The relentless search for innovation is the rallying call of industry today, and big pharma is no different. Thousands of employees are commonly huddled together in impressive conference rooms and amphitheaters and the key task is send down from on high: INNOVATE. Then, those huddled masses, sometimes even struck with the fear of obsolescence, look to each other in hopes of finding that magic.
Yes, they're seeking the lightning of innovation, but are often looking to the wrong sources for those bursts of change. They are relying on internal resources to find each other (sequestered behind asbestos walls) and spark that transformative change. Even worse, as those large corporations acknowledge that they need to look beyond their 4 walls, they establish their external mission by a slick motto or TV spot.
Simply stated, big pharma is often just winking in the dark.
In today's life sciences world, the traditional company does two of three requisites very well. Those are clinical validation (drug trials) and market access (from MD's to consumers). There's little argument that these companies and their partners understand the drug and device development process. And their marketing arms have well-established methodologies to reach the consumer—from MD to payor to patient. While there's room for improvement here, it's that third leg that can use some help: INNOVATION.
Innovation is tricky. And the innovator can be elusive.
So, it appears that finding innovation may be one of the most important strategies for evolution and growth that can be employed today. But does big pharma plant its flag, I mean lightning rod, in the right spot? Does the message reach out to those garage scientists, tinkerers, twitter influencers, caregivers, and lone disruptors that may offer key insights and even tangible innovations? My sense is there's a bit of disconnect here. It's well established that today's innovators come from unusual and eclectic sources. And many of those "lightning bolts in a jar" spend their early years in a garage! Those corporate giants that are now breathing down the back of pharma once started there too. HP, Apple, Amazon, Disney, Google, and Microsoft all started in those 4 walls of obscurity. And I wonder how many radical ideas in healthcare can be percolating in today's domestic micro-labs of patients and innovators who see things differently.
Today, the nature of innovation is both from the inside out and the outside in. The rigid walls of many corporations prevent collaboration of existing employees and breaking down these internal walls is only the first step in driving innovation. The critical step is building the collaborative connective tissue to allow the voices of innovation—often fragile in the context of disease and healthcare—to be heard and embraced. It's these lightning bolts that can illuminate the world of the life sciences and transform that small garage, waiting in obscurity, into tomorrow's cathedral of innovation.
A version of this article first appeared on Forbes.
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