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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Intent Emerges…

Maybe the reality is that all strategy is emergent? Or evolving and developing? We all like to believe that things are better if we have a strategy (at work at least) and there are a myriad of quotes from the wise and the wonderful that seem to confirm this.

“Your strategy should define what you do…as opposed to what you do defining your strategy.”

At its most simplest, I have always thought as strategy being how we get from where we are today to where we want to be. But of course nothing is ever quite so simple. In most organisations, although it is vitally important to have a view of- and aspiration for – the future…it is also essential to deliver value today. So as well as getting us from where we are today to where we want to be, our strategy has to ensure we are successful along the way.

“In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell.”

And it is this essential focus on implementation that makes me think all strategy is emergent. The moment we start to implement things start to happen. Good things, not so good things; Expected things, unpredictable things. Especially in research. We do research because we are investigating the unknown. No-one knows what will happen until we do the experiment. In an emergent world, the key is to be able to respond to events. To understand, adapt and adjust. Quickly and correctly. At least until the next event happens

“That should have been my strategy! By the time I’ve worked through the emotions of surprise, admiration, anger, jealousy, and frustration, I’m watching that reddish mane of hair disappear into the trees…”

Conversely, this would suggest that our overall goals or objectives would stay constant…as would our major strategic themes. We make choices about where and how we operate – for example therapeutic areas or commercial opportunities in business. But we always have to implement superbly well and we have to be adept and agile at responding.

I thought strategy this last week as I had opportunity to participate in two external meetings with colleagues from within our organisation and from our partners. In both cases it struck me just how much was happening. How may events we were all responding to today that none of us could have predicted last month let alone last year.

Some of these changes were very exciting and engaging – the energy and enthusiasm in the discussions was palpable. And others were startling and even disconcerting. Some were people…some were scientific…some were business…and some were personal.

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”

And what matters was what we decided to do next, and why and above all how. Success would be based on our collective opinions and ideas and how well we implement them. Not my ideas or yours, but our collective. Not a long winded open ended consensus but equally not one dominant view to override everyone else.

Everyone in both meetings understood what our objectives were and knew they were aligned – even if different groups may have had different versions of the same objectives. There was trust (of each other) and confidence (in each other) – both of which started high and have been developed further though investment in relationships. We felt good when we were able to track back to prior meetings and identify how we had previously responded to emergent events, solved problems and seized opportunities

We won’t succeed because of these discussions – we all know that…but we will fail without them – of that we are certain.

“Intended goals and emergent strategy.”



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High Lows…

I met a lot of people last week. Colleagues and customers. In the UK and in the US – in person, on phones, on airplanes, over breakfast and even in fitness centres. Allies and friends, CEOs and scientists. At various times on various days, I was tired and jetlagged, energised and elated…and occasionally all of the above at the same time!

In a week like this, I inevitably have highs and lows. Exactly what they will be is hard to predict…although when is more common. The lows are always travel related – 9:30pm at an East Coast airport when the airline tells us the last flight of the day is delayed by an unspecified amount of time for an unknown technical reason. 9:30am at Heathrow airport when we leave to drive home and immediately come to a complete standstill in traffic which evidently has no intention of moving any time soon.

The highs are totally predictable – the highs are always to do with people. The highs are never the same, and only ever amaze me when they happen. Sometimes they are major moments of immediate significance. Frequently they are fleeting flashes that only slowly manifest.

The highlight moments always come from individuals or from teams. They never try to have that impact on me. They just do. There is a passion and a commitment that is constant. A desire and a compulsion to make a difference. People never cease to amaze and delight me.

If there is one valuable skill I have honed over weeks like last week is to recognise those highlight moments, to savour them and to remember them. And maybe also, I have also gotten much better at instantly forgetting those low moments…or else just laughing at them.

Last week we had a problem with one of our studies on one of our sites. We seemed to be struggling to convince the potential customer that we were their ideal choice – the best team to help them seize the opportunity they believe they have with their project. It was an issue of price or value, or of experience or timing, or maybe of relationship or confidence. These are seldom simple situations…the only obvious aspect being that we are at risk of losing an important opportunity…any opportunity.

Our conviction is that we can do any experiment on which we make a proposal better than anyone else. We have to believe that otherwise we are lost. Better may be a major differentiation – a capability or capacity that we have uniquely. Or it may be uniquely personal – no-one else has our people. But that conviction drives us to want to be the partner of choice…for everyone…and for every opportunity.

That conviction compels us in those moments when we may lose that partnering opportunity. It is not business. It is personal. We want to help projects advance to help patients. We know what we can do and how well we can do. We don’t give in and we don’t give up.

I recognised the moment on Monday – the moment when it looked like we may lose this particular opportunity. And I decided to try to help.

Fast forward five days and there I was – jetlagged and stuck in London traffic on Friday morning – reading email traffic that confirmed we had won that opportunity. I smiled and felt pleased.

The highlight hit me though as it very quickly became obvious from the emails just how many other colleagues had seen that same moment…and had immediately stepped in to help us win that opportunity. With experience, insight, ideas, support…and with each other.

