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…



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Texan Thursday…

I was in the great state of Texas last week. Great in many senses. Great people. Great trucks. Great scenery. Great size. Great lack of hills. Great hospitality. Many great sights. One great site.

I stayed in two cities – one very large where I was attending a major conference…one much smaller where I was visiting a major facility. I met many friends and colleagues – new and old friends…new and old colleagues – in both cities. Working around my jetlag, I drank a lot of coffee and water all day. I ate too much at the wrong time of day most days. I slept too little at the right time of (Texas) night time. And worked hard to stay alert at the right time of (Texas) day time.

I listened a great deal. I learned an enormous amount. I discussed many things. Some discussions were straightforward and engaging. Others were complex and complicated. It was a standard US travel week…but it was a great week.

Ours is a very good company made exceptional by the people who work there. Yours is a very good company made exceptional by the people who work there. Any Company. Any Conference. Any Site. Any State. Can work…it’s the people who make a difference.

The highlight of my week was the team I met on my last day in Texas – Thursday. They inspired me and engaged me. To a person they are passionate and committed. They care and they believe. I left enthused, excited and energised.

The hardest part of my week was Thursday afternoon – sitting at a Texan international airport with two hours before my connection home to the UK. I knew I had two hours connection…but I also knew I had three hours of work I need to complete before I flew. Two hours where I knew my morning-induced energy would rapidly dissipate. Two hours in which I knew I had to stay focussed on what I had to do…rather than on where I wanted to be or who I would rather be with.

These moments are partly physical fatigue but in main they are mental fatigue. They happen to us all of course – they are neither jet lag nor travel specific…they are simply hard work related. Every emotion is telling you to relax, kick back, enjoy. Every logic and thought has to be to focus, lean in, apply.

In my case on Thursday in Texas – I needed a quiet space. I didn’t need any more distractions and I knew I was going to call people and didn’t want to worry about anyone overhearing. Quiet space in an airport is an oxymoron. I did the best I could…aided by headphones, my back to a corner, and effective positioning of my suitcase and suit carrier.

I did what I had to do in those two hours. I didn’t manage everything I needed to do…but I delivered what was essential. My favoured source of caffeine was nearby which helped. Other than that regular fix I stayed still and stayed focussed. Focussed on what I had to do not what I wanted to do.

I completed files and sent emails. I made calls and texted messages. I don’t think I made any mistakes…maybe everyone was just being nice. I missed one call – I know that team did a great job without me.

I boarded my flight. Sat down and settled in. I kicked back…looking forward to enjoying a film and food on the flight. I allowed myself to relax. Next thing I knew I woke up as we were landing in London.

I felt good. A little confused. Nicely refreshed. Very hungry



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Relative Time…

Time is relative. True. Profound. Not my theory of course. Today is Mother’s Day in the UK. Today is also the day when US and UK time diverges. Daylight Savings Time US started last night. British Summer Time UK doesn’t start for another two weeks. This anything to do with relativity (or relatives) but it is confusing…even in a world organised by electronic calendars on our phones and computers.

I think that the relativity of time becomes apparent when we look back in time. Can it really be a full year since my original relatives – my mum and dad – both passed away? It is. But at times it feels like only yesterday…at other times it feels like another lifetime ago.

Can it really by six years since I took on my current role? Again yes. But again at times it feels like I am a ‘newbie’ and at other times it feels as if I am an ‘old timer’. Six years ago my children were both teenagers at school. One year ago they were holding my hand at funerals telling me it would be OK.

So yes – time is about relatives but time is also relative. But relative to what? I think that time is relative to other events and other people…to activities happening around us.

If you made me sit quietly for two hours…not talking, listening, watching or reading…that two hours would seem like an eternity. Sit me friends, family, music, a film, a book (OK – maybe not a book – my email account more likely)…then those two hours will pass in the blink of an eye.

It is the same two hours in both cases…the difference in how it feels and how I feel is relative to external events, people and actions.

When I think about the twelve months since Mother’s Day last year, how I feel depends on how I think. If I think about moments with my parents, then I miss them – I even feel lost without them. If I think about my family, my wife (on Mother’s Day) and our children, about my sisters and brother and their families (including my eleven day old grandniece)…then I feel happy and proud, loved and excited, and certain.

Proud and excited about what we have done, are doing and will do – together. Happy and loved by them all. And certain in the knowledge that my mum and dad would be so happy and so proud.

When I think about our industry and our work over six years…I am amazed at how much we have done, delivered, achieved, changed, and improved. I smile at the funny times we have experienced and I feel unhappy about the hard times. Do I think we could have done more or changed more…delivered more or changed more rapidly? Yes – but I think we all do…always.

