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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Breakfast Network…

I had breakfast with an old friend last week. Actually I had dinner with him as well…he just didn’t realise. I was out having a superb outdoor evening meal with my family…we were just trying to decide if we were going to treat ourselves to desert…when my old friend sat down next to us. He had his back to us – not being rude I hasten to add – just sitting so he was looking at his wife! He didn’t see us. I didn’t see him initially, but rather I thought recognised his voice, and when I glanced over I recognised him as well.

I hadn’t seen him for the best part of three years so I definitely wanted to say hello. But I didn’t want to interrupt his evening (or ours for that matter) so I didn’t say anything until we were about to leave. As I passed his table, I put my hand on his shoulder, said hello and immediately put my hand out to shake his.

He was fine. Surprised but fine. My wife and children were amazed. They assumed he was a stranger in the restaurant and – apparently – they thought I was about to offer some ‘trip advisor-like’ advice on menu choices! They realised we knew each other immediately we started talking. I was pleased to see him and we agreed to connect via LinkedIn.

We had breakfast later in the week. Breakfast allowed me to be out and back before my family woke up. But it also provided a great chance to re-connect and catch up with each other. Three years is a long time.

The amazing thing I have (re)discovered is that networks are virtually unconditional. Unconditional in so much as that my old friend and I have had no contact with each other directly or indirectly for three years…and yet we were both delighted to invest our time to meet for breakfast (after the chance meeting at dinner). Unconditional since we met because we could and because we wanted to rather than because we had to. My only agenda as I arrived was to not eat too much and to avoid getting sun burnt. My friend’s was simply to reconnect (and probably a bit of the same about food and sunshine).

And it is amazing how much fun this sort of networking is. In total it was about 90 minutes. We could have talked for much longer. There was lots of reminiscing about people, situations, projects…and even more about people in those situations and projects. We laughed a lot. Sometimes in amazement and sometimes in amusement.

And it is wonderful how these memories are always so good. I am sure that my old colleague and I had some disagreements, but I don’t remember any of them…and neither (apparently) did he.

And it is good how positive I felt as I left. Positive about myself. Positive about my friend. Positive about what we had done together and positive about how we had done those things together. And in addition I didn’t eat too much (very hard) or get too much sun (easier).

And it is intriguing how often I leave such networking sessions with more opportunities and more ideas than when I arrive. Last week was no exception. As we talked through what we had done together, talked over what we’ve been doing since we last met, we inevitably moved onto what we are looking to do in the future. And that’s where unexpected – but potentially very exciting – opportunities always appear.

Networking is always a good – no a great – investment to make…I knew this…breakfast last week just reminded me.



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Vacation Anticipation…

I was really excited on Friday. And not just because Friday was the end of the week. Although Fridays are always intrinsically exciting. No…last Friday was my last day at work before vacation. That last day at work before time off always feels great. It is almost as if the anticipation of the vacation has more power to make us feel good than the actual vacation itself.

Well I am not sure I agree with that. I agree that the anticipation is a great feeling. And more often than not the actual day of travelling on vacation can be somewhat stressful. Packing, driving, flying or sailing. There are always things that happen that aren’t supposed to….and things that don’t happen that are supposed to.

Either way I felt happy and excited and positive last Friday. Happy that I was about to spend time with my family. Happy that we were all together. Excited about what we were going to do together. Positive about the year so far. What we have done. How we have done.

The surprising thing is that I found myself working hard on Friday – whilst at work – to control those feelings. To prevent myself from feeling good. Its strange really when I think about it. Almost as if I was anxious that feeling happy, excited and positive would somehow interfere in my last day at work? Almost as if I was trying to stop myself feeling too excited about my impending vacation.

So far then, we have had a superb vacation. Only one day mind you but still superb. Despite some questionable weather. And despite me working hard on Friday to not get too excited. Or happy. Or positive. And the only thing we ended up worrying about all day yesterday was where to buy some sandwiches for lunch (and what fillings to get).

