Writing this TEDx Talk was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done. I was speaking to an internal audience at my former employer, Eli Lilly. And, even though I am no longer with the company, there is still a soft spot in my heart for it. It is where I spent 14 wonderful years of my career doing awesome stuff, meeting and working with phenomenal people, and learning and growing my own skills and abilities.
I wanted to make sure that my TEDx Talk inspired every single person to tap their intrapreneurial selves, mobilize, and leverage all of the digital health technologies that are available to truly transform their businesses.
This is how I did it…
WANTED: Intrapreneurs for Digital Health
Have you ever sensed that you were on the pathway of being fired? Well, about mid-way through my career at Lilly, I sensed it.
Let’s just say that things weren’t copacetic with me and my boss. I really thought that I was on the verge of being escorted out.
And, the product that I was working on was decommissioned; this always happens in R&D, but it is still hard to cope with.
So, I felt that my choice was to leave Lilly or just find a job where I could lay low for awhile… and many of you know that I don’t lay low well.
A friend of mine suggested that I consider moving to a new division and she helped set up an interview.
It was a dreary rainy March afternoon. I was sitting by myself in the newly opened building 75.
My interviewer was late.
As soon as he arrived, he looks me straight in the eyes and said…
“I have done my diligence on you. I hear that you are a troublemaker and that you challenge authority. You are not always easy to work with, but you figure out how to get things done.”
Here, I am thinking… Is this an interview or am I getting fired? But then he turned it around…
“And, if you don’t continue to behave like this, then I don’t want you reporting to me.
Any questions? We good?”
And, that was it.
I honestly didn’t know what had just happened. I sat there stunned and wondering if he really meant it. Me?
Getting to do what I do and be accepted for it? That’s just crazy talk.
Even against some of my friend’s advice, I took the job.
He was true to his word…
I worked with him for 5 glorious years. During that time, I came to own the fact that I am an ‘intrapreneur’.
No, that is not misspelled. Even though in Word, PowerPoint, and even in email a red squiggly line appears underneath it. It is Intrapreneur.
So, the big question is: Are you an Intrapreneur?
If you answered, ‘yes’ to at least 3 of those questions… then this Talk is for you. If you answered, ‘no’, then I want you to come on a journey with me and try to find your inner-intrapreneur. Because I know that it is there…
Even though I do not have my Lilly badge anymore, I am one of Lilly’s and the pharma industries biggest fans. I have told people that I have bled the Lilly red – pantone 485. The promise of the types of innovations that you can bring to the market is so exciting!
And, I know, first hand, how hard it is to make change happen within these walls. To do things differently. I’ve had my head lopped off and my knees taken out many times. I have been told “no”, “never going to happen”, “not here at Lilly”.
I get it.
The pharma industry has a bit more responsibility than a start-up launching a photo application.
We work in a regulated environment. We have layers upon layers of SOPs and rules. We want to make sure that all risks are mitigated… People die or have bad side effects if our products are not used correctly or don’t work the way that we claim …
And, yet, we make people’s lives better through our innovations. We help survive horrible diseases and make people well. It’s pretty darn awesome.
What’s frustrating is when there are ripe opportunities to innovate, to streamline their business, and better connect or create better patient experiences, many times all I hear are the excuses why we should pass on those opportunities… hold back. Let others take the risk.
But, in this world, if you are not the one taking the risks, then the real risk is that you will not be in business in a few years. You will become obsolete. Non-competitive.
Now is the time to re-evaluate and realize the potential of all of the things that are happening in digital health.
So, what exactly is digital health?
Digital health is the intersection of health, wellness, and technology – it’s hardware devices + software + data in the sectors of health and pharmaceuticals …
Proteus. Proteus is an innovation where an RFID mechanism is embedded into a pill. Once the pill is consumed, the RFID is activated. Biometric data that is produced for the 30 minutes after it is swallowed. How could this innovation influence the pharma sector – wouldn’t this allow for better tracking of patient adherence, both in clinical trials as well as in real life? Patients couldn’t cheat. We’d really know if they were taking their medicines… maybe our statisticians wouldn’t have so much ‘noise’ to work through… Plus, wouldn’t the biometric data help increase the understanding about how the drug is metabolized and processed by the body? Combine this data with genomic information, and would this help us to understand why some people are responders while others are not?
I could shower you with stats for digital health…
The thing is – it’s not about the idea of digital health. An idea is just an idea. Execution is the key to realizing the true value of an innovation.
And, it is going to take really smart business intrapreneurs to figure out how digital health opportunities can be realized in the pharma sector.
Why intrapreneurs? Because intrapreneurs know the business problem that needs to be solved and are willing to challenge the status quo to test new/different ways to solve the problem.
It’s not easy being an intrapreneur. But, I will gladly claim that business evolution and change happens only because of intrapreneurs. They are the secret sauce to effective organizations that evolve and change.
How do I know this? Well, I was so curious about this topic that I did my own research and documented my findings in an eBook: The Business Intrapreneur: Unsung Heroes of Corporate America.
1) Do their day job. Do it so well and without issue that when your approach your management with your digital health ideas, they don’t even flinch. You have a proven track record and they know that you will be able to handle your day job in addition to the other tasks/responsibilities. All of the people that I interviewed were high performers and had substantial internal personal equity within their organizations; they cashed in this equity to be able to innovate.
2) Invests in their ideas. Don’t just show up and say that you want to do something. Do your homework – has this idea been done before? Did it work? If so, do you want to repeat it? If not, how did it fail? Could you improve on it and make it happen? It may surprise some folks, but I always consulted with legal and regulatory advisors prior to embarking on a ‘thrill seeking’ project. I would do my homework. I would review all of the CFRs, ICHs, etc… and make sure that I understood the true boundaries that I needed to adhere too. Then, I’d outline what risks I thought I’d be taking and how I would be mitigating them. It made for more robust discussions and advice + creation of advocates for whatever I was trying to get off the ground
3) Connects with their tribes. Who are the people that ‘get’ what you want to do? Do you know people beyond your direct function? Beyond Lilly? How can they help provide input, support, or resources for the project that you are working towards?
It is the fourth item that is really intriguing:
4) Finds cover… This was an ‘a-ha’ for my research. All of the intrapreneurs that I found talked about ‘cover’ as being an essential element to their ability to operate as an intrapreneur, to innovate, and take risks… the same is true for my experiences at Lilly…
That interview that I told you about… well, He trusted me and my skills to push the boundaries. Take risks. He created a protective space for me to operate. He extended out his own reputation… for me! He’d pull me in when I may have been entering dangerous territories or pick me up and dust me off when I flat out failed.
“Cover” DOES matter.
So, Leaders, don’t just talk the talk about innovation.
Believe in your intrapreneurs, give them cover, unleash them to move this company forward.
The world around us is changing at warp speed. We cannot remain content with our current mindsets and the technologies that we are using. We need to innovation and move to the next business model… This will require strong intrapreneurs…
I know that many of you qualify…
So, when are you going to ‘inquire from within’ and fill this position?