Three For Thursday – Lou Cantolupo

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When I first switched offices in the shared office environment that I call my work home, my express purpose was simply to get to a quieter spot, which the move provided me. One of the side benefits of moving to a new space turned out to be the fact that Lou Cantolupo’s office was directly across the hall.  Lou and I did the ol’ men-nodding-hello-towards-each-other thing for several months before we finally decided to introduce ourselves. Lou has two big computer screens in his office that always seem to have complex formulas or designs on them. One day, I went way out on a limb and asked Lou to explain one of the images to me. Turns out that he and his colleagues are working on curing cancer using oncolytic adenoviruses that target metastatic cancers.  If you want more information than that headline, you will need to ask Lou, who has a wonderful ability to simplify the difficult.

Lou’s work has taken him all over the globe. As an entrepreneur, he was the lead founder of a contract services firm, Omnia Biologics, which was acquired by Vigene Biosciences. Lou spent the early part of his career doing bench-top science before switching to the managerial side of the biotech world. Lou has a BS in Biotechnology from the Rochester Institute of Technology and an MBA from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of MD. 

Lou’s Three For Thursday follow.

Honesty/Truth

There is a difference between honesty and truthfulness. I feel like more folks know what honesty is than know what truth is. Truth is a series of absolute facts. Maybe it’s my scientific background, but I feel the need to be not just honest, but truthful as well. If you don’t know something, say you don’t know it. As I think about it, being truthful may have even inhibited my career growth at some point, but it’s the right thing to do, in my opinion. I remember a time in my younger days when our company’s progress was being thwarted due to a lack of truthfulness a few levels above me. The intention for a particular program was honest, but some critical facts were underestimated. It was really difficult, but I eventually blurted out the truth to someone at that level and, as you can imagine, it didn’t go well.  Yet, in the end, we avoided a potentially long and difficult path that the organization wasn’t ready for (and thankfully, I was right).  I’ve learned over time that you need to be really careful when going outside of the chain of command, and I’ve adjusted accordingly as I’ve matured. That being said, I still believe we need to be both honest and truthful no matter the case…but handle it well.

Remember Where You Come From, In the Broadest Sense

This phrase is almost always used to describe people pulling themselves up from a modest or poor background to become wealthy and successful. And, while I admire the traits that allow those folks to make that kind of jump, that’s not the only way to look at the phrase. From my perspective, it also relates to knowledge and things you might have learned along the way, but taken for granted. In fact, pretty much everything you now know you learned from someone else, even if you simply read it in a book. So, don’t judge someone who may not have learned what you have. I am pretty good at simplifying difficult sets of data and information. It took me a long time to recognize that this is a gift that not everyone shares. Believe it or not, one of the first times I became aware of the value of this skill was when an expert at BBQ taught me some secrets to his craft. One of the things he emphasized was, “don’t overcomplicate things,” when I was doing exactly that to try to demonstrate that I at least knew something about BBQ.  Trying to show off my small amount of knowledge got me nowhere.  Life is a continuous process of learning. It’s important to be intellectually humble.

Be Kind

It’s not hard, or it shouldn’t be, anyway.  I believe everyone should work in the service industry, helping customers, at some point. I’ve worked at Baskin Robbins and Best Buy. I’ve run into mean people who’ve lashed out at me for reasons unknown, and when you’re feeling poorly to begin with, that’s the last thing you want.  So, I’ve learned that yelling at customers who are otherwise strangers isn’t productive; they may have issues that I don’t know about.  My default now is to be kind. If someone doesn’t get your ice cream order right, give them a break. They may have learned that morning that they have a chronic disease or a terminally ill family member.  Who knows?

Being nice goes a long way. Be approachable. I used to want to be the smartest guy in the room, but I never was. Working with people holding multiple letters after their names for the last 25 years, I now realize how unimportant that is with respect to getting ahead, and how important it is just to be a decent person.  Given the choice, I’d rather be nice than smart.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always easy, but I want to be able to place a call and know that the person on the other end will answer and not avoid me because he doesn’t like me.

One For the Road – Do the Right Thing, Even if You Do it Wrong

We live in a world of complicated systems. One thing I’ve learned through my wife’s work in systems thinking (via Dr. Russell Ackoff) that has really resonated with me is, “It’s better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right.” In the first case, you will eventually fix the issue. In the second, you will only make things worse. Think about our incarceration system in the US. We have more people incarcerated than most countries that are of a similar socio-economic level. Yet, our rate of crime is higher than pretty much all of them. If we keep incarcerating more people, it’s not going to solve the problem. In fact, it’s very likely to make it worse.

How about you? What are your Three For Thursday? I’m looking for people who are willing to share their life wisdom.  Please email me at bob@epi.coach if you’d like to be interviewed for a future Three For Thursday blog.

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