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Complicated vs. Complex Challenges in Pharma

By Steve Figman

The pace, scope, and variety of challenges we face as executives in Pharma are both invigorating and overwhelming. They span macro trends such as personalized medicine, real-world-evidence (RWE), onerous regulatory pressures, collaborative R&D and Digital health, as well as those specific to our businesses including post-merger integration, loss of exclusivity, market access challenges, share erosion, etc.

Knowing how to categorize and tackle each problem is key to solving it. One of the most effective lenses is to understand that most challenges boil down to two simple categories: ‘complicated’ and ‘complex’.

Is this a complicated or complex challenge?

A complicated challenge, although new to the person facing it, has been solved many times before, and you can hire consultants and experts to do for you what they’ve done for others. For example, if you want to boost sales force effectiveness and install Veeva CRM—that’s a complicated challenge. If you’re putting in a new SAP system or HR system, that’s also a complicated challenge. Complicated challenges are by no means simple, but the solutions can be replicated. What worked in the past will likely work for your business as well.

A complex challenge needs to be solved fresh each time because it’s unique to your situation. Furthermore, solving it requires aligning and mobilizing a critical mass of people for successful execution. If you are asking yourself, “What do we need to do over the next two years to see a five-point share increase, disrupt the category, and treat as many patients as we can?”, “How do we deal with loss of patent?” or “How do we align the team around a launch plan while ensuring al innovative ideas have been explored?” you’re staring down a complex challenge. What worked in the past for other companies will likely not be the identical fix for your situation.

If it is a complicated problem…

A logical path is to hire an outside expert—and that’s typically the right call. Hiring experts to leverage their tried-and-true solutions is usually the most efficient solution.

If it is a complex problem…

The knee jerk reaction is to bring in the consultants, or strike up an internal task force, and that doesn’t always work. The onus rests on the consultants or the task force to interview many people, understand everything they’re being told, synthesize it all, and somehow come up with a novel solution that makes sense to those who have to execute it. That’s known as a “hub & spoke” model. You may get a great strategy out of this, but it will likely take several months. What’s more, the hub & spoke is not set up to drive organization buy-in and execution.

So, what’s the answer? 

For more than a decade, senior executives have successfully leveraged the co-creation model as a way to develop innovative solutions. “Co-creative” models look different depending on the context, but they typically involve gathering into one location a group of people who collectively understand all the facets of the challenge, and who will be part of implementing the solution. When it is executed poorly, it turns into your typical brainstorm, one in which a few loud voices—usually the most senior leaders—dominate the discussion. When it is done well, however, it integrates all the knowledge and insights from each contributor to create solutions that are greater than the sum of the parts. It becomes exponential.

An co-creative approach produces exceptional results in a compressed time frame because it:

  • Deconstructs complex challenges into more manageable but comprehensive discussion topics that the group has decided they need to cover.
  • Connects every discussion and every person, so that each topic is enriched by every other topic; so that everyone can enjoy the dynamics of small team discussions while remaining in direct contact with and being able to contribute to everything else that’s being discussed.
  • Opens people up by providing an environment that is transparent, hierarchy-free, disarming and very engaging, so that people can set aside their usual behaviors, listen and be heard, and ultimately reach conclusions based on new-found trust, shared understanding and alignment.
  • Surfaces, captures and integrates all the issues, ideas and conclusions from the group. Certified Facilitators act as guides and scribes for each meeting, encouraging participants to contribute to their full potential (and to push each other).
  • Delivers clear answers that the group believes inAnswers that are created out of the collective work and in the words of the participants are as much in their minds and hearts as they are on the written page.

Instead of taking several months as a typical consulting engagement does, a co-creative approach can typically deliver results in just two to three days. Instead of tacking on “execution” at the end, it embeds the process by directly involving those who will execute the solution so that they own it and are ready to execute on the agreed-upon strategies and tactics.

A co-creative problem-solving paradigm may not be the right solution for all your challenges. But if it is a complex one, it probably is.

Steve Figman (steve.figman@syntegritygroup.com) is the WW VP, Head of Life Sciences for Syntegrity, a solving platform delivering exponential change an RTI International Company. www.syntegritygroup.comhttps://www.rti.org/


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