Keiron Sparrowhawk knows a bit about being a leader. A past president of the U.K. Entrepreneurs Organisation, Keiron has been a leader in medical, digital tech, and pharm for 27 years. He is also a former neuroscientist
In 2003, Keiron co-founded PriceSpective, a global pharmaceutical value consultancy, which was the most successful pharma market access consultancy of its time, reaching global sales of $25m and which he successfully exited in 2012.
I asked Keiron what made PriceSpective so successful, and his answer was definite – the people. He says that he had the best co-founder possible. They both knew pharma and both of them were experienced guys. They were lucky to bring on board some “fantastic people” in senior management early on.
Keiron is a believer in hiring people who are smarter than you, in the sense of finding people who in their specialist areas are smarter than you. He was also working with Cambridge University, helping develop a program there, so PriceSpective was able to recruit large numbers of Cambridge masters students.
Keiron is a people person, and be it in the UK or US offices, he saw his job as a leader was to spend time with everyone in the teams, both old and new. he says the financial results from this always showed in a trail of where he had been, as the people gave their very best afterward.
He misses the team at PriceSpective. There were 90 of them in the end, a little village as he describes them. Wondering what motivated the sale, I learned that as a neuroscientist, Keiron wanted to get back to the product side, but there was also another reason.
Strong leaders often hide mental health problems
Keiron was, on the outside. this high functioning, hugely successful leader. But he was holding everything in. He would tell himself there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with his mental health. He didn’t want to talk to family and friends because worrying them, he believed, would simply give him something else to worry about.
He got to the point he was suicidal. Keiron describes to me how he went to Cockfosters tube station intending to throw himself under a train. He chose Cockfosters because it is the end of the line, and he felt it would cause less disruption to others. With wry humor, he explained that it is a lousy station to select. Being so open, the train drivers keep catching your eye and stopping you. Eventually, he got out of the station and threw up.
Keiron got the help he needed. He had worked around anti-depressants and knew they had their place, but as he got better, he concluded that we were attacking the symptoms rather than the causes of mental health problems.
The Birth of MyCognition
While planning to get back to his neurological routes, he saw someone playing a computer game during an MRI. He saw how playing affected blood flow. The idea for MyCognition, initially developed to help people with deteriorating brain function from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, was born.
MyCognition has diversified to help people of all ages and in a wide variety of areas of mental health and ability. It achieves results without any drugs and works on both treatment and prevention of mental health problems as well as enhancing resilience to stress.
MyCognition is an app-based set of video games. Each individual is assessed on five atoms of their cognition, executive function, episodic memory, attention, psychomotor speed, and working memory. After this, the games will help them develop their mental strengths in these different areas. There is also an option to look at lifestyle choices, sleep, hydration, exercise, nutrition, and hydration.
Initially, Keiron’s battle was to get funding for clinical trials. Medical investors weren’t interested in games, and tech investment wasn’t available for anything that would take as long as clinical trials. Keiron had to self-fund. They are now one of the very few tech-med companies having achieved success without considerable outside support.
Having passed the trials, the next challenge is sales and marketing. Keiron admits that as he is from an R and D background, he had assumed the clinical trials was the biggest hurdle, whereas now he sees the sales and marketing mountain.
Keiron is passionate about what they do, a passion that makes him an inspiring leader. He talks of his pleasure in the results of their work with the University of Alberta, helping children who have been sexually abused. Or working with cancer patients or seeing a group with Parkinson’s show reversal of the disease’s damage.
Or two boys from Telford, who were verging on being expelled for their disruptive behavior, but one year later could see for themselves how much they had changed. To change a child’s life that young, Keiron says, means you change their life forever.
The diversity of help this offers is nothing short of incredible.
How you can apply this to help Leadership
One of the arms of MyCognition is to help companies and leaders build their mental resilience. Any entrepreneur can sign up as an individual to the app and literally train their brain to function better and thereby be better leaders.
Alternatively, it can be used to help the entire company. Everything is anonymous, and action on them is optional. Results show how mentally healthy the company is overall. It is far more accurate than would ever be achieved by forms asking people how they are when we all tend to deflect and say we are “fine.”
By carrying out the company assessment, you see how balanced the overall strengths are, which means improved recruiting. Keiron explained the principle of this to me using generalities.
People who are strong on episodic memory can pull on their experiences and use them to be inspirational. However, they also tend to over-think and can be prone to depression. People with strong executive functions are great at organizing, planning, and implementing, but they tend to “catastrophize” and can become anxious. A balanced mix helps them all.
With entrepreneurs and business leaders, they generally find that younger entrepreneurs have a good executive function, are creative, innovative, but also prone to burnout and anxiety. Older leaders can apply their general experience but are the over-thinkers who could burn out through depression. Some very bright people fall into both categories.
We all want to be strong leaders and we are increasingly realizing that being a good leader means looking after yourself mentally as well as physically. The technology of MyCognition allows us to do this simply by playing their games.
Leaders wanting to self-help
I asked Keiron how busy entrepreneurs and other leaders could self-help, and he says it is down to set routines, avoiding sugar, exercise, hydration before you are thirsty. You need to plan for sleep rather than fit it in. Finally, you need positive social interactions, not just yes people, but people who will challenge you positively.
Keiron explains that we all think about our pensions, but we need to start thinking about how we are going to spend the money and be able to enjoy it and plan for that as well.
Keiron says there is no reason for our mental and physical fitness to deteriorate. If we keep using our bodies and brains, society benefits not just by the shared wisdom but the practical saving on the immense costs of care. Keiron says he would be happy to go out sky-diving in his 80’s and that should be possible for everyone.
If you would like to read more on this subject and perhaps strengthen your leadership, Keiron has also written a book “Executive Function, Cognitive Fitness for Business”,
https://jancavelle.co.uk/resilience-9-secrets-of-how-to-get-a-super-power/You might also like this piece on resilience