But I do know baseball.
Our chemists tracked the ‘covering the coating’ problem down to an unexpected diffusion of silicone from the catheters. This suggested a half dozen approaches to removing the material prior to applying the coating, and they ran everything in parallel.
But, after two weeks, nothing seemed to work.
Their disappointment at the review call was really palpable: they sounded tired and discouraged, and didn’t immediately have an answer for what they might do next. That sent shivers through the rest of the organization: I worry about a vicious spiral setting in where lack of confidence is more damaging than lack of progress.
The Seattle Mariners were in the American League playoffs against the Cleveland Indians in the Kingdome. 22-year old Rookie Bob Walcott started for the Mariners, who were desperately short of pitchers. He immediately got into trouble, walking the first three batters and loading the bases.
Manager Lou Piniella headed to the mound after Wolcott threw his sixth successive ball. They had a conversation, Piniella went back to the dugout, and Wolcott caught fire, retiring the side and eventually allowing only two runs in seven innings. The Mariners went on to win 3-2.
I was there: I really wanted to know what Piniella said that turned things around.
"I talked to him about hunting in Oregon," the manager related afterward. "I said, ‘You can enjoy your winter in Medford’; he’s from Medford. I said, ‘Look, if it’s 11-0, who cares. Just give us five or six innings. Have some fun and relax out here.’ "
We had a good lunch, we talked about life, I let them tell their story. We speculated more widely about what might be happening, and we brainstormed a few solutions. My chemistry is at a metaphorical level, I’m afraid, but the purpose was to stimulate confidence and new approaches, not to suggest an answer.
At the end of the day it seemed to have restored their optimism an ideas: we all knew what we were doing next, how we were helping, and that we were backing their team. I headed south with cautious optimism myself: hopefully to convey to the wider organization.
Okay, there was a jerk on the Doncaster – Stevenage train who had spread out across my reserved seat and table, who loudly declared that reserved seats were rubbish, and who forced me to squeeze in elsewhere in the train. It was really irritating.
But I’m just not going to let the jerks ruin my day.
Especially when there’s a playoff at stake.