Opinions Offered…

I was UK based this week. I visited a partner company Monday and Tuesday and worked as normal rest of the week. I managed to have dinner with friends who I work with on both Monday and Tuesday evenings. Both dinners and the visit were engaging and thought provoking…as well as enjoyable and fun.

We talked work and family. Leadership and followership. Science and strategy. Europe and America. We managed to avoid sport. We laughed and I learned.

At both dinners I found myself offering an opinion. It’s a subtlety (of value to me at least) but I differentiate offering opinions from offering advice. My opinions are what I think or believe (today…they can and do change)…if anyone takes heed of my opinion I am flattered and delighted. Offering advice always sounds more like giving direction or guidance…recommending a course of action.

All we can do…in whatever role we have…is to always do the best we can do.

I know. It sounds obvious. When would any of us ever not do the best we can do? When we are worrying too much about what other people want, or expect, us to do.

I find myself with decisions to make or actions to take, all the time. We all do. I have to do the right thing for the right reasons. If I find myself wondering what others may want me to do, or whether others will be happy, impressed or disappointed then I am less likely to do the best I can do.

The first choice I have to make is whether this is a decision I can make alone. Do I have enough information and experience…or do I need to involve others. Even if it is my decision to make – my responsibility – there is nothing wrong (and everything good) with me seeking additional insights or opinions. There are so often facts of which I am unaware, or aspects I have not seen. It is so easy and always so helpful to involve others. And of course involving others is an excellent way of finding out what they would…so much easier than worrying or guessing. And then it is time to decide and time to act.

Which lead to my second belief – that it is essential to learn from every decision we make and action we take.

I know, again…it sounds obvious. But I do it all the time. Alone or with others. What did I want, or expect, to happen? What did happen? Why (or why not)? And what will I do differently next time. It is an analysis loop that can take seconds or minutes or even hours. It is how I try to grow and how I try to improve. It can be formal or informal. I always find it thought provoking and engaging. Almost addictive.

And I know it works for me. When I look back at decisions I made or actions I took some time ago – decisions that I know at that time were the best possible – I am always surprised, often amazed and sometime embarrassed. What was I thinking? Sometimes the outcome will have been so much better than we dared to expect. Other times not as good. But this is why identifying and taking the learning is so important. This is what growth looks like.

Offering these opinions over dinner gave me opportunity to learn from my friends. I gave them examples about me – my decisions and my learnings – but in situations they both knew. Both listened and neither laughed (much). Both then told me what they thought. And I immediately learned even more.



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Back Home…

My back seized up on Friday night. It was pretty strange really…as well as being very uncomfortable. It was classic lower back pain – muscles tightening to protect my spine. I was fine on Friday morning. And Friday afternoon. In fact I had been fine all week…I couldn’t even identify the moment that caused the problem.

I had been in the US mid-west since Monday. I flew through Chicago. I always fly through Chicago. I’ve never had a simple journey through Chicago…but still I fly via O’Hare. One day I will have to try a different route. Just like one day I will actually go into Chicago rather than just passing through the airport. I am sure the city is amazing. It always looks amazing from the air.

Nothing untoward ‘back-wise’ all week. OK – lots of sitting (planes, cars, airports, offices, restaurants); lots of walking (airports, offices); and lots of exercise (24-7 fitness centre, jetlag). No obvious challenge to my lower back – or at least no more than any other week.

But there I was, Friday night, home again. Looking forward to a relaxing weekend, knowing – as I sat on the sofa – that I was already in trouble. I have had the same problem before. Although not for some four years. Four years ago, I knew exactly what happened and when. To the moment. This time…nothing.

It had been a great week. I arrived Monday and left Thursday. I met lots of people; did lots of work; had (and heard) some great discussions; left with more ideas and better options than I arrived with. I met old friends and made new friends. Worked up plans. Solved problems. Saw opportunities. Laughed. Enjoyed. Missed.

But no problem with my back. Nothing. No tweaks. No aches. No challenge. No nothing. And yet there I was. Friday night. Contorted and confused. The weekend was supposed to be fun-filled and family focused. Yet I was feeling immobile and self-centred.

Some good news? I still had a stretching exercise fact-sheet from 4 years ago. Lots of lying on the floor. Lots of amusement for the family. Little relief.

It was strange how I felt. Classic change/response theory. Denial – no…it can’t be true. I don’t believe it. I didn’t do anything unusual so it can’t be true. Anger – must have been that plane. Or that car. Or that seat. Or that person. Guilt – my fault. Too much…too much everything…coffee, sleep, exercise, travel, jetlag, food, haste, work. Melancholy – not fair; no fun; no relief. I felt older. Unhappier.

