That extra mile: NIB

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Company stories
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Jernej Pintar
CEO - Technology Park Ljubljana
User info - details - for blog detail layout:
Jernej Pintar
CEO - Technology Park Ljubljana
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The NIB team
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If you are drowning in bureaucracy, and the number of forms is just overheating your team... go back to the starting point. This is the story of a small institute that overcame its “stigma of the public”, the stigma of academic, it overcame bureaucracy and managed to go that extra mile: the National Institute for Biology (NIB).

Today I will make a strike at the heart of bureaucracy, which has made a Salto Mortale in too many organizations. Each company has some core function, for example laser manufacturing. And then it has several supporting activities such accounting, legal, etc. But it is only the bureaucracy that somehow repeatedly succeeds in knocking out the rest of the functions and making itself the center of organization. A new core.

In biology, this would be called a "viral multiplier". The virus infects the cell, attacks the cell nucleus, and replaces its DNA with its own DNA. From here on the cell is not recognizable, just as many public and private organizations have become unrecognizable. This happens gradually, almost imperceptibly, just as the frog slowly boils.

People with energy and mission

At Ljubljana Technology Park we have a partner, the National Institute of Biology (NIB), who inspired me in the opposite direction. I visited them recently and my expectations were: “a public institution”, you know: a bit of a high nose, low mobility, a bit of academic puffing up, everyone would rather talk than listen, gray clothes, piles of paper, form prevails over the content.” But I could not have been more wrong. In them I Immediately recognized the two important things that can renew any organization: A) people with energy and B) the mission, the purpose.

You can find people with energy everywhere, but usually they are at the lower levels of the hierarchy, so the pressure from above is molding them and giving them drained eyes and faces. But funnily enough, at NIB, people with passion are at the top of the organization. There are several of them, but here I will focus on one - an experienced and leading researcher, Dr. Maja Ravnikar.

As I watched her across the table, I was overwhelmed by her energy, her research curiosity, her understanding of the business... this is the person that sends their researchers to the front line with corporations to find out what the market needs. They have learned the language and the mindset of the market and this gave them a strong wind in their wings. They have learned what is not useful and needs to be abandoned, and what is useful and demanded by the market.

Maja is the person that optimizes every square inch of a too-small-space to do interesting research in every corner. Her team continues to grow despite a steep decline in research funding in Slovenia. As my colleagues in the Gazelle (a competition for fastest growing company) say: "If you are not ignited yourself, you can't ignite others”. And Maja has ignited a lot of people. This is best seen in her ex-researchers working in high-tech companies and spin-offs of the NIB.  This is no coincidence; a good team knows how to create proactive employees. Two of our great startups are their spinoffs – BioSistemika that makes document systems for laboratories, and GenePlanet, which a while back received a $10 million investment.

They go for that extra mile

We all know that proactive people are worth their weight in gold – e.g. a bad cook will make a boring stake, while a good cook will make you a great steak with a special side dish. A good kindergarten teacher makes sure that even the untalented and frightened children perform in a play. A good salesman finds an opportunity where everyone sees a closed door ... These are people who know how to go the extra mile that makes the world infinitely more beautiful.

We do not have a good translation for "that extra mile" in Slovenia, perhaps because we too often just do not go that extra mile. While I was writing this article, I typed "the extra mile" (in Slovene) in Google search, and the result was "how to overcome a crisis". When I typed "do more than necessary", I got: "thoughts about retirement", "sick leave", "employee rights after the age of fifty", "30 things that destroy you" …. So, hugely disappointed, I also checked the results for "work passion" and found this in our main dictionary: " A feeling, difficult to control by willpower: passion was the root cause of all his problems.” Or simply put: Give me anything, just not the work passion :).

Go to you team and look for the passion in their eyes. Pass your passion onto your team. If you support them, they will stay with you for a long time, they will have greater success both individually and collectively, and even if they leave you, they will be your ally for the future years. On the contrary, if you push people to the ground, not only will they leave, but they will become your enemies and close the doors in front of you. It is a very simple equation - it pays to push people up, not down.

I wish you a lot of energy and a strong mission. Do not let the parasitic bureaucracy take root in every pore and drain everyone’s eyes. Bureaucracy creates more bureaucracy and raises and praises the bureaucrats. If you see yourself buried under the rules, if you feel that you have lost the meaning, ask yourself what meaning was ignited in you at the beginning. What lit you up? Go back to your roots, to the true meaning!  NIB is already running that extra mile. 

Doc DynamiteDr. Jernej Pintar, CEO & Head of tech community at Technology Park Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU.

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