Berkeley, Media Centre, Events and Speeches, Create Something New, Rob Perrins

Create something new of value

A speech by Rob Perrins launching Berkeley's Innovation Fund - Tuesday 27 January 2015.

I want to talk now about why innovation matters - and why we need it to solve the housing crisis.

It's how you gain a competitive advantage.

It's also about the way your product is delivered. Not just what you do, but how you do it.

Innovation feels different too. It's about growth, creativity, responsiveness. People want to be part of that kind of culture, not endless cost cutting.

Above all, innovation puts you on the offensive.

Companies like Kodak used to be market leaders. But they stopped innovating. Kodak thought it could stick with film photography and ignore the digital market. Now they are history.

Why shouldn't the same fate befall a developer or contractor?

The fact is, housebuilding is a traditional industry. It has traditional instincts. Builders are quite old fashioned at heart!

I think one of the ironies of the last ten years is that we've actually delivered a lot in terms of product innovation - our construction methodologies, building fabrics, the use of resources and materials - but our people and management have not changed half as much.

We've ended up with old fashioned people building very modern structures.

So one of the central ideas behind this new fund is that it's not just about products and safety. It's also about developing people and the working environment.  
What we're trying to do is engineer a shift in the culture of construction.

We need systems and habits that allow bright ideas to come forward. We need to be comfortable collaborating. Many of our challenges in the supply chain stem from poor engagement and bad communication. If we could work better together, it would increase productivity and standards.

We also need to tolerate failure. Otherwise no-one will innovate. It's about having the skills to manage the risks that come with innovation, rather than trying to eliminate risk. There's a difference.

All this is no easy task. We have to be comfortable with uncertainty; have an open mind; and be receptive to ideas from different disciplines.
So let me summarise:
If the housing shortage is to be addressed quickly and safely, we need new ideas which change construction.  

I want to challenge individuals and inventors, as well as companies and universities, to do this. We need you to come up with bright ideas that change the way people think and work in our industry.

All of us are faced with intense demands to increase production.  Increasingly, we find ourselves trying to build complex structures on brownfield sites in dense busy cities.

The sheer volume of work is testing us all. Everyone seems to be running flat out to gear up production.

In reality, the industry is now working with less experienced people. People are on site now who would not have been allowed 10 years ago. We are having to train site managers to work, in multiple languages. We are using plant and equipment that's in high demand and of variable quality.

All this generates fresh hazards in a business that is inherently risky.

If you could solve this problem with money, we would. But you can't. It demands fresh ideas. And that's where the Innovation Fund comes in.  

Berkeley has put £2m on the table. Anyone can apply. There is no fixed deadline.

Let's hear from you!

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