My wife was superb. The right balance of sympathy and encouragement. Great advice and not too much laughter. I needed both. Benefited from each. I came up with a Friday night plan. Several plans. I would book a massage Saturday. Stretch my back all weekend every hour. Buy some pain relief cream and muscle relaxant tablets. And I will take more care next trip.

It all helped…although it still took me ages to get to sleep Friday night. Not sure if that was my sore back, all those plans or just the jetlag.

Saturday morning and I felt better. A long walk in the spring sunshine with my wife in the afternoon…and my back felt as good as new. Well…as good as it did last weekend at least. No joy booking a massage, although I did manage my stretches a couple of times. I bought some cream (unopened), although I couldn’t remember which tablets worked best four years ago.

Today then, I have my old back…but a new and improved plan! Jettison that old uncomfortable chair from my home office. Get a better one. Today.



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Election Week…

I learned a great deal last week. I learned about politics and communication; about leadership and inspiration; about circuses and clowns; and about opinion polls and surveys. I was in the UK. A public holiday on Monday. Our UK general election on Thursday. And my son’s last day at school on Friday (prior to exam study leave).

Friday was a wonderful last day at school for my son’s class…the theme chosen for the day was ‘the circus’. A great idea superbly well implemented by an excellent team. Lots of fantastic outfits, activities and fancy dress; so many smiles and so much laughter captured and shared. Moments and memories created. I wasn’t at school of course, but I was at home. It was another big day for my family – for my wife and me especially – our son’s last day at school. I wanted to be home. I had to be there. Smiles and memories for sure…but also a few tears as well.

Thursday’s UK general election was a surprise. More specifically the results were a big surprise. A surprise because the result was nothing like any outcome predicted by any of the surveys or opinion polls published in advance. For weeks, our TV screens and news pages had been full of confident predictions of ‘no clear winner’, of a ‘hung parliament’.

I voted early on Thursday. Even though I have a ‘postal vote’ I took advantage of being at home to enjoy walking to the polling station in our local village hall. An experience I have missed the last few times.

By the end of Election Day, the UK had an overall winner, and surprises everywhere, and many embarrassed pollsters. By the end of Friday, three of our most well-known political leaders had resigned, and the opinion poll companies were calling for an inquiry. Of themselves and of their abysmal performance!

Why had their predictions been so wrong? I don’t know. I’m not sure how much I care. We all know that market research is of predictive value. It can absolutely guide us in what we do. But we can’t be slaves to it. It’s far too easy to believe in market research when it supports what we want to do…and to explain it away when it counters our beliefs.

At various times over Thursday and Friday, all of our political leaders looked surprised and happy, disconsolate and tired, distraught and confused, elated and relieved. What surprised me most was how impressive, passionate and compelling they all sounded at the point when they were accepting or resigning. Somehow, in what appeared to be a moment of unexpected emotion, their passion and commitment came through. A moment when they said those words out loud rather than reading them silently…a moment where they combined passion and commitment with a true sense of values and beliefs. A moment that had too often been missing in all the stage managed events leading up to Thursday.

I know politics these days is influenced greatly by social media and ‘sound bites’. Politics seems to be more about how you look and sound and less about what you believe and what you say. But passion and commitment are always apparent when you see them and hear them. Genuine leadership is as obvious as disingenuous leadership. Whatever we do – whether we are politicians or parents, colleagues or friends, leaders or team members – it always helps if we are true to what we believe in and. are consistent in those beliefs.

My main learning from this busy week? Simple…the power of a great idea superbly well implemented by an excellent team.



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Faith Held…

I was in the UK all week. I had visitors. Visitors from the US, UK, mainland Europe and Asia. It was an unusual week – most of my time was spent thinking internally about what we do, could do more of and should do less of. But a week interjected by conversations with partners and potential partners about…well…about what we do, could do more of and should do less of.

Such weeks are excellent weeks. I presented some; I listened a lot; I observed all the time; I admired everything; I told a few stories; I thought and smiled and laughed.

I learned a great deal. I learned again how inspiring our people are; how engaging our partners are and how rewarding our work is. How much our teams want to deliver so well. How exciting our opportunity is. How important the ‘big picture’ really is, but how blank that picture can be without detail. How often I am surprised by ‘what happens next’…how important that uncertainty (and its resolution) is to my personal satisfaction.

We all ask for advice and ideas all the time. Some of us more than others. I try to seek input as much as I can. I know I enjoy hearing what people think. I have learned how much value I get from advice or even just views – what they see or think – of others. My two most common expressions are ‘what do you think’ (in email) and ‘what’s going on’ (in meetings). Both are habit – of course – but both are designed to seek out information, ideas, experiences or beliefs…or all of the above.

