Worrying Feeling…

I found myself thinking about worrying last week. I was on site in the UK all week. It was hot. I met lots of people. I drank lots of coffee. Some may say I was worrying. I say I was thinking. It’s a subtly. But there’s an important difference. Worrying is a cyclical process from which it can be hard for us to escape. It seldom leads anywhere. Thinking is a logical process. It is about pros and cons. Options and ideas. Priorities and plans. Thinking will always lead to a way forward.

I concluded there are two major dimensions to worry – the past (what we have done) and the future (what we will do). We have all made mistakes – me especially. We have all done or said things that didn’t work out as we wanted or expected. Nothing can be done to change this. All we can do is learn from our experiences and move on. Anything else is a dead end and an energy ‘drain’.

Similarly, none of us can predict what is going to happen tomorrow, and yet it’s so easy for us to spend so much time trying to do just that, and – worse still – getting worked up about everything that could possibly go wrong. Not only is this an energy ‘black hole’ but it’s also a great way not to do something… something that could just as easily turn out wonderfully for us…and for others.

But worry we all do. Internally. We seldom express our worries to each other. Certainly at work. We are – most of us in our industry – scientists after all. Scientists who – by our very training – love to measure and analyse and theorise about everything. Sharing our worries is pretty close to sharing our feelings. Not part of our training…not part of our culture.

There is some benefit from this. There are times when it helps to be able to control our emotions. For example, anyone who consistently demonstrated negative emotions (like frustration or anger) will likely as not only encourage more frustration and irritation. On the other hand, us being aware of our emotions and being willing to share those emotions with others can be dramatically positive.

For example, when I think about anybody who I truly admire – leaders or friends, colleagues or peers – it’s obvious that my admiration isn’t just based on what they have done, it’s as much about how they have done those things. In effect it is because they impacted me on an emotional level.

This ability to reach people in a way that’s more than just intellectual or rational is crucial. And many would say this is the mark of a great leader, or peer, or colleague. The ability to inspire us. It’s a simple as that. To inspire: to create a feeling – especially a positive one – in a person. And when I feel inspired, I feel able to deliver more and better.

I don’t really know if our training as scientist makes this ‘emotional intelligence’ harder for us to demonstrate. But I do know that as scientists we are good at experimenting and at analyzing results. Perhaps we should experiment our way to success? After all, we are all passionate about our work. We are excited about our opportunities. We are proud of our people. We are confident about our future. We are happy to be with friends. We enjoy what we do.

Yes, we all have to develop our own individual styles, but maybe we should experiment a little at communicating our emotions – especially our positive emotions – with our colleagues, friends and partners.



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Picture Words…

I like pictures. I am not sure if it’s true that a picture tells a thousand words, but a good picture can certainly convey a message very clearly and succinctly. And a picture can somehow become a memory in a much better – and more long lasting way – than any set of words. 


I have been up in Scotland this weekend helping my daughter move house. It has been great fun, but very tiring…enjoyable, but hard ­work. I became ‘man-with-a-van for the weekend. And it was a very big van. Much bigger than the one we ordered. A time when a ‘free upgrade’ wasn’t what I was after. Even my daughter (who doesn’t drive) observed that I seemed more tentative. And that was because I was. It’s amazing how disconcerting it is when something you are very used to doing (like using a rear view mirror) suddenly stops being possible…and yet you still have to deliver.


And we took lots of pictures and sent them to my wife and son. The van. The empty van. The full van (about 5 hours later). The tired daughter. The happy but sweaty father. And the Italian dinner that night. These are the days that inevitably become special memories…and the photos always help…


I found myself thinking about pictures a lot this last week. Prior to my removal trip to Scotland I had been in the US mid-west for a meeting of my leadership team. I presented on day 1 for some three hours…and I used lots of photos and pictures. I always use slides with pictures wherever possible, and I avoid slides with words as much as possible. I know I enjoy presenting like this…but I found myself with time (waiting at airports) to consider why.


A slide with two or three pictures – and nothing else – is easier to produce. All it takes is some dexterity with cutting and pasting Google Images…and the occasional need to crop or animate. So much simpler that all headings with never ending sub-bullets….


And I know that a good picture will often communicate the message I am trying to share in a far better and far simpler way. The power is the visual. The metaphor. The symbolism. The more striking the better. My simplest example is team membership. Imagine a slide with lines, boxes, names (in boxes), titles and roles. Or imagine that only has photographs of the team members. No words. Which will be more engaging? Or interesting? Or engaging?


But I also realised that a slide with only pictures and no words can be easier to create…it can be harder to present. There is no ‘comfort blanket’ of words to read. But there is always a time limit for the presentation. It’s no good having a great set of slides with pictures and then spending all available time talking about the first slide!


