Pointed Decisions…

I had to make some pretty big decisions last week. Some were about people (how do we best make some things happen). Some about projects (which do we continue or slow down). And some were just about me (where and when to invest my time). We all do this every week. Every day in fact. We all have decisions we have to make. Some are big, some small. Some are only about us. Others involve others.

Some of our decisions are easy and some are more complicated. Last week I would say that mine were average overall. Some straightforward and some easy. Some of small significance…some with major implications.

At the end of the week I was visiting a partner of ours in Europe. We were discussing portfolio progress and performance. We heard how this partner has dramatically improved their performance (measured by project success) over the last few years – an improvement I was delighted to see we had contributed to in our own way.

‘Dramatic improvement’ always makes me sit up and take notice. No matter what the subject may be. I am always interested and want to understand what action or actions lead to a ‘dramatic improvement’. And so, of course, I duly asked our hosts the question – what has been the key to this improvement?

And the first words in reply? Better decision making! Wow!

I was as impressed as I was surprised. The normal answers to this sort of question are based on a new technology, or a new assay and sometimes better processes…but seldom is the given answer ‘decision making’.

There is an often quoted statistic about the moment any project reaches a key decision point. If the decision to advance or stop is made by the project team, they will decide to advance in 65% of cases. Conversely if the same decision is made by an independent team exposed to the same data, they will decide to stop in 65% of cases.

This resonates with me. There is always so much motivation to advance projects…we tend to reward and recognise project progression; we celebrate project champions; goals feature successful progression of projects. And conversely there is seldom recourse for incorrect progression.

I am always most interested in our more complicated and significant decision points. Moments where no matter how much data and information we may have, it is never complete and is always conflicting. Moments where we know it will be years before we find out if our choice was right or wrong. Such decision making is seldom simple.

As I flew back to the UK, I wondered more about the quality of big decision making itself? Who is responsible for a decision? Who else is involved? What data are available? Or not available? Who is accountable? How independent are they? How passionate? How rational? What process is used? What record is kept?

Just as we came into land, the idea of “Truth-Seeking” came to mind. Truth-Seeking – where the remit of teams would be to simply uncover the truth; truth that in turn would hopefully enable the right decision – with minimal cost and time – at any decision point.

We could measure and reward our teams on their ability to uncover the truth – truth that enables decision making. And recognition would to be for quality decision making based on truth…rather than based on outcome.

On my drive home, my mind drifted back to my own decisions this week. How much ‘truth’ did I have when I made those decisions? How much was I focussed on desired outcome?

How would I assess my own performance…how will I improve…?



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Touch Pointing…

I had dinner last week at what is arguably my favourite restaurant in town. I have been in the UK all week. My calendar was manic and dinner was a great way of eating, of socialising with a colleague, of putting the world to rights, and of agreeing some ideas about how we can best advance an exciting project we are working on together.

And it worked. Granted we achieved some of those goals better than others…I don’t think the world will move in any particularly different trajectory because of our meal…but we definitely did very well on the others.

So my favourite restaurant then? I can’t actually remember why I first went…but almost certainly it would have been on the recommendation of a friend or colleague. Maybe a real friend or colleague…or maybe it was an internet review…

If I was asked what I had to eat last Wednesday I could just about remember (lamb Molago). If you asked me to tell you what I ate the time before that I would struggle…other than that it was definitely a curry. But I do remember what a great evening we had; who else was there; why we were there; and how much we all enjoyed ourselves. And how great the experience was.

I haven’t flown with Virgin Atlantic for well over ten years…and yet somehow I still have that recollection that when I did I always had a great experience. Even now I would likely jump at the chance if one came up…its quiet surprising as I think about it. It has to be that ‘great experience’ thing.

I once found myself sitting in a seminar in New York (no I don’t remember why or how) given by an Innovation Leader from Virgin (the ‘parent company rather than Atlantic). The first thing I remember was how open she was. She compared and contrasted the Virgin stunning successes…airlines, mobile phones & broadband, holidays…to the (really quite hard to remember) failures…Cola, Cosmetics? Flowers (yes really).

So what did they learn? Well everything successful revolves around the customer experience. And the customer experience is based on the ‘touch points’ – the moments that directly impact the customer; moments that affect how they feel. ‘Moments of truth’.

This resonated at the time…and still does. The successful Virgin businesses have multiple ‘moments’ where the customer interacts with the business. The unsuccessful Virgin businesses don’t.

And it is just as interesting to consider that although many of these moments are person to person (cabin crew on planes; help lines for telephones), many are virtual (web sites for banking, advertisements for holidays). But they are all designed and implemented in a manner that impacts the customer specifically to deliver the experience. Everyone at Virgin involved in and around these moments of truth are trained and are aware…and are recognised and rewarded.

