It Takes Two to Know One: Business Advice Founders Should Live By

Spotlight on

Ann Lee-Karlon, PhD

Who is Ann?

Ann is the first to say she’s taken many detours in her career. She started with a Bioengineering major at UC Berkeley and spent time as an engineering intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) before discovering a passion for biology and technology that led her to UCSD for her PhD. From there she focused on tissue modeling and regeneration which led to an invitation from the National Science Foundation to conduct research in London and to a senior scientist role at a growing biotech company. It was here that Ann became interested in how to build teams and companies and decided to go to Stanford for an MBA. She completed two internships, one in marketing and one at an investment bank, before graduating from Stanford to join Eli Lilly. Ann spent the next 18 years at Genentech before becoming Chief Operating Officer and employee #2 at Altos Labs, a new company focused on restoring cell health and reversing disease. She continues to serve on the board of ARTIS portfolio company, Eko.

Here, Ann shares what all her experience taught her about decision-making, the importance of self-awareness, and how to prevent burnout.


Master decision-making under uncertainty

There are two parts to decision-making: the analytical part and the people part. On the analytical side start by establishing clarity on what the decision really is. Frame the problem or opportunity before jumping to solution mode. Think about the question you are really asking, and then ask yourself if you are even asking the right questions. What will you do with the answers? Data generation is a great example - what will you do with the data? Will this decision move us forward? You will almost never have all the information you need to arrive at a decision, so you have to get comfortable making them under uncertainty.

The other aspect relates to people. Who is involved? Who are the experts we need to consult? If the decision involves partners from other companies, think about the values of each company involved in making the decision, and think about what a great decision means for each party. Understand the motivations of everyone at the table by establishing what framework each party is working with - is everyone sharing the same set of facts and assumptions?

You will almost never have all the information you need to arrive at a decision.


Find your zone of collaboration for multi-party decision-making

The root of most misalignment is related to goals. The GRPI method is a four-step team and project framework that stands for Goals, Roles, Processes, and Interpersonal relationships, and is great for finding your “zone of collaboration.”

The gist of this approach is to:

  1. Find your common goals
  2. Clearly outline each team member’s role and ensure they agree and understand what’s expected of them
  3. Set processes for dealing with conflict, working together, and maintaining clear, ongoing communication
  4. Establish trust by building relationships and leveraging the diverse thinking and experience from each member of your team

More specifics can be found here, but before applying this method, two underlying assumptions must be met - all parties are rational and all parties have noble intent.

You are far more likely to reach a mutually beneficial decision by first putting in the effort to understand the goals and motivations of all parties involved, and likewise, if you are very clear in your own objectives. Clarity from both sides will help you find overlap and enable you to work as a high functioning team.

The root of most misalignment is related to goals.


Achieve greater self-awareness by collecting data on yourself

Self-awareness is a huge part of being on a team both as a leader and a team member. A professor once told me, “It takes two to know one,” meaning you need data and feedback from other people to know yourself. Really great companies build a culture of feedback. While for some it can be hard to receive, it helps to imagine feedback landing in front of you, and not on top of you. Think of how much feedback an Olympic athlete gets from their coach about their performance and how they use that to improve. Personal feedback is the same way. Approach it with deep curiosity and a desire to learn more about yourself because in the end, it’s really just data about YOU.

Often the most talented people seek out information about what they are doing well, what they can do better, and how other people experience them as a teammate. Being on a team is a big commitment, so find out what it’s like to work with yourself and use it to grow.


Prevent burnout

Always running from milestone to milestone is a sure-fire way to burnout your team (and yourself). This is true for any industry, but especially in healthcare where high intensity is often the norm. The key is energy management. Build in time for recovery and renewal for the entire team. A team that resets and rejuvenates is there for the long-term and will perform better.

You also need to stay close to the mission. We all burn out and sometimes what you need is to step back and trace your role to the larger goal. How are you moving this medicine / therapy / treatment one step closer to the patient? Think back to your first day on the job and recall why you were excited to join this company or team and remember the part you are playing in creating a better world for patients.

A team that resets and rejuvenates is there for the long-term and will perform better.