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Setting Goals + Scientific Discovery

When I talk about goal setting with my early stage biotech clients, I get a lot of pushback. While they fundamentally are on board with the concept of aligning the team, as science discovery companies, they struggle to see how goal setting works with R&D.

“The whole point of our company,” I’m often told, “is to see where the results take us. Really interesting findings will change the direction of our work.”

While I totally understand this, discovery shouldn't be an excuse for spending your time whimsically following whatever rabbit hole you want. Your investors will not be particularly happy with you if you do not achieve some sort of tangible progress.

So, how do you blend goal setting with open-ended research? The key is to craft process goals instead of identifying specific destinations.

Here's what I mean: By next year, what experiments do you want to have tried? How many times do you want to try to replicate a process before you move on? What data would be good enough to take it seriously? How will you know if you’re onto something legit and exciting?

Let’s quantify whatever we can so we can keep our research efforts focused and productive. Of all the things we could fill our time with over the next 12 weeks, which activities will be most fruitful in pushing us closer to our company goals? Maybe, at the end of this quarter, we want to have tried 5 new protocols, or have read 8 journal articles on this topic, or have talked to 20 potential collaborators, debugged 2 features on our platform, or found 3 new molecules with promise.

You get the idea. The point here is that the goal setting process should align the team with what is important to get done over the next stretch of time to further our collective progress. It's okay if your team is focused on discovery processes because you don't exactly know what point on the map you're shooting for. If we were to take the mountaineering metaphor a little farther, your goal setting process - as a discovery team - is about defining which quadrant on the map you want to explore and which strategies you're going to use to find high-value items, like gold.

So, as you head into the new year, I hope you take some time to make some concrete time-bound goals - even if your team is highly exploratory.


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