I am often asked for advice or for opinion. I am good with opinion. I am less good with advice. There’s a subtlety (at least in my mind). Opinion feels more like options to be considered…advice feels more like telling someone what they should do. In most every situation anyone who asks me for ‘advice’ will always have their own ideas about what they want to do, or believes they should do, next. Even when I recognise that they just want me to tell them what to do…I resist (to a fault I am sure).

At times of change…when things are happening around us and to us…we tend to seek more advice. This makes sense. More things are happening. More unusual or less common events are occurring. More situations that can feel to be of great significance. More situations that we have not experienced before. What should I do? What would you do?

My best answer? Well I don’t know the best answer. The best answer has to be what we say at that moment in response to that question. In that situation, with that individual or that team. I have to believe this. Every situation – what and who and why – is unique. And so the answer has to be unique.

My most common answer, though, is a simple one – do the right thing. In truth, this is as much about my faith in people, as it is anything else. Do the right thing is all about who is involved, and about them trusting themselves individually and collectively as much as I do.

Conversations after this ‘advice’ frequently and naturally focus on what doing the right thing looks like…who needs to be involved, what information is needed. And I always look to encourage discussion of ‘when’ we need to decide.

Whenever we have the right people, in the right place, looking to do the right thing…and if we give, or take, enough time, then amazing, unexpected and inspiring solutions will always appear…and if we don’t…they won’t.



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Sales Force…

I was in the UK all week, but I managed to tour the world. I spent time in Asia, Europe, both East and West coasts of the USA, and the mid-west. It was virtual time of course. In each case – and in each location – I was on a telephone call with leaders of our sales force.

My involvement in commercial operations is one of the biggest differences between my role now (nearly three years to the day) and the role I used to do in Pharma. In both worlds our people carry out science in teams to enable progression of new drug candidates to patient clinical trials and ultimately to market. But in Pharma I had a budget to spend. Today I have a budget to earn.

People and science, teamwork and delivery, patients and health, underpin everything in both roles. But for most of my time in Pharma research, the commercial side seemed very distant from my day-to-day work. In my current role, commercial success is essential on a day-to-day basis. And we are all involved all the time in the commercial components of our work.

Our sales force is amazing, but they can’t be successful – and can’t sell work to our partner companies – without our scientists. Our scientists are amazing, but they can’t be successful – and work with our partner companies – without our sales force. There is complete mutual dependency.

And even more importantly, neither our sales force nor our scientists can be successful without our partners. We don’t do our own research and development. We don’t invest in our own projects. We have to win, earn and deserve opportunity to work on the projects and portfolios – the potential new life saving and life-changing drugs – being advanced by our partners.

As a result, interacting with our sales force is as essential and it is energising. I haven’t ever had to sell anything – apart from a summer when I was sixteen selling carpets in a department store – and so any involvement with commercial operations is also as enlightening as it is intriguing.

Some members of the commercial team are extrovert…and some are introvert. Some have come from a science background…and some from business. Some have only worked in pharma…and some have worked in many related industries. But all form great relationships and partnerships quickly. All work hard and with great independence. There is passion and enthusiasm. Drive and determination. Resilience and confidence.

In our industry partnerships and relationships are paramount. A successful sales force advocates for our partner companies inside our organisation…and advocates for our organisation within our partner companies. No simple task. And done well this advocacy can achieve and enable anything and everything…for everyone.

Most every one of our partners knows what they want to achieve and has a plan of how to make it happen. But we have so much experience and so much insight to offer…a small modification to suggest or a big opportunity to highlight. Small or big…the impact is often significant.

And our commercial team make judgements all the time as they interact with our scientists and with our partners. What to suggest and what to ask. When to advise and when to encourage. Partnerships and relationships are built on trust and confidence. We all know it when we see or when we feel it…and when we don’t.

My calls last week were outstanding. I learned so much…again. I thought differently afterwards than I did before. My admiration grew…again, along with my understanding.

Our industry continues to change. Our partnerships continue to evolve. There is expectation on us and opportunity for us. We advance together.



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Past People…

It is the end of another week. A week of calls and conversations; meetings and moments; highs and lows; energy and emotion. In many ways…a typical week. In so many other ways…a unique week. Next week will be different. And the week after. But some weeks stick in the memory more than others. This was a week I will remember. Any week with announcements and ‘short notice’ meetings is the same…I can still remember those weeks from years and years ago…let alone days ago.

In truth, and as is so often the case, what I can really remember is people, what people said, how people responded, how I felt. I can’t quite remember specifics of when…or even why…but I do know where I was, who I was with and where my family was.

