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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Including Meetings…

I have been to my fair share of global meetings….and I’ve attended a lot of local meetings whilst travelling globally. So much of whatever I have learned has come from these opportunities. So much of what I have enjoyed is from these meetings.

I vividly remember my first big internal international meeting. I remember how nervous I felt. Excited. Interested. How amazing it seemed to meet people in person who I had only ever heard about before.

I also remember how I couldn’t think of anything to say. Or to ask. It was partly that I was new to these discussions and topics. Partly because I kept debating (for too long) with myself whether my ideas or questions would be of value or use.

I remember a feeling of exclusion. Everyone else seemed to be involved and contributing…active – I was observing and listening…passive. I wanted to be more involved…I wanted to be included…I wanted to contribute and help…it just felt so hard.

One morning – the last morning of the meeting…jet lagged and wide awake in my room – I made myself a resolution…well a couple of resolutions. The first was all about me. I resolved I wouldn’t feel like this again. I was going to change myself and my own situation.

I make sure I always get the agenda in advance of these meetings. I ask for slides in advance. I read and think about messages, ideas, issues and opportunities. I do my own pre-work to ensure I am pre-pared. I have questions and thoughts written down in front of me when meetings start. I don’t always ask the questions I bring in with me…but I know what the topics are…I am ready. No pause. No self-doubt.

Needless to say, I am always more than happy to discuss whether or not my contributions add value…but my morning resolution was to be ready and able to make contributions to allow that assessment.

Interestingly enough, the second resolution was also all about me. I decided that morning that I would do whatever I could to help make sure future ‘first-timers’ had a better experience and felt better than I did that week.

Stimulated by my early caffeine fix, I recognised that diversity of thought, perception and idea is always essential and only ever adds value. And that team members who feel included – especially those with diversity of experience or background or thought – would be better able to help achieve that benefit of diversity.

But rather than trying to convince or change everyone else’s behaviour…rather than broadcasting my newly clarified beliefs over breakfast…I once again decided to change myself.  I resolved to do what I could to improve anyone’s experience coming to a meeting I was attending or running.

Any every large event I am at – in whatever capacity – I seek out new attendees, shake their hand, introduce myself and include them with the same four words “welcome to the team” (courtesy of my wife’s experiences). And I seek to catch up with new team members over breaks or meals to ask their opinions, find out who they are, see how they are doing.

And I try to make my own meetings engaging for everyone. Longer discussion sessions, frequent break out groups, more pre-work and many pre-discussions. My intent is to give opportunity to feel included and offer diversity of thought.  My goal is for better debates, improved ideas and widest ownership of solutions and actions.

It doesn’t always work of course. Nothing always works. I just believe that more inclusive is more engaging, more likely to work, more likely to work better and more enjoyable…



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Week Moments…

I was up and down the East Coast last week. I started in Philadelphia for a couple of nights attending a sales conference. I ended in North Carolina for two more days looking at budgets and strategy. I travelled alone and together and alone. I was with old friends, by myself and with new friends.

I many ways it was a classical ‘travel and meetings’ week. Some aspects were stunningly good…some not so much. Things I had thought about a great deal worked OK…some areas I had hardly considered worked incredibly well. And everything in between.

As I struggled to stay awake on Friday evening sitting back home in the UK…I found myself thinking about my week…the highs and not so highs…the good and the not so good…the expected and the unpredictable.

And as is often the case…I found myself focusing on the little things…a moment here or there…something that happened – or shouldn’t have…something someone said – or didn’t say…a slide that really worked – or that miscued…an unexpected question – or a confusing answer. Minutes during a long week. Seconds even. Moments!

How can it be that so often these sorts of moments can end up feeling like they define a week? How nonsensical is that? How unrealistic? How unfair.  How not to spend a Friday evening! And so I decided, very deliberately, to identify and write down three moments of sheer unadulterated enjoyment. Three delightful moments from those same days and places and occasions last week. Just to see how it felt….as an experiment. The little things yes…but the good little things.

That moment on Thursday in North Carolina when I realised my final day of meetings were all in a location less than ten minutes’ drive from the airport…and that I was booked on a direct flight straight to London. No internal US connections. No rushing across terminals. No second security inspection. No delayed arrivals or departures. No need to extend my concentration. Rather I enjoyed a rapid transfer, laughter, enjoyment, beer and wine with friends in an airport bar, straight onto the plane, a more comfortable seat than I expected, and seven hours later…back in London! What’s not to love?