And it is the experience that we remember as customers. We recount our experiences. We refer based on these experiences. It was my experience with Virgin Atlantic that I remember and that makes me wonder about when next.

So back to my favourite restaurant. The one I remember, recount and refer. It is my experience that counts. The multiple touch points from booking, arriving, ordering through to serving and even paying. Multiple touch points that happen every time I visit. Of course the quality is important (wonderful). And the price (impressive). But they are (literally) table stakes.

Restaurants are a competitive business. Success comes from differentiation…but differentiation based on the experience of the customer.

I hadn’t thought about Virgin’s ‘moments of truth’ for a while…years in fact. Another benefit from my dinner last week.



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Printing Helping…

I have a new-found admiration for IT helpdesks. No – that’s not really true. My admiration for IT helpdesks has increased from ‘healthy respect’ to ‘in awe’. As for individuals who work in these services, I don’t know how they do it.

We had a great and very successful couple of days last weekend helping my daughter settle into her new apartment. We did most everything on our ‘to do’ list when we were there…and there were one or two things left. One of which involved me sending her a printer cable. The other didn’t.

It sounded so simple. I send printer cable; we connect computer to printer; download software; install printer; and WiFi printing becomes possible. Four simple steps…one attractive outcome. Seven days later we have successfully completed the four steps…but still no WiFi printing.

I think we have carried out our four steps. I know that printing is not happening. So either we haven’t carried out the four steps…or there are more steps. Our first thought for ‘step five’ was for me to attempt (with much emphasis on attempt) an imitation of being a ‘help desk operative’. I failed. Big time. Some ninety minutes of (face) time to be precise. I even resorted to the tried and tested strategy of suggesting we ‘turn it off and turn it on again’.

I am sure it will be sorted today. We only need five more minutes. Honest.

In hindsight the flaws in my attempts to help are quite obvious. Number one – I don’t really have any idea what I am doing. A pretty big flaw. Number two – my daughter knows more than enough about computers to realise that I don’t know what I am doing. An interesting conundrum.

Unfortunately positive intent and real-time Google searches were not really enough. In addition to no experience and no qualifications…I had no script and no remote access – I thought this last two were pretty good excuses in truth. The only good news was that my ‘positive intent’ seemed to be enough to encourage my daughter to stay connected for ninety minutes. Or maybe she was just enjoying our time together…

As I think about this some more, my conclusion is that I am likely an awful recipient of IT helpdesk support. I probably have just about enough experience (but no knowledge) to be dangerous (but no help and much harm). And my willingness to search Google – and to believe everything I read – is somewhere between a great asset and a maddening weakness. And I dislike with a vengeance being asked to turn my computer off and on.

My reassurance is that that anything I report to a helpdesk will be a problem that they’ve seen before…many times. They are trained and they are professional. They are courteous and they are accommodating. They want to help and they want to help quickly.

They also know that whenever I (or anyone else) make contact with them, we will be agitated and anxious. Agitated that our normally trustworthy systems are not working. Anxious about our deadline, our work, our pictures, or our music…or just anxious about our time.

When I think back about those calls for help, I realise that helpdesks tend to be every bit as relaxed and poised, as I am tense and worried. They explicitly acknowledge, accept and apologise for my frustration. They seek to exude confidence, reassurance and understanding. At no stage do they betray any uncertainty. They show me that they care.

We will connect our printer today – my daughter and I together. And I have just worked out what I need to do…differently.



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Progress Excitement…

The thing about progress is that it is very hard to see progress in any one moment. Today we are where are…and we experience what we see, feel and hear. We seldom sit in a particular moment and compare back to similar moments in our past. But it is only when we make such comparisons that we are able to appreciate just how far we have come and how amazing the journey has been.

Moreover, as we begin to recognise a series of comparable moments over time…we begin to contemplate where they indicate we could get to, what we may achieve, and how we may feel.

But to make such assessments of progress we need something against which we can compare today’s experience. Well that’s OK. We are scientists after all – we always collect and keep data…don’t we? And we are people after all – we take and keep photographs…don’t we?

But then there are events in our lives that are of such significance; moments of such magnitude that we remember them in minute and precise detail today as if they happened today…rather than a year ago. Or two years ago.

Two years ago today we left my daughter at University for the first time – her first year. We were all there. We all drove there together. We drove home apart. Even now I can feel the emotion…I feel emotional even thinking about that day. That Sunday. A day I won’t forget.

