to Davy, having a deep love of technology and science and engineering. Getting into this kind of research and innovation measurement space that I’m in today, was really accidental.
I graduated from the University of Nottingham back in 2001. I joined a company that I’d never heard of that was called Derwent Information, which is a predecessor of Clarivate and the producer of the Derwent World Patents Index. I joined Derwent as a patent analyst. Pretty much I do the same thing today that I did 20 years ago, which is use these information sources to understand the dynamics and the flavour of R&D activity. Yes, it’s really a general interest, and my general interest in technology, science, engineering is a really big part of why I do what I do.
Joan: Yes, thank you for that, Ed. Now, let’s just drill a little bit deeper on this because, Davy, since innovation is at the heart of our conversation today, I’m intrigued to know really what led you to choose such a career in research and development because you could have stayed on the farm, couldn’t you? Was there someone, or something, or some particular organisation that inspired you to do what you do and where you are now?
Davy: A lot of what led me into that was the rate of change in computing back then. When I was a hobbyist dealing with the early days of home computing, the rate of change was fascinating. The opportunity to start a career in IT, which I did, wasn’t something that existed just a few years previously. For me, it really was at that wonderful time when computing was starting to pop up in our homes, and it was starting to change so much of what we interacted with regularly. I also got the chance to see my father who had spent his life with electromechanical telecommunications, responding to the thread of digitalisation of telecommunications.
For me, that was a fascinating shift. That’s really what led me to decide to leave the farm and to move into a career in engineering and research and development.
Joan: It is fascinating. It is fascinating how you got there. Now, what about you, Ed?
Ed: Your question was, choose a career, Joan, which is interesting because when I look back up, I don’t think I really did. I think it was more of a process of discovering what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and then seeking a career development pathway that means you do more of those things over time and maybe do fewer things of the things that you don’t enjoy. That’s always a top tip for if people want a new role.
Joan: You’re a good all-arounder, aren’t you, Ed? What I hear from how you describe your journey there, you are a very good all-rounder.
Ed: I had a very lucky break right at the beginning of my career, Joan, which was the way that we were assigned as analysts back then was that you had to work at a particular technology area. Whether our semiconductors team, our automotive team, our circuitry and device team, that kind of thing. The way that they did that was they make you sit a whole bunch of tests. I did five or six of these tests. I didn’t excel at any of them, which probably tells the audience something about me, but what I did was I did reasonably well at all of them.
What they did was they placed me in our Instrumentation and Measurement team. Essentially, this is anything that measures anything. That can be chemistry, that can be biochemistry, that can be semiconductors, that can be anything at all. It really grounded me in that all-rounder box quite early on.
Joan: Excellent. Now, I am very excited to talk about the Top 100 Global Innovators 2022. The organisations on this list are at the very top of the global innovation ecosystem. They solve pressing challenges and bring new value to the world. That is truly inspirational. On that note, congratulations go to you, Davy. TE Connectivity is an 11-time Top 100 Global Innovator. Now that’s quite remarkable because only 21 companies have the honour of featuring on the list every year since it began in 2012. What do you say?
Davy: Thank you, Joan. It is an honour, and we’re delighted to be recognised again. For us at TE, innovation is a core value, along with integrity, accountability, and teamwork. Innovation truly is at the heart of everything that we do. We are very, very proud of our innovation culture, and it’s a really critical part of what defines us as a business. Just looking back at last year, we invested nearly 700 million in engineering. If we look at our sales last year, 20% of our sales were from new products that we’d introduced to the market in the previous three years. Those are a really clear demonstration of the important innovation to our company, of how it defines us, our products, and our customers.
Joan: That really is putting your money where your mouth is, isn’t it?
Davy: It certainly is, yes.
Joan: Excellent. Now, Ed, this is the 11th year of Top 100 Global Innovators, and surely, the innovation landscape today is very different to when the Top 100 programme first launched. Can you tell us a little more about how it’s evolved over that time?