The flip-side of this ‘challenge’ though is also interesting. I realised that what I say with each picture slide is much more spontaneous. Yes…I have an outline in my mind – I chose the pictures after all – but I don’t have any words prepared. I say exactly what comes into my mind as I look at the picture on each slide.


And maybe this is the most important aspect. Spontaneous is good…and real. My excitement and enthusiasm comes through. Any disappointment or anxiety will always be evident.


When we got home after our removal weekend, I looked at our photos. Most were great. They captured the story of the weekend. They immediately brought back memories. But the best – by far – were the most spontaneous. 





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United Family…

I have just got home after spending the weekend at a family reunion in the North of England. Even just saying the words ‘family reunion’ to colleagues or friends can cause responses ranging from pity to jealousy; from laughter to sighs. A number of years ago my parents decided to get the family together once every two years. Although everyone kept in touch we never really all got together on any sort of a regular basis. And so the Street Family reunion was born. In truth these events are everything you would imagine – fun and laughter, arguments and tantrums, emotion and tears…and that’s just me!

We always hold them over a weekend – Friday and Saturday night – and a couple of years ago we all agreed we would move our reunions to every year. None of us is getting any younger and, as all our children grow up, their lives get more ‘complicated’ and competing interests increase. Once every year was designed to make the event less of a ‘big deal’ for everyone.

This year’s event was a big deal for everyone. 2014 has been a big year for my parents not least because of my dad’s broken hip, and them having to sell and move house, via hospitals and care homes. The whole family were there – literally we arrived by planes trains and automobiles. From Thailand, Spain, Netherland, as well as the North, South, East and West of England. Everyone came. Nothing would have stopped any of us. This reunion weekend had inevitably taken on much more significance. Being there was important. For each other. For my parents. For ourselves.

And yes there was lots of fun and laughter. For everyone. Lots of shouting (but only at the remaining teams in the World Cup). Lots of stories being told…and occasionally being embellished. About this year. About the family. About previous reunions. About my parents. About all the family. Lots of love and lots of affection. Lots of care and lots of support.

My mum was a little subdued on Saturday after an infection. She was much better on Sunday and she just loved the family photos on the sunny Sunday morning in the garden. She never stopped smiling at her family around her. We all smiled back. We hugged her. And each other. We held hands with her. And with each other.

My dad was less mobile than last year…but so much better than only a few weeks ago. He wasn’t as keen on the photos in the sun, but was happy to be with everyone all weekend. He bought a new electric wheelchair on Saturday (more independence). We had to have the top speed lowered (less independence). I shook his hand when I arrived and left, and at the end of each day…as I always used to. I hugged him and gave him a kiss him each day as well…as I never used to.

I have my mum and my dad. My wife and my children. I have two sisters and one brother. Two brothers-in-law. One sister-in-law. Four niece’s. Four nephews, and one nephew’s near fiancee. Today we are twenty one.

My work is important. Our industry is essential. My friends at work are exceptional. My team inspires me. My colleagues amaze me and our opportunities engage me.

But these are my family. These are my people. We enjoy ourselves and we laugh a lot. We sometimes argue and we don’t always agree. We have our moments and we have our fair share of tears. But we help each other and we are always there for each other.

They are so special. And I am so lucky.



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Time Travel…

At times it seems I travel a lot. I am UK based, but work for a global company with four separate facilities (and its headquarters) in the US…and operations in France, Germany and China. In addition, at least 50% of the partners we work with are US located. And my boss is US based as well. In short – there are lots of people and places to visit.


When I fly to the US, I always fly on a UK airline. I find it is easier to be on a flight where the majority of passengers are ‘in the same time zone’ as me. This is most evident on overnight flights back to the UK – normally leaving around 8:00pm US. My body clock tells me its 1:00 or 2:00am…and time to sleep. For anyone on US time its 8:00pm – time to eat, talk and watch a film.


I always travel with the same transatlantic airline. This is partly me being a ‘creature of habit’, but also is based on company deals. I know which seats I like on which planes. I know which planes I like on which routes. I know the airports, terminals, transfers, and where to get the best coffee.


At some airports I recognise the check-in teams (interesting). At others they recognise me (scary).


The airline I travel with most often prides themselves on client experience and customer relations. The majority of cabin crew (and ground crew) I interact with are engaging, helpful, sincere and – at times – amusing. None of which can always be easy – they must come into contact with such a spectrum of customers, each with their own demands and expectations, needs and desires. Like everyone else I assume I am unique. But they must see passengers like me all the time.


