McLaren Applied Technologies

DUNCAN: INNOVATE WITH APPLIED TECHNOLOGIES

Duncan Bradley, design director, shares his views on developing the next generation of entrepreneurs within McLaren Applied Technologies.

McLaren Applied Technologies is an inspiring and liberating place to work.

In a sense, it’s more than just work, though: the ways in which we generate ideas, solve problems and work practically with new technologies and ideas has permeated how we think, and how we live our lives.

And we want to really harness and develop that mindset in people here.

We already know that the people who work here are incredibly creative, deep-thinking and resourceful, and we want to give everybody the opportunity to develop their own ideas within the framework of the company, rather than just providing them with a brief and asking them to look for some answers.

To do that, McLaren Applied Technologies created the Innovation Framework.

It’s backed by a significant pledge from the business to fund time and materials costs to inspire, encourage and help develop the best independent ideas from anyone in the company.

We’ve created a company-wide online resource to provide advice on what makes an idea successful, but the whole ethos is about creating a free-thinking environment that accelerates our culture of innovation.

Importantly we’re not looking for ‘pure technology’ research – that’s to say, long-term, open-ended design of larger technological ideas and principles; no, the guiding principle of the Innovation Framework is that we’re looking for areas in which we can innovate, where people have a clear end-product in mind.

That really helps focus and funnel development – there are other areas of the business that invest in ‘pure technology’ research – this framework will help lead people to a conclusion, hopefully creating something tangible at its conclusion.

How are we doing it?

We’re encouraging people to come to us with their ideas – whether that’s a ‘new’ idea they may have spontaneously had while sitting in the bath, or something that may have been buzzing around in their mind for months, or even years.

Ideas are submitted to a steering group which meets each month to review the submissions. We introduced the programme in March 2016, and have already put about 35 proposals into conceptual development in the first nine months. These cut across all different markets. We received one idea in aerospace technology that has been developed from a concept through a feasibility study into a visual concept using real technical rationale. It’s now a fully qualified idea that we can now take to market.

The steering group, which comprises members of senior management and an expert panel, reviews each submission and is able to give each proposer some useful advice for how they can best extend and expand their initial pitch.

That’s initially in the form of time – we allow people working-time within the business to allocate fully to the development of the concept – and money to cover any necessary costs and materials.

We also provide access to other areas of expertise within the business – so, if somebody needs a project manager or a field expert, we’ll set that up so the proposer can operate with a mini-project team. And that can really quickly and powerfully help to expand an idea.

Once that initial research and development has been concluded, we’ll meet up and look at creating a more considered development plan, which we continually review.

As the project develops, it gathers more impetus – it gradually turns from a pure idea, into a business-plan, a programme that requires first-order prototypes and technical feasibility studies into a proper business model, which we assess for its viability and attractiveness to the market.

And that’s a really important notion about how and why we work here at McLaren: we want to empower and motivate people, providing a constant, positive stimulus for people who are restlessly creative and innovative. They find that it takes them above and beyond their own limits of what they thought was initially possible within the company.

In turn, that has had a positive impact on the business as a whole.

It makes us even more transparent: one of our key business values is transparency on projects – whether they succeed or fail. – and it’s helped to show the ways in which the company is thinking, and developing its thinking, which is a real positive.

Equally, there’s healthy cross-pollination of both thought and action across the whole business. People often tend to work in concentrated silos, admittedly working on really cool technology, but the Innovation Framework has really helped bring people together. The steering group is able to create links between projects and bring together different sectors of the business, mutually strengthening them.

Our ambition is that we continue to foster this spirit of independent innovation and entrepreneurship within McLaren Applied Technologies.

It’s made an already-cool business feel even more exciting, liberating and a better place to work.

Hear from the engineers, designers and business leaders that are developing products and services that will improve people’s lives here.

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