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Glaxo Tries Open-Source R&D.

Strategy is more fraught with uncertainty and error than most of us calling ourselves strategists ever admit.  Better strategies often begin with involving MORE people, not less, and generating MORE ideas, not fewer.   Imagine an "idea funnel" - wide at the top with more ideas of all kinds and narrow at the bottom with a few compelling game-changers as the building blocks for true strategic separation. 

As Dr. Linus Pauling once said,  “The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas, and throw the bad ones away”  And there's that Japanese proverb reminding us that "None of us is as smart as all of us."

From The Wall Street Journal, GlaxoSmithKline PLC is testing Linux-inspired, open-source principles for developing new drugs.
"The pharmaceutical giant last week opened to the public the designs behind 13,500 chemical compounds that it said may be capable of inhibiting the parasite that causes malaria.

"Glaxo and others hope that sharing information and working together will lead scientists to come up with a drug for treating the mosquito-borne disease faster than the company could on its own. Other researchers "may look at these structures in quite a different way and see something that we don't," said Nick Cammack, head of Glaxo's Medicines Development Campus in Spain."
Let's broaden the scope of open-source strategy for a moment.  Imagine you're a health care provider in a market area challenged by, say, high rates of childhood obesity.  You could tackle the issue the old-fashioned way, the public health approach, with meetings, planning retreats, charrettes, committees, position papers, epidemiology-based community benefit studies.

Sound familiar?  Same old tired process, same old tired results.  You were expecting something different?

A risk of this traditional process is leaving out people with little time, less patience and zero tolerance for "talking cures" or process uber alles.  And what if "patience" and "ideation" are negatively correlated?   What ideas will you leave outside the boardroom door? 

But I have NO illusions that I'll be able to talk you out of the methods that've produced such stellar past results (that's a joke by the way.)   So I won't try.  Instead of "either-or" let's make it "both."  Do whatever you were going to do anyway.

Just add open-source to your strategist's arsenal.  Post your dreams, thoughts, ideas, research, data, trends, goals, directions, whatever else you can think of, to a public web site.  And ask the WORLD for advice.

"We need your best thinking for reducing childhood obesity in XYZ City.  Here's what we know.  Tell us what we don't know.  Here are our best ideas.  Tell us YOURS.  Help us out.  Get involved." 

Might people from all over the world, all walks of life, all backgrounds and skill sets contribute to the discussion?  Maybe clinicians, consumers, patients, researchers, smart people, dumb people, people hoping to get rich and selfless altruists.  Maybe even someone from the C-suite (once they recover from their shock at not being in control.)

Might you learn something?  You'd have to be trying pretty hard NOT to learn, don't you think?

What are the risks?  That your strategy won't be "confidential?"  Trust me, it isn't anyway so long as you share a medical staff with the hospital down the street and golf courses remain open on Wednesdays.  And as Howard Aiken once said, “Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.”
That your strategy won't be profitable,  a worry expressed about Glaxo's approach by a venture capitalist?   If that's your end game - everything pencils - it's easier to monetize good ideas than bad.  So the more great ideas you have...see a theme here?

That the feedback you'll get will be an overwhelming, confusing mess?   Sure you'll have some cranks weigh in, and some people will say dumb, useless things.  If you trust the process enough to give it time to work, you'll see conversations coalescing around the best ideas, and the group will begin to self-referee, drowning out the cranks.

Glaxo's Nick Cammack believes big pharma needs to look at lots of (new) ways of doing business in the future.  The challenges are just too big to tackle with "business as usual."   I doubt you face an environment much different from Glaxo's.  So improve your organization by changing it up.  New processes, new voices, new conversations, new ideas.  Opened-up.  Open-sourced.


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