Successful failure

visions by Jordi Armengol (Xip)

Clarity of vision:
[Via business|bytes|genes|molecules]

Be stubborn on vision and flexible on details
– Jeff Bezos

Those words, which I heard recently, have stuck in my head (or rather in Evernote, as I typed them on my iPhone furiously as I heard them).

Over the years, I have seen too many in the life science industry, even pharma in recent years, lurch around, almost trying to figure out what they need to be doing as companies as they go along. That’s why so many fail. Let’s say you are running a small biotech or bioinformatics shop. You need to be sure what your vision is, identify the actionable milestones that you need to achieve and then figure out what you need to do to hit each milestone. It’s not just for a company. If you’re a product manager, think about your product line, and so on. The times I have been successful were times where I had a clear vision about where I wanted to be, and then figured out a path (stress on “a path”) to get there. When you’re too reactive, it just doesn’t work.

Having worked at a couple of Biotechs I know some of the pitfalls. Vision is great and actionable milestones are a must but in biology both are usually based on extremely limited knowledge of very complex information.

Enbrel is a great example. Originally developed to fight septic shock, it passed every milestone but one. It failed in clinical trials, to have an ameliorative effect. But, rather than toss it away, Immunex was able to rework it into a premier rheumatoid arthritis drug. Flexible on the details.

Part of the real problem is that many businesses feel that the details always have to be right, that the company will only succeed if it always succeeds on the details. While this might be true, it is also impossible, especially in something as complex as biology.

Effective companies take the approach Immunex did. We wanted to kill projects as quickly as possible, or at least put them on the back burner. Three times a year, all the projects were reviewed by scientific management with possible participation by all the members of Discovery Research, whether they had a Ph.D. or not. Based on the manpower available and the limited resources we had projects were usually given a priority from say 1 to 3.

Ones were hot and every one wanted to work on them. Twos could go either way and were also wroth working on. Threes were back burner. The key was to have limited resources along with a lot of possible projects. There was always something important to work on if your project moved to 3. But, with judicious use of time and resources, a back burner project could be resurrected.

This is because it was still possible to work on a back burner project. One just had to be able to justify the time. Or propose a bake-off to finally demonstrate which approach would be best. Actually, many important projects came out of some of the skunkworks projects. But a lot of projects died a quick merciful death by this high level of vetting.

Flexible means working for a successful failure. That can be the best win of all.

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Teaching with Facebook

by foundphotoslj
Teach the People- Facebook app for creating learning communities:
[Via elearningpost]
From techcrunch:

“Teach the People is a Facebook application that provides a platform for online education. The application lets anyone with specific subject knowledge or a useful skill set share it by setting up a Teach the People learning communities with 1gig of free storage. The learning communities provide educators and students with all the standard learning management system tools that are standard on existing systems (Blackboard, Moodle), and some not so standard like video chat and VOIP.”

It will be interesting to see how this develops. There is some discussion of certifying teachers and such.

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How the world changes

LinkedIn Applications: I just added my blog and slideshare content! Wow!:
[Via Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media]

LinkedIn is a professional network for business and (and nonprofit professionals.) It is often described as an online social network for job seekers. Perhaps because initially your profile was structured like an online version of your resume. Let me tell you, LinkedIn can be a terrific place to develop professional contacts, grow your business, and promote your work and opportunities. There are many good reasons why nonprofit professionals use online professional networking sites liked LinkedIn.

Earlier this week LinkedIn announced its applications platform that includes a small number of well-chosen apps that can enhance your professional networking profile. You can add your blog content, slide shows, reading lists, files, business travel, and more. (Chris Brogan calls the addition of adding your business travel schedule “dog clever.” Since LinkedIn is primarily a professional networking site that can help you find job prospects, works prospects, and

For my profile, I added BlogLink (it posts my blog posts to my profile automatically) and SlideShare’s Application. (In the video above SlideShare’s CEO Rashmi Sinha demonstrates the application.)

LinkedIn had quickly become a vital tool if you work more so than even a Rolodex. It is an example of how new online tools can leverage our connections and make them much easier to access.

Besides our own network, we can join groups of like-minded people and develop other connections. I have used it to track down old friends, to market seminars I am giving, to answer questions that others pose and generally keep in loos touch with a wide range of people and interests.

The ability to easily add applications really enhances the usefulness of the site. Many organizations have opened up their applications for others to use. This allows these sorts of innovations and provides these applications markets that would have been difficult to accomplish otherwise.

Now people can connect to what they are producing at other sites, automagically have that placed on their LinkedIn page, allowing others to get a good idea of what we are capable of. Not only is this easier to use than a Rolodex but now it can present a much more robust view of our work.

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Seven rules

dice by ThunderChild tm
Seven rules for the KM-lords in their farm of cubes:
[Via Knowledge Jolt with Jack]

David Snowden has expanded his three rules to seven principles. Now I have to wonder if there are nine rules somewhere. And if there is One Rule to Bind them All. Rendering Knowledge (rules excerpted)

  • Knowledge can only be volunteered it cannot be conscripted. [original]
  • We only know what we know when we need to know it. [original]
  • In the context of real need few people will withhold their knowledge.
  • Everything is fragmented.
  • Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success.
  • The way we know things is not the way we report we know things.
  • We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down. [original]

The four new elements sound familiar from David’s other writing. Taking time to think about these principles and the additional context David gives them, they begin to sound like common sense. Of course people learn from failures. Of course we build things from fragments of other things. But then why do we forget this common sense when building approaches to knowledge management? Maybe not so common?

Yes, these are common sense but so often not observed. Many organizations do not tolerate failure, making their lack of innovation obvious.

When I was in Junior High School, we played a game called bulls and cows. One person tried to guess a 4 digit number the other person had written down. If the guess has a number in the right position, it counts as a bull. If the guess has the right number in the wrong spot, it is a cow. So the correct answer results in 4 bulls.

Now there are about 4500 possible numbers (assume no repeated numbers and you can’t have a zero in the first position) so having some sort of system helps. Like start with ‘1234’. But the absolute best answer is ‘no bulls- no cows.’ Complete failure to guess the number.

This results in the removal of 40% of the possibilities in a single guess. No other choice is as helpful in narrowing down the possibilities. Failing actually gets you to the answer sooner than an initial success of 1 cow.

This game taught me that failure can be much more helpful than a slight success. We see that so much today. Failing does not usually cost too much and can get the group to success much more rapidly by reducing the degrees of freedom one has to work with. It is generally corporate culture that hampers this path.

Those organizations that can tolerate failure will learn faster and innovate at a much more rapid pace. Not necessarily because they are smarter. They are just informed by their failures, narrowing down the possibilities that eventually result in success.

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