Week End…

My weekend is nearly over. Today I took my son back to college. I packed, I drove, I unpacked, I assembled and I helped. Well OK – that last one may not be quite right. I tried to help. In truth he doesn’t need that much help these days. My son impresses me. I am biased I know of course…but I am still impressed.

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday. We were all there – the whole family. She received cards, gifts, cake, candles and a wonderful sung rendition of Happy Birthday. Well OK – that last one may not be quite right. I tried to help with the singing. Suffice it to say my singing was passionate and loud. Actually there isn’t really much else to say about my singing than that.

We took my wife out for a boat ride – punting to be precise – with a guide…in our local city. On the river and canals that pass through and around the town. It was wonderful. Relaxing, peaceful, interesting, fun. And all of those are right. We even discovered some things about the city that we never knew…as well as seeing parts and views we hadn’t seen or experienced before.

It was a superb and relaxing weekend with my family at the end of a week. It is what week ends are supposed to be. Family and/or friends – people you care about and who care about you – relaxation and/or enjoyment. Any weekend. All weekends.

And this weekend in particular. I wanted this weekend to be special of course – it was my wife’s birthday…but I also felt like I needed this weekend to be special. I needed that reminder of the importance of our family and friends. I wanted to recognise the pleasure of their unconditional love and affection. We all need balance not just between our lives in work and our lives out of work…but we also need to balance how much of our time and energy we devote to both.

Last week felt like big news every day…and that was just at work…and Monday was a vacation day in the US! There seemed to be news about people, about roles, about leaders, about change, about challenge and about opportunities. Many weeks include some of this information…some weeks can even feature a little on all of these. It’s not often that any of us get a lot of news about all of these areas in one week.

Whenever a person leaves an organisation I am part of, it always has an impact on me…whether their reasons for leaving are good or not so good…and even more so if the person leaving is someone I know and have worked with…respect and admire.

But I know that people leave. People leave for good reasons, for personal reasons or for business reasons. But people leave. All I can ever do is to wish anyone who leaves the absolute very best. I know from experience that there isn’t often anything I can do to help…but I also know that it isn’t often that anyone leaving ever really needs my help. Good people always find – or create – great opportunities to be both happy and successful…however they chose to define both happiness and success.

And organisations move on. New people, new roles, new leaders…change and challenge and more opportunity. Someone once said that challenge always follows change. I think that’s true. But – more importantly – opportunity always follows challenge.

My weekend is now over. My family are happy. I am happy. I am relaxed and recharged. I am ready. Ready to embrace whatever next week has to offer…

Cheers

Steve

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Birthday Boy…

It was my birthday on Tuesday. An unlikely alliance of snow on in the US, in the UK and in mainland Europe meant that I was at home on my birthday rather than away. I spent Tuesday with my wife – both our children are working or at college (or both). It was bitterly cold. Beautifully sunny at times. But pleasantly warm inside.

I worked during the day – and during the evening. We had a global call at 8:00p which I connected into and presented at. Good news though that I had time for a long, cold walk with my wife over lunch and a meal together in the early evening before I had to work. We even toasted my birthday with a special glass of wine later in the evening (and yes I promise it was after my call…).

My gifts were wonderful. As is often the case (yes I am that predictable) there was an emphasis on coffee. Place mates, mugs, t-shirts…and coffee. And a new toy…a new gadget. One of those desktop ‘smart speakers’ that plays music and tells jokes when you talk to it. And as ever I had as much fun setting it up as I did using it. Although I am still laughing at the joke of the day!

I received very nice birthday cards in the mail as well as many messages via social media, email and text. They were all so nice. All made me smile, or laugh even. Friends, colleagues, family.

I looked at myself in the mirror in the morning. How had I changed? Did I look any older? I saw my dad looking back at me. It was the strangest moment. One of those moments. It wasn’t my dad of course. And neither was it any sort of spiritual apparition. I just look like my father. Or more accurately I just look enough like my memory of my father.

That and of course I miss my dad. I miss him whenever I think about him. I smile as well when I think of him and my mum. I feel love and loved when I think of them. But I miss them. I don’t see my mum when I look in the mirror. Many birthdays have passed since anyone told me I look like my mother. I see my mum when I look at either of my sisters though. Or listen to them. They just look like my memory of my mum. That and of course I miss my mum.