Ed: It has changed a lot, and there’s basic things like, we now have two or three times the annual volumes in published inventions these days, compared to where we first started. There’s also significant structural changes in the nature of innovation today. We have the inclusion of many more organisations in the research ecosystem, and it comes with this partnership and collaboration imperative of bringing new ideas to market. Today, the top innovators that we see, they are much more selective in what they decide to register for inventions, focusing on high impact, higher quality research that they then patent.
Of course, we see a much more entangled mode of R&D where novel technical ideas today, they cross a lot more ground science and engineering discipline-wise, than they did previously. We see all the time, automotive companies dealing with telecommunications or pharmaceutical companies working with data science and things like computational genomics. Everywhere you look, the convergent forces that are innate to things that we’ve talked about on this channel before, sustainable technology, connectivity technology, automation, they really have changed the nature of innovation.
We sum all of that up as a much more complex ecosystem. One that’s harder to work with, harder to understand, and it probably does increase the risk of somebody else having a better idea than you, but at the same time, it creates this amazing information plane that is much richer with more opportunity to mine it for advantage, or for direction, or for trend.
Joan: Absolutely. Davy, looking back to the start of your career at British Telecom Research labs and coming to your current role at TE Connectivity, what do you think about Ed’s observations around the shifts in how the way ideas are formed, where they’re created, how they connect, how they’re shared?
Davy: Yes, I really recognize that. Let me take a minute and contrast innovation as I started my career at the BT Research, and then really how we approach that in TE today. Things that really jump out as I think about it are the rate and pace of innovation, which has completely changed customer intimacy, how we work, and how we interact with our customers. Then Ed mentioned it, it’s that core innovation, it’s that crossing the boundaries. Those are really different approaches to how we innovate. When I started my career working in telecoms, protocols were very well-defined, written on very large paper specifications.
Customers started development with you, with a very detailed product specification that defined very clear acceptance criteria. That was all before any development work started. Most of my interaction early in my career with customers was clarification of requirements or very formal change request processes. When I look at the development activity in the innovation process, that was really carried out within the company, within the four walls of the company, or more specifically, within a small group within the company. That really slowed down innovation as we think about that today.
Now, if I contrast that with today, and how we approach this at TE, our typical project starts with us working very closely with a customer to deeply understand their unmet needs in an informal way. Really discovering exactly what their pain points are. Moving then into co-innovating, we’re finding a solution together, optimising the solution, rapidly prototyping, using techniques like 3D printing to give early access to the solution as it’s coming together. Then, for us, working broadly across our business, pulling across different technologies and capabilities, but also working outside our company.
Co-innovating, co-developing with companies outside the four walls of TE. All of that to really optimise the solution for our customers. When I think about it that process is a lot more agile. It’s a lot more interactive. It’s got a much, much deeper customer intimacy. I guess most importantly, that that pace is really different. How quickly we discover, how quickly we move through that process is dramatically different from a speed perspective.
Joan: Yes. It does sound like, for want of a better expression, like a big open door policy where there is a huge amount of sharing going on.
Davy: It is, and that really is a massive change when I think about innovation. It’s, rather than an arm’s length, “Here’s what we want you to deliver, come back when it’s finished,” it’s that real interactive refining, agile approach. When we think about how software development has changed over the years, all software today is written with an agile approach, where the solution is refined incrementally. That’s really what’s coming or has been coming into our world for many, many years as we adopt that completely different way of engaging with our customers.
Joan: Davy, thank you for that. I love that idea of that agile approach. Now, Ed, one statement in this year’s report really stood out to me. Using existing trends to look ahead, the report says that close to 1/3 of all patented inventions in history will likely publish in the next four years. Now, I’m no expert, as you know, but that acceleration in inventive activity seems mind-boggling, and more importantly, what does it mean? How does it impact the way we make sense of the complexities and interconnectivity of modern innovation? Over to you, please.
Ed: It is remarkable, and it can feel a little intimidating, not least to our content and editorial teams who are likely to need to read those 9 million inventions, right, that are coming our way?
Joan: Yes. [chuckles]
Ed: Partially, it’s the pace of innovation that David was talking about. I should take a little bit of a step back and say that that prediction is coming from the ramp and pace, and inventive output over the last decade. There’s a danger in all forecast. It assumes that things are going to remain unchanged in terms of the forces that are driving it, but we see no reason why those forces are going to change for the lesser. In fact, it may be a low ball estimate rather than a highball. Just to summarize it, this is a number that’s, it’s leaning on a particular type of patent.