That moment on Tuesday in Philadelphia when I looked around the room and realised the commercial team I was with was exuding confidence. They were walking on water and ready to walk through walls. They were riding past distractions and were focused. No excuses, no ‘what if’, no blame being assigned anywhere to or from anyone. A new quarter, the last quarter of the year, our quarter, our year. A team together and sure.

That moment late Friday evening when I opened an email with a cryptic, acronym based title. That moment of delight when I realised I was reading a collation of spontaneous and positive feedback from so many of our partners describing their satisfaction on the work we have done together these past few months. Calling out individuals and teams who had helped their projects work and advance. Who had prevented issues, solved problems and seized opportunities. What a summary and what a delight.

And my experiment worked. It took my no time to identify these three moments. And there were so many more I could have easily chosen. I felt good. And pleased and positive about my week. Even those moments I had been fretting about earlier seemed less of an issue…more of an opportunity. I found myself planning and looking forward.

But then I stopped myself. Found my wife. Gave her a hug. Told her how much I love her. Mentioned my great trip. And asked about her week….



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Complex Learners…

Complex and complicated? Complicated or complex? I am pretty sure that I have always used these two adjectives interchangeably without ever really giving either word any detailed thought. It turns out that there is a subtle but important difference.

Complex is when a situation or event or activity is composed of many interconnected parts. Whereas complicated is used to describe a situation made up of many more – and more intricate – interconnected parts.

Based on that definition them I think that most of what we do at work is best described as complex. Occasionally we come across complicated…just not as much as I used to think.

So why spend any time thinking about the difference? Well it’s not so much what the adjective means…it’s about how we could or should respond to situations we find ourselves involved in.

If a situation is complicated we seek clarity; if a situation is complex we should remain curious.

This philosophy – which I have shamelessly borrowed from a very good friend – came to mind several times last week as I spent time in person and on telephone calls with new and motivated and able colleagues.

I rapidly realised in these interactions how impressed I was with the speed at which these new colleagues had learned and are learning about our industry our business our company and our people. They were fast learners…

Once upon a time, I am certain I remember being told I was a ‘fast learner’. I am sure this memory is real since it was the first and only time anyone ever said it to me or about me. I remember being pleased and feeling good. I aspire to that feedback again….

But what does ‘fast learning’ mean? It certainly sounds like a good trait or skill to have or demonstrate…so then what does it look like and how do we improve? Hence the thought about that crucial difference – complicated vs. complex.

Most everything we do is complex – we always have multiple moving parts, perceptions or objectives. But it is only ever very rarely that we experience complicated.

Faced with complexity then, the key skill or behaviour is curiosity. We ask ourselves or others we work with questions…open questions.  Which? What? What? When? We seek more information and more options. We want to compare and contrast…assess and analyse. We want to understand.

Complicated – or potentially more precisely when we perceive a situation as complicated – we just want someone to tell us what it means. Complicated is when we ask someone else to own and solve the problem – or seize the opportunity – and tell us what to do.

Understanding is about learning. Learning isn’t often based on being told what to do. Learners ask questions. Fast learners ask lots of questions…or the same questions to lots of people. And they keep asking.

Implicitly then, a fast learner has to admit to themselves and others that they don’t know or don’t understand. Whilst at the same time explicitly demonstrating that they want to know and want to understand more…

And fast learners often have a tell-tale sign…they always take copious notes in conversations. Fast learning is a skill. Practice improves skills. Fast learners realise that writing down what they hear helps ensure (and speed up) what they learn.

I always recognise fast learners when I have opportunity to work with or for them. Fast learners are wonderful to work with – they always help us directly and indirectly. Working with a fast learner, we inevitably end up with better options and ideas as well as outcomes and results to our complex problems and opportunities.



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People Change…

Change happens. It’s how you handle it that counts. This – or one of the many variations thereof – is as much a truism of life as it is an opportunity and a challenge. For example, if I was going through change and someone said these words to me then it sounds like someone somewhere felt I wasn’t coping. It would be a verbal nudge in the back (or one of the many variations thereof).

If I was informed I was about to undertake a change, or that change was about to start around me, then those same words would be inspiring and full of opportunity. It would be a verbal round of applause.

Like everyone else, I have had my share of change – at home, at work, in family, in life. Good or bad…big or small…quick or slow…to me or around me (who makes this assessment by the way?). And yet here I am. So at some level I clearly cope. We all do. We all cope. We cope much better than we tend to give ourselves credit for. It is in our nature. It is who we are.

I have thought a lot about change – more specifically change at work. I guess this is because I have had my fair share having been in our amazing industry for a good time. I have been asked for advice, been offered advice and have listened and read and watched.

