The life sciences industry is at a crossroads. More than ever, it needs innovation — not just to develop new drugs and devices, but also to create the new business models that will be increasingly relevant in a value-driven, outcomes-focused health care system.
In response to these challenges, we are seeing numerous examples of innovative ideas emerging from outside the industry — everything from patient-empowering apps to social media platforms. Yet, most large life sciences companies are struggling to innovate and disrupt themselves, despite being highly motivated to change.
Meanwhile, it is becoming widely accepted that diversity and inclusion — attracting and retaining a workforce that represents a wide range of backgrounds — is an important ingredient in innovation. It has been well documented, for instance, that more diverse organizations perform better by bringing together different cultures, thoughts, cognitive preferences and values.
For life sciences companies looking to innovate new business models, I would assert that the most powerful potential benefit comes from the last of these attributes — the different values that diverse workers bring, which in turn leads them to value different things. The reason for this is that business model innovation in life sciences will inevitably need skills and capabilities well beyond the core competencies of life sciences firms. In other words, innovation will occur at the intersection of inside and outside thought. And the ability to “see” the connections and new ideas at this intersection is linked to what we value.
For instance, life sciences companies will need new offerings and business models to help the aging populations in major markets manage chronic diseases. Workers who place a higher value on the elderly — perhaps because of their cultural norms or life experiences — would be well positioned to “see” possible ideas that could lead to innovative or disruptive offerings.
The challenge, of course, is that the things people value aren’t as easily observed as characteristics such as gender, ethnicity or race — the traits typically tracked by D&I policies. So how do companies go about attracting individuals with diverse values? To some extent, the answer may lie in the more traditional D&I measures listed above, since values are often shaped by social norms that vary with individuals’ cultural and ethnic backgrounds. But values are also influenced by other factors, such as personality and life experience. These influences may be harder to identify, but companies could start by appreciating the importance of diverse individual values and perhaps focusing on such issues in their processes for interviewing, coaching and mentoring.
It’s important to note that D&I is not a panacea. This one change, in itself, is unlikely to solve all the innovation problems faced by life sciences companies. But, at a time when the industry desperately needs new approaches, I believe that attracting individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences and values will certainly help.