By Sy Mukherjee and Clifton Leaf
January 30, 2017

Long ago, on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, the Seven Sages were said to have carved two words into a stone: Know Thyself. The words, Socrates tells us, were to be construed as both a greeting and an admonition to worshipers from the Greek god of music, poetry and healing: Know thyself—know your truthful soul, your imperfect and human self—before entering this hallowed ground.

And this ancient and concise nugget is no less wise and important today, says organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich. “There is strong scientific evidence that people who know themselves and how others see them are happier. They make smarter decisions. They have better personal and professional relationships. They raise more mature children…They’re more effective leaders with more enthusiastic employees. They even lead more profitable companies.” Or so argues Eurich in her new book Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life, which is due out in May.

The lengthy subtitle—and the ample list of benefits self-awareness supposedly brings with it—might suggest a facile self-help book, a Stuart Smalley mirror exercise in auto appraisal. But Eurich has clearly thought and dug deeply into the subject. The result is both a sprawling exploration of the psychic frailty that leads to self-delusion and self-aggrandizement, and—importantly—a compassionate, helpful guide for avoiding that path (or reversing it). She’s also pretty good at grounding all of this in academic research and in real-world examples from everywhere from the business realm to the battlefield.

While the notion of self-awareness as a route to self-improvement can be traced as far back as 600 B.C., she says, it has been only in the past four decades or so that psychologists and others have truly studied it—and tried to understand it on a scientific basis. And that careful study, Eurich says, has yielded some surprises.

One is that there is no apparent relationship between having what she calls internal self-awareness (a clear “understanding of your values, passions, aspirations, ideal environment, patterns, reactions, and impact on others”) and external self-awareness (“knowing how other people see you.”) It’s a lot more common than we might think for individuals to genuinely know themselves and have no clue as to how their colleagues see them—and vice-versa.

A second surprise is that we seem to get less self-aware as we get older. “Experienced leaders are more likely to overestimate their abilities,” writes Eurich, “Similarly, older managers tend to misjudge their performance relative to their boss’s ratings of them far more than their younger peers do.”

The good news is that we can learn to identify our blind spots and teach ourselves how to be more self-aware. The bad news is, the most effective tools may come with a bit of pain. Eurich describes a feedback process she calls the “Dinner of Truth.” (And, yes, the name is appropriately ominous.) The gist is that you invite someone to dinner and ask him or her “to share the one thing that annoys them most about you.”

Why over dinner? “Eating is intimate,” she explains. And once you’ve sat down at the table, it’s hard to run away and hide after 60 seconds.

More news below.

Clifton Leaf
@CliftonLeaf
clifton.leaf@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

NASA’s “twins study” reveals genetic effects of orbiting the cosmos. NASA is sharing some preliminary data on one of the, well, downright coolest experiments I’ve ever heard of: examining the toll of extended space travel on the body by comparing the physiology and genetics of identical twin brothers Scott and Mark Kelly. Scott Kelly was in space for almost a full year (he actually spoke to attendees at the 2015 BIO industry conference while orbiting somewhere over Australia via live link), during which he had blood and biological material drawn for analysis. The initial findings are striking: for one, Scott’s telomeres – the protective “caps” at the end of chromosomes which shield genetic material have been linked to the aging process – actually grew while he was traveling in space compared to Mark’s telomeres. That was a pretty unexpected result, and it raises questions about how cosmic travel can affect biological aging. Other observed differences included differences in gene expression; both of these effects were reversed once Scott came back down to Earth. (Nature)

McKesson snatches up CoverMyMeds for $1.1 billion. Health IT and drug distribution giant McKesson is acquiring CoverMyMeds, a company specializing in “prior authorization” tech for health care providers. Prior authorization is the process through which physicians obtain insurance company clearance for prescribing a certain drug; for the most part, this is meant to control costs by only allowing certain treatments that have made it on to an insurer’s or benefits manger’s formulary to be reimbursed. “We’re excited to build on our long-term partnership so that the combined capabilities of both companies are used to bring even more innovative solutions to pharmacies, providers, payers, manufacturers and patients,” said CoverMyMeds in a statement on the deal, which is expected to close in the first half of 2018. (Healthcare IT News)

This device tells you when you’re about to eat gluten. My colleague Polina Marinova notes that Nima, a portable gluten sensor that’s pulled in $14 million in venture cash, is now available in the U.S. market. The device consists of a sensor and test capsules which analyze tiny food samples and tell users within minutes if they contain gluten. There’s also a smartphone app component which can, for example, highlight local restaurants with high marks from customers who avoid gluten. “From our early app data, we are finding that about 30 percent of foods labeled gluten-free are testing positive for gluten with Nima,” said Shireen Yates, CEO and co-founder of Nima. “This data highlights the struggle millions of gluten-free diners face today.” (Fortune)


INDICATIONS

Merck pulls back the curtain on its drug price hikes. Pharma giant Merck is providing a little more insight into its strategy on drug pricing amid continued backlash to exorbitant list prices. The firm revealed that price hikes on branded products vaccines ranged anywhere from 7.5% to 10.5% between 2010 and 2014, and that increases were limited to the single digits last year. “Because price increases have become such an important issue, we felt we needed to provide greater transparency into list and net prices,” said Robert McMahon, president of Merck’s U.S. market, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “The price increases we take are reasonable.” But “reasonable” is a relative term. And some industry observers have questioned whether even single digit price hikes are really all that reasonable given that inflation remains at just about 2% over the last 12 months. Drug makers such as Eli Lilly and numerous others have recently used price hikes as a way to make up for falling revenues. (Fortune)

Novo Nordisk plots $144 million diabetes research center in Oxford. Danish drug firm Novo Nordisk, the largest diabetes drug maker in the world, isn’t letting the specter of Brexit discourage it from massive R&D investments in the U.K. In fact, the company is pouring $144 million over the next ten years into a center for diabetes research that will serve as a central hub for at least 100 scientists. This is the latest in a series of moves by major drug makers to signal confidence in the U.K.’s life sciences community after the widespread uncertainty stemming from the decision to leave the E.U. For instance, both AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline have committed to building massive new research centers and expanding manufacturing in the country. Part of the reason for the uncertainty is the fact that the European Medicines Agency (EMA), an E.U. regulatory agency similar to the FDA, is currently housed in London but likely to shift locations after Brexit.


THE BIG PICTURE

Biopharma CEOs, academics speak out on Trump immigration ban. A pair of executive actions by President Donald Trump is raising some eyebrows (and plenty of uncertainty) in the biopharma world. First, Trump’s controversial Muslim refugee and partial immigration ban is being slammed by numerous biotech CEOs and even some of the more high-profile industry players. “$AGN is strong & bold bc of diversity. Oppose any policy that puts limitations on our ability to attract the best & diverse talent,” wrote Allergan CEO Brent Saunders in a tweet on Sunday. Alnylam CEO John Maraganore added in a statement that his company rejects “all forms of discrimination and limitations that prevent us from benefiting and growing as a diverse and inclusive workplace.” And Endpoints is chronicling the responses from a host of smaller biotechs’ CEOs, including condemnations from BIO chair and Acorda Therapeutics chief Ron Cohen, OncoMed Pharmaceuticals CEO Paul Hastings, and others. The second executive action, unveiled this morning, would force government agencies to repeal two regulations for every newly proposed regulation going forward. That raises a host of practical questions, including how such an executive order could be effectively implemented and how agencies are supposed to go about choosing which regulations to nix.

 


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