Pharmaceutical executives understand that they must confront multi-layered demands. They have to explore new business models
while attending to their existing, highly profitable commercial model. The important question is: How can they actively pursue
both paths to create their own future?
Designers, who are trained in creative problem solving, excel at solving these kinds of complex, multi-dimensional challenges.
While designers are respected for their vision and creativity, their disciplined approach to problem solving often yields
solutions not discoverable through traditional business methods.
Though design has historically been applied to the development of new products, in recent years leading companies such as
Intel, Toyota, GE, and P&G have implemented design in conjunction with traditional business thinking to create new offerings,
customer experiences, and business models.
The Discipline of Design
With a sharp focus on how things work, designers approach problem solving with distinctive faculties of openness and curiosity,
analytic rigor and integrative thinking, and flexibility and responsiveness. Those qualities, combined with the rigorous discipline
and protocols of design, reliably yield new products, services, and business models.
The discipline of design provides valuable insights and lessons for the pharmaceutical industry as it rethinks its approach
to the commercial model:
Frame complex problems holistically Solutions to complex problems are seldom found by study of the individual components of the problem. Design thinking embraces
this complexity when defining the challenges at hand, dissecting issues and causes until the system as a whole has been framed
in the broadest context.
Companies that frame healthcare challenges holistically, taking into account the needs of all stakeholders, will be more likely
to create solutions that are effective and robust. On-site health clinics such as Whole Health Management (now owned by Walgreens)
have been able to reduce employers' healthcare costs by creating a value proposition that works for the needs of employers,
employees, and caregivers, leading to wholly new models of healthcare delivery.
Fundamentally understand the end user Take a look at the experience of customers and non-customers, and the contexts in which they live and act. Techniques derived
from (among others) cultural anthropologists, social scientists, and ethnographers all serve to generate important insights
about opportunities to engage more meaningfully with customers. Such insights add significantly to the information provided
by more traditional market research techniques, which tend to focus on how to evaluate the current behaviors of known customers.
Designers' research techniques generate insight into patients' needs and uncover ways to serve those needs beyond product
features and messages about clinical efficacy. Companies that understand these needs and deliver compelling experiences to
meet them—through new payment models and product systems—will thrive in the new market.
For example, as Wellpoint (now Anthem Blue Cross) created Tonik, a straightforward health insurance offering for uninsured
consumers less than 30 years old, they understood they would be targeting customers outside their traditional demographic.
By using ethnographic techniques, they formed a deep understanding of the environment, perceptions, expectations, and values
of this group that made it clear they would need a different model to engage this population. Armed with this new insight,
Wellpoint created a simple, clear suite of offerings, supported by a culturally relevant brand and a compelling style that
has contributed to success that exceeded all expectations.
Perform divergent and integrative thinking to find novel solutions While designers are extremely skilled at drawing out holistic insights about a particular challenge or problem, they never
lose sight of the forest for the trees. This ability to create deeply informed, but thematic, insights allow them to constantly
draw connections to other fields of study and industries. That, combined with their unwillingness to be tied to industry orthodoxies,
means they are able to integrate insights, analogies, and precursors from multiple sources. For example, the rise of health
tourism and the global attraction of hospitals like Bumrungrad in Thailand and Apollo in India were driven by lessons from
the high-end hospitality industry. These were applied to create world-renowned healthcare services at a fraction of Western
costs. Pharma will need to deploy such divergent and integrative thinking to consistently discover opportunities for disruptive
Learn through rapid prototyping One predictable challenge that goes with the reinvention of a commercial model is that many elements of the solution, by
nature new and uncertain, draw out the "antibodies" of legacy infrastructure. Innovations can easily be killed before they
reach the market by objections that infer the infeasibility of ideas or exaggerate the market's reactions to them. By contrast,
design draws its main insights from the market itself through rapid prototyping of new models with lead users and non-users
in their natural environments. This approach generates real feedback so that new ideas can be improved upon more quickly.
The rapid cycle of market-driven improvement also brings a new innovation concept that quickly neutralizes the objections
of the traditional legacy systems. Companies that adopt prototyping and adaptation dramatically accelerate their time to market
with viable offerings—both because they learn faster and because this approach allows them to fail early and inexpensively.
For example, the Mayo Clinic's "See, Plan, Act, Refine and Communicate" (SPARC) and Kaiser Permanente's Garfield Center provide
those organizations with "living laboratories," where new protocols and technologies can be tested, adapted, and implemented
quickly and successfully.