Individually and as a team. Unconditionally.



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Forward Feed…

‘Feedback is a gift’. If only I could find the person who first coined that phrase…I would offer some feedback. Consider performance assessment – a process based on feedback – on ourselves, on each other and even sometimes on our bosses. Dutifully we supply, we collate, we pass on, we listen and we take on board. If it’s true that feedback is a gift – then like any other gift we can either take it and use it…or we can place it in a bottom drawer and forget about it. Of course we all consider feedback – we seek to understand, contextualise, rationalise and – if we are lucky or skilled – we even identify an idea for something different to do next time.

I think a great deal about feedback and its value – often in situations where I am a customer, and also where we are delivering a service to a customer. Should I offer feedback? How should I take the feedback? Who was it who first said feedback is a gift?

Several years ago I attended a symposium featuring a guest external speaker. He was great. Inspired even. Definitely inspiring. He spoke about lots of topics that day…but he also offered a simple view on feedback. ‘Feedback is fatally flawed since – by definition – it focuses on events that have already happened…and so feedback is limited and static.

We were offered an alternative. FeedForward. FeedForward was presented as a gift! FeedForward is when we provide suggestions to someone else for their future actions only.

Beautifully simple, but amazingly helpful.

On that particular day, we were in mixed teams. I recall I knew less than 10% of colleagues on my team. But yet I immediately realised one beauty of FeedForward – it doesn’t require any knowledge of the other person.

All I had to do was identify one behaviour I wanted to change – a behaviour I believed would lead to significant, positive difference. With that in mind, I approached a team member and asked for FeedForward – two suggestions that might help me achieve a positive change in my selected behaviour. My reply to any FeedForward received was limited to ‘thank you’ – by our agreed process that day. We then swapped roles and I was asked to offer FeedForward on my colleague’s chosen behaviour or situation.

Even now I can remember that session vividly. It was fantastic, enjoyable and very worthwhile – both as the presenter and recipient of advice. In contrast to feedback, FeedForward was – and is – expansive and dynamic.

I even had chance to interact with our guest speaker. He asked me (really) for FeedForward on how he could get his messages to more people. I gave him my two best ideas. He thanked me and moved on to the next person. I felt great that he had listened and accepted.

We all spend a great deal of time discussing – and seeking to understand – events or performance that have happened. It is in our nature and is reinforced in our education, in our training and in our roles.

It’s true we can and should learn from our past – but the future is ours to create. What happens next? What steps should we take – individually or collectively? To what do we aspire?

FeedForward will always help. New ideas, different priorities or even just an alternative view on our existing plan? FeedForward is as valuable to receive as it is exciting to offer. And – like so many really good ideas I have heard – so obvious once someone else explained it to me.

Our future is waiting to happen.



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Love Life…

Last week was tiring. Nine hours on a plane apparently full of families with small children, followed by four days getting up at 4:00am, working all day and going to bed around 10:00pm.  It was hot. And humid. And stimulating. And engaging. And inspiring. And enjoyable. And good. I loved it. Life is good. I love life.

I always find big global meetings – with colleagues from all over the world – to be an invigorating experience. These are great opportunities to refresh and create personal networks.

I enjoy these meetings. I am always present. I have long since learned to avoid sitting in the room but not really being there. I listen, I ask questions and I seek out presenters for discussion. It is a very long way to go, and an awful lot of time to commit, so I may as well make the most of it.

The networking is enjoyable and valuable – my main challenge being to make new contacts as well as connecting with colleagues who I know well, but haven’t seen for a year. I met many new colleagues last week. I also missed several old colleagues.

Overall, this week was different from last year. More people knew more. More about each other, about our businesses, our customers, our strengths and our opportunities. Inevitably this increased knowledge and understanding led to different conversations and discussions.

So I like the networking…but for the meeting to be of real value for me, I have to find something in the presentations and sessions that intrigues me…or that sets me thinking in a different way. And it can be hard to predict which that presentation or session will be…which – of course – is half the fun.

This year we had excellent sessions on our people, our large projects and our impact on patients. Everyone seemed excited and impressed by our progress overall, on our strategic framework and our strategy. This was excellent – of course – but this wasn’t what excited me most.

The highlight for me was the chance to add someone new to my network. For the sake of anonymity, let’s just call him John from our North Carolina Office. John is someone I haven’t ever had chance to work with before, or even talk to, let alone hear them present. It may also be that John wouldn’t have sat next to me for lunch on the first day if he knew that being in my network means I now feel able to ask him anything, and to offer my opinions on most everything.

But what impressed me most was how honest, passionate and committed John was. How genuinely interested he was in what I (and others) thought, asked or suggested. How clearly he listened when he interacted. Many people may hear what you say but not that many really listen.

John even appeared on the agenda a couple of times this week and used those moments to share his views on our leadership and our people…our opportunities and our challenges. Some I immediately related to. Some I found myself initially less sure about. But they were always thought provoking and stimulating…were based on understanding and desire…and were shared with passion and commitment, energy and belief.

