Freedom and Dissention

We collectively need to be free to find new ways out of the R&D productivity slump. Free to discard old approaches and to try new approaches. We need to be able to think critically about how it is we do our work. For R&D World Class R&D severely criticizes the factory model. You cannot automate or re-engineer processes to achieve creativity. Beyond our work practices though, we need to be free to think of new ways to do science. R&D is unique. There are few absolutes – we find products that work for the majority of the customers the majority of the time. This is good. We have in the science itself a model for how we learn to be free to reinvent our own work practices and scientific methods: to find our own truths.

Only by being free can we build a lifelong passion for our work, and for ourselves. Imagine you’ve been invited to join in a great game that spans many years, even decades. It’s you and your objective evidence against the political and emotional thinkers of the world. Early in the game you find you keep losing – that objective evidence seems undervalued and under-appreciated. You critically think about the game and decide that you really want to start winning. It’s a very complicated game, one that takes years or decades to master. You build that lifelong passion – you learn the strategy of the opponents, and further hone your own competitive advantage. After the first few wins, you’re hooked. You know what it takes to get a good product to market, to be the master of your circumstances, and you can’t get enough.

Freedom is hard work – you can no longer automatically accept any truth, especially in the public realm. You need corroboration. You need to find the truth yourself. You become much more critical of obvious flaws in many reports in supposedly prestigious science journals – where some sciences are seemingly held to a lower standard of evidence than the physical sciences. You find that reaching conclusions on your own is much more difficult – you have to dig deeper and consult broader. And, if your company is not open to critical thinkers you find yourself labeled as a dissenter+ or an obstructionist. Your work becomes even harder.

I’m so p’d off. I just received a poor performance review. I’m quitting. Aside from Barry and me there’s no one in the entire R&D organization willing to tell the emperor he’s got no clothes. Barry and I both try to design experiments that expose the weakness of the R&D prototypes. You’d think that would be valuable. But instead we’re labeled as dissenters+ or pariahs and given poor performance reviews. Professional Colleague (2006). Translational Medicine Conference, Personal Communication

Eventually you learn the only outside facts you can trust are first hand facts. You learn to pick up the phone and call the author of a report or the manager of a firm. What’s the real story? Reports and narratives are fine for the rest of the world, but you need to talk to the source to disentangle fact from narrative. As the head of an R&D organization the first person I’d call would be Barry.