I miss my mum and my dad when I think of them. I smile and feel love when I think of them. I missed them on my birthday.

Many years have passed since I saw my parents on my birthday. Work, family, distance, commitments.  All good reasons of course. At the time. At that time. At this time? I am not so sure.

I stopped looking in the mirror on Tuesday…out of sight and out of mind? Not so much really. I missed them when they didn’t send me a card. I missed them when they didn’t call me to talk. I even missed them when my wife sang me happy birthday and I cut my cake.

Missing them is hard to describe. Someone said it’s like losing an arm or a leg, it’s hard to breathe, part of me is no longer there. Loving them is easier to describe – parents are one of the most precious relationships in life. Tuesday…my birthday…just brought those feelings forward.

I know my parents are special. I know I am so lucky.

I miss my dad and my mum…

Cheers

Steve

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Mythical Numbers…

Mythinformation is a made up word – not by me I hasten to add – but this lack of authenticity is ironic since mythinformation is a term used to describe information based on apocryphal (mythical I guess) or false data.

The classical example of mythinformation is attendance at sports events. Teams like high attendance because to drive increased revenue from sponsorship and marketing activity. Clubs and franchises seek to outdo each other (and themselves) in terms of number of people at their games.

So what’s the problem? Surely attendance is just the number of people attending the match? Well yes…well no! It transpires that reported attendance can have no resemblance to number of people in the stadium. Last Friday for example, whilst on my morning commute, I heard that about a game the night before between Arsenal (in London) and Borisov (from Belarus). The official attendance was an impressive (and precise) 54,648. And yet in truth less than 30,000 people were actually inside the stadium.

The difference? Turns out that 54,648 was purely the number of tickets sold – inclusive of all season ticket holders – irrespective of whether those individuals actually turned up to watch the game.

Mythinformation. The (inaccurate) attendance figure – 54,648 – was widely reported in newspapers and on websites…thereby validating and giving implied accuracy. Moreover, 54,648 is listed in the official records – records that will be retained for posterity – and no-one will ever question the origin.

Why even think about this though? Well the classical ‘wisdom hierarchy’ is a path from data to information to knowledge. Data: symbols, signs or numbers. Information: data processed to be useful or given meaning. Knowledge: collection or application of information to provide understanding.

So back to my Friday morning stadium report; 54,648 is a number – data. But we know these data are incorrect. Therefore the reported match attendance is mythinformation. And knowledge derived from this mythinformation – such as the most popular team or best game to attend next week – is flawed.

Pharmaceutical Research and Development is replete with data – data on molecules, projects, diseases, portfolios, segments and companies. As an industry we are highly – and rightly – regulated and audited. We have very many very high quality checks and balances in place. It is fortunately rare for our data to be anything other than true and accurate.

This is good. But we do have a lot of data…a very large amount of data. Many would argue that with so much data, our major challenge is how to handle and process.

We produce graphs, plots, trends with statistics and significance. We colour code and we shade. We process and we interpret. And we present.

But we don’t often show data. Rather we share information. Or more precisely we share our interpretation of the data, with associated knowledge and conclusions inevitably sounding factual. But is that always right? How often are there other possible or plausible interpretations of our data?

Research and Development is absolutely based on information based on quality data – ours is an industry where data and information are independently verified. But what about those assumptions we include in our interpretations. An assumption can only ever be something we believe to be correct, but can we always be certain? After all, it is certainty that converts assumption into fact.

Assumptions are as important as facts in science. The more opportunity we have to review facts and debate assumptions – especially testable assumptions – the better our overall performance will be.

After all, one of the beauties of science – why we love what we do so much – is that we are able to propose and run experiments…experiments designed to convert assumptions into facts.

Cheers

Steve

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Cargo Cult…

Last week I was introduced to the concept of cargo cult. I say concept since I have no data to say if it is real or not – or at least if the alleged origins are real. But like many stories I hear this one helped me – or at least me thinking about the story helped.

