I’ve always enjoyed building things, especially things that are useful.  I think that we have a responsibility to put science and engineering to work in the service of things that matter, and recently I got a reminder of why I wanted to become an engineer.  Several hundred of us were at bluebird bio’s new manufacturing facility in North Carolina’s Research Triangle to mark 100,000 safe work hours at the construction site and celebrate the team’s official move-in to the facility’s offices and labs.  It was remarkable to see the progress that the design/construction/startup teams have made in recent months.  For me, however, the highlight of the day was spending some time with a young man who is living with sickle cell disease.  I was drawn to engineering, and specifically biotech, because science and engineering should tackle the really big problems.  It should make lives better, and I was reminded of this during that visit.

As I spent the day walking through the facility with the team, I couldn’t help thinking about something else, however.  The building by itself won’t be enough.  The structural steel and walls alone won’t allow us to serve patients around the world that need our therapies, nor will it be the equipment and automation that help every bluebird achieve his or her full potential.  bluebird bio realized this a long time ago, and our culture has been a central focus of the company since its founding.  bluebird’s passionate belief that together we can make a difference for patients was one of the main reasons that I came here.

There is a book by Alison Gopnik called The Gardener and the Carpenter, and in it she explores different approaches to childhood development.  There are some parallels between parenting, teaching/coaching, and ultimately the culture that we create at our new manufacturing site, and I think there are important lessons that we can apply.  As the book’s title suggests, a gardener focuses on creating a rich, diverse, dynamic environment where people have the space to take risks, explore, and ultimately flourish.  At our site in North Carolina (and every other bluebird site, for that matter), the goal isn’t to just construct the building.  Rather, if we create conditions where each of us can show up to work and be our very best, then together we can make the technological leaps that patients are counting on us to deliver.

Over the years I’ve learned to enjoy gardening in my spare time.  However, I’ve also learned that growing things in my garden can be humbling, and I have had times where things just haven’t worked out the way that I had hoped.  I experiment, sometimes I fail, and I learn as I go.  Ultimately, I do the best that I can.  It is a lot like creating and maintaining a culture.  What we are constructing in North Carolina is impressive, but what we are growing there is even more important.  People that thrive in the site’s culture will ultimately touch every one of our patients and their families, and that legacy will long outlive the building.