I won’t go into the details here. There are other types of intellectual property rights, design rights, utility models, which aren’t included in that number. This is proper patents of invention. The biggest driver of that that we can put a direct cause on is really entities that are based in mainland China that are showing a very, very consistent rate of acceleration, and that acceleration is going to continue. It’s also other East Asian countries like South Korea and Taiwan, and to a lesser degree, Japan, North America, and Europe. There are predicted increases there as well.
This is a trend that we have seen for over a decade, and it’s actually one of the drivers for more detailed measures and metrics for patent information that we’ve developed over time for our customers. Essentially, we need to be able to tell the difference between more speculative inventions from those that are more strategic, or more influential, or in a word, “more important”. However, we can understand the dynamics of competitive research directions using some of the methodologies that we use in Top 100. There are a few sub-drivers to it.
China has higher rates of academic institution patenting at around 1/5 of all of their activity, versus say 5% to 6% in the US which is a very, very consistent number. That situation in China is changing a little bit. It’s actually coming down while the acceleration continues, which tells me that it’s not a primary force behind it. In my view, the primary force behind it is that there is just a vast pool of companies, commercial entities that are innovating in mainland China. We have one statistic that is very telling on that basis.
We actually look at the top 1,000 entities in the 2022 process this year. We look at what proportion of all activity from regions is coming from entities that are in that top 1,000. Essentially, how top-heavy is innovation in those different countries or different regions? US and Europe, it’s about 45%, 50%, so about 1/2. In Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, it’s 90%, so very top-heavy, with major innovators being in that top 1,000 list. In China, it’s 8%.
Ed: Very, very little of the patent activity in China is coming from the big innovators. That’s a very, very telling metric.
Joan: Yes, interesting. Davy, anything that you’d like to add to that?
Davy: Yes. I think that the statistic is stunning. I would tell you, from my role, certainly, I feel that the pace of innovation continues to change, continues to get faster. What really drives that for us is the reality of the market and our customers’ needs. They are driving shorter and shorter time scales. Put simply, we have to move at the speed of our customers, and that is changing the innovation rate. I certainly see that that’s a contributor to what you’re seeing with that projection as we go forward. The other thing that I feel is a driver here is the reality of complexity.
If you think about that, everything that we use today is more complicated. It’s more connected, it’s more intelligent, it’s more smart. That complexity is really driving a change here.
The subsystems, the systems, the systems of systems, and the ecosystem of system of systems is becoming more and more complicated. Those require more innovative solutions, again, crossing more boundaries as we talked about a few minutes ago.
For us, as we think about how we respond to that and how we deal with that, for us to be successful in this sort of an environment, we have to not only understand, in great detail, the products and the domains where we’ve been successful, but we really need to understand the entire connected system that our products go into. For us, it’s only by having a deep system architecture capability within the company that we’re in a position to preempt those future technology needs and be ready with solutions when our customers require them and when the market requires them.
Joan: Yes, absolutely. It’s that agility again, isn’t it?
Davy: Exactly. Yes.
Joan: Now, Ed, Top 100 Global Innovators used the same methodology for 10 years, but it changed this year. Can you help us join the dots between what we’re seeing in changing ideation patterns and the rationale for the new methodology?
Ed: Yes, this year does see a big change in the way that we compute the rankings. To explain that, I probably need to explain a little bit of the seed for Top 100 when it was first put together 11 years ago. That was that for 20 years or so, we’ve operated research services for our customers using our data within Clarivate to answer their questions that they have around their R&D strategy around potential customer needs, and gaining some of that customer intimacy that Davy has been talking about, as well as the way that maybe they want to go and protect them.
Within that service, our teams have always created data structures that answer those questions. From that, came the fact that we could apply those models, not just for a specific technology, like a food science topic, or an antenna technology, but on everything. That’s where Top 100 came from. The methodology that we put in place reflected the approaches that we took when we first launched it back in 2012. The evolution of those frameworks models didn’t stop. Over the past 10 years, while Top 100 has been running, that crucible of new thinking there is our contact and work with our customers, continues to provoke extensions and changes to the way that we do things.
