I had an idea for an innovative way to assess the safety of a new medicine. I thought it through, spoke to a couple of people to get their take on what I was thinking, and then trundled off to share my idea with Bob. I knocked on his door as a courtesy as it was always open.

Andy, come in. (He stood, walked from behind his desk, and offered me his hand in friendship more than anything else.) Great to see you. I know you are settling in well, and I am pleased to hear your voice in meetings, and pleased to know that you are being heard. How can I help? (We’re still standing!)

I have an idea. An innovative idea of a new way to assess the safety of one of our new medicines.

Great. Tell me in one sentence what it is. (I told him as best I could. I wasn’t ready for this!) Give me a moment. (Silence.) I like it. What do you need to do now?

Tell you about my idea.

There’s something else you can do before you do this that will help you bring rigour to your idea, identify significant details, focus on the outcomes you want to achieve, . . . and so optimise my buying into your idea further. What is it? (Silence.)

(Now I was on the spot!) I’m not sure. (Silence. Now I was feeling uncomfortable.) I guess I could draft a protocol? (Silence.) Yep, that’s what I can do.

Great. Get a draft to me by 14.00 on Friday. I’ll read it over the weekend. Make an appointment to talk it through with me on Monday at 14.00. We’ll have ten minutes. Happy writing.

But, I’ve never written a protocol before.

I know. So who might you ask to help you?

There’s more to this story . . . But, I left Bob’s office with confirmation that my idea was a good one, and I had action points. Write a draft protocol by 14.00 on Friday. Book an appointment to talk it through. Know who I needed seek support from to write the protocol . . .

As I walked back to my office, I was so pissed off. Why? Because all Bob had done was ask me questions, offered me silences and the result was I had to think! And, then go away and work on making my idea a great idea that could be made real in some way. I had to put in the work before Bob would entertain listening further.

I only really appreciated Bob when I left to work for someone else. (More about this later.) What now I appreciate is that he taught me how to think for myself, by asking neat questions, and engaging me to act on the thinking that emerged. I’m forever grateful. As only a short time later did I begin to ask myself neat questions, act on my thinking . . . I went into Bob’s office less and less.

I’m curious, does this story resonate with you? Did or do you have a Bob that asks you neat questions . . . ? How many hours have you spent talking through ideas that go no where because little rigour had been given to the idea to make it real? Maybe you need to find a Bob?