What the Victorians did for us

Posted 02.11.16 in News

A new Insight from Space Group CEO Rob Charlton

Those who have read some of my previous articles will already be aware that I have a big passion for innovation. In the past, I have talked about the usual suspects most frequently aligned with modern innovation, such as James Dyson or Steve Jobs. These innovators have all been involved with the Information Age across the 20th and 21st century. Generally, the business models or services they have developed, have revolved around a digital solution.

Recently I have begun to dig a little deeper into innovation and started to look back in history to see what the key influencers in innovation have been.

When we look into the Victorian era the level of innovation is really quite fascinating. The Victorian era is seen as a hugely significant period in the development of Britain and was a time of great innovation, discovery and invention. This surge in creativity and experimentation lead by Victorian inventors profoundly changed daily life in the 19th century, bringing us industrialisation, technological revolution, electrification and great medical advances.

Just taking a look at the North East of England alone, where I personally have my roots, we have Robert Stephenson, an early railway and civil engineer often cited as the greatest engineer of the 19th century who developed the early steam locomotive, the Rocket. There is also British physicist and chemist Joseph Wilson Swan - famous for his role in the development of the incandescent light bulb, which was first demonstrated in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1878.  There were also many other brilliant inventors and engineers, such as Industrialist William George Armstrong – an environmentalist who was years in advance of his time, advocating water and solar power as substitutes for fossil fuels.

When you realise the level of innovation and change that occurred in what was a relatively short period of time, it is interesting to reflect on what might encourage such creativity and innovation.

The world at that time was going through a huge change.  There were many social reforms happening which resulted in big changes in society. The British Empire then controlled large parts of the world trade - the country had confidence and Queen Victoria actively encouraged change.  This environment encouraged entrepreneurs to challenge and consider new ideas. Much of this was driven by a new breed of engineers, who were able to access global markets through the British network.

Many of these drivers still exist today. We are in a revolution at present - the Information Age is impacting on society which in turn is influencing everything we do.  We live in an age of rapid change, with new technologies and opportunities encouraging and enabling innovation. Companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook have changed the way in which we work, communicate and live.  Our society is changing and there is the desire for this change.   However, in the UK our influence across global markets is not as strong as it once was and we certainly lack leadership in this area.

We can learn a lot from our Victorian forefathers. The environment today is right for innovation, however, if the UK is going to benefit from this opportunity we need strong leadership and a confident position on the global stage.