Onwards and Upwards – Day 175

Friday 8:58, Northern Line, The Underground, London

In one of the firsts posts I wrote in The Executive Kitchen I mentioned why I had decided to do an MBA.

‘Not only do I want to be successful in my new job (I started two months ago), I also feel responsible for the future direction and ultimately the success of a whole bunch of people, so it’s kinda important that I give myself the best possible foundation to do a pretty good damn job.’

With leadership comes responsibility and with responsibility comes an enormous pressure to get things right. It’s kinda obvious but what happens if you don’t get things right?

Let me put this as bluntly as I can, I’m told I’m quite good at it:

The greater the leadership the greater the fuck up.

When you’re in senior management and things don’t go the way you had planned you’re ultimately responsible for it. The excuse of ‘I didn’t know’ simply won’t do.

This week I learnt this the hard way. It appears I don’t know one iota about California employment law. Sure, you could argue that I’m not supposed to know anything about California employment law; I would agree with you on this. Which is why I sought advice on this very matter.

But what about when the advice you receive is vague or incorrect? How are you supposed to tell the difference between right and wrong?

I have now experienced two instances in the last two years where not doing our legal due diligence has resulted in the wrong decision being made.

Yesterday when I was on my way home I swore I would never again make the assumption that somebody else’s advice is correct. If you fuck up at work and it doesn’t involve people, you’re ok. No one died, right?

But it’s a completely different matter when people are involved. No one died, but I can tell you, it sucks big time.

It’s pointless to dwell on the emotional side of the matter. And perhaps I need to switch off the ‘I care about people’ button and transform myself into a hard-nosed corporate asshole. Is this what is needed at this level? Is this the reason why there a so few nice people at the top?

I don’t know the answer to these questions and I don’t expect you to either.

Onwards and upwards.


Don’t Let the Things that Suck in Your Life Suck the Life Out of You – Day 168

Friday 08:42, Northern Line, London

Have you ever felt like everything is going wrong? Like the world, whether it’s home, work or life in general, is against you? Or if not directly against you, at the very least trying its very best to trip you up, leaving you falling or worse, flat faced, with your desire, ambition and future yet another step further away?

Sometimes, life just sucks. Yep, it just sucks big time. I’m mean BIG time. As a matter of fact, this week has been real though for family, friends, colleagues and fellow MBA students. I’m not a big believer in coincidences, but there sure was something happening on our little planet this week. For me, life has sucked as I’ve been sick for almost a week now and I can’t afford not to run at 200% at work nor miss my 15 hours of studying per week. But I have. And it just sucks. And while rolling around in all of this sucktivity is sometimes a necessary step to feeling better; a ritual of sorts, after which you emerge stronger-willed, more determined and with a newly found focus, it’s definitely not good to dwell here for too long.

Feelings of despair, confusion and misery or plain insecurity for that matter will eventually turn against you and all the things that suck in your life will soon end up sucking the life out of you.

So what’s there to do?

Well, I don’t profess to know how to solve everyone’s problems, and it sure is way easier to dish out advice when your own world is relatively problem-free. But I’m a strong believer in two concepts and those are action and acceptance, and understanding their true power will help turn your blue day a bit rosier.

Action is needed for everything as without it we’re stuck in the proverbial rut, the status quo. If we act on something, however big or small, we challenge this status quo and our action becomes the first step towards taking a bit of control back in our lives. And that first step can be really hard sometimes, but once it is taken, life tends to fall back in its place.

Acceptance is also an essential aspect of our daily survival kits. Sometimes things will inevitably go south and when they do it’s important to realise that there are a few things we can’t change and accepting this very fact is our first step in moving onwards and upwards. This is easier said than done and requires emotional intelligence and maturity. Sometimes we have it, sometimes we don’t – but if you don’t accept things that you can’t control, you’re destined to be stuck in a bad place for a while.

Whilst I realise all of this may come across as quite simplistic I still think there’s some value in this. If your work situation, an incident at work or a family issue seems overcomplicated, well, try simplifying it and accept what you have no control over and act on the things you can change.

You’ll feel better and may be a step closer to finding your next job, rolling out a new idea at work or facing up to a horrible boss.

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Why I Suck at Doing Scientific Research – Day 161

Friday 17:17, Ballards Lane, London

It’s finally time for the research project! Yay! No more exotic sounding surnames, theories and years of publication, or number crunching for that matter. For the next few weeks we will be scoping out a research proposal on which I will base my research project that will complete my first year of the MBA.