I was talking with a colleague who I meet up with in person regularly if not frequently – once a year to be precise. Once a year I attend a UK Government review meeting…and my colleague is also always there. There’s a sort of an unwritten agreement between us that we will meet up at this event. Never confirmed but apparently always assumed by us both. The meeting itself is important – very important and always interesting. Meeting my friend is high value and always enjoyable

I enjoy what I do. I like to learn. I savour the people I work with. I relish the people I meet and the friendships I make. I have long since realised that I remember who I was with and our time together long after I have forgotten what we were doing. I have rationalised this fact as only being good. The opposite – remembering what we were doing but not who we were with – doesn’t really bear thinking about.

One key aspect of people I meet and conversations we have are things I hear and learn that I just didn’t know. Maybe this defines a valuable relationship? I don’t know – but I do know how much I value it. And last week I heard about Cargo Cult.

Urban myth suggests Cargo Cult originated after the war when it became apparent that locals were clearing and flattening stretches of land and constructing buildings next to these strips of land. During the war it was known that planes would land on airstrips, would unload vast amounts of cargo, and would pass at least some cargo onto to the local population.

Once the war ended, these plane arrivals ceased…and so new make-shift airstrips were built in the belief that if done so, then planes would land again and cargo would be unloaded. Cargo Cult.

In our modern world then, Cargo Cult would be when we do or build something with great intentions, but where our words or actions turn out to be ‘necessary but not enough’ to succeed…personally, scientifically or organisationally.

Personal would be when we imitate words or actions we see or hear from someone we admire greatly…in the mistake belief that if this works for them it will work for us.

Unfortunately not.

Scientific would be – for example – when we observe that successful projects meet regularly inside and outside of work. And so that’s what we do for our own project in the (misguided) belief that increased social interaction alone will guarantee project delivery.

Nope.

Organisational would be an entrepreneur seeing that many successful companies locate in areas replete with similar companies and academic communities – think Silicon Valley or Cambridge for example. Our entrepreneur purchases adjacent premises….but location again is necessary but not sufficient for success.

Sorry no.

The good news though – the message I learned from my annual friend – is that Cargo Cult activities are never worthless…provided we learn from our mistakes. Once the original cargo cultists realised that no planes came, despite everything they built and did, they figured out something was missing. Learning is knowledge.

So how quickly do we learn, act and change? Too soon…or too late? Too much…or too little? As importantly, how well do we assess our progress to know if we are on the right path…let alone succeeding?

Cheers

Steve

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Resolute Departures…

Brexit is a complicated scenario. In many ways the most impressive aspect of Brexit is that a made up word (Brexit is simply an abbreviation for ‘British exit’) has become so well used in conversation, discussion and debate in UK. And liken many political topics today much of that discourse is passionate, emotional and at times draining.

It was against this background that I attended a Brexit Summit last Monday at a location in the UK, conveniently (and ironically – see later) situated not far from Heathrow Airport. I arrived anxious, determined and resolute. Anxious about what I might learn…determined to learn as much as I could…resolute to be as positive and constructive as possible.

The morning was hard going. Certainly very interesting and enlightening…but also both energy draining and enthusiasm sapping. This was not a surprise really – there are far more legal, financial and political components of Brexit that still have to be agreed by Governments, Politicians and Lawyers…than there are aspects that have been sorted.

As an extreme example….we heard that it’s ‘theoretically conceivable’ that air travel between the UK (including Heathrow) and the European Union (in effect mainland Europe) may have to be suspended on the first day of Brexit unless agreement is reached. It’s an extreme example…and it is simply inconceivable (to me at least) that this will be the state of play on Brexit Day – March 29, 2019.

But this extreme example gave me my first out loud ‘resolute moment’ – I am not going to worry about that scenario…let alone plan for that scenario. It just won’t happen. It will be sorted. It is simply not worth our time discussing it.

We broke for lunch. I redoubled my resolute with help from a double espresso courtesy of a good friend who knew where to find a better coffee machine. Very few of us can directly influence how Brexit is finalised – the UK as a whole had (and expressed) our voice in the referendum last year. But we can influence what we can impact. We can make a difference in our own sphere of influence.

The afternoon session was always going to be more engaging and energising. Smaller group discussions made up of people working in similar businesses. Yes we were asked to identify issues…but our brief also included answers and opportunities. My second ‘resolute moment’.

What do we know? How will what we already know help us? What has been agreed? What will not change? What could even be better? Let’s focus on that…all of that. No time for any discussion of standstill at Stansted. Work out what we know…what is good. Focus on that. Communicate that. Be positive.

