Why Pharma is (and should be) interested in Design Thinking

When people ask me what industries I think are the most active in exploring Design Thinking, they are often struck when I say 1. banking 2. mobility 3. pharma. Right now I’m investing a lot of my energy into projects with the pharma industry and it’s really exciting. A highly regulated, science-driven industry with enormously long product cycles – why would they care about something like Design Thinking? Here’s my list of reasons:

1. I think in pharma, anything that may have the power to shorten the product development cycle is magic. Be it better collaboration between scientists, more innovative trials, anything. Design Thinking is used to find those accelerators.

2. With medicine shifting more towards prevention and looking at holistic patient life cycles, pharma is discovering products and services “beyond the pill”. In many markets, advantages of competing treatments are marginal. Products have to be differentiated by service, application, convenience or something entirely else.

3. Regulations have tightened, at least that’s what I observe in Europe. Prescription medicine must not be advertised to patients, studies need to be registered, sponsoring or incentives have to be made transparent. This erodes a lot of the traditional ways of advertizing and distributing products and pharma has to become creative.

4. Pharma’s sales infrastructures are 80s. To me, pharma is one of the last industries that features crowds of sales reps that drive from door to door to remind medical personal (who already have no time and vacant brain space) that their product exists. Since those representatives are often no longer allowed to hand out gifts to buy the doctors’ time, they need to reinvent what value they generate for their customers.

5. Pharma needs to build networks. The companies that I know are no experts at building apps, high-value content, medical services. They need to connect with others to make innovative offerings “beyond the pill” a reality.