Much of that new thinking is coming from drivers that we’ve already been talking about, like pace, and volume, and everything else. Counter to that, it’s not great to continually change the Top 100 methodology. There is a momentum in the process though, that we can see change over time. We use the same criteria, so, it’s a fairly big decision to decide to change it. 2022 is Year 11. It’s the first year of the second decade of Top 100. The timing was really right for us to make an update and to make our first fundamental methodological change to the process.
At the core, the type of metrics that we’re using, they are the same. It’s how influential, how valid, how successful, how global. The fundamental difference we have is that we now calculate those measures for every single invention in the Derwent World Patents Index. That is millions of records somewhere in the region of 51 million to 52 million records. We add a further measure. We now look today at also how rare the technology mix is within every single invention. Then we bring all of that together in something we call the Derwent Strength Index, which is an invention-level importance score.
That metric, it forms a large part of the research that we do for customers directly, and actually have done for a few years now. We are bringing it into the Top 100 process alongside the traditional qualification criteria around being a global innovator. What it does is it means that Top 100 is no longer a relative measure of the performance of the qualifiers, but instead, is a fundamental measure of their innovation output as compared to all patented human knowledge.
Joan: Gosh, that is a very exacting standard, isn’t it?
Ed: It is a high bar. It is slightly harder as well because it rewards consistency at scale. That’s a little bit of a change.
Joan: You bring me very neatly onto my next point. Because, Davy, we’ve talked about how the pace and complexity of modern innovation is accelerating, so how does TE Connectivity continue to achieve above-the-bar consistency and scale in its innovation in such a competitive and ever-changing climate?
Davy: Yes, it’s a great question. I’ve got several thoughts around this. The first one is that, often, great innovation builds on previous great innovations. That’s something that, at TE, gives us a competitive edge. We have over 15,000 patents developed by our team of over 8,000 engineers globally, which gives us a huge pool of proven experience, background, and capability to tap into. I feel that’s a really important part of how we continue to drive the innovation engine here at TE. The next thing is really thinking about that environment, and creating an environment where innovation is always encouraged.
That’s a really important part of remaining competitive in this very, very rapidly changing market. For me, that’s an environment where it’s okay to try and fail as long as you do it quickly, and as long as you learn from it, but it’s certainly okay to try and fail. It’s also an environment where we’re comfortable challenging each other and not accepting the status quo. As you think through history, history is punctuated with change. It’s punctuated with people that took a chance. It’s punctuated by people who looked at something and said, “There’s a better way,” or, “There’s a different way.”
We know that right at the root of great innovation is that willingness and that ability to challenge each other. That’s something I see regularly as I work with our teams across the company. Then we’ve talked about this change and the need to be adaptive. When I think about the history of our organisation, our innovation in the past has delivered on some incredible advances that we all use every day. Things that have enabled higher speed data, higher power, improved safety, smaller, lighter products, easier-to-install products. Increasingly, our innovation activity is turning towards improving sustainability. Creating a more sustainable world is part of our company vision, and reducing our environmental impact through things like the use of novel, new, materials with lower carbon footprint. Using more efficient manufacturing processes, which we invest in designing ourselves. Those will all continue to be an increase in innovation focus for us here. That ability to be adaptive is a really important part of continuing to be competitive.
Joan: Thank you for that, Davy. It’s interesting, just something that you said right at the start of that explanation. You were talking about it, it’s okay to fail but do it quickly. What would quickly be? What would a timeframe of quick be?
Davy: It really depends on the activity. Quick is as quickly as you can get to an opportunity to determine if an approach is going to work or not. Certainly, as I work with my team and I reflect on a conversation I had recently, we’d like that to be measured in weeks, not months.
Joan: Yes, exactly. Who was it who said, “If you fail, never mind, try again and fail better.”? I think I plagiarised that badly, but somebody said that far more eloquently.
Davy: Yes, it’s a critically important part of the innovation process. If we’re in a world where we don’t environment and we don’t fail, how do we know that we’re pushing the envelope far enough?
