Jigsaw Puzzles…

There are as many ways of describing that experience of starting a new role as there are people who start new roles! Amongst the most common? ‘Drinking from a fire hydrant’ or ‘drinking from the fire hose’. Based on my first week in my new role I can definitely relate to this.

There is so much data to absorb; so much information to digest; so much knowledge to acquire. And there is such a desire for this learning to happen somewhere between immediately and quickly.

I am naturally inquisitive. I like to ask questions and love to hear answers. Insights and experiences. Observations and opinions. Sometimes I feel as if there is no limit on how much time I could spend listening to these. Which is good. Or bad (as the case may be). Not least since this week I have experienced not just role change but also company change.

The fire hydrant resonates because that is exactly what it feels like. Just as you receive, and start to consider, one piece of information then five more…ten more…fifty more immediately hit you. It’s as if you were thirsty…and – just when you thought you had that much needed mouthful of water – the hydrant opens fully in front of you. You are immediately saturated…and the vast majority simply flows by.

An example. Many companies operate over multiple locations. Each location has its own people, capabilities and focus. Within that company these elements are known and assumed. No-one prefaces a site reference with descriptors of country, personnel or skill sets. But when you are new to that company – as I was this last week – then none of this is knowledge. Whenever a site was referred to, I found myself thinking about where that site was, what it did and who was there. In the time it took me to work this out, whoever I was talking with would have completed an additional three sentences. I was swamped and trying to catch up.

That having been said, everyone was amazing. Everyone gave me time. Everyone wanted to help me. Everyone offered their support. I knew more (and more people) after five days than I did after one. I will know more after five weeks that I do after one. I will know more after five months than I will after one.

By the end of this week, I felt I was working on a complicated jigsaw puzzle. The sort of puzzle where there are hundreds of pieces with intricate colours and strange patterns…but in my case all the pieces were face down. Gradually, piece by piece I will turn them over and start to put the pieces together. Patience….

And of course the business is running all the time as fast as it can and as fast as it has to. Nothing stops because I have started – and nor should it. The pharmaceutical industry is unrecognisable from how it looked and operated three, five or ten years ago. And every component part of the industry has to adapt, has been adapting and will continue to adapt. The focus is on patients and getting drugs through to the market; but it is also on dollars and on return on investment.

Success requires persuasive strategy and exquisite implementation. It will require compelling leaders and outstanding colleagues. Exceptional individualism and extraordinary team work. Local uniqueness and global harmonisation. Best practice sharing and best practice doing. It will require persistence and determination. It will depend on inspiration and innovation.

This can be – at times – the most challenging industry to be part of.

It is – always – the most rewarding.




About Steve Street

I have worked in R&D within the Pharmaceutical industry for over 30 years. Up until April 2012 all of my career had been with one company, but that has now changed. I left that company and took up a new role on May 1, 2012 - still very much within the Pharmaceutical industry and again based in the UK. I have been blogging every week now for over 10 years but only on an external site since January 2012. Email updates of the blogs can be requested using the ‘follow’ option within Wordpress. The blogs are only ever my personal view of what I see, think and feel. I am delighted if you agree and find value; happy if you disagree with my views and overjoyed if you feel motivated to comment. Most of all I am simply grateful that you read. Cheers Steve
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4 Responses to Jigsaw Puzzles…

  1. Very interesting, thank you for sharing! Your experience is particularly interesting given the recent M&A activity in the industry, especially when innovative pharmaceutical companies acquire generics (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d3c30960-9527-11e1-ad38-00144feab49a.html)! The change involved must be tremendous and your experience must be shared (maybe not as positively) across the industry at many levels.
    Would a blueprint of organisational structure help uncover the way on how authority and responsibility play out in terms of ‘enacting’ on the strategy?
    Also when we compare innovator pharma with generic pharma, isn’t there a gap that needs to be closed if “every component needs to adapt”, especially after an acquisition? Does the gap close to the favour of the innovator/prospector (entrepreneurial, self-evaluation at lower levels) or the generic/analyser (mix of centralised control and organic management)?

    • Steve Street says:


      Many thanks – you make excellent points. I totally agree on the organisational structure blueprint…but many of these are also very ‘fluid’…are only as up to date as the day they were produced. And your thinking on ‘gaps’ closing is an interesting example. CROs and generic companies are having to continue to be more innovative…and innovator pharma has to be both more efficient and effective…



  2. Megan Robinson says:

    While I recognize starting a new role in a new company probably trumps all other learning curves, your blog did make me reflect that we should probably all treat our own companies and roles as constantly new, because given how fast the environment changes, they are! People who keep heads down and do what they do will soon look up and find the company has changed around them and they are not poised for success. Your method of inquiry, networking, and listening serve as a good example of what we all should strive to incorporate into our jobs.

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