It is ironic when the term "disruptive technology" elicits fear instead of excitement in business leaders, given the daily examples of tech transforming industries overnight. I have spent the majority of my career in disruptive tech solutions for life science companies, and have seen firsthand that most giants are tech-resistant. But there is comfort in knowing that all industries have been hesitant to adopt new technologies in the past. A word of caution from recent history, though: companies that do not embrace new technology fail.
If you don’t believe me, just Google it. You'll see millions of hits about the rise and fall of global institutions like Blockbuster, Kodak, Toys R Us, and Xerox. All were brought to their knees by a failure to properly engage with nascent technologies. The company at the top of that list is always Nokia. In less than ten years, it went from having the best-selling mobile phone brand in the world at 40% market share to losing 90% of its market value.
Forming Iceberg Committees
Let’s dive into Nokia’s failure1 to capitalize on its dominance in mobile phones for more context. It did not fail due to a lack of foresight and market understanding… An analogy from Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School, said industry leaders typically see icebergs approaching well in advance. However, their response is to form iceberg committees and build iceberg monitoring equipment rather than changing course.
As an illustration, Birkinshaw cites the rise of biotech in the early 1980s and points to huge pharma companies like Merck and Roche. They formed a few strategic alliances and partnerships with biotech firms but most failed to follow through with the new technology. Supporting this concept is another business professor who believes that when companies like Nokia mature, they lose agility and entrepreneurialism. He feels their managers become less strategically integrative and tech- savvy2.
History makes it clear. institutions that don’t adopt disruptive technologies will end up being the next Nokia.
Changing the Narrative: Agile Exploitation
At ProofPilot, we're leading the charge in disruptive technology for clinical trials with our protocol automation platform. As its CEO, I believe it's time to change the narrative and restore the image of strategic innovation. Let's begin by changing the language from a prerogative to one exemplifying great deeds. I've created the term Agile Exploitation. The word exploit can be defined as "a deed or act of some exceptional or remarkable kind; a conspicuous performance; a great or noble achievement'" while agile means "lightness, and ease of movement; nimble."
Rather than see new technology as threateningly disruptive causing one to rapidly circling the wagons, let's fulfill our role as leaders and move quickly to understand, trial, and implement technologies that add to our company's value proposition and help other companies and people succeed.
Focus on Success
Some of our largest companies today succeeded by embracing agile exploitation. Again, let’s look outside of traditional pharma for some examples.
3M began life as a mining company; today, it's become a household name by allowing team members to take risks in a protected and controlled environment, creating innovations that have changed our world. Sony began life as a two-person electronics shop in Tokyo, but saw the potential in Bell Laboratory's new technology called a transistor, agreed to a license with Bell, and the rest is history.
Amazon, Google, and Netflix are some more recent examples of agile exploitation. All three companies embraced the emerging internet revolution with new products or pivoting their existing business model. I believe the exponential growth in digitization and digitalization currently offers us an unbounded opportunity. Far from being something to fear, these trends are changing the rules and positively adding value.
Life science professionals' willingness to pursue innovations drives our team at ProofPilot, particularly given the public discourse among pharma in the U.S., the sensitivities surrounding patient confidentiality & safety, and provider burnout. Pharma today is subject to the perfect storm with challenging budgets, increased demand from patient longevity, and rising public expectations. To stay ahead of these trends, modern pharma professionals practice agile exploitation with successful innovations they consider usable and desirable.
My favorite pharma success story is Moderna, using mRNA technology to save millions of lives around the world with Covid-19 vaccines. I was privileged to be a part of the patient recruitment strategy during my time as the Chief Commercial Officer at Citeline.
Trial Recruitment at Warp Speed
Before the pandemic, the majority of the public had not heard of Moderna. But the team at Moderna adopted a truly innovative mindset by making a big bet and it paid off; mRNA’s are an alternative solution to traditional vaccines and epitomize agile exploitation: they are effective, quick to develop, and cheap to manufacture. Likewise, Diane Montross, Sr. Director of Patient Recruitment and Retention at Moderna, and her team, partnered with Citeline (my former company) to take a different approach to patient recruitment while harnessing the power of the market.
I am proud to say that our respective teams made history. We supported the fastest-recruiting COVID-19 clinical trial in operation warp-speed history. Citeline was chosen to support Moderna’s 30k+ clinical trial, and by harnessing technology, they were now able to work with the same recruiting partners, and without burden or risk. The kicker is that in just 48 days, we helped Moderna reach the enrollment goal 55% faster than the next quickest Operation Warp Speed clinical trial.4 I’ll dive more into that exhilarating – albeit sleepless – success story another time. The point of this story is to provide an example of what simultaneously daring & strategic companies can achieve.
This is the same esprit-de-corps that we have at ProofPilot; we've partnered with daring life science companies to provide a protocol automation platform for clinical trials. By removing the burden on clinical staff, preventing protocol deviations, and personalizing content for patients, we've reduced the risk and cost of clinical trials while improving compliance. And we'll do it in partnership with the larger market.
We not only provide groundbreaking new technologies for our pharma clients but walk the talk by actively seeking similar capabilities to drive efficiencies into our business, improving our competitiveness and effectiveness. Rather than fear the change or rationalize caution, we constantly strive to intelligently use agile exploitation to build our business, better support our team and clients and extract more value from the market. If you have a story to tell on ways your company has successfully used agile exploitation, I'd love to hear from you.
1. The Myths Of Disruption: How Should You Really Respond To Emerging Technologies?; https://www.forbes.com/sites/lbsbusinessstrategyreview/2017/04/03/the-myths-of-disruption-how-should-you-really-respond-to-emerging-technologies/?sh=54220167676d
2. Loss of agility and entrepreneurism - Yves L. Doz , INSEAD Emeritus Professor of Strategic Management. https://knowledge.insead.edu/strategy/strategic-decisions-caused-nokias-failure
3. Healthcare Innovation; 10 Recent Examples Of Powerful Innovation In Healthcare; https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/healthcare-innovation-10-recent-examples-powerful-blake-morgan/
4. Explore Citeline Connect; https://explore.trialscope.com/citeline-connect/Moderna-COVID19