WorkWise: Leaving the office for 'Aha!' moments

culp@workwise.netDecember 9, 2012 

When work saps your creativity, you might have to leave the office and concentrate on doing something else. Exercise may sharpen your thought processes. External training may spark an idea.

Punit Dhillon, CEO of OncoSec Medical Inc., a cancer therapeutics company in San Diego, faces the constant decisions, multiple deadlines and stress similar to others in the pharmaceutical industry.

This environment diminishes productivity, and while he speaks enthusiastically about work-life balance, his actions speak louder. He often engages in rigorous physical activity to prompt inspiration.

Industry speaker and consultant Scott Anthony reversed a failing franchise, Fox’s Pizza Den in Punxsutawney, Pa., whose employees didn’t welcome change. In particular, he had to find a way to show them how cost-consciousness affected them directly. He found his answer at a trade show.


OncoSec’s Dhillon has been training avidly for triathlons for years, a pattern broken only by the birth of a child. He sandwiches most problems around exercise. Cycling 50 to 75 miles or running 12 to 13 miles often solves problems with immediate or long-term consequences.

In the scorching San Diego heat this July, Dhillon began his run on the secluded Los Peñasquitos Trail, minus his water bottle and, he later realized, sunscreen. He drew on tremendous mental discipline to run the last six miles back to his car.

“It turned my focus to OncoSec,” he says. “I realized there was no shortcut to developing a robust clinical program focused on skin cancers.” The company had received funding, but he’d adopted a course of budgetary restraint.

If he could survive the run with inadequate water, he’d go for broke with the three planned clinical trials. He’s now managing them. Each one seeks a different solution to advanced-stage skin cancer.

Anthony, in a contrasting environment, keeps learning to find answers and solve problems. In his first three years in the industry he read trade magazines and attended trade shows. Then he implemented what he learned. However, employees kept resisting one important business concept. He’d repeated the importance of cost reduction and product consistency, to no avail.

“I had profitability but was trying make every penny count in portion control,” he explains. “An ounce of cheese adds up to dollars and dollars. Employees who don’t take care of your equipment and supplies think they’re doing you a favor when you have to replace tables and chairs.”

At one operations seminar conducted by an industry leader, inspiration unfolded in a demonstration involving pennies to explain “what’s-in-it-for-me.” Anthony had found a key.

Back in Punxsutawney’s Fox Pizza Den, he pulled out little cups and divided 100 pennies among them to signify percentages for each cost of running the business, including labor, food and advertising. He then showed employees how saving a penny in one cup freed it for another. That other might be paychecks or benefits! He didn’t have to test the method, because Anthony knew that when one employee understands what he says, “others will think about it and try to apply it.”

Dhillon has long noted that exercise impacts his life. “It helps sharpen strategy,” he remarks. “Sometimes I feel unproductive but come back refreshed, with a plan. I often go before meetings so I go in with a clear mind.”

In somewhat similar fashion, Anthony uses outside influences to help employees conceptualize the relationship between their work, compensation and promotions. A contest for them to bring in new business during the slowest season of the year taught them the more they produced, the more they earned. It enhanced morale, too.

Try changing settings and activity when you need a burst of creativity.

Dr. Mildred L. Culp welcomes your questions at © 2012 Passage Media.

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