As professionals affiliated with the biotechnology industry, we often forget that many of the struggles faced today have been solved before by other fields and industries. As Ambrose Bierce wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don’t know.” The question is, where to look for inspiration?
In the 1970’s, the global automobile industry faced a huge push by consumers and regulators to improve quality and safety. Manufacturing costs skyrocketed. At the same time, up went oil prices, adding a third dimension to the problem: how to improve the fuel efficiency of cars while also improving safety and quality?
There were many strategies to tackle this complex problem (Total Quality Management, for instance), but Toyota found, and was the first to capitalize on, a simple, effective answer: following the Japanese principle of kaizen, continuous improvement, to its logical beginnings, Toyota management and engineers found that the sooner quality and safety were built into the process, the more costs declined. In fact, building quality, safety and efficacy into the product at the early concept, design stage was the most cost-efficient (here I use “efficacy” to capture the concept of fuel efficiency, but also features, passenger room and so forth). This then freed them to play with and innovate on the remaining elements such as style, handling and so on.
Admittedly, the days of the Corolla were numbered, but those early attempts provided Toyota the funding and marketplace stature to build today’s Lexus. In fact, the items that most executives at the time argued were massive hurdles for the industry – quality, safety, efficacy – are now bandied about as competitive qualities. Volvo does not make the most beautiful of cars, but surveys of Volvo owners repeatedly point out the top three answers for why they purchased the Volvo over all other options: safety, followed by efficacy and quality.
In my work helping executives at biotechnology, pharmaceutical and life science firms, I often hear attempts to rationalize away such a comparison with “Yes, but we are talking about hundreds of potential compounds in the early preclinical stage, so that’s not really applicable.” Yet automakers today routinely develop hundreds of concept cars and frequently go on to build many more prototype cars for road testing than any biotech or pharmaceutical firm has new treatments in clinical trials. In fact, the cars you and I will be able to buy seven to ten years from now are currently being tested (along with others that won’t make it) on raceways and simulated town streets and rainstorms right now in Michigan, North Carolina, Japan, Germany and so forth.
Lessons and analogies from other fields and industries can help us reframe the compliance challenges we face and point to ways to reduce costs, boost innovation and improve market success. Ultimately, the biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms that take the most advantage of these will be the ones dominating the industry 25 years from now.
If you’d like to read further examples and applications that might be more suited to the situation you face, I’ve made a number of my published articles available as PDF downloads in the Resource Library of Cerulean Associates.
I welcome your comments, suggestions or questions. Please feel free to contact me at any of the points either on the Cerulean Associates website or within my articles.
I look forward to talking with you.