It was also quickly apparent that John was very eager to learn, that he wanted us to succeed, that he was passionate helping us, that he wants our people to be happy and engaged. I was struck by how empowering this felt – to know that we have colleagues like John on our side!

I left with a strong feeling of being engaged, inspired and energised.



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Memorable Memories…

I once took a 12 week neuroscience course. I can’t quite remember when it was, but I do remember how interesting and informative it was…and how much it seemed we still don’t really understand about memory and learning and brain function.

I do remember it was a long time ago. And I remember at least a couple of the people I met and worked with on that course…colleagues who I am still in touch with via LinkedIn. It’s a general scenario I find…I can remember vividly who I was with…I am pretty sure where we were…yet I can’t really remember exactly what we were doing and sometimes even why….although more often than not it was related to a big change of strategy or leadership or direction…or even all three together.

I reassure myself that this selective memory is just human nature. Friendships and people and relationships are simply of higher ore importance and more significance to us than are events and dates…unless of course both merge into one – like weddings and birthdays and even funerals.

And I find this selective memory to be very reassuring. An old boss of mine once pointed out to me (and yes I am not sure when this happened or where we were) that life would be much less enjoyable if we all remembered the dates and the meeting agenda but couldn’t remember who was there with us.

I worked for a long time in my last company’s research centre in the UK – I was there through good times, very good times and not so good times and very tough times. But if I ever meet up with anyone who worked at the same time and place as me, I guarantee that we only ever talk (and laugh) about the absolute best times and the very best people. And I am certain that we merge events together in those conversations…the best moments of any number of different occasions…to almost create even better times!

But again this is good and fine…and even if the moments we recreate didn’t actually happen in the way we describe and enjoy…they are still the memories that we have…for better or for even better!

I learned almost everything I know about our industry, our processes and our people in that same time, but even those learning moments inevitably focus on teams and people and stories…rather than dates and locations.

I found myself thinking about what we remember over this weekend as I helped my daughter move house again. She has graduated and is moving on with her life. We are so proud and so excited…

Over dinner last night my wife and I reminisced with our daughter about our first apartment after we left university. And sure enough we remembered – vividly – the good times. The fun and the friends, and the parties. We have conveniently forgotten anything about that time that was less…well less anything.

We create memories with other people, and the good news is that being with others and doing good work together can be enjoyable and satisfying together. As someone else once said (actually I think this one is a quote from a movie) ‘If you think about it, your favourite memories, the most important moments in your life… were you alone? Life’s better with company.’

And this applies every bit as much to our life in work as well as it does to our life outside of work. We need to know each other, trust each other and understand each other. We need to invest in our partners….strengthen our relationships…enhance our comfort levels and understanding. Joint memories are created when experiences are shared.



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To Type…

Whatever, and no matter how much, I have learned…I know for sure that I have forgotten an awful lot of it. Most of it in fact. Often this forgetfulness is somewhere between inevitable and necessary. For example, any time I have been involved in communicating major information – good or not so good – within an organisation, I have made sure I fully understand local laws, processes and even politics. I have known the detail of my particular organisation and the individuals involved….but I have needed to understand other related aspects.

Once the news has been communicated and implemented…I have little need to try to remember that additional information (necessary)…which is good news because there is no way I could remember it in detail without working very hard (inevitable).

Other information I have learned – and do remember. I assume this is what I would call my knowledge. Information I believe to be true. And often this will be information or situation that I have experienced several times. What I believe.

One example…is that whenever a situation doesn’t make sense (based on what I know) then I know I am missing – or misunderstanding- something. In any particular situation, if I believe we should move forward in a certain direction – and others have a different opinion – then I must be missing something. A piece of information, fact or experience that if I knew or understood would change my thinking.

So when a situation, course of action, or sequence of events does not make sense to me…I try to find out what I am missing. What don’t I understand? I work to stay open. It may be possible that my interpretation is still applicable, but it is more likely that we can – or will – agree a much better way forward once we all know more.

Times of pressure – for me, my team or for any of our respective organisations – is a classic situation where we experience more things not making sense.

Times of pressure…times when we feel under increased stress…is often a time when we revert to type…revert to our preferred style of operating. If we are naturally more ‘command and control’, then that is what people will see. If we are intuitively consensus driven then consensus it will be!

When we are under pressure we feel we have less time to consider our options in any situation; we tend to react more quickly and more intuitively. It is inevitable that more things won’t make sense to me or to us individually or collectively.

Times of pressure and stress are normal. They can be personal, private, or professional. They can happen when everyone else around us is experiencing the same…or they can just be us alone. They may be normal, but they are seldom enjoyable.

Such times benefit from us helping ourselves and us helping each other as best we can. We are there for each other. We all have a passion for our work, our teams and our projects and our colleagues. We are committed. We want to make a difference…to enjoy and to be valued.

But things we see, hear, do or say won’t always make sense…to me, to us, to our friends and our families, our allies and mentors. And these are the individuals who I know can and do help me at these times. They see me; know me and they are willing and able to hold that mirror up to me. They care and want to help me.

People always help me understand situations, events and messages that initially don’t make sense. I listen and learn. I ask and appreciate. I stay open.



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