Although we must not call it a ‘project’. The online literature and our virtual tutor insist on calling it an evidence-based initiative (EBI). I’m still trying to work out what the difference is. I think it has something to do with the fact that the ‘initiative’ is on such a small scale (6-7 weeks) that it hardly can be classified as a research project.

Once the scoping proposal is submitted, we have until early summer to organise our thoughts and approach before starting analysing our chosen topic. I haven’t finished the scoping part yet, but I’d like to cover an aspect of lead generation, perhaps how effective marketing activities are in relation to cold calling. We’ll see.

I’m really looking forward to this part and I guess it will highlight if I’m any good at social science research and if I like it. I know that I’m awful at medical research, having dropped out from my DPhil, mid-way. If I think back at my relatively short-lived life as a research scientist I can identify three top research failures.

I once decapitated a pregnant mouse. For context I was extracting embryos from pregnant mice to study polydactyly and tibial hemimelia, a congenital malformation where the hand has too many digits and part of the lower leg is absent. The most humane way of killing mice is to break their fragile necks using your bare hands, and although I had been trained to do this during the animal husbandry course, I couldn’t stand it. It used to freak me out every time I had to pick up the poor little buggers. One day I decided that I needed an alternative and instead of using my fingers to break the necks of these unsuspecting rodents I found a blunt metal blade. It didn’t look at all sharp, but of course, I was wrong. Swoosh! The head of the mouse was instantly separated from the body and it rolled off the lab bench as the body itself remained twitching for a second. Blood came gushing out of the severed neck like a mini sprinkler. Luckily mice only have about 150 ml of blood so the mess I created wasn’t catastrophic. Yet, it was a very unpleasant experience and I do not wish to repeat it.

I once lost a test tube full of radioactive material. Hopefully nobody from the Karolinska Institute is reading this but when I was doing a summer internship at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research I lost a test tube full of radioactive material. As it so happened, I didn’t close the lid of the centrifuge properly and as the test tubes started to spin around at increasing speed, the lid of the centrifuge flung open and out came hurtling the test tubes. To say that I panicked is an understatement! With the help of a gamma detector device, I quickly found and collected as many test tubes as I could and found all but one. I’ve never confessed this laboratory mishap to anyone, so apologies to whomever found it. I’m sure the quantity of radioactivity was so small that it’s completely harmless!

I was never meant to work as a research scientist. Last but certainly not least and in many ways my biggest research failure of all was my last three months at the Department of Human Anatomy & Genetics at Oxford. When I started my DPhil I was certain that I was destined to live the life of a research scientist. I loved the science, I was absolutely fascinated and intrigued by the inner workings of cells (I still am, by the way). But what I hadn’t quite grasped was that as a scientist you spend 90% of your time in the lab, mixing colourless liquids with colourless liquids, over and over again. Hundreds of times. No, thousands of times. Constantly separating DNA, constantly amplifying it through the polymerase chain reaction so that ultimately it could be run through the gel electrophoresis overnight. Nobody told me that it would take ages to master the skills of doing research. In the beginning I totally sucked at it. I used to forget to put the DNA back on ice, which meant it was immediately rendered completely useless. But I would only find out two days later when the experiment yielded results – or no results in my case. I learnt that I sucked at getting the gel out of the electrophoresis machine too, and I can’t remember how many times that damn gel broke and disintegrated before my very eyes. I struggled, but I persevered and eventually, after a few months, I got better at it. But boy did I hate it… When I told my tutor that I wanted to quit she said ‘I think you have the brains to do this, but you’re heart wants something else‘.


A Morning with Angelina Jolie – Day 154

Saturday, 8:26am, Los Feliz, Hollywood, California

A few weeks ago I received a call from Angelina Jolie who invited me over to her humble abode in Los Feliz. I guess she must have remembered me from the reception following her War Child lecture late last year that Marc interpreted. Anyway, to cut a long story short, before I knew it, I was whisked away on a private jet to find myself sitting in the back garden of Angelina’s house, sipping a homemade Detox Intensifier juice carefully crafted by her abundance of helping hands.

So what brought this on, you may be asking yourselves? Well, following her health ordeals Angelina developed an interest and an appetite for management studies, and what better way to delve into this topic that interviewing the blogger behind The Executive Kitchen.

