Long story short? The ClinPage vendor universe had a problem this week. A little ... Situation. In brief, one of the technology companies supporting this, the industry’s top online clinical trial trade rag, messed up. Royally. This incompetent firm has done exactly the same thing before.

We think of this particular vendor as a band of hobbits, something right out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Hobbits, as readers may recall, are fundamentally decent. But they are a bit odd. They live underground. They stand three feet tall. They have large and hairy feet. They appear human but have their own dialect, their own inscrutable customs. ClinPage’s vendor-hobbits, it turns out, live in a wonderful corner of the shire called Minnesota. Having spent time in that section of the shire, we do retain affection for it.

Living In Oblivion

But the magnitude of the hobbits’ error this week is significant. It cannot be overlooked. The error, the defect, is not really grasped by the hobbits themselves. In fact, the hobbits believe us to be at fault.

Indignant, the hobbits are troubled by any hint that their bumbling hobbit fingers, their wretched hobbit tools, could have caused any trouble whatsoever. The hobbits’ feelings, frankly, are hurt. So no remedy for our little ... Situation is in place, and none is on the horizon. Indeed, none is even needed as far as the hobbits are concerned. IT is like that these days.

A day or two into this mess, and we were ready to perpetrate a hobbit massacre. Shoot those pesky beasts. Get it over with. For the sheer joy of it, we fantasized about burning their miserable little hobbit dwellings to the ground, and bringing in some serious earth-moving equipment to see if something useful could be done with their lands.

Whew. A few emotions bubbling up there, eh?

Hindu Fable

Then a large piece of lumber bonked us on the head. We realized that [cough, cough] certain important organizations think of us, ClinPage, as a band of hobbits. Ouch.

Our inscrutable editorial decisions, our surprisingly inexpensive ad prices, our prize-winning customer service—basically, for certain organizations that know us well, ClinPage is a hobbit company, and one just as deserving of contempt as a certain hobbit encampment in Minnesota.

How to explain this unexpected situation? Tolkien offered no help. But to quote another Minnesota hobbit, Bob Dylan:

You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

There is also the Hindu concept of Indra’s web, a vast and luminous grid. In this lattice, each creature is a jewel. Each jewel is connected to every other jewel. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

Though our yoga posse would be loathe to admit it, companies, too, are part of Indra’s web. Some companies in Indra’s web may find medicines that save our lives or improve them in miraculous ways. Certain other companies may require federal bailouts of goofball hobbit financiers. The real work of life is the struggle to appreciate one’s position in Indra’s web and to repair the always-changing connections there.

Conserving Ammunition

The same concepts—hobbits, jewels, webs—apply to all organizations. All kinds. All sizes. Pfizer and Novartis are hobbits. Quintiles and Kendle? Hobbits. Lehman Brothers and Fannie Mae? Jewels.

Don’t believe us? Before the Gandalf of the FDA (you know who we mean), facing the bow ties of the Lancet or the New England Journal of Medicine, even mighty organizations in our industry are vulnerable, quivering, defenseless. Just like Tolkien’s pathetic hobbit Frodo on his journey through a volcanic deathscape. Even the FDA and the elite journals, in the end, face their own enraged overlords—the physician community, the general public. d9A2t49mkex

Back to our saga. By the end of the week, we took a breath. We considered the fate of the hobbits. (Not for long.) Then our thoughts turned to the guardians of the hobbits. That would be a certain group of humans in San Francisco. We decided to put the hobbit massacre on hold. We could live without them. But we have Indra’s web to consider. Which is another way of saying that the hobbits’ San Francisco guardians are indispensible and closely connected to us. Although we do have our eye on some elf magic. It is said to be a solution to our little ... Situation.

And the hobbits? Still in denial. They are busily gardening, fussing over noxious hobbit soups and gag-inducing hobbit delicacies. They have their own worries. Hobbits usually do.