Double Maths…

I don’t drink tea…neither hot tea nor iced tea. I (apparently) make a very nice cup of tea but I dislike the smell let alone the taste. Everyone in my family drinks a lot of tea. Just not me.

I do drink coffee. No milk. Just coffee. I gave up milk in my coffee when I was doing my PhD. There was a communal fridge to store milk for the whole lab. There was just never any milk in the fridge. Black coffee was the obvious answer.

Originally my coffee was just instant. But over time I have become hooked on real coffee at home…and everywhere else. And worse still, because I only ever drink it straight – no frothy milk, flavour or sugar – I am far too fussy about which brand I drink. My favourite version is double espresso. Has been, is and will be.

I was on site in the UK all last week. We had a global strategy and training meeting. I attended. I participated. I presented. I socialised. I learned. I drank coffee.

I was struck at the meeting by the emphasis on learning. Getting better at doing what we do, and in some cases what we have been doing for a long time. Sometimes it is too easy to assume we are good at something…or as good as we are going to get. Always a watch out moment for me for sure. If I ever find myself thinking that way – about anything – I immediately resolve to get better…to learn something new. To stretch higher or further.

In one of the breaks in our meeting I wandered over to an independent coffee shop nearby for a change (and for a nicer cup of coffee). And yes – I asked for a double espresso.

As I stood there and drank (they never last long)…I complimented the barista on my coffee, and commented how often my double espressos vary in size. And how that made no sense to me. His answer?

That a double espresso should be the same size as a single espresso but twice the strength, as opposed to the same strength but twice as big. And that not many coffee shops understood this fact…hence the variation I experienced.

I was staggered. And still am. This fact about my favourite coffee (for well over 20 years) had never occurred to me…let alone been explained to me. But it was obvious and explained everything. Despite having drunk double espresso several times a day for many years, and despite even having a mental rank order of coffee brands, I had just learned something brand new that will help me every day…well at least will help me enjoy every day that little bit more.

I told lots of people that story during the week. Some knew. Some didn’t. Many laughed. Some were bemused. A couple even thanked me. I always emphasised how I had learned something new…on a topic of great importance to me, and despite deep and personal expertise built over two decades.

Back in our meeting after my coffee, I listened just that little bit more attentively to everything being said. I wanted to learn. I knew there would be new techniques, ideas, technologies, insights. I was determined to leave with more knowledge than I arrived…as well as more caffeine.

And learn I did. From presentations, from questions, from discussions and from people. About social media in our work, about success in drug discovery, about team work, about our partner’s challenges and about myself.

Learning and getting better is good…essential even. Good news, though, is that new learning can be very impactful…very quickly.



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People Cluster…

What a week! Exciting, engaging and informative. And that was just the neurosurgeon I ended up sitting next to on my flight to the East Coast last Sunday. I normally avoid talking to anyone I don’t know on an aeroplane…especially anyone sitting next to me. I made an exception in this case when he inadvertently started to fast forward the film I was watching after picking up my control handset by mistake!

Wednesday and Thursday were all about people – our annual talent review. My measures of success for a Talent Review are both subjective – the more tired I feel by the end of the week the better the meeting is likely to have been. And objective – new ideas and opportunities that could only have been identified because of that meeting. We achieved the latter…I felt the former.

Our future is our people – they define it, deliver it and delight us in the process. Our role is to help, to recognise and to encourage.

Sunday was my impromptu meeting with my neurosurgeon. Monday and Tuesday I was at a forum with an amazing collection of representatives from academia, Venture Capital funds, Biotechs, Government Institutions, politics and pharma companies. It was an amazing collection of passionate people and I felt privileged to have been invited. It was a superb forum.

I occasionally get opportunity to attend such meetings, and I always find myself engrossed and fully involved. My colleague and I chose seats near the microphones. I took copious notes, but learned even more than that. I found myself thinking and considering…wondering and imagining. And yes I couldn’t resists asking lots of questions.

I was excited because I believe we were the only CRO attendees present…I was noticeable only because I was the attendee with the English accent; at least the only English accent asking questions.

I can’t tell you my questions were any good…let alone any value to the forum, other attendees or to the organisers. I can tell you that I am still thinking about the topics we discussed. Everything was related to the discovery and development of new pharmaceuticals, medical devices and vaccines. Everything was about our industry – in its broadest manifestation – seeking to better help patients and healthcare. Everything was about us being more successful. Everything was about people. About us as people in our industry.

We talked about clusters – groups of similar things or people positioned or occurring closely together. Clusters can happen in regions, and can – and do – equally happen in companies. The implication of a cluster is that the extent of partnering or working together is minimal.