The Cabin Service Director (CSD) has changed title several times – I guess Chief Steward was a little old fashioned. But it is obvious that there is always a team leader on board in the cabin…with the Pilot – who is ultimately accountable for the plane (and the passengers) – ensconced in the cockpit…often only identifiable by an abstract voice at the start and end of the flight.


I have a gold card with the airline. I am never sure if that is good or bad, but it is true. It means I travel a lot with them. They say ‘welcome back’ when they see my membership number on my ticket as I get onto the plane. This sounds good, but they welcome everyone on board with a smile, so the difference between my greeting and that received by everyone else is small.


I realised at the end of last week – as I returned to the UK after another week on the US East Coast – that if I am ever upgraded to a higher class of travel (not as often as some may think) then the CSD will always seek me out personally, will introduce themselves, shake my hand and will thank me (as a Gold Card Holder) for my continued support of their airline.


If I am not upgraded, and sit in my regular seat, then the CSD never comes and finds me.


I am the same passenger in each case. I travel frequently and yet am only ever greeted and thanked personally when I end up in the higher class of travel. It feels strange this discrepancy. Almost disingenuous.


I wouldn’t mind if I was never welcomed personally…or always. It’s just the idea that this particular, personal dimension to my experience feels so different dependent on whether I have (apparently) paid more (or less) for my service.


It makes no sense.





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World’s End…

I was in the US Mid-West this week. Thursday I was in an all-day meeting – a great meeting I hasten to add…but a meeting nevertheless. And it meant that I had to try to follow England’s defining (and failing) moment in the soccer World Cup on the BBC sports page. Even without pictures it was apparent that once again England flattered to deceive. I was just so disappointed. I was disconsolate.


The tournament is only a little over a week old and England have now played two…and lost two. They are going home. Disappointing…actually very disappointing indeed…even against my low expectations!


I realise now that this is the issue for England – we underperform against expectations. To an extent, we (the whole nation it would seem) are guilty of raising our expectations of how England to an extreme level. Needless to say this level of expectation is unrealistic…and it’s inevitable that England under perform.


In reality there is no basis for this expectation – blind optimism (or patriotism) maybe? My best excuse is that soccer World Cup is a rare event. I assume this contributes to my level of excitement, that and the fact that every newspaper, TV channel, radio station and web site hypes up the excitement!


So why? So what?


Well, as I tried to feel better about what happened, I wondered if there are any comparisons we can draw between a soccer team and an organisation. A great organisation is made up of people, projects, and groups in great shape, focussed on their core competencies and advancing to plan. An average organisation on the other hand either has some great and some poor components, or maybe even has mostly great components that are just not working well. A poor organisation? Well that’s just poor.


My conclusion then? England was like an average organisation – they have one or two great players who didn’t play well (enough)…and the rest of the team are at best average (average on a world stage).


How do we turn this around? Well maybe in the same way that an organisation would look to improve itself. We focus on each individual component and ensure it is in the best state possible. We ensure all pieces are in place and that each piece knows exactly what it is responsible for…and what it has to do both individually and collectively.


We also focus on the organisation as a whole. It is not enough for each component of an organisation to be in good shape if the sum of the component parts simply does not make sense. This would be like a team of individual, great players who just can’t come together to add value as a whole (think Portugal).


So my advice to England soccer is simple – for the players to focus on individual responsibility and personal excellence whilst at the same time being critically aware of their role in the team as a whole. Great players win matches – great teams win tournaments.


And an organisation? A great organisation requires individual excellence and collective responsibility – whether that organisation is small or large, a component of a company or the company itself. We apply ourselves to our individual opportunities and responsibilities, and we apply ourselves to how our work complements and aligns with the rest of the organisation.


We seek out and seize opportunities to add value to our organisation…and to our partners. We identify and implement opportunities to support other individuals, teams and units…and ensure we add value to the organisation as a whole.


I can’t guarantee this approach will deliver success for English soccer…but it would guarantee spirit, focus and a shared ethos….





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Raised Expectations…

There is a lot I don’t know and there’s quite a lot I do know. But knowing something is very different from understanding it. There is much I know but don’t understand. I have long since accepted that this is true. I don’t worry about it…but I do try to rectify…

My inquisitive side seeks to know, and understand, more. I can’t stop asking, reading, listening and thinking. And it works. For example, I know more today than I did yesterday, last week and last year. I have asked many questions, listened to many answers and have thought a great deal.

For example, after Saturday, I know that every four years I dutifully get my England soccer shirt out of the drawer. But I don’t understand why every four years I raise my England World Cup expectations…only for them to be dashed (OK I know. We have only played one – lost one, and there are still at least two games to come. Come on England!)