Our industry is global.  We have patients and sponsors in the UK, the EU, the US…the world. Patients still need better medicines.  Sponsors still need better new drugs to be discovered and developed globally. This year, next year, the year after…forever.

We need – and will need – great people in our industry. Our industry is – and will continue to be – a great industry to work in, learn from and deliver through. In the UK, in the EU…and globally.

Clearly we don’t know everything that will (or won’t) happen in the future…I don’t even know for sure what will happen next week.

But I do know what I want to happen. I know what I can influence.  I know what I can do. I know what I can try to make better. I know my resolute.

Times of change can often be times of concern…but change always creates need and opportunity…

…exciting and energising opportunity…

Cheers

Steve

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Philosophical Flaws…

Although the request didn’t make sense, my disappointment was nothing to do with the particular suggestion. After all, lots of things I hear or read don’t always make sense to me. No matter what I have learned or experienced I know there are many more things that I don’t know, don’t understand or haven’t experienced. It can’t possibly be surprising then, that any specific proposal or suggestion may not make sense to me.

No, my disappointment was with myself. I had broken one of my guiding philosophies. When a proposal does not make sense, it is because I am missing something – there are factors, facts or philosophies of which I am unaware. My actions should always be to seek out and understand whatever I am missing. Understanding does not necessarily equate to agreement – but understanding does lead to an informed decision on whether to agree, debate or discuss alternatives.

I also apply this philosophy from the other side. Whenever I make a proposal or even a decision – I value questions and being questioned. I worry about silence and compliance. I want discussion. I want to explain ‘why’ as well as ‘what’.

I think a great deal about most of my ideas and suggestions. But that does not mean I am right. I know what I know and what I believe – and these are the basis for my proposed actions. But I also know the amazing value of alternative experiences, views and opinions. Any good idea I have ever had the good fortune to be associated with started with an individual ‘light bulb moment’ for someone somewhere…but then morphed into the final solution courtesy of different beliefs, perceptions and options…offered and contributed by diverse people.

It’s not always easy to accept…but often the most vociferous antagonist (‘that’s the worst idea I have ever heard’) can end up making the most impactful contribution (‘I tried that approach in a similar situation, and this is what we ended up doing’).

It’s not always easy to do…but often the most definitively defined action (‘this is my final decision’) has potential to become the most engaging solution (‘I thought my mind was set, but now we have additional attractive options’).

So back to my personal disappointment – that request that didn’t make sense. My first approach was to simply consider different viewpoints. This can work well in many cases. The moment we consider a proposal from a different vantage point – from a colleague, a partner, a team member for example – our perception can change. The logic or rationale can clarify. We engage…we own, solve and do.

It can be a very good thing if this approach provides resolution. We make it happen ourselves, or we discuss and resolve with others.

And indeed I thought this approach had worked. I had rationalised and understood. And I was – and we were – moving forward with that understanding.

But then last week as I was traveling in the mid-West and on the East Coast meeting clients and colleagues, I found opportunity to seek direct input on the original proposal from the original proposer.

How wrong I was. How useful that was. How disappointed I was in myself.

None of my interpretations turned out to be right. The objectives behind the idea were different (and very positive). The basis for the request was well informed, well considered and (very) well intentioned. And the adjustments in practice we were being asked to implement were justified and would likely deliver the desired outcome.

This time around I hadn’t followed my own philosophy – to seek out and understand whatever I am missing.

My bad…not again.

Cheers

Steve

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Onsite Insight…

I am often asked where I am. In fact it one of the most common questions I get. Where are you today? Which country are you in? When were you last home? As a question it is not surprising really – it’s more a consequence of working for a global company with multiple sites and partners in multiple countries.

But I always appreciate it when anyone takes time to ask me any of these questions. Anyone who cares enough to ask about me – or is interested enough to care – is good to talk to and better to know. The same logic applies if anyone wonders if I travel too much…or not; work too hard…or not; do the right thing…or not. It is all good for me. It feels good to know that people care enough about me to think, ask or suggest.

Of course I like it most when I can answer that I am in the UK or at home. It is always good to be at home. Even if I have to preface my answer with those dreaded words ‘…well I flew back over night, but’. It is good to have a home-base.