Ours is an amazing industry that can change dramatically. It’s just hard to see that change when we are in the middle…but our partners change, our science changes, our regulators change and we change.

And it’s because of these changes in events and activities and people around us that we can so often feel we that have so much more we want to do and have to do.

My conclusion then? The key to relative time and time relativity? They key is to be 100% present today. To do the absolute best I can do today – whether it is Mother’s Day or any day. To be present with the people I am with. To savour moments and to appreciate people. To enjoy them. To be with them.

To love them…



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Future Back…

Last time (and first time) I went to a physiotherapist was when I had a sore back. He was very good. He told me the muscles up and down my back, shoulders and neck were tight (indeed) and that some of the muscles in my lower back were seized up and that was the cause of my pain. He manipulated the muscles a little – but recommended a massage as being more effective at relaxing back muscles. He also showed me what he described as the best two exercises he knew to both relieve back pain and to avoid future problems.

I was happy and excited. Happy that I felt better after his manipulation and excited that I had a preventative path forward. And then came the punchline – ‘do these exercises twice a day every day and it will help prevent any future recurrence’.

He could see my face of course – and sure enough it was only a split second later that he added – ‘I know…no-one ever does the exercises every day’. No problem I thought to myself – this guy doesn’t know how determined I can be when I set my mind to something – I can do this.

And sure enough I dutifully did both exercises, exactly as demonstrated, twice a day, every day….

…for about 5 days! And then I stopped. My back felt better and something else just seemed like a better option to do with that time.

And sure enough he was right. On a regular but infrequent basis I get the same lower back pain. And when I do, I dutifully do his exercises twice a day…and re-resolve to myself that I will continue to do them every day…even after the pain has gone.

And sure enough…I don’t!

It also turns out that back pain is very common…so much so that whenever I am obviously and painfully struggling, I always get lots of great advice (as well as my fair share of sympathy and mockery). Pilates and yoga are both good, frequent, and as yet never tried suggestions. Lose weight is common – although I am not sure if that is based on sympathy or mockery. 10,000 steps a day is another one I have heard a few times…but that is a very large amount of walking.

No, I am sure; the best advice I have had was the first (and professional) advice – from that friendly physiotherapist – practice his best two exercises twice a day every day.

I am also pretty sure I know why I don’t do these exercises once the pain has gone. There is no obvious reward. If I work out on my bike, then my adrenaline flows, my blood flows, my endorphins flow and I even sweat. I feel tired but I feel good (those endorphins are pretty impressive). If I was to try to lose weight then I have a number of biomarkers to help me…ranging from looking in the mirror through to my weighing scales – again I get reward as I make progress.

Preventative exercises that involve lying on the floor for 10 minutes…not so much. No endorphins, no biomarkers, no feel good factor, no praise, no reward, no gain…no pain -but I wasn’t in pain anyway whilst preventing.

I have tried listening to music whilst I stretch. I have tried setting my phone alarm to remind me. I even booked slots into my daily calendar one time. No go…

…there has to be a better way.

Yesterday I tried something new – I did my daily exercise and went straight into my back stretches as I was cooling down. That worked really well. Yesterday. Today…who knows…

…wish me luck!



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Love Films…

I watch a lot of films. Most of them by myself. On a small screen, in the back of the seat in front of me…on an aeroplane. The one good thing about this viewing mode is that I can watch any film I want without considering anyone else’s views. Amongst the down sides are that it is an individual activity; there is no-one else to talk to about the film; the screen is small; there is no-one to laugh with or discuss with; I can’t even send a text message to my children to ask them to explain the ending.

We watch films at home or on the local big screen. I often watch films again at home to compensate for all those aeroplane downsides…most of all to be able to laugh or cry or discuss with someone else. To connect with someone – someone I love – about a silly or thrilling or funny or moving movie. And we choose which films we think will benefit from the big screen…or from more a larger audience to share the experience with.

Last week I was in the Mid-West of the US and then moved to the East Coast before flying back to the UK. Visiting sites and visiting partners…meeting people and people meetings. I watched three films whilst on planes. I have to think to remember – another downside of the individual activity. I can vividly remember the people and partner meetings. The discussions. The laughter. The occurrences of clarity. The instances of innovation. The connections.

Back home yesterday, we went to the big screen to watch Ladybird. My wife cried. I laughed. My son explained the ending by text. We both enjoyed. We enjoyed together. We connected with each other. We discussed and compared and reminisced on the way home. I wouldn’t have watched alone on a plane. It was a film to watch with someone…to connect with someone. Mother, father, partner, friend, daughter. Someone you like a lot at least…ideally someone you love. Someone you have shared special moments with.

