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Warning: Out of focus and multitasking
November 2009
by Peter T. Kissinger  |  Email the author

Focus is my favorite business word and my most challenging objective. We know from established science that multitasking doesn't work. It is dangerous in moving vehicles and not too effective in classrooms, business or government. Texting is rivaling alcohol as a way to reduce the population on our highways, and thus, reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. We are dismayed by the bowed heads at business meetings of those addicted to their Blackberries and iPhones.  
I'd like to take back all the times in the past where a person came into my office and I divided my attention between them and the e-mails scrolling in on my computer. Those people I admire most give me full attention and have taught me to do the same for others. 
Very early on, my mother announced that there would be no reading of the newspaper at the dinner table. Such poor behavior had consequences. These days, my empty-nest wife and I read voraciously at all meals, including the very insightful Drug Discovery News.  
Given all of the anxieties in our industry about healthcare reform, many of us believe that a carefully debated (and transparent) incremental approach would be better. There is palpable anxiety about the impact of potential changes on life science innovation and the instrumentation and reagent industries that support it. When an experiment doesn't work as expected, we know that changing too many things at once is not going to enlighten us.  A serial approach to troubleshooting works better.
In the past, our most noted presidents worked from major themes such as "preserve the union" and "defeat communism." Other goals were attempted as well, but picking a few and driving them hard seems best. It is a long-held business notion that more companies fail from indigestion than starvation. Putting 10 percent of the effort into each of 10 things is a sure way to lose on all of them. Attempts to mitigate risk with too much diversification increases risk. Venture investing is discouraged by uncertainty. I'm hoping that by the time this column appears, things will settle down a bit with respect to healthcare reform. After all, I've got two great start-up companies to fund.
I'm suffering from information overload and multitasking addiction (IOMA). I've got to leave this column now and attend to more social network invitations, e-mail and tweeting at It may be too late for me, but I hope not. Getting in focus is being less dizzy. Please prescribe something with no likely idiosyncratic adverse events.
Peter Kissinger is chairman emeritus of BASi, CEO of Prosolia in Indianapolis and a professor of chemistry at Purdue University.



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