The perfect formula for decision-making

No one has the luxury not to take a decision, writes Helena Strigård at Swedenbio.

Since i came to work for the life science industry, I’ve thought many times about the tough decisions that our members – the Swedish life science companies of all sizes – have to take. With so much at stake, at every stage of the development of a drug, a gene therapy treatment, a medical device and so forth, taking the wrong turn can be detrimental. Even making the right decision, at the wrong time, is likely to mean you are out, although time will show that you were spot on in your analysis - in everything but the timing.

So how do they do it? The leaders of our life science businesses. Deciding on whether they are ready for clinical trial, to get listed, to not get listed or to expand beyond national borders. The further you have come on your path to growing your business, the greater the scale of pretty much everything, not least the capital needed to take you to the next level. The consequences of wrong turns affecting not only you and your staff, but also depriving patients of possible new life-improving treatments.

I realise how simple the answer is. Not in the literature that is, with complex models of decision-making processes in various shapes and colours. But in real life.
The alternative to decision-making is – none. No one has the luxury not to take a decision. With competition being fierce and our industry being one of the riskier – but also most rewarding - ones to tap into, you are being pushed into definitive crossroads whether you like it or not. It´s more relevant to ask how informed your decision needs to be before you take it.

In my organisation, I am actually in the minority not being a researcher. We have this internal joke going around, about the researchers and the decision-makers – my research colleagues being aware of their faiblesse for gathering heaps of facts before taking any decision. And then some more facts. Did I mention, we need facts?
Me, on the other hand, being quite impatient to get into action, might fall into the trap of pressing fast forward too swiftly. It made me realise something about this perfect formula I’m looking for. It comprises a mix of the quality of impatience along with the thoughtfulness and factfulness of a researcher´s mind. When captured in one and the same being – it´s a real winner, improving the odds for an organisation to move in the right direction, at the right time.

I´d say, most of us do not manage to balance those qualities perfectly. That´s why it is so important that the decision-making leaders of an organisation complement each other. Ultimately, someone has to have the final say. To bear the responsibility. But whatever your philosophy on decision-making is, make sure you have the opposite one represented in your nearest vicinity. Who is impacting your decision-making? Truly? Make sure to pick those people carefully to balance whatever needs to be balanced.

Another piece of wisdom gathered from numerous talks with life science leaders is that of having people to help you look ahead. Who knows something about the crossroads that you have not spotted yet – to ask not only the pressing questions on your mind but also “what question should I ask?”

Many of the leaders of smaller, newly started life science companies I have spoken to have highlighted the crucial importance of a competent board in that respect. As obvious as it sounds, it cannot be stressed enough.

Being a small nation, Sweden can pride itself to have many of those. Still, we need the international influx. Both for management and boards, the variety of perspectives and experiences are key. However, the economic incentives for such influx are far too low in our country and became even less attractive when the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that board fees should be taxed as income of service. This is something that severely hampers knowledge transfer in our sector and has gone strangely unnoticed by those working to strengthen our innovation system. 

In the newly started company, an immature structure could make it a heavy and rather ungrateful task for someone experienced to take a seat in the board - the economic reward being set too low due to budget constraints. But even with negative cash flows, attracting the most competent advisors must be prioritized by company management. 

Creating the right setting for decision-making might be the most important decision you make!

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