We talked about ecosystems – groups of similar things or people involved in the delivery of a specific product or purpose through both competition and cooperation. Ecosystems in business can happen in regions, and are always aspired to in companies. The implication of an ecosystem is that the extent of partnering and working together is tremendous.

We talked culture – whenever we talk people we are always talking culture. Culture – how things are done around here. What do we celebrate, recognise and reward? How do we handle projects that don’t work? What do leaders role model?

But really we were talking people. I was talking and meeting people all week. I was thinking about people. I was thinking about myself. What I do. What I want to do. How well I am doing. How can I help more? When do I ask and when should I advise? How do I best influence?

I arrived home Friday. Tired…but with my mind full of new ideas…different ideas.

A successful week – subjectively (tired) and objectively (opportunities).



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Significant Review…

I am excited. It is our annual Talent Review next week. I am excited about what I know we will discuss…and I am excited about what I don’t know we will discuss. We have an agenda of course…and a focus – our people. And I know that each section will be great value and very interesting. So I am excited.

But I also know that these are one of the best meetings for unexpected ideas and new opportunities to appear. Thoughts or themes that none of us have considered; that only ever appear because we invest this time – and the time leading up to our review – thinking about our people…our talent…our future.

I have been involved in annual talent reviews for…well for longer than I care to (or can) remember. But they still excite and engage me. The people in any organisation are what make that organisation work. People innovate and interact, partner and perform, define and deliver. Individually and collectively. Our people are our culture…and in many ways, they are our legacy. And so it makes absolute sense that we invest this time – formally – at least once a year. Along with all the other people based activities we are all involved in.

At some point in my past, one of my colleagues introduced me to the concept of Significant Experiences. Within a discussion of how we could better work with our talented people to help them grow and develop more, more broadly, more successfully and more rapidly. Waiting for time to go by – growth by osmosis almost – always felt so passive. And so the idea of us agreeing and achieving Significant Experiences came about.

Like most ideas that excite me, ‘Significant Experiences’ is very simple. For any of us to best grow and develop we need Significant Experiences. Not experiences alone, nor significant moments, or even significant opportunities, but Significant Experiences.

Significant Experiences have to be defined and agreed…along with the need and the opportunity. Immediately this exemplifies that development by Significant Experiences is an active, joint activity. My supervisor and I have to agree together the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ for any Significant Experiences we identify. I can’t do this alone, and neither can my supervisor.

And then there is the discussion of what makes an experience ‘significant’. I checked the dictionary – significant: ‘large enough to be noticed or have an effect’. I particularly like that last piece – large enough have an effect.

But as with a lot of these people discussions, the value is achieved more by considering the impact of the experience than how we describe or delineate it. By definition, our beliefs are developed from our experiences…and our beliefs dictate what actions we take in any given situation.

So a ‘Significant Experience’ then – an experience that is able to change our beliefs.

An example. For years my beliefs about the CRO industry were solely based on my experiences whilst working in a Pharma Company. It was only when I moved to work in a CRO – a Significant Experience – that my beliefs changed (for the better). Similarly, I had opportunity to lead teams locally for years before I had the Significant Experience of leading a global team…and again my beliefs were changed.

Not every Significant Experience has to involve such a large personal change – for example, my beliefs have changed about consultants, and about emerging Biotech, based on my recent experiences of working directly together…something I had not experienced when I was in large pharma.

Experiences significant enough to change our beliefs and thereby to change how we act. That is how – and when – I believe I have developed most.

I am excited…



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Lean In…

A best friend at work taught me everything I know about martial arts. I remember because it seemed so out of character, and because it was so interesting. I have never tried martial arts. I have thought about it but have never gone for it. I know people who have – and they are always positive and enthusiastic…maybe there’s still time…or maybe there’s not!

I don’t really know if my friend did martial arts themselves or whether they were just an enthusiastic observer. Either way I recall my friend describing irimi – a technique that involves blending yourself with an attack in order to become one with your opponent’s movement and leaving them with nowhere to strike.

Irimi is a mental state as much as physical, and like many principles of martial arts, it can be applied more generally. Anyone who steps into a developing situation; someone who get things done; these people are – in effect – applying irimi. An irimi practitioner will never wait to be told what to do…when there’s an issue, they step forward as it approaches. When there are no issues, they seek ways to improve things; anything that needs improving. …whether asked or not. They lean in….

I found myself thinking about my friend and her irimi description last week. I was on the East Coast again, but I was visiting sites I had not been to before, in a state I had not visited before. I was discussing projects and opportunities I have not worked on before with people I knew by name but had not partnered with before.