Joan: Exactly, exactly. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. Ed, what would you like to add to that?
Ed: When I think about the things that we did, Davy, in terms of trying things out, failing better is something that you said that- I think it might have been you, Joan- failing better is something that really resonates with me because it has an inherent background in the experiment process. If you’re asking a question, the experiment can go either way, and either way gives you the learning to move on to the next one. We try things all of the time. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they’re bigger bets and sometimes they’re smaller bets.
Joan: Yes, exactly.
Ed: For sure, you want to make sure that you’re pushing the envelope.
Joan: Exactly, and having the confidence and the support to know that you can actually do that thing.
Ed: Yes, exactly.
Joan: Now, thank you both for that. Now, Ed, let’s turn to you because some of the findings from this year’s Top 100 report really stood out to me. Such as Asia strengthening its position as a global innovation powerhouse, and the prominence of sectors such as electronics, and computing, and automotive. Now, another sector that’s experienced a resurgence in 2022 is aerospace and defence. Can you tell us a bit more about these findings and what they mean?
Ed: Yes. One of the things that stands out for me when you take a step back from the individual companies and sectors that we structure the report around is, the focus the Top 100 really has around enabling technologies. These are ideas and offerings that touch multiple different disciplines, multiple industries, or have a lot of dual, or triple, or even more uses. Big ideas, but perhaps more tangible technology, I would say. You see things, like you see fundamentals, how materials are made, and how they’re designed. How we move, how we pay for things, how we create and convert energy.
How we increase our societal computing power, how we manufacture things. The automotive and the aerospace data points reflect this exactly. The pressing need for sustainable mobility and electrification, the inherent desire for efficiency, for safety, and for automation. These are very, very big topics for automotive companies and for those involved in aircraft design. In the electronics and semiconductor space, there is some amazing things going on. We see fabrication companies in the semiconductor space and their partners producing unbelievable precision in circuitry today, that’s measured in the number of atoms it is wide rather than in microns, right?
Ed: There is just an enormous amount of optics technology, machinery controller measurement systems that actually produce that precision. Then following on from that, is the power that that small detail feature on a chip provides. How many more calculations and processes can be formed when that precision is embedded onto a chip? The other thing that I would say that I see looking at a big picture is something that Davy was talking about earlier on, and we were talking about earlier on, which is this partnership requirement reflected in the Top 100.
We see entire supply chains of industries in the Top 100. We see Bosch, and Denso, and Continental in the automotive space, alongside Toyota, Volkswagen, and Ford. Of course, TE is very much part of that wider ecosystem view of enabling the downstream to work even better and to be even more useful.
Joan: Thank you for that, a very good illustration of what’s going on. Now, Davy, TE Connectivity is a key player, not just in the electronics and computing sector, but also automotive, including infrastructure solutions for hybrid and electric mobility, two sectors that contribute the greatest number of Top 100 companies this year. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the trends that Ed has just shared with us.
Davy: Yes, certainly. Just going back to some of the comments around the regions that are represented in the Top 100 list, I think back about the countries that we’ve talked about earlier, and I think everywhere that we’ve mentioned so far, at TE, we have engineers in those locations. A key strength that I feel we bring to the innovation process is a diverse global engineering community, which represents a wide array of experiences, views, and perspectives. That diversity is really, really important in differentiative thinking and really in true innovation.
It’s no surprise for me to see some of that real focus on innovation coming from electronics, and computing, and automotive sectors. As we’ve already said we’re starting to see traditionally very separate domains really starting to converge. 12 out of the Top 100 innovators this year are in the automotive space, a very important industry to us, as you just mentioned. It’s one that we continue to see huge innovation in.
Everything from the transition to hybrid and full-electric power trains, which, let’s face it, is the largest architectural shift we’ve seen in cars in over 100 years, through to improved passenger safety with the introduction and adoption of autonomous, and even today, semi-autonomous driving. I was reading something just the other day. It was a Bloomberg number, which estimated that the autonomous car will generate about 40 terabytes of data per hour. I had to go back and read that twice. I thought it was a typo, but that is what we can expect an autonomous car to produce.