And what have I concluded? It’s that people are the key. And not just at the obvious level that other people – friends and colleagues and family – help us when change happens. This is an essential and beautiful thing about people we know. They are there for us when we need them.

The other people component of when change happens is that people always leave. We lose people in change. People we know, love, live with, work with or work for. They go away physically or emotionally or both.

When companies change people we will have worked with and enjoy working with – people we know well and who know us – these people will leave or move. And this manifestation of change can often be the most significant and impactful on us.

People we know leave. People we don’t know arrive. Teams and networks and contacts change. Emails are returned undelivered. Internal message networks move to status unknown. We miss people. People who helped us and who did great work for us or with us, and yes sometimes despite us!

And new people join. But we have all been new people who join. And when we arrive we are going through change ourselves. A new starter has left someone else. People and teams who they knew and loved and valued. And now they are with us. Alone. They know no-one; they don’t know who we are or how we work. What we do or how we do it. But new people are with us because of changes that impacted them. Sometimes good changes…sometimes not.

So what do we do? What helps?

Building new relationships. Reaching out and introducing ourselves. Building new networks. Asking questions, investing time. Being present. Work time and social time. Learning, laughing and linking.

New people are always good people who always want to help and enjoy and contribute to success – this is what we were like when we were a new person!

And we learn so much from other people. Their experiences, ideas, beliefs. We lean in…we enjoy.

So we all – always – miss people who leave…people who were part of our lives. But we all – always embrace the new.

It’s how we handle it…



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Timing Vision…

After a few days in the UK last week, I travelled to meet with one of our larger clients, for an annual review of our progress together over the past year and our opportunities for next year.

There are many differences – big and small – between being a member of a pharmaceutical company and a CRO industry customer (the role I used to have) and being a member of a CRO company with pharmaceutical industry customers (the role I have now).

One of the best for me – by a long way – is that we get to interact, partner and work with such a diverse set of customers – ranging from the largest, most established and most successful pharmaceutical companies…all the way though the smallest, most recently created and most innovative Emerging Biotechs. In my old role, I never had that opportunity, that diversity, that excitement.

And last week I was with a large pharma in person meeting old friends and new partners. Discussion, debate, ideas and actions. Opportunity. Excitement. A tiring few days but at the same time energising. It always is.

And exactly the same description would apply if I had been meeting with Emerging Biotech (or pharma consultants, or academia, or non-pharma) in person. This breadth defines the diversity and the opportunity and excitement. The addiction almost…

Another big difference in the pharmaceutical industry between being a member of a CRO rather than a pharma company is decision feedback time. In effect how long it takes to discover whether an important decision is right or wrong, works or doesn’t …is successful or not.

The emphasis is on the ‘important decisions’. We all make decisions all the time at work and we get outcome resolution at a similar rate, irrespective of our part in the industry. Which compound to make, which assay to run, which individual to recruit….but the bigger, strategic, important decisions inevitably play out over different time lines, depending on which part of the industry we are in.

For the Research and Development division in large pharma, one of the most important decisions is which mechanism is selected to treat a specific disease safely, effectively and conveniently such that it will be a success for patients and a success commercially. And the time line between a large pharma making this decision and finding out if the end product drug is truly a success is routinely over ten years.

Ten Years! Yes there are indicators at earlier time points, but success for patients and success financially takes a long, long time to resolve.

Emerging Biotech make similar pivotal selections on target mechanisms for specific diseases, but historically at least, Emerging Biotech have an earlier readout on the success of their decisions. In general the goal for Emerging Biotech is to partner with (to sell their project to) large pharma…at some point early in the project’s development. And deals are often done when a compound is showing positive results early in clinical development – maybe three to five years after the initial decision.

CROs have a very different business model.  Our cycle time between big decisions and resolution is much shorter and is measured in months or quarters years. For example, when we make decisions to invest in new scientific capabilities, increased capacity or specialty services, we are frequently looking for successful resolution in a twelve to eighteen months or less.

And inevitably an organisation’s culture and operating model is defined by this intrinsic environment over decision making/feedback time.  But the resulting differences and diversity in viewpoint also lead directly to engaging and exciting discussions across our industry…

…just like those I had last week.



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Energy Source…

I was in the UK all this week. It was good to be back home after several weeks away. Jet lag when you arrive in the UK after fully adjusting to US time is a strange beast. I found myself having to concentrate and work hard on doing things – like eating, sleeping and walking – that normally you do automatically.

It feels this week as if a lot of things are happening. I think this is just true rather than being anything to do with jetlag. At home…at work…in the world. Many of those things are exciting and good. Some are a little hard to tell yet (I think they will be good). And some are just worrying.

