Finding Courage in the Era of Possibility

I’m really big on yearly themes. Perhaps it’s the strategist in me, but I consider my yearly theme to be my own personal growth objective, and my corresponding resolutions to be the supporting strategies. As I entered 2019, I didn’t have to look further for theme inspiration than one of the most intellectually advanced television shows of our time: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

In one particular episode, Dee, the primary female lead, has been conned into selling a product that, her three friends point out to her, is part of a pyramid scheme. During their quick investigation of the situation, one friend points out that she was bamboozled. That she “got got.” And in response he says that he would be able to walk into the same room in which she was deceived but leave as the victor rather than the victim. Because, he says, “We don’t get got. We go get.”

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is my theme for 2019: “We don’t get got. We go get.”

At the risk of projecting my own growth opportunities on the pharma industry, I would like to propose that we as a community of industry professionals take on this credo as our own theme, celebrating courage and rejecting fear.

Why are we so afraid?

A good portion of my day is spent playing technology therapist to internal and external team members. There is widespread recognition that we are in a time in which we can do anything. Build anything. Create anything. Dream anything. But rather than running through this open door of opportunity, many pharma professionals are crippled with fear, I’ve found, paralyzed to move beyond comfort zones. I hear excuses like, “Show me how this has been done successfully before” or “That feels like an above-brand idea” or “That’s going to be difficult to sell into upper management.” All reasons driven by fear.

To an extent, I can appreciate that most large pharmaceutical companies are not comfortable diving headfirst into experience, software, or device design. These are large companies whose bread and butter approach has supported their continued growth for decades, and leadership is wise to be thoughtful and purposeful in expertise expansion. However, this hesitancy to innovate without a prior example or experiment without certainty stands in stark contrast to the companies that are now thriving in the digital age, such as Uber, Amazon, Disney, and Southwest Airlines.

The issue, I believe, is that the focal point is always on the technology and not the experience the technology enables. In its purest form, technology is an accelerator to forward momentum but not the creator of the momentum itself. When we place all of the weight on the success of the technology, we make the tool greater than the project. When you bake a cake, the serving dish is not the goal. The goal is the cake. Similarly, and as an illustrative example, we don’t increase therapy adherence with a chatbot or app. We increase therapy adherence with surround sound community support, 24/7 healthcare provider access, medication reminders, or cost and coverage tools, delivered in a mode that is readily accessible and usable to all patients.

Uber isn’t about an app, it’s about being able to know who your driver is, what time he will arrive, and how much it will cost. Amazon isn’t about a website. It’s about quickly finding an item, ordering it, and having it delivered as soon as possible. Disney’s MagicBand isn’t about card-less purchases. It’s about augmenting the magical theme park experience. Southwest isn’t about featuring the newest plane. It’s about a company that cares about getting you to your destination.

How do we change our fear to courage?

One of the best and most compelling, profession-driven books I’ve read is Jim Collins’ Good to Great. In Collins’ vast research of those companies that have evolved from average to exceptional, he concludes:

Those who turn good into great are motivated by a deep creative urge and an inner compulsion for sheer unadulterated excellence for its own sake. Those who build and perpetuate mediocrity, in contrast, are motivated more by the fear of being left behind (Collins, 2001).

I don’t believe it’s naïve to say that striving for “sheer, unadulterated excellence” should be the backbone of each decision we make. To constantly seek “better” means that we never stop pushing. It means we intimately understand the needs of our customers in the context of and in support of our brands. It means that even micro-moments of engagement with valuable brand assets, when woven together, tell a story more cohesive than disjointed block-and-tackle initiatives that are created as part of maintaining status quo. Or, in a more tragic scenario, creating a state-of-the-art, technology-driven, immersive customer service tool that doesn’t get used because it doesn’t ladder back to a relevant, observed customer need.

To get to excellence requires a deliberate choice to place the customer, rather than the brand, at the center of decision-making. It’s elevating “who” the brand stands for to the same level as “what” the brand stands for. When we do this, we uncover the interconnectivity of health decision influencers and the breadth of opportunity for the brand role. The more we understand each of these levers of influence, the more reasoning we have to support stepping beyond our comfort zones to tell a more compelling story, leaning in to reduce the friction our customers’ experience within the context of our brands. And the more we understand our customers’ behaviors, mindsets, biases, and habits, the more powerfully we can position the brand as an enabler of better health.


Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t. New York: Harper Collins; 2001.