One of my best friends at work recently pointed out to me that the only time they really know where I am is when I am in the same room as they are. Technology helps here of course. I can send emails and make phone calls from anywhere there is a cell signal or Wi-Fi network. And with my smart phone I always appear to be calling from the same place whether I am in USA, China or UK.

That having been said, it is often that the real benefit – the added value – from being on Site rather than in a hotel room, or an airport, or even at home are those impromptu interactions we can experience. Occasionally colleagues find each other on a table or at a computer or just sitting alone…and then just talk. In person…in real time….in real life!

I had one such interaction last week. I was sat there alone thinking people and schedule; budgets and investments; risks and opportunity; travel and visitors – whilst also keeping an eye on the sport and messaging my children – when my one of my favourite global colleague arrived…and promptly said hello and sat down next to me.

Not that I needed any encouragement, but we were soon in deep conversations about people and projects; this year end and next year start; retention and recruitment; people; investments and impact (budgets only came up when I bought the drinks).

Our discussion rapidly moved to centre on people – people we had both worked with (who all seem to be doing very well). People we have both met, and people we are both working with today. I think a great deal about people and teams and interactions and motivations…so I felt I knew a lot about our topics of discussion. I was informed…I was ready.

Did I know this individual’s passion? What did I see as the driver for the dynamics of this team? Could I explain these actions and reactions? No. I was flummoxed. I had no idea.

I sat and I listened and I learned. Different observations based on different experiences and different viewpoints. Priceless interpretations.

I was less thirsty by the end of our discussion but so much more informed, and aware and engaged and excited. And empowered and ready. I never cease to be amazed at how much opportunity we have to learn from each other and our experiences.

In person and in contact…in sight insights…

Cheers

Steve

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Strange Thing…

I watched the first episode of Stranger Things 2 Monday of last week. It wasn’t quite a ‘binge watch’…but we did finish the ninth and last episode on Saturday. I am a Net Promoter for Stranger Things 2. If anyone was to ask…‘how likely is it that you would recommend Stranger Things 2 to a friend or colleague’…I am a 9 or 10 (on a scale 1 to 10)! Although strangely enough I would caveat my answer (not sure that’s possible in the NP world let alone in the ST Upside Down World) by suggesting my friend or colleague watch Stranger Things 1 first.

Consistent with my Net Promoter Score, I found myself promoting Stranger Things last week as well by interjecting some type of reference into most of my meetings. It was a strange week all in all, although that wasn’t based on my TV viewing. More so it was down to all of my meetings being teleconferences; two days’ of which were being based in the US and three days based in the UK; moreover there was only four hours’ time difference between UK and US East Coast last week. Strange.

We are in November – a busy month. All months are busy. All feel busier and more important than the last. The end of the year seems close. It’s still two full months of course….but just eight weeks’ sounds like no time at all. And we all always have goal and objectives – personal and professional – we want or have to deliver.

And there are just as many meetings…sometimes even more. More because of meetings associated with the impending year end. More because meetings can help bring teams together to solve problems and seize opportunities.

Meetings can be a strange thing in their own right – or maybe more accurately meeting attendance. It is amazing how often anyone we find ourselves invited to participate in a particular meeting and yet that invitation can seem like a distraction or even a frustration. And yet many people not invited to the same meeting can feel excluded or over looked.

I can also vividly recall the first time I joined what I believed to be a true ‘senior management’ meeting. My expectation was of a higher level team work, strategic thinking and informed insight. I was disappointed. They were all great people, but the meeting itself felt no different than other meetings or teams I had experienced.

Looking back though, that first leadership team was one of the most successful teams I have been part of…at least as judged by the impact of our people agenda, business delivery agenda and innovation agenda. So, strange though it sounds, perhaps any meeting we join or attend has similar metastable dynamics and diverse agenda.

And I also remember a strange thought that there had to be another, higher level team meeting – a meeting I was not a member of…that mythical meeting of a high performing team…a team that I aspired to be invited to and part of. Again just not true.

It’s not meetings that make a difference, nor is it what happens at those meetings.  Any more than it is slide decks or emails. What makes a difference – how we can all make a difference – is in what we do and what we achieve… how we do and how we achieve…every day in our everyday activities.

There will always be another meeting we could be invited to attend, another team we could be asked to join. But strange thing is…we are already all part of something bigger – we all make a difference.

Already. Now. Here.

Cheers

Steve

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