Irimi involves an ability to stay calm and focussed when faced with a challenge…as opposed to the more common panic and lack of control. Calm and focus sounds better – but it is not always as easy. We all face problems and challenges…although fortunately these seldom involve an actual physical attack. But do we lean into these situations? Do we seek to influence outcomes? Do we improve everything we are involved with? Do we look to move forward? Do we eliminate beliefs or perceptions that may hold us back? Are we always seeking to help and add value?

Far be it from me to say that I applied irimi last week, but in every situation I worked to stay calm and focused…and I physically leant into any discussions. I kept my arms unfolded and always rested them on the table. I engaged everyone I was talking with by eye. I listened intently.

There was absolutely no physical threat of course…but I felt I was facing a challenge nonetheless…I felt I wanted to influence our ability to seize and delivery our opportunity. I wanted to understand how things were done currently (and why) and then seek to identify and encourage change.

There are very few areas in which I would class myself as an expert; but there are some areas of our work in which I do have experience. Last week I was discussing areas where I have very little experience or expertise.

But I leant in. I knew my questions – let alone my ideas and suggestions – would likely be full of inaccuracies…but I stayed calm and focussed and listened intently. I recognised that my view and my experiences would be different…but I was confident that they are related.

I made it clear that my passion and commitment was to understand and to help. I accepted any correction with thanks; I took note on every comment and detail. I clarified and I reflected. I engaged in what was being advised; I adapted what I was thinking. I flew home Friday excited, enthused…and convinced.




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Uncertain Hypothesis…

So I am a scientist. I like data. I like data and hypotheses…and I like testing hypotheses. I like it when we test a hypothesis and it works…I like it when we test and it doesn’t work…and we have to learn and revise our hypothesis.

Despite being a scientist, I have learned that there are times when I just have to trust my instincts – just do what I know is the right thing. This is not a natural behaviour for me. I have learned that there are times when it is more important that we move forward than it is we sit and analyse. This is tough for me.

It’s tough because it goes against who I am and what I believe. But it is a learned behaviour. And over time I have got better at judging when it makes sense, is OK, or is better, to just go for it…and when I have to pause for thought (and analysis). But even then, when I do act instinctively, I do make sure I give myself time afterwards to analyse and assess. What did I want to happen. What did happen. Why? And what would I do next time. Once a scientist always a scientist.

That having been said, every so often I see a scientific paper where the team have investigated and proved something that I already knew to be absolutely true. And I – like everybody else – wonder why did they bother.

I read just such a paper last week. A group of UK researchers proved that we cope well with good news, OK with bad news…but that we cope really badly with uncertainty. I agree. It’s true. I knew that. I experience that. I am not sure I needed to see a paper with tests on people to prove it.

A trivial example. A friend at work recently showed how I can track the location of someone (with their permission) on my smart phone. I now use it all the time when I am being collected by a taxi. Instead of worrying where he is and when he will arrive, I can track him and he can track me. We both know exactly when we will meet. No uncertainty. No stress.

We all have uncertainty in our lives at home and at work – none of us can predict the future. And although we all cope, it tends to be uncertainty about specific known events though that causes us more stress and anxiety. Organisational change. Career change. Family change. I knew both my children were going to leave home…I just didn’t know how we would handle it. I knew there would be change after our recent acquisition…I just didn’t know how it would play out.

Uncertainty feels better if we believe we have influence or even control. But although influence is common, control is rare. After all, if we could control uncertainty it would be certain!

I am often asked how I cope with change. I never know if that is because people feel I cope well – and therefore want to learn what to do…or because I cope badly…and people want to learn what to avoid. I have thought about this question a great deal. I have come through a lot of change. My best answer (not saying it’s any good – it’s just the best I have)? My best answer is that I stay curious.

In times of uncertainty and change I stay curious. I ask lots of questions…I ask more people more open questions. I ask open questions because I am looking for beliefs, opinions, points of view, ideas, hypotheses, data.

After all, I am a scientist…



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Driving Emotions…

I read an article last week. On a website. The main question it asked was whether I was ‘in touch with my emotions’. I wasn’t that impressed – either with the article…or with myself for investing the time to read it. That having been said, I spent some fourteen hours driving up and down the UK motorways this weekend to attend a family reunion. I had a lot of time to think.

I laugh a lot. Suggests I am pretty well in touch with my amusement emotion. And based on some of my experiences whilst driving this past couple of days, I am also in touch with my surprise and disbelief emotions. Feeling proud is a good emotion for me – pride in my family and what we have done together. And love of course. Love for my family. And feeling happy.

