Good job

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I remember the pleasure I took in watching my children learn to climb stairs.  

We were visiting my parents-in-law in their Victorian parsonage, it had a wide staircase going up to the second floor, when I noticed our firstborn halfway up. 

It's a good thing I did notice, because she teetered at the top unable to get back down. I picked her up and carried her back downstairs—she decided that was great fun and immediately started up again. Fortunately I was on vacation, and so we had a good time with her climbing up and my carrying her back down.

My reward was her look of triumph when she arrived at the top. Let me tell you, it's not nearly as much fun relearning to walk up and down stairs after you have had stroke. 

In my previous column I listed the survival skills that I learned while in a rehab hospital; now I am home again and the learning process goes on. I doubt I can match my daughter's look of triumph when I am successful; more likely is a look of frustration when I'm not. 

I have a physical therapist and an occupational therapist working with a me once week each, and their different approaches offer a good illustration about management motivation. 

I have been working with an occupational therapist. Occupational therapy, by the way, seeks to help the patient relearn the skills of everyday living—from tying your shoelaces to picking up small coins with your “bad” hand. 
I like working with the occupational therapist but I feel like a schoolboy who hasn't done his homework when I anticipate a visit from the physical therapist who is teaching me to walk, climb steps and other basic locomotor skills. 

The difference is that the occupational therapist says “good” when I accomplish the simplest tasks while the physical therapist shows her displeasure when I fail. 

I know full well that when a therapist praises you it may be routine or even perfunctory. 

The rehabilitation center was a teaching hospital, and I once asked a student why she always said “good job” when I completed the simplest exercise, and she admitted: “That's what we're taught to do.” 

Nonetheless, I still felt encouraged every time someone said it. 

It's like being thanked for a routine courtesy. It is one of the social lubricants that helps make the wheels go round.

That's a lesson I wish I had learned when I was still involved in agency management. I used to think that if I praised someone when they had not truly earned it, they would think I was being hypocritical or patronizing and resent it. Now it's too late. In any case, there is no more KPR, so let me add a little obituary.  

John Kallir and I started the agency in 1961. It was the time of the Kefauver hearings, when agency CEOs were being grilled about their supposed transgressions, leading up to legislation that imposed new requirements for NDA approvals and established new rules for pharma advertising. It also led to the appointment of an FDA commissioner with an anti-industry bias. 

Nonetheless KPR not only survived but flourished. So, take heart. These things are cyclical, and we'll survive this latest spasm of industry demonization. A little historical perspective helps. It's easier than relearning how to get up the stairs.  

Warren Ross is editor at large of MM&M
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