And this ‘selective memory’ applies whether unfolding events involve amazing and delightful news, or surprising and disappointing news. Our memories help us…and this is good. Our memories remind us that our friends, our people and our families are as permanent as they are important. I find it rewarding and reassuring that I can remember who I was sitting next to…rather than what year it was.

And I always learn from these weeks. I have learned about myself and about what helps me. I have observed others, I have admired what they do, and I have tried to learn from them.

Ours is an industry where success in any aspect and of any sort cannot be guaranteed…no matter how hard we work or no matter how much we want it. But we can – and should – do everything possible to maximise probability of success. For example, we should continually analyse our own past performance (and that of our industry) to identify activities associated with failure…and we should definitely not do these! And we should continually identify activities that are associated with success…and we should absolutely do these!

And this approach applies to our science, our teams, our partnerships and our people every bit as much as it does to ourselves. We can’t ever change what has happened. We can always change what will happen next.

Any action that any of us take in a particular situation is only ever done with the best intention at that moment. Outcomes can often be what we want, occasionally even better than planned, but sometimes they are not. Each of these outcomes present opportunity to learn. They have to be. What did we think would happen, what did happen, why, and what will we do differently next time.

It may be the scientist in me. It may just be what I have learned. But asking and understanding. Seeking information and background. Trying to appreciate what was decided…and done…and said…and why. I know it helps me to understand. I want it to help me to learn and to improve. I need to avoid past mistakes and I have to encourage future opportunity.

Sometimes I ask. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I just sit and think. I always find people I trust – in and out of work – to check my learning and to get different views. What have I missed? What have I mistaken? I ask and I listen and I reflect. This approach doesn’t always works – or at least it isn’t always obvious how much it works. But this approach always helps me. And it never harms.

So whilst I accept our past performance as individuals, as teams or even as an industry, does not predict future success; I am certain that learning from our past performance, and applying that learning, will always predict greater future success



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Risky Value…

My son stayed with me last week. He was off school and is well into revising for his summer exams. Spending the week with me was a change of scenery for him and welcome company for me. We drove up on Monday and back on Friday. Well over two hundred miles each way.

It was the same route I always travel. But it was more fun and more social whilst also less speed and less risk. Fun and social I expected…slower and risk averse was a surprise.

We chatted all the way. We talked school and university, family and friends, sport and cinema. We planned where to eat and what supplies to buy. The journey felt shorter. But when I checked my dashboard, our average speed was lower than when I travel by myself, and time was longer. The roads were clear. It was bright and sunny. I realised I was just driving slower. I recognised I was taking fewer risks.

It’s all relative of course. I know the speed limits and I know the traffic flow. I am neither reckless nor illegal when I drive. But nevertheless, having my son (who is also learning to drive by the way) with me in the car clearly had an impact. At some level I knew the value of the time we were having together and there was I was knew I was driving with decreased risk.

On and off during the week, I found myself considering risk and value. We use both words frequently. We work on projects to ‘increase value’ and sometimes to ‘mitigate risk’.

Increasing value feels empowering and rewarding. For example, home owners carry out work to add to value of their property…a new bathroom; a loft conversion. Project teams advance to clinical trials and in doing so they add value to their compound. Adding value feels good. There is a tangible sense of achievement and satisfaction.

But what about mitigating risk? Risk can appear uncertain. Risk is possibility – the possibility of suffering harm or loss…at home, in work, and when driving! Home owners have to consider risks and how to mitigate. We repair things that are broken. A leaky rook becomes a good roof. We insure against risk. Risks with only low probabilities of occurring – fire, wind, water….and none of us like it. Anything to do with risk mitigation feels unrewarding…burdensome…enforced.

It doesn’t have to be though. Potential loss due to risk is quantifiable – we always insure our cars, but seldom our bicycles – as is level of exposure to risk. Sending a text message whilst driving is riskier than singing to your favourite CD.

In our industry, many believe that projects (and companies) who are truly successful – those who don’t just achieve milestones but rather those who impact their target market – are those who identify and address key issues in a project early to mitigate risk. Projects where a negative result that can subsequently be overcome is every bit as much beneficial as a positive result that allows a project to move forward.

How clear are we – or our partners – about highest risks faced by a project? How often do our planned experiments or studies focus on mitigating that risk? I am not convinced. We have all found ourselves – me especially – doing experiments because they increase value rather than because they are answering a key hypothesis on our projects?

Perhaps we should consider activities more explicitly in terms of how they mitigate risk and how they increase value. And assign more effort to high risk mitigation and high value added actions…like I did (implicitly) when driving with my son.



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