In a family ‘discussion’ lately, the subject got around to, ‘so exactly what do you do, Dad?’ The question was posed in unison by my daughter, Charlotte, and son, James, with rather inquisitive countenances. Resisting the obvious response around subsidising their existence, taxiing them around, being the fountain of knowledge on sport, embarrassing them as frequently as possible in public, etc., I pondered for a moment.
‘I network and join dots’, was my reply.
‘You do what?’ came back as a reply.
I then explained that, as subjects, innovation and entrepreneurship (they knew the context of those words having covered modules on them in their degree courses, which got us off to a flyer on this) fundamentally rely on communicating with others. In turn, this requires relationships, rapport and trust to be established to allow information to flow freely. Time must be spent creating this infrastructure. I went on to explain that without this process we would never understand the issues that people were grappling with or dreams that they were aspiring to realise, hence solutions would never be devised. As a result, the entire innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem would simply grind to a halt.
At this stage, I thought I’d better paint a ‘rich picture’ in their minds. To do this, I used the analogy of a spider’s web being spun around me – my own personal web – with strands radiating out and nodes where the strands intersect. When an opportunity (a fly) hits my web, I pop out to take a look as to where it is and which of the nodes in my network is best-placed to deal with it. It might be the one nearest the point of collision or one some way away. It is my job to find the relevant one and ‘join the dot’. However, without the strands, the web could not operate and the nodes could never be formed. The penny then dropped with the kids that it is the process of networking which creates the strands and it’s the relationships which crystallise in order to generate the nodes. The two are inextricably linked. A Eureka moment chez Lowdon!
My analogy must have worked as I am now occasionally referred to as ‘Spiderman’ by my offspring. At least there’s a little bit of an understanding where there was once a void! This represents material progress and means that they at least have a reply of sorts to give when asked by their peers, ‘so what exactly does your Dad do?’
Prof. Alan Lowdon is Chair of the North East LEP Innovation Board