One year ago today we left my daughter at University for the second time. I drove there. Everyone else flew. I can remember everything we did; I can feel the emotion. But as I compare…I recognise how different it felt. More excitement. Less worry (well a little less anyway). So much pride. So much love. How difficult it was again to close the car door and drive off with her waving.

And today we left my daughter at University for the third time. She flew there by herself last week. I drove yesterday and my wife flew yesterday. My son stayed home. We all (including my son) had a wonderful weekend. We laughed and told stories. We built wardrobes. We arranged rooms. We went shopping. We ate pasta. We drank prosecco.

My wife flew home this morning. Smiles, hugs, kisses and tears. I set off to drive back after lunch. That was still the hardest part. My daughter waved. I wiped my eyes. I had to leave. Tears of pride and joy, wonder and amazement. Tears of love.

I found myself thinking about progress as I hit the main road out of town…I forced myself to think about progress as I hit the main road out of town. And as I did, I recognised that we have all come a very long way in only two years. Today was an emotional day for everyone. The emotions are strong but the emotions are different. There is less anxiety. There is more excitement.

Excitement that comes from recognising progress. Excitement comes from the anticipation of what is to come. Of what is possible. Of how it will feel. Excitement for all of us…but especially – this weekend – for my daughter.

And as I drove, and as I thought, my mind wandered and wondered about progress in other areas. Areas where I know I don’t have such a solid memory of events to compare against. But areas where an assessment of progress would be good to do. At work. At home. Personally.

I stopped thinking and started talking. I called my wife. My son. My daughter. My sisters. My brother. My dad.

I felt better.



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Meeting Diversity…

By an unfortunate quirk of fate, I was back in the USA last week. I flew out Monday (a UK Public Holiday) and flew home Thursday night so as to be back for family commitments this weekend. It was a good week. The only blip appeared on Thursday morning when I opened an email from my trans-Atlantic airline with the stark header – ‘Flight Cancellation’!

Shock…and panic…but then strangely enough the actual email informed me that my ‘flight was delayed by two hours’. I am still not sure if the airline wanted to knock me so far down with the subject that I was delighted with a two hour delay…or whether this was just a typing error. Either way it worked as I found myself delighted it was only a delay…and relieved I made it home.

I was in the mid-west USA for a global meeting. An opportunity for an expanded team to consider, create and review strategy. An opportunity for an expanded group of colleagues to meet for the first time in person…an opportunity to learn about – and listen to – each other…and to see what we could create together.

I always enjoy these opportunities. I get energy from meeting and talking with new people. I enjoy discussing and thinking about topics and projects, issues and opportunities that I have not thought about before. I am excited to make new friends.

The meeting had great diversity of background, skill sets, training and qualifications. There were people in the room with long careers in contract research and people with long careers in pharmaceutical companies. There were finance experts, commercial leaders, scientists and operational leaders. Most everyone in the room was from the US – but there were at least a couple of us ‘jet-lagged Europeans’.

I have thought a great deal about diversity over the years…and not just whilst sat wide awake at my desk in my hotel room in the US at 4 o’clock in the morning. This last week I thought about it more in the context of how it feels.

Everyone in our meeting had a defined set of experiences. For example, I have well over 25 years (scary I know) experience of working in a pharmaceutical company and just over two years of working in a CRO (exciting I know).

Our experiences define our beliefs. What we have done, seen and participated in, tells us what we believe. Our beliefs are based on our experiences. And of course what we do in any situation – or what we ‘believe’ is the right thing to do in any given situation – is dictated by our beliefs. Doing or saying anything that goes against what we believe…is difficult. Very difficult.

So diversity can be defined as having individuals in a team who have very different experiences…and thereby very different beliefs. This diversity will frequently manifest at key moments…moments of decision or moments of agreement to action.

Inclusion (very much related to diversity) will be our collective ability to hear, understand and accept these beliefs of others…at these same key decision moments. The counter logic is also apparent. Not hearing, or not accepting, those beliefs from others is not including…and will not feel good to those others. The challenge presented by diversity can be as tough as the opportunity is large since – almost by definition – those beliefs we hear will be counter to our own.

At our meeting last week we benefitted from diverse experiences and beliefs. We identified opportunities derived from those different beliefs. And as we agree our actions we have potential to achieve not just more but better.

Better is good. Diversity is better.



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Four Weeks…

I am back in the UK. Last week I was back at work. And last week we travelled back from the US to the UK. Our travel was smooth and on time. The UK was cooler and less humid. Returning to work was as difficult and challenging, enjoyable and inspiring as ever. Our time away was amazing.

Our trans-Atlantic travel was trouble free – something that I never take for granted. And our transfers at both ends were traffic free. We have all suffered with jet-lag mind you. We completely switched over to US time and we now find ourselves falling asleep at all times of day, just not any time at night!