Against that backdrop, I found myself in several conversations last week on communication. I am often asked about communication. What I think works? Should we do more? Or less? Or differently? Or the same?

Any time anyone asks me my opinion on anything, I feel flattered. In truth I feel more flattered than I do confident that I can offer any insights of any value. If I do offer opinion, then I always try to base it on my own experiences.

In the case of communication I base my opinion on what helps me when I am being communicated to…as much as what I find works if I am the one communicating.

I like to receive verbal and I like to receive written communication. Verbal can be in one-to-one, in groups or in town halls. Verbal can be live, tele/video-con or even recorded. Written can be emails or documents. I like – and I absorb – it all.

At times of internal or external change I have an insatiable desire for information. I like to understand – what, why, how, when. The more I understand the easier I find it to adapt and respond and help.

Verbal communication energises me. I like getting my information and energy from active involvement in events – I love asking questions. I understand events and situations much better when I hear what other people have to say and when I can talk out loud about what’s happening. But that is not enough…

…I also appreciate the detail and when big things are happening I find it energising, beneficial and rewarding to analyse and consider events for myself by myself….based on my thoughts and my experiences, my ideas and my reactions…inside my head. This internal assessment and reflection works best with – and is fuelled by – written communication. Information I can read and re-read.

I don’t think I am alone in this mix. We all spend time externalising our thinking and talking events through – many great ideas come from such discussions. But we also benefit from time to internalise our thinking and work things through alone – and many great ideas come from such analyses.

Our differences are more about balance and preference between these two approaches, these two related ways of assessing and thinking and of being energised. Neither is right nor wrong, better or worse – they are just different.

So back to communication. I believe we need – and benefit from – both verbal and written. But more importantly communication works when as many of us as possible are enabled and encouraged to understand so that we can adapt, respond and help. If we only do written then the more external amongst us won’t get what we need. If we only do verbal, then those of us more internally inclined will miss out.

Communication from organisations and leaders (and friends and politicians) is intended to give information and should enable understanding…

…good communication inspires and energises…



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Amazing Data…

Summer is all but at an end. We flew back to the UK this week. I have been working and vacationing. Worn my shorts and worn my phone head set. I have been with clients; my family; friends; colleagues; alone; and with my wife.

Six weeks have gone in an instant. But when I give myself time to think about everything we’ve done, the people I’ve seen and the fun I have had…then I smile. These are precious times and precious moments. And I get to spend them with people who are precious to me.

I always return from the US with more than I arrive. More clothes, books and gifts. Many items are cheaper in the US than the UK so there is temptation. In addition, it’s amazing what good value everything seems if you take 25% off the price when converting from Dollars to Sterling!

I am a long term Amazon user both in the UK and the US. Seems to me that Amazon is well stocked and is a simple way to purchase most things at a pretty good price. My only frustration is when delivery times stretch out to more than a week.

Originally I only ever bought from Amazon itself but more recently I have bought successfully from Amazon Marketplace. Evidently I have been sufficiently satisfied by Amazon’s service that I am happy to make purchases from other companies – companies I know nothing about other than that they (pay to) advertise on Amazon Marketplace. Interesting!

There are some aspects of Amazon that amaze me – Amazon Recommendations being the most obvious. Every time I log on, I am shown recommendations for things I may like to buy – recommendations for me personally – and it is just amazing how often they are right. I know these recommendations are based on items I have bought or looked at – combined with behaviour of other customers – but even so…how do they do that so well?

As a customer, this sort of ‘customer focussed’ mentality in a competitive market is very impressive. As a supplier, it is even more impressive! Positive recommendations only ever generate more business – more enquiries, more selling and more buying – as well as more data to fuel more recommendations.

At the start of this summer I received a personal email from Amazon US inviting me to join (at no cost) a thirty day trial of Amazon Prime offering free next day (or next plus one day) delivery. This seemed a great idea…no more expensive delivery options; no more week long delays. All I had to remember was to cancel my membership at end of the trial – before we returned to the UK in effect – otherwise there would be a $99 charge!

The month was up on Friday, and I cancelled. I smiled to myself as I did so. This had been a great deal for us. I also smiled as I thought how fortunate it was that this offer conveniently coincided with our time in the US – a time when we were much more likely to be interested in using and buying from Amazon.

My smile dropped as the truth dawned….Amazon doesn’t just have data on what we buy, but they also have data on when we buy. That email offering me a month’s free Prime membership just as we arrived in the US was no more coincidence that it was good fortune.

Rather it was another example of Amazon using their data – in this case data on our shopping patterns – to encourage us into spending more at Amazon over the summer.

I am impressed….



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