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Improving Innovation at Pfizer – by making the elephant dance

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla’s book Moonshot is well worth reading for anyone running a large company. 

This is because Bourla talks about –

  1. the power of science to solve problems – including the science behind Pfizer’s vaccine being developed by another company – BioNTech – and matched by a third – Moderna
  1. how he got a big, bureaucratic organization rise to the challenge of the moment 

While start-ups like BioNTech and Moderna are expected to be fast, large companies like Pfizer are not. 
Moonshot is the story of an unnatural act – making the elephant dance !

For many people who have worked in an enterprise they can identify with new initiatives bogging down due to matrixed decision-making, risk avoidance, politics, culture, etc.

To get past this at Pfizer decisions were made  –

  1. that bet on the mRNA technology – a risky and complicated option that involved partnering with an outside firm 
  2. to accelerate product development by multi-tasking processes    – ie: beginning product development work before finalizing the contract (which can take up to a year) 
  3. with vast investments in manufacturing and distribution  –  to address complexity associated the need to store and transport the vaccine at extreme temperatures (before the vaccine was proven)

With this, Pfizer was much better positioned to “ innovate for impact “ to address a huge and urgent need for a vaccine to improve outcomes in healthcare and for the business. 

This was summarized by Bourla when he said – “ Time is life. If we miss our budget for a year, no one will remember it the year after. If we miss the opportunity to do something for the world now, we will remember it forever.”   Further, he states – “ In all businesses, companies that stay true to their purpose perform far better than those that do not. When you align around purpose, you are sending very clear guidance to an organization with multiple layers. That clarity brings everyone much closer to what needs to be done and improves productivity. Now, take a situation like ours, where our purpose is to save lives – it’s a noble one. That adds passion that people rally around. This culture that we created gave us the appropriate mindset and allowed Pfizer to move with the agility and speed of a small biotech and bring to the world a breakthrough vaccine that is dramatically changing the lives of so many.”

From this, the question for every enterprise Executive is Moonshot 

  1. an aberration – that occurred by the unique circumstances ?

             – or –

2. a valuable lesson – in the need for enterprises be more agile, better at innovation, and transition to a new mindset ?

….  to address challenges and opportunities in many industries (healthcare / medicine, energy, manufacturing, distribution, retail, banking, etc.) to successfully tackle diseases, climate change, etc.). 

For this to occur, the need is for enterprises to meaningfully improve outcomes with –

  1. new science and technology
  2. the ability to innovate for impact              …. from “ Insight and Inspiration  + Process and Predictability ”  
  3. forward looking leadership thinking         …. with high competencies in digital, creating value, etc.
  4. an entrepreneurial, results oriented culture 
  5. better managing the changing nature of risk  

If interested in developing these capabilities in your organization, please contact CAIL.

March 23, 2022        CAIL Innovation commentary        905-940-9000