Collaboration Forum Series 4: Optimism in tough times (Week-3)


Collaboration Forum Series 4: Optimism in tough times (Week-3)

Making Innovation Happen - a foundation for renewal and recovery 

Josh Valman, a world leader in rapid innovation, will share his global industry perspectives around creating and managing innovation, turning ideas into reality, managing risk and measuring success. Join us at 8 am on Thursday, 4 February to be inspired and challenged!


Interested to join our next ‘Optimism in tough times’ forum?’

Register Now

Meet Our Inspiring Speaker

Josh Valman

Josh Valman, Innovator and CEO

Having started on robot wars, Josh Valman set up RPD International which powers engineering, development and manufacturing for technology-driven products, helping clients think big and move quickly in today’s dynamic world. As a fearless entrepreneur, the nature of his design work is broad, encompassing complex engineering in aerospace and motorsport, to wearable technology and the 'Internet of Things'. In today’s market characterised by Brexit uncertainty, Josh will bring to life how the UK can be world-class and how his business is navigating turbulent times from supply chain operations via a focus on quality and innovation.


Innovation is about executing ideas

Josh Valman couldn’t wait to be an engineer. After funding product designs with money from his paper round, and competing on Robot Wars, the young entrepreneur has built RPD International to help get products to market quicker.

Turning dreams into reality

So, he decided to get into the world of work, before most of his friends. As a young teenager interested in robots, he used his earnings from a paper round to approach manufacturers, only to get laughed out of the door because of his age. They were confused, he said, by this young lad who kept turning up and asking for something to be made with a lump of metal, some drawings and £12.50. ‘Go to China, you can spend your pocket money there’ they said. So, he did.

At the time, in the mid-to-late 2000s, Chinese manufacturing was yet to move online in a big way, but British companies had populated the country with their own expertise. This meant Josh was able approach people in his own language and begin sending money to their factories in the Far East. As he progressed into this new, practical world, people asked him to help them. He helped redesign tools and products; he also became involved with some household names. But he was still under 18, and once they realised his age, those same doors began to close.

It was chapter in his young life that had sown important seeds for the budding entrepreneur, who has also competed in the TV series Robot Wars and gone on to start his own company. As Josh sat through his GCSEs, and reluctantly his A Levels, the time he’d spent working with companies in China had taught him a lot. It showed him what was possible and, importantly, what companies were getting right and wrong in their supply chains.

“The gap that most businesses miss is the one between ideas and the supply chain for those ideas,” said Josh. “Most are good at coming up with new concepts, and building big supply chains, but they struggle with what happens in the middle. For the past ten years, I have been helping people to build ‘one of something’ or solve a particular consumer insight. As a business, it puts us in an interesting place to talk about innovation because we are involved with so many research and development departments around the world.”

What needs to change to make innovation more effective?

“There are a couple of misconceptions about innovation,” said Josh. “The first is that it’s just about ideas, putting post-it notes on glass walls; the second is about innovation and risk. In the UK, the prevailing attitude says that innovation is about risk so ‘we have to approach it with a budget that can be lost…’ I think there are better ways to work.

“For us, innovation is about executing on ideas. Businesses that do that successfully have a pipeline of innovation. Similar to a sales pipeline, it becomes easier to talk about how much you invest, and how much you get out of it. If innovation is talked about at every level of the business, it gets easier to change things, and talk about execution and not just ideas.”

How has the relationship between innovation and customers evolved?

“This has changed in the past three to five years. Prior to that time, I think people expected products to be launched and be on the market for ten years. In this age of Generation Z, Kickstarter, and others, people can buy products from all over the world. That creates incredible expectations: that things ‘should work for me, and if they don’t, I will tear them apart across the internet’.

That is a dangerous place to do innovation and puts more onus on the person creating the product. So, it’s about asking the right questions. People still spend millions of dollars on innovation and they test these products with customers the same way they did ten years ago. One manufacturer I work with invites people in to test a shower product and they pay them $50 to do that. They don’t represent the entire consumer base and there are better ways to understand what is happening. As people become more demanding, and products become more customised, companies will have to get smarter at involving customers in their development cycles.”

What role does our education system play in fostering innovation?

“I was always disenfranchised with school. I did my GCSEs; I was technically enrolled for my A Levels. But at the time, I was busy seeing the real world and what happens in engineering. It was a long way from education.

“I was interviewed to go to university and got into an argument with a lecturer. He was talking about the biggest issue with the design of a wind turbine, I remember. I put my hand up and said it was procurement. He said ‘no, no, it’s not’. I persisted. He couldn’t get his head around the fact that procurement didn’t know how to get products into the supply chain. What’s missing in education is the practical element of how the world works. That’s what we can do for our children.”

How can companies get better at innovation?

“The companies we consider to be innovative, like IBM, Amazon and Apple, are famous for products they didn’t invent. IBM didn’t invent personal computing, Amazon didn’t start ecommerce, and Apple didn’t invent the mp3 player.

“The difference is this: they focus on what fails as they develop products and put those elements back into the innovation pipeline. They develop these ideas again later, and they are strict about tracking this process. They focus on why things fail, they put a value on them, and they communicate. Talking about these things brings people in and helps create value; so, when ideas come back around, they can be developed successfully.”

“There is also a sad truth: most people have lost faith. They know what is wrong, they know what customers need, and in most cases, they have been pushed back on their ideas. The shift to innovation is about empowering people to come on board at every level. If you capitalise on the British attitude of proving people wrong, that’s when you can start to change culture. But the worst thing you can do is shoot people down. Innovation is 99 per cent off the shelf, and one per cent interesting, and it’s that one percent that is really important.

“It’s the same in regulated industries like financial services. If you have a well-developed product, and a small change that will make a big difference, it can be easier to communicate that to people in a highly controlled environment.”

What does the future hold and what are you most excited about?

“The inevitable juggernaut is customisation. I’m not big on it; it’s like a drug. We shouldn’t be giving it to consumers because it is only going to get worse. It is going to get really difficult to meet the sustainability targets we have set ourselves as a result. But it is inevitable in the next 10 to 20 years – in products, services and experiences.

“I am excited about the pace of innovation. Customisation will be bad for the environment but very good for the consumer. But because innovation is moving so fast, it will be gone again quite quickly. The medical products industry is really exciting. Companies can now move really fast and are working on a really eclectic mix of devices. Smaller entrepreneurial businesses, who are able to understand the patients, are helping to change the world.”

Click below to view the entire series


Hub Page


Ready to work with us?

peter richardson
Peter Richardson
Country Market Lead
Paul Middleton
Paul Middleton
Managing Director