So today I feel more relaxed. Calmer. Happier. I am not sure what that scale is mind you, but whatever it is, I feel better on it. Vacations are good and are very important. They are time to spend with people we don’t get as much time to spend with as we would like. They are a time to reflect. And laugh. And consider. And cheer. And contemplate. And enjoy. With family and friends.

But I still wonder about that day-before-a-vacation feeling. It is very real and it is very strong. And – despite my best efforts – that anticipation of a vacation is a very happy feeling. And when I thought about it some more, I realised that I have the same feeling ahead of any vacation long or short. At home or abroad. It seems as if planning and anticipating a vacation is the big deal (although of course it only applies if that planning and anticipating is followed by an actual vacation of some sort).

Taking to the logical conclusion then, more holiday trips of any duration would be of more apparent value – in terms of feeling good – than one big vacation. And almost certainly that whole thing about trying not to tell everyone that you are about to go away – but yet still telling them – is part of the ‘feeling-good-and-positive ‘dynamic.

Again – a good theory. But I don’t buy it completely. I am certain that the actual vacation itself has to be great to drive that anticipation…and if my vacations were only ever a day or two they would just be like weekends!

So my answer then is to take my vacation. But to plan what we are going to do in the vacation. Day trips. Experiences.

Plan. Anticipate. And enjoy!



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Lead Communication…

I frequently find myself involved in projects or initiatives or opportunities…big or small, strategic or tactical, local or global, internal or external. And there is one thing I have learned. Avoid ‘work streams’ called Change Management.

At least I thought I had learned this. Change Management work streams are – in my experience – associated with efforts to get people to change what we do, or how we do those things…or both. Change Management involves communications, training courses and workshops…facilitated by passionate people looking to encourage, mandate, or convince equally passionate people to change our ways.

I can’t remember any time where I can honestly say my efforts on a Change Management work stream have been a success. Yes – a Change Management work stream always has ‘success criteria’ and yes – we always carry out activities as listed…only to realise that completing activities is not the same as achieving results. It takes more than a ‘work stream’ to effectively and successfully change what we – or anyone else – does.

Change Management came to mind again last week when I was on a flight to the US East Coast. The air crew seemed much more nervous than usual…and it transpired they had a ‘manager’ (from Head Office) on board with them. I realised this was the case when said manager introduced himself to, and welcomed on board, the young man sitting next to me (we had swapped seats) – a mix up that lead to our conversation…

In our brief conversation, the manager recounted that part of his ‘mission’ was – yes you guessed it – Change Management…and he flew at least once a month to help first hand with his initiative. I thought briefly about passing on my experiences…but decided it wouldn’t be helpful at that time and in that place. But I still thought it – his Change Management work stream was unlikely to succeed.

In many ways it wasn’t a surprise to find out the airline was trying to implement a change management project. Most of us have something – big or small – that we are trying to change, or make happen, or achieve, at any particular time. But my philosophy remains the same – to do whatever I am trying to do or achieve…without the eponymous Change Management work stream. Avoiding Change Management often involves different people doing different things and, although this can feel like it takes longer, it is the only approach that truly effects change.

And then I met my new communications partner. Someone with a very different set of experiences and beliefs. And his words of advice? Crystal clear and precise. Change Management work stream? Yes – that’s exactly what you should do if you want an initiative or strategic project to work. Change Management!

OK – I was confused. I pushed back and recounted my experiences. But he stood firm. Change Management – that’s the answer. In truth he had to take me through his logic several times before I worked out the subtlety of his message…

…that the way to succeed in managing change….is to change (the) management!

In my version, ‘change’ was the noun – change is the thing we are looking to manage. In my communication lead’s version, ‘change’ is a verb – change is the thing we are doing (to management).

Obvious really. And correct. But astute. Any successful project or initiative is all about people and we often involve people with a ‘different view’ – in transient or full time roles – because they will do different things…and because they will do those things differently.

Or maybe because they will see and say things differently…just like my new communications lead….



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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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