Yes, moi.

Angelina JolieWhat is it about management that really interests you?
Me: Well Angelina, my interest in management originates from not having any formal management teaching, yet be in a position of management with significant responsibilities. If I can do what I did in my previous career without any management training, I cannot help to think what can I do in my current job with management training? Of the modules we’ve covered so far, I’ve been fascinated by power and politics, organisational change and motivation. From a work perspective, I’m interested in developing as a knowledgeable, thoughtful and passionate leader.

AJAre there specific issues that you want to develop or change about management?
MeI’d like everyone who is a line manager to go through some kind of management training. I think it’s absolutely necessary, as responsible employers, to equip our staff with the adequate skills and tools to be successful in their jobs. Line management is generally just thrown at you and if you’re good you’ll earn the respect of your team. If you’re terrible at it, your team will suffer for as long as you’re their manager. And believe me, I’ve seen and experienced both.

AJ: What is the fascination of managing for you?
MeI guess now that I’m in a senior management position what fascinates me about management is the fact that I’m not only responsible for the commercial success of the organisation I work for, but I’m also responsible for a large team of individuals. I feel that if I make the wrong decision and take us down blind alley, the consequences could be catastrophic. Actually, this happened to the Creative Director of my previous company – and he lost his job, despite being one of the founders and shareholders! So it’s even more important for me to make the right strategic decisions. I want us to be successful and I want everyone I work with to do well. A key aspect of management is to get all these things right, and I’ll tell you, it’s not an easy task. Sometimes you have to keep doing what you believe is right, even if the money isn’t instantly materialising.

AJIs it just a matter of your job or are there wider factors at play?
MePrimarily it’s just a matter of my job. But one of the curiosities about learning is that, for me, it opens up the appetite for more learning. When something interests me to the point of fascination my brain going into warp speed and I find myself looking at things I would never consider before. Like doing a PhD in organisational behaviour or power.

AJ: Are there some things relevant to management which you’re already good at that you’d like to build on?
MeThe thing about management Angelina is that if you reach a senior management position it’s generally an indication (but not always) that you are good at what you do and that you have at least basic leadership qualities. I guess in my case I’d like to think that I’m a good listener, I tend to think about things for a while before acting, I’m good at analysing complex situations and can communicate them in clear and simple terms. I also like to think that I’m a people’s person, which generally means that other people enjoy working with me. Although I have been described as blunt and demanding in the past! Not in the same sentence and by two different people, though!

AJ: Is there a career move that you would like to make?
MeNo, I just started my new job 8 months ago and I love it. I have no desire to try something else, in fact, my hands are pretty full at the moment just doing what I’m currently doing. We’ll see what happens in the future. If I do my job really well maybe we will be sold to some large multi-national, but what I’ll do then will have to remain unknown until the day it happens. If it ever happens.

AJDo you want to change your specialist/technical professional identity and outlook, and move more fully into general management?
Me: Well Angelina, I’m a scientist by training and throughout my career I have worked in a variety of scientific, editorial, managerial and commercial roles. I guess the final piece is general management and studying towards this MBA and working as sales and marketing director could potentially be a step in that direction. Or perhaps I’ll mix this with academia and get that coveted PhD and teach one day a week at LBS. But I’ll be honest with you, sometimes I just want to travel the world, eat out and work out! Like you!

AJWhat would you like to change about your position at work and the responsibilities you current have?
Me: Nothing. As I’m fairly new to this type of STM publishing I need to grow my industry knowledge. Publishing has been through a major change as a result of the technological drive of the internet and I’m definitely still in learning mode.

AJ: Are there some things to do with managing which you’d just like to be better at?
MeThis is a tricky question, and I’m not sure if I can answer it objectively. I guess one thing I’d like to improve is that I’d always like to be on top of things. I hate the feeling of having too many things to do, or not doing things properly. So time management, I guess. And perhaps being stricter and not allowing myself to be pulled in so many different directions! But perhaps this is a question to ask my team or boss!

Angelina Jolie

This is a fictional interview between me and Angelina Jolie. If you are reading this and are Ms Jolie’s publicist or manager or if you are Angelina Jolie, please don’t take offence. I needed a creative outlet for the reflective practice of my mini-research project (EBI) at the OU.