I won’t tell much about the film. As ever, the trailer has one of the best lines from the whole film…but only one of the best lines.

It is a film about connection, about attention, about love. Who knows – these may be one and the same thing. I don’t know. But I do know that we can all seek out and benefit from that feeling that we are connected…that we belong and that we matter.

It has to be why we as children – or our children – will seek attention when probably they/we seek connection or love. It surely is one of the reasons why so much can feel so strange when we lose our parents.

But connection at work is very important. That we belong and that we matter. Some of it is personal – well all of it is personal of course – and some of it is down to others in our organisation.  Do we feel like we belong and that we matter…do the actions of others help us feel like we belong and that we matter?

Someone special I once worked for told me that we don’t need connection all the time…we just often need it first.

Our work is personal. It is what we do. The people we work with personally – inside our organisation or within our partners – are important to us and are an important part of what we do…and why.

I know I enjoy connecting with others. At work…at home. Experiences, moments and stories. Not all of the time. But absolutely some of the time. Contact. Sharing. Listening. Laughing. Learning.

And loving.



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Mind Asking…

I am inquisitive by nature. I like to understand things. I ask questions to understand – to understand thinking, detail, ideas, rationale. I ask questions on topics I think I understand (to increase my understanding) as much as I do on topics I don’t understand (to learn). I ask people lots of questions. I ask myself more. I ask questions to change my thinking…to change my mind.

I only have three rules. I always ask open questions (questions that can’t be answered yes or no) – I am after information not affirmation. I never use discount lines (‘this maybe be a silly question’…’this may be a hard question’) – they tend to distract the recipient. And I never worry.

All of which goes to explain why I am so engaged when I find the answer to something that I have never understood…. even more so if my lack of understanding has been irritating me.

I have strong views on Brexit. But I was irritated by the lack of quality of the 2016 UK referendum. It felt to me like there was no significant debate about any substantive issues. No debate at all. Just soundbites, billboards and commercials. Finger pointing, denying and statements with no facts. It drove me to distraction. I just couldn’t understand it.

I asked lots of people. Eventually I stopped asking myself. I didn’t get any help and couldn’t help myself. Most everyone I spoke to seemed to agree with my observations on the politics (or lack of) – even where we disagreed on the outcome.

Today I am happy. I have increased understanding. I read an article at the end of last week analysing the 2016 US election. It gave me an answer. Based on politics granted, but really based on us. On people. And the answer was obvious. Most good answers are obvious when someone who understands explains them to you.

It is much harder to change someone’s mind than it is to influence something they already believe.

That Brexit referendum then – the objective was to target people who were ‘not sure’ – individuals who were undecided on whether we should stay or leave, but who were anxious about one or two high profile topics. The strategy was to focus on these – more emotional – issues to influence opinion – healthcare, immigration, family, employment. And the approach was emotional – hence the lack of data, depth and rationale. It was all about emotions…from both sides. The goal was only ever to influence thoughts rather than to change minds.

This concept I can relate to. When I believe something it is hard to change my mind. Changing anything – culture, leadership, work, strategy, friends – takes time. Changing what any of us already believe is not easy. Influencing – increasing or decreasing – something we are already thinking is more straightforward.

Back to Brexit – the winner simply had to have more votes than the loser. There wasn’t any requirement for minimum number of voters, or minimum percentage to win. It was first past the post. More votes on your side. Less votes cast against. There was no need for anyone to try to change the mind of those who had strong views either way.

Now I understand. Now I am just disappointed…rather than irritated.

Back to work. Or to life. What does this learning mean? How does it help? Does it help? Maybe it just means I am not as open to learning as I thought I was? Or as open to change as I believed? Maybe I am just seeking affirmation of something I already believe? Maybe we all are?

More questions. Questions are good…

…I am inquisitive by nature.



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Driving Forward…

Saturday morning in the UK after a week on the US East Coast dodging snow and meeting with partners, old friends, new friends and new partners. Saturday morning I find myself thinking of my driving test. To put this into context, I took and passed my driving test – essential to drive legally in the UK – when I was seventeen.

I was relatively relaxed (rightly or wrongly I hasten to add) whilst actually driving…my anxiety was centred on the verbal question and answer session (on driving) that in those days happened at the end of the test. Stories circulating amongst my friends described obscure and baffling questions…stories that had led to me read, learn and re-read the Highway Code…several times! But I was still nervous.

“How far ahead should you be looking when you are driving?” was the apparently obscure question that floored me. That information wasn’t in the Code. What was the inspector asking? Why? How should I reply? I had no idea. I knew I it wasn’t a moment to ask for clarification.