That relies on a huge array of high speed, high-resolution sensors, different sensor types feeding, very, very high capability onboard compute. We talk about those sort of architectures. We don’t think about a car. We don’t think about an automotive application 10 years or 20 years ago. We start thinking about those in data centres and those type of applications. Those sort of architectures in the automotive world really are transforming what our customers in that space need to produce, and where they need to build capability. For us, that’s changing the conversations that we’re having with them.
In turn, that’s fueling a new way of innovation for us. Just going back to that, how innovation moves across boundaries, when you think about those data rates that we’re talking about, those are data centre data rates for many people. Something we’ve been able to tap into is some of the really fundamental capability we’ve developed in our data centre products, and now look at how we’re moving those into other applications. Automotive is one of those.
The other one you just touched upon, and that’s in aerospace and defence. We’re having similar conversations with our customers in aerospace and defence, both around this explosion in data across a variety of commercial defence applications. Also that move to electric propulsion, everything from, again, defence ground applications, sea applications, air applications. I guess one that I get very excited, which is the eVTOL, the electrical vertical takeoff and landing, or otherwise known as the flying taxi, which is a fantastic innovation. We’re already engaged with a number of very, very innovative customers.
Joan: Davy, thank you for that. You’ve painted an extraordinary picture of the forces at play there. It just sounds so futuristic, doesn’t it? Talking of that, let’s look toward the future and the direction of innovation to come. Now, we talked earlier about the avalanche of inventive activity expected in the next four years. We talked about the avalanche of inventive activity expected in the next four years. How can the individual data insights revealed in this year’s Top 100 report, help us understand not just the innovation ecosystem and the influences today, but give us a glimpse of what lies ahead? Ed, I throw that to you.
Ed: I think we can expect the same forces that we have today to continue onwards. If I had to bet, I would say that they will get more forceful. What we see today will accelerate rather than ebb away. This is things like the complexity and the volume problem, the pace that Davy has been talking about, and the application of technology developed in one sector to cross over to others. This is the contribution of technological innovation coming from more and more entities, from more and more places in the world. Again, this is something that we do see.
This cross-continental nature of the Top 100, we see that this year as well. We demonstrate it with our first-ever recipient in the Middle East, for example. For innovators, what can they do about it? What opportunity is there out there for them? Understanding the competitive ecosystem around them, understanding the drivers of change in their industry, or simply in the technology they rely upon or work to improve, it will need the power that’s inherent in data science and statistics to be embedded in their thinking and their work.
Some of these areas are getting so high scale and so complex, that doing it the way that it’s always been done in the past is probably no longer going to work. This is the idea of a more systematic, more programmatic innovation observatory process that translates mass high volume structured information into information that’s tailored for a specific decision need or for specific action points. I think that idea is quite fundamental.
Joan: Yes, and we’re back to that agility idea again, aren’t we? It’s not being weighted down with a particular sort of methodology, it’s being able to spring very quickly.
Ed: Yes, I think that that’s right. One of the ideas that bounces around in my brain is a little bit of a paradox. The pace is moving so quickly, but the amount of tells about what people are doing, and what customer needs are out there, and what unmet need is potentially available for engineers to fill and to work into, we’ve never had so much data. There is more of an opportunity to be able to mine that than there ever has been before, right at the time when it’s at its most complex to understand.
Joan: Yes, indeed. Thanks for that, Ed. Now, Davy, I would love to hear your thoughts on the value that data science, mathematics, and statistics can add to strategies that rely on or are shaped by technological improvement. What do you think?
Davy: Talking about for TE for a moment, we’re an increasingly data-driven enterprise, and we use state-of-the-art digital systems across all our functions. Not just my comfort zone around R&D and engineering, but the functions from HR to marketing to legal. Data science over the last number of years is providing much more insight, and allowing us to make better decisions and faster decisions. If I think about engineering, and research and development for a moment, just one part of data science, or one part of the data science toolbox, which is artificial intelligence, is something that’s really starting to impact our engineering activities today.
