Category: Management

Branding and Corporate Culture

I’ve previously written about emergent phenomena as they relate to science. It’s the idea that reductionism can only take us so far, because when you put smaller units together, you often get properties that are impossible to describe without referring to the whole unit.

There is a similar phenomenon in business.

Continue reading “Branding and Corporate Culture”

Almost Impossible

Westley: “Ha! Your pig fiance is too late. A few more steps and we’ll be safe in the fire swamp.”

Buttercup:  “We’ll never survive.”

Westley: “Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.”

– from: Princess Bride, via

If you took physics in high school, you learned that it was impossible to see anything smaller than half the wavelength of light, no matter how powerful the microscope. This limitation is a hard, fixed law of physics, not a matter of how good the microscope is. It’s just a law of nature, proven mathematically by Ernst Abbe in 1873.

Except Betzig and Hell figured out how to break this law, for which they won Continue reading “Almost Impossible”

Power of Failure

“All I wanted was the opportunity to fail” – Jack Goeken, Founder of MCI

You can’t have successes without risking failure

When medical students are taught about appendicitis, we are taught that 20% of the appendectomies should find that the appendix does not need to removed. In other words, we should have such a low threshold for surgery that in 20% of the cases, we should be wrong. If only 10% of the surgeries are wrong, we are killing patients because Continue reading “Power of Failure”

Decision Making

One mystery of drug productivity at large pharma is the persistent low productivity despite the fact that there are tremendously talented scientists at every large pharma company. Their expertise is often encyclopedic, and their creativity is often very evident. Despite this, productivity at large companies have been less than impressive. The productivity appears to be low in comparison to small biotechs, but even more shocking, Continue reading “Decision Making”

Backward Planning

I was recently talking to someone who used to work at Amazon. I was telling him we were trying to institute backwards planning – basically setting the target date and budget and having the teams work to fit their project into that.

He asked me how else one might do that and I told him that at most companies, the project manager asks everyone to Continue reading “Backward Planning”