Flexibility - Benefits and Perils in Science and Business

Flexibility is generally viewed as good. ABS is built upon flexibility. We provide custom biological products and services rather than one size fits all solutions to solve our clients’ problems. Flexibility is implicit in our business operations.

Internally, flexibility is important in how we work with our staff. For example, we regularly measure employee engagement with Inc Magazine’s Best Workplaces Survey. When employees were asked: “What three words best describes your work environment” flexible and challenging tied for first place.

One staff member anonymously commented: “Flexible work environment allows for a work-­life balance while maintaining productivity and responsibilities. Management allows for independence in work and task completion. Communication is encouraged in both directions, providing feedback, and allowing room for employee driven suggestions / improvements.” This type of flexibility is positive for all involved. The flexibility to understand that good ideas flow in multiple directions is important.

In the scientific arena, flexibility is critical in enabling us to see the world in new ways and to evaluate new ideas. It is a prerequisite for creativity. When it is lacking, the adaptation of new discoveries is inhibited. Many developments that led to personal computers were not embraced by the companies where they were invented. The idea that ulcers can be effectively treated with antibiotics is another example. There are countless others.

Companies that do adapt and change may eventually fail. Tape cassettes, film cameras, video rental stores, and a multitude of other industries have essentially disappeared because they did not change. Innovation often leads to success. Success can breed complacency. Flexibility is necessary to ensure that this does not happen and that an organization can evolve.

There are so many benefits to a flexible approach to science and business. Where are the downsides? The downsides seem to occur in situations where there is too much flexibility or when it is haphazardly applied. For example, the appropriate application of the scientific method requires standards and controls. One cannot choose the data that fits a hypothesis and disregard contradictory observations. There must be rigorous statistical analysis of data, etc. Failing to follow these constraints is one explanation for the lack of reproducibility in the scientific literature.

In the workplace, we establish rigorous SOPs and work instructions so that our work is reliable and reproducible. These may and should change if there are valid reasons for doing so. We should always be open to improvement, but there should be processes for implementing changes so that we maintain quality and effectiveness. While there might be some exceptions, a large organization cannot effectively function if everyone, no matter how well intentioned, does as they please.

The challenge is in providing the necessary structures and processes that facilitate core operations while having the flexibility to learn and embrace change. That is why when you work with ABS, you can count on us to have core standardized functions in place to provide you with reliable solutions and the flexibility to adapt to meet your specific needs.

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