I expect that use of AI to explode, by the way, over the next few years. Just a couple of examples. We’re working with a company today that’s using AI to identify new product opportunities for us. It’s essentially an AI-enabled ideation system. What Ed just talked about there, how do we mine, how do we use the fact that there’s more data, that there’s more information in the public domain? This is a company we’re working with that’s generating some wonderful ideas for us that we expect will turn into products. We’re using AI to discover new materials in a fraction of the time that it’s traditionally taken us to do.
We have a strong material science background in the company, but by using AI, we’re shaving this from years, potentially into weeks, to discover new materials, which have got specific properties that we require for an application. The thing that excites me the most about AI is generative design. This is the use of AI to optimise a product design for the best performance, the smallest size, the lightest weight, et cetera. We’re using that capability, that generative design capability today, and we’re getting some really impressive results. This is leveraging that readily available compute power, that cloud compute power that we all have access to.
This is another example, a different example of where AI, just as one small part of data science, is transforming the way that we innovate.
Joan: Davy, thank you for that. That’s very thorough. Now, this year’s theme for World Intellectual Property Day, celebrates young people, focusing on how they are using IP, contributing to innovation, and driving change. Young people are, however, coming into the workforce in the midst of very challenging times. How can organisations such as Clarivate and TE Connectivity, better harness and help young people unleash their energy, creativity, and innovativeness, for want of a better word? Davy, back to you.
Davy: Onboarding new people into the company here has been challenging during the pandemic.
Joan: I can imagine.
Davy: It’s challenging for people who this isn’t their first job. This is particularly difficult for young people who are joining the workforce for the very first time. I think back to my first day, when I started my career, getting welcome, being given a nominated friend to show me around, being part of an induction class and so forth. I can’t imagine my first day of work being, you turn on a laptop that had been shipped to my home. This is a very, very different onboarding experience.
Just staying on the pandemic for a moment and how we need to learn from that, one thing that it’s got us thinking about here, is how we innovate. Traditionally, a lot of great innovation has happened around groups huddled around a whiteboard. That’s where some of the magic has always happened during my career, but all of a sudden, during a pandemic, we couldn’t do that. As we moved to a virtual collaboration setting, something really, really important happened for us, and that is that we stopped working with the same people over and over again.
We stopped collaborating with the people who were just down the hallway or in the same office. We started bringing in more and more of our people from around the world to work virtually. We created diverse global teams with the best people to work on the problem, not the people who had the closest geographic proximity. That’s just an example of the way that we innovate is changing. As I think about young people starting their career and launching into this new hybrid world, which is going to be the reality going forwards, we all as employers need to recognise this shift and accept that innovation is a creative process and it can happen anywhere.
Allow our young people, as we bring them into the workplace, allow them to contribute whenever and wherever works for them.
Joan: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely, but there is still a lot to be said about sharing that whiteboard and a cup of coffee, isn’t there?
Davy: There is. As we all returned from working in our spare rooms and our home office, as we get back to interaction, of course, there is some magic there. I think the key to this is the word hybrid. An awful lot can be done when we don’t need to be in that configuration, but yes, much like you, I still think there’s something magic about really getting out around a whiteboard and that fast exchange of ideas.
Joan: Yes, absolutely. Ed, what might you add to that?
Ed: For those that are entering the R&D or the IP functions today, I do agree with the way that you characterise these challenging times. There are barriers today that didn’t exist when I entered. I would echo, absolutely, Davy’s comments of it would be incredibly intimidating to just receive a laptop and a login. We need to be aware that there’s an enormous opportunity provided by remote working, which is, frankly, better work-life balances.
I think most people have experienced the fact that they don’t really miss their commute at all. Also, the fact that we are able to talk to colleagues and collaborate with colleagues, and potentially make hires in places in the world that we wouldn’t have done before, right?
Ed: I think it is entirely feasible now to be a very productive employee at a major corporation from Cornwall, or Chile, or somewhere where they’re not based, or that’s far away. That’s entirely feasible today, but there’s downsides to that as well. I think that things that maybe corporations or organisations had assumed happen organically in the past, may not happen organically today. Developing mental relationships or just simply, and I don’t know if Davy has this as well, but simply, when I was young, you watched other people work, what it meant to be at work.