I am still not sure whether any of this means I am – or am not – in touch with my emotions. Everything I’ve listed so far have been generally positive emotions. So what about some of the less positive feelings – how am I doing there? Well for a start, this weekend’s feeling of surprise and disbelief when driving was often closely followed by a feeling frustration…or even anger. But at least I avoided aggression (never a good idea when driving).

The one emotion I have worked out – and therefore believe I am in touch with – is guilt. And I have concluded that that guilt is the most overrated and most useless emotion to have, or experience…let alone to feel.

I can feel guilty over things that I have said or done – which in hindsight I should never have done or said. Or things I haven’t done or said – which in hindsight I should definitely have said or done. Sometimes these actions (or inactions) involve others, and sometimes only me. But more often than not, it would be fair to say that and feeling of guilt serves me no rational purpose.

I am no expert of course, but it seems that guilt, self-pity and maybe shame, are similar, if not related, emotions. And they all tend to be about us…even if we believe that the impact of our actions is on someone else.

We all make mistakes – the only way to avoid making a mistake is by not doing anything. And it’s almost never the case that mistakes are deliberate. So, rather than feeling guilty, we should accept, apologise appropriately and move on. And learn.

Any situation where we experience that guilty feeling has to be a situation from which we can learn. Learn what happened or what didn’t happen; why it lead to the impact it did; and learn from our experience…learn so we are less likely to do the same again next time.

Guilt is undoubtedly an emotion. But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s rational or helpful. But when guilt happens it can feel important. Not least because we can experience guilt more often in circumstances that involve people or situations we care about deeply.

And this is where – and why – friends and family help us so much. Friends and family care about us and care for us. They know us and they are there for us. They laugh with us and share with us, love and cry with us. They accept us, and they will forgive us.

I celebrated this weekend with my own – and my enlarged – family. And yes I may have felt guilty at times over things I have done…or not done. But I also felt loved and I felt happy. I felt part of something special.



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New Relaxation…

I was stressed in New Orleans. It was Thursday afternoon and I was at Louis Armstrong Airport waiting for my flight to Dallas to make my connection for my overnight flight to London. I was tired because it had been a long week. I flew out to New Orleans on the previous Saturday to attend meetings and a conference. Five days of early starts and late finishes. Lots of walking, standing, talking, sitting, eating, listening, drinking, exercising and thinking.

I was keen to get home. Six nights away is a long trip for me. I had missed both a Saturday and a Sunday with my family. And a big England vs. Wales sporting event. I was stressed because my connecting flight from New Orleans was showing as delayed.

I had ninety minutes at Dallas on my schedule – normally more than enough for a transfer from an internal flight. But I arrived to see a twenty minute delay and to see colleagues who were due to have left on the earlier flight to Dallas some sixty minutes previous.

It had been a great week. The atmosphere at the conference was very engaging and positive. My meetings big and small had been exciting and interactive. My internal colleagues had been superb. It is a thrilling time in our industry. And a fantastic time to be part of our industry.

My external interactions ranged from more formal meetings with established partners through to informal connections with new people and teams. Every one had been a delight. I learned more again from every interaction. About our partners – their wants and needs; about our industry – what we are doing and more we can do; about our company – how were are doing and what more we could do; and about myself – where I am and how much more I want to do.

But at that moment in Louis Armstrong Airport…I just wanted to go home. And my plan was now showing forty minutes delay. I could feel how hard I was working not to get stressed.

The departure terminal was already manic. Mine was not the only plane that had been delayed. Planes were arriving (late) and departing (late). Everyone had connections. The airline crew behind the desks were under pressure. There were long lines of passengers in various stages of irritation at every desk. Understandable but of little help to me.

We were then moved to an hour delay. I knew I had to do something. But what? I had looked at every website I could think of, but the only consistency was that they were all showing a delay. Although – needless to say – my international flight from Dallas was showing on time!

I saw no value from joining one of the lengthening lines in the airport. So I decided to call my international airline helpline. I didn’t know what they would say but I had to try something.

I was connected to Matt. He was immediately amazingly reassuring. His system showed my flight on route to New Orleans and estimated departure. He also gave me the gate arrival time in Dallas (much more useful) and even better told me the quickest way to change terminals to make my connection.

And better yet, Matt identified three other later flights out of Dallas with partner airlines with plenty of open seats…and explained that if we missed our connection we would automatically be switched to one of these flights.

Our call was no more than five minutes. Matt listened. Reassured. Advised. Helped. One way or the other I knew I was going home…that night. I sat back down. Relaxed. Confident. Happy.



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