After my discussions last week on site in the UK, I know more about law, about business, about nutrition, about science and – from the news – about Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I understand more about the value of friendship and partnership, about the importance of great science and great delivery, about people and about myself.

At the end of the week, I was talking over coffee with a best friend at work. After we put our respective worlds to rights, we found ourselves talking about licensing deals in our industry.

Our pharmaceutical industry depends heavily on licensing deals. Companies who own things – technology, targets, compounds – frequently license use of those assets to other companies who want or need them. More specifically, we discussed licensing of development candidates by larger companies from smaller companies – normally around Phase 2 clinical trials when patient efficacy and safety data are first obtained. Very exciting. Very common. Very important. This I know.

What I have never understood though, is why an in-licensed drug candidate is so often reported as being more successful that a ‘home grown’ drug candidate. Success being defined as more likely to progress through clinical trials to regulatory approval and market launch. Most everyone I know, or meet, from the pharmaceutical industry will agree to this ‘increased success’. This I know. But I don’t understand.

I have thought a great deal about this information. And I still don’t understand it. Why should it be, that being discovered ‘elsewhere’, will make a product more successful than a ‘home-grown’ project? It makes no sense. To me. Until now.

I heard a theory…over coffee on Friday. A theory about decision making. About independence of decision making. The theory assumes that within any organisation, there is ownership bias. In effect, if a decision to advance (or stop) a project is made by the project team, they will decide to advance in 65% of cases. If the decision is made by an independent group exposed to the same data, they will recommend stopping in 65% of cases.

With this in mind, it is possible that a smaller biotech – with more to lose and more to gain – and with independent financial backers, could inherently be more likely to make better – or at least more impartial – ‘stop-go’ decisions on their projects.

Moreover, decisions to licence in a drug will tend to be inherently more impartial. At the very least ‘due diligence’ licensing decisions are reviewed – and re-reviewed – multiple times at multiple levels.

I can’t say my increased understanding is necessarily true, and nor does it explain everything I know, but it helps me understand better…and makes me think more…



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Hardest Part…

I was in the mid-west of the USA last week. Indianapolis and Madison to be more precise. Or to be more accurate…Chicago O’Hare airport…at least that is what it felt like. I flew in or out of O’Hare six times in four days – and every time I was delayed. By at least an hour. Weather. Number of flights. Not enough crew. One or the other, and once all three at the same time.

If you need advice about coffee, shopping, food, airline help desks at O’Hare – I am your man. Unfortunately.

It was my son’s birthday on Wednesday. I was in the mid-west of the USA. He was at home. Best I could do was to call him on FaceTime. He wasn’t interested in O’Hare airport. I heard about his day…gifts, lunch, cake. And how excited he was about driving lessons as his 17th birthday present (17 is the legal age to start driving in the UK).

No matter how good my meetings are when I am away, it is just hard to be away when events happen at home. It’s hard for me and it’s hard for my family. Sometimes its events like birthdays, and sometimes it’s just everyday stuff. Stuff that is simple to help with, or special to be part of, when you are present. Impossible when you are not.

My meetings were good. We were reviewing our talent – always great substrate for a great discussion. In truth, the meeting was very good throughout and excellent in parts. We blasted past my meeting criteria. My criteria are simple to state but hard to achieve. I want ideas that would not have appeared anywhere else.

Such ideas or opportunities are immediately apparent and such ideas immediately make any meeting worthwhile. They can appear at any time, but they require people, discussions, information and time. It is not essential for the meeting to be face-to-face. Although this helps, it also raises the (return on investment) stakes since many attendees will have invested time to travel as well as time to attend.

The beauty is that when it happens you know it immediately. Someone says or suggests something – and often you cannot remember who it was – and my mind sparks. It jumps to a totally different place…a different mind-set. How I view, or interpret, a specific situation changes from where it was when I arrived. My energy level soars. My engagement surges. I often have to stand up and walk about.

Such moments come from teams. It is never precise who said what…or exactly when. But it does not matter. What matters is that it happened. It happened at that time and in that place. Value is created. Options are revealed. New futures are fashioned. Such moments are a reflection of a team…and of the investment in the team by the leader and members. Such moment appear because of team debate, discussion and often from team disagreement.

I was still excited after I left. In fact I was excited when sitting in coffee shops and restaurants at O’Hare. There was no-one to talk to about why I was excited. I tried – I couldn’t help myself – to explain to the Airline help desk, but soon realised that the ‘how was your week’ question was more good training than it was real interest.

I reflected as I sat. This wasn’t the only new idea I arrived home with. It was just the biggest from my meetings. It wasn’t my idea. I wondered if I had helped others as much as they had helped me. I hoped.

I arrived home and I immediately started to plan…driving lessons.



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