You have to learn that and you have to understand that. I do worry that that’s a difficult thing if you take a lot of that away. Hybrid is definitely the way to go in order to be able to make that happen.
Ed: If I come at it from a STEM graduate perspective, and their energy, and their creativity, new thinking is always required, always required. Bringing in talent that has a different perspective now, to the one that maybe Davy and I have, is joyful. It is very, very important. Also, I would also talk about the fact that once people enter into these organisations, they enter into their careers, we do need to have an active discussion around what skill sets and new developments they have.
That’s where, Clarivate, we spend quite a bit of our time talking to our customers, talking to our industry, around skill sets and expertise in the way it should change with new developments. We feel this, particularly in the areas that Clarivate sits in, in library science and data analysis. What business and data skills does a legal practitioner need in 2022, that maybe they didn’t need 5 years or 10 years ago. Those are the kind of things that are also pretty important to focus on.
Joan: Thank you both for that wrap-up. That is really fabulous, I think, in terms of just cherishing your workforce is how it feels to me. As we wrap up today’s conversation, any words of wisdom from you both for young people who are budding innovators, or innovators to be standing in the wings? Davy, let’s go to you first.
Davy: Yes. I think this has probably been said a lot before, but it really resonates with me. You really should think about something that you love, something that you’re curious about, something that you’re fascinated about, and focus on it. Don’t be steered by what’s perceived to be popular today. Find something that you really love. Certainly, as I think about our children, as they’ve moved from education into work, I’m really glad that they’ve all moved into a field that they all love.
There is scope for innovation and disruption in every field, so, finding something you’re excited about it, and bringing your innovative spark to that, whether it’s software, electronics, mechanical engineering, manufacturing, material science, the list goes on and on, but all of those present an opportunity for you to challenge the status quo and to be part of defining the future.
Joan: I love that, and you know what they say, Davy, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
Davy: They do, and that’s the way I think.
Joan: Exactly that. Ed, what might you add?
Ed: My advice is probably going to be biased to my experience, Joan. I would qualify people to see what I say through that lens. The one that I would have thinking about a career in a mode that I’ve had, would be read. Read as much as is feasible and not necessarily deep tomes on business and industry. Read what you want, read what you’re interested in. Then secondly, the one that I would have from an analyst perspective for people that are entering into data analysis as a career is to be really aware that good analysis is almost always words and not numbers.
The fact that, as you become more senior in a data analysis role, the less data work you’re going to do, and the more writing that you’re going to be doing to replace it. Then lastly, I would say focus on and be honest with yourself about where you are in your knowledge. If I look at four quadrants of knowledge that make you amazing and powerful, I guess, as a colleague in a business, knowing your customers, knowing your industry, knowing your business, and knowing your beans, knowing your function that you personally have responsibility for, that combination, if you have all four of those, that is enormous practical expertise.
That is expertise, but also be aware that it’s never complete. It’s a never-ending task.
Joan: Thank you both. Excellent words of wisdom. Just remains for me to say thank you, Davy Brown.
Davy: Thank you very much, Joan. Pleasure speaking with you today.
Joan: Thank you, Ed White.
Ed: Thank you, Joan.
Joan: It’s been a really fascinating conversation about Top 100 Global Innovators 2022. An idea today is no longer an island. Technology advancement is a connected and complex choreography of talent, of competition, and of need. Innovators, the world over, need data and techniques to better understand the landscape of technical ideas, and in doing so, help accelerate innovation. We applaud the organisations on the Top 100 Global Innovators 2022 list for consistently reaching furthest and leading the way in creating new ideas, inventions that transform the world and improve our future.
If you’d like to learn more about the Top 100 Global Innovators 2022, you can explore the full list and analysis on clarivate.com. Follow and listen to ideas, to innovation for engaging, informative, and inspirational content with insights you can use. Now available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast directories. Share, like, review, or join the conversation with your comments on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook by clicking on the share link. Thank you for joining us. Until next time, I’m Joan Walker. Goodbye.
Voiceover: The Ideas to Innovation Podcast from Clarivate.
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