Five hours’ time zone difference takes five days to overcome – that’s the rule of thumb that seems to work pretty well (up around seven hours difference…when all bets are off).

The weather change has been dramatic. The temperatures are not that different – it’s just the relative lack of humidity that is making everywhere feel so cold. In theory less humidity should allow for better sleep…although – as above – it doesn’t help the time of day we find ourselves falling sleeping.

I was back at work last week – although because of our travel I was working off site. Returning to work after being on vacation is always tough. Irrespective of whether you do no work, or some work, whilst away, I always feel bombarded when I first get back. It seems like there is so much more to do…and everything takes so much longer than it did before I left. I am sure this is not true, but that’s certainly how it feels.

I reassure myself that all of these feelings are just synonymous with great time off work. If I never had any time off work then I would never experience that first day back at work. A true statement but an irrelevant one. If I didn’t have an amazing time whilst off work then my first day back would presumably be much easier – again probably correct but definitely not relevant.

So yes indeed, my first few days back at work were difficult and challenging. Partly the work I had to do…and partly having to do work at all! And the good news is that the world moved on whilst I have been on holiday – no matter what anyone of us may think, none of us are indispensable. We all have superb colleagues and friends who readily cope (and enjoy coping) when we are away.

No…‘difficult and challenging’ is much more about me than it is about what I have to do. Readjusting to an early start to the day, to a full day, to being inside all day, to thinking about such different things, to talking about such different things, to spending time with different people.

But that adjustment also starts to indicate why I find my return both enjoyable and inspiring. Most of what I hear and read turns out to be as exciting as it is impressive. Great examples of great people solving big problems and seizing even bigger opportunities. Yes things always happen, but things always get sorted and improved.

And of course the most common question I get asked is how was my time away? What was it like?

And the answer? It was wonderful. Moving and memorable. Frenetic and fun. Just what we wanted and just what we needed. We did lots of things and no things. We sat on beaches, in cafes, on bikes and in bars. We sat together and we sat with friends.

We laughed. We relaxed. We talked. We loved.



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Gliding Segway…

I tried something last week that I had never tried before. Something I had only ever seen other people do. Something I had laughed at. And scoffed at. Something I never expected to do…ever…let alone last week. I rode on a Segway.

Or more accurately, I went gliding on a Segway.

Yes really. We took a ‘guided Segway tour’ of a city near where we are staying. There were six of us. My son. Me. And four friends (three adults and another teenager). And we all loved it. Every one of us and every bit of it. The training only took us five minutes. Training which was – at the same time – very hard and very easy.

The hard bit was the moving, turning and stopping – all of which involve actions that are completely counter-intuitive. The easy bit is that despite this ‘non-instinctive control’, it was amazing how quickly we all picked it up and how confident we all felt after only a few minutes ‘gliding’ around the car park. And then we were off. We glided on roads, on the boardwalk, side walk and even up to a local castle. We covered miles and miles in no time at all and with no effort. We listened intently (well I did at least) to the local history from the excellent guide. We saw so much. We had so much fun together.

I have no idea what the Segway inventor had in mind when he innovated and created. What was the problem he was trying to solve? What was the opportunity he had in mind? I can’t believe that guided city tours were top of his mental check list. Or Shopping Arcade security. But that’s where you see them…and laugh at them (but not me – not any more). Presumably he conceived of replacing bicycles? Or walking? Or both? Whatever his idea, I have to say that the Segway is an amazing piece of technology. It balances itself (with you on) and even ‘self-regulates’ its own speed.

In truth I think Segway was a solution to a problem that did not exist. I drive when I need to get from where I am to where I need to be. I walk when I am in no hurry. I ride when I want exercise. Segway gliding is none of these.

Creating a solution to a problem that does not exist is a risky business strategy. If it works it can change everything for everybody – think iPad – if it doesn’t….it won’t.

But it seems that Segway has found its niche. Guided city tours are perfect for Segway. But someone else had to come up with that idea. A guided city Segway tour with a teenage son is simply an outstanding vacation morning. We both enjoyed ourselves and have talked about little else since.

So any ‘game-changing’ concept – by definition – has potential to ‘change the game’. But such an idea will only work if you are a true genius (at marketing as well as invention), or if you truly understand your target market and the problems, issues and opportunities that genuinely exist.

I haven’t come across many geniuses in my time. So – unglamorous as it may sound – quality market research is always a good thing. The better the Voice of the Customer….and the more you listen to that Voice…the better.

But I am a Segway convert. I have even looked up how much they cost (wow), and how much you can them for second hand (still wow).

I know I won’t buy one though. But I also know I will ride one again. With my son. Soon. 




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