One hundred yards. One hundred yards was my precise – but totally nonsensical – response. I knew immediately my answer was nonsensical by the look on his face. Even a naïve seventeen year old could recognise that face. One hundred yards – what do you mean – was his confused reply?

Fortunately my examiner helped me by immediately asking a more precise question – “if you were driving at 70mph, how long would it take you to stop?” Three hundred yards was my immediate and correct answer (correct since that figure was in the Highway Code). “Is the right answer” he said. “And so looking forward for 100 yards is a nonsense answer isn’t it”. He added. “When driving, you have to forward plan as far as you can see.” He advised.

Fast forward to Saturday. I was reading and laughing at an article reviewing ‘Business Jargon’. And one maligned and mocked expression was ‘forward planning’. ‘Planning is always for the future so the addition of forward is totally irrelevant’ being the acerbic critique.

Forward planning…business jargon…gratuitous inclusion of extra words. Yes it made me laugh. But then I flashed back to my driving test and those words of advice on forward planning from my Driving Inspector.

In a car we have a rear view mirror and for sure it’s important to watch what’s happening behind you (backward planning?) But planning forward – assessing the driving conditions and road we are travelling on – is essential. Where we are heading and what’s happening in front of us…what others are doing around us…what others expect us to do…how their actions or expectations could impact or influence us.

Sure enough, when I drive, I avoid concentrating on any single point. I look ahead as far as I can see…and I watch the car immediately in front of me. Both may become a hazard. Either could create a difficult situation.

When we drive, forward planning requires us to take more notice of what is happening ahead. Forward planning anticipates hazards before they materialise – junctions, cyclists, pedestrians, other vehicles. Some are clear and some are even sign posted. Others just happen.

So yes I laughed yesterday morning at our business jargon – business jargon I know I use far too often. But courtesy of my driving examiner I disagreed with the irrelevancy of that word.

The inclusion of ‘forward’ is vital – it ensures we differentiate what is ahead of us from anything happening to us, and definitely from anything behind us.

Forward planning – good forward planning – is essential to ensure we get to where we want to go…

…safely…successfully…and quickly.



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Maximum Comminglement…

Maximum comminglement – sounds like the name of a new band you may not have heard about yet. But no…maximum comminglement …and its grammatically incorrect extension – maximum commingling – seem to be a new business philosophy.

At least the terminology is new. New to me. Commingle rather than mingle is mildly interesting since as far as I can see, both words actually mean the same thing – to mix or mix together. Maybe commingle tends to be used to describe an action taken to have impact on other people or other things…whereas mingle is what we do ourselves.

‘Great to chat with you – I am off to mingle with that team over there.’ When we arrive we should make sure our team commingles with anyone we know from the other side’.

Maximum I get.

The context in which I hear maximum comminglement is strictly at work. After all, none of us ever use phrases like this anywhere else.  But when I hear that phrase it is always met with maximum nodding (of heads) – suggesting everyone knows what it means. And either strong support or strong push back.

But that’s OK – as with most things context is everything. As is point of view or perception. How we look at any event or any proposal is based on where we are and what beliefs we have.

If we believe there is value in having our project teams working together, drinking coffee together, and creating opportunity together, then the more we can organise and arrange for them to mingle with each other the better. And needless to say, every leader I have ever come across would agree. When would it not make sense to have a team commingled? Sign me up – maximum comminglement makes total sense.

As Ryan Bingham once said…‘If you think about it, your favourite memories, the most important moments in your life… were you alone? Life’s better with company’. Of course, Ryan was talking about family, but the same principal applies to work as well. I laugh most at work with people. I engage most at work with my colleagues and partners. Anything good I have ever been involved in at work has originated from you and them.

Why the push back then? How or why could there be any dissenting voices or shaking heads to the idea of maximum comminglement?

I found myself considering this as I was exercising on Friday…I had a call that afternoon and I knew MC was on our agenda.

The answer was obvious when it hit me. Most good ideas or answers are obvious eventually. The debate was nothing to do with MC or not MC. The debate was all about what team or more precisely how we define our teams.

We all are members of multiple teams. And in different teams we can play different roles. Team leader of one…Team member of another. Innovator in one. Solver in another. Confidante or inspiration. Strength or support.

But in an environment of maximum comminglement, the debate is always which team. Do we maximize the extent to which our scientific discipline teams commingle? Or do we focus more on arranging around our multi-disciplinary teams?

In truth this is a much more interesting question. Interesting meaning I just don’t know the answer. And the middle ground of ‘it depends’…or ‘best of both’ don’t help me one way or the other. If we are talking about building or lab occupancy – my sense is that we are all in or all out.

Me? My view? Any organisation can work…it’s the people that make a difference. Focus on the team and project interfaces. Put…

…the right people there…




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