New ways of seeing, new ways of saying: a New Year for pharma

The familiar rituals of festive celebration can be a comfort to many, and prudent hosts remember that such occasions are not a time for innovation. Family, friends and guests are more likely to enjoy the shared pleasures of participating in a ritual’s traditions than they are to be craving diversion from its norms.

However, beyond a certain point the appeal of the familiar can quickly wane. Not only can we have a surfeit of convention; we can also become thoroughly nauseated by it.

Reviewing some of the customary ‘New Year’s predictions for pharma’ posts on returning to my desk this week, I felt more than a little queasy (this post by Digitally Sick colleague Alex Butler being a notable exception).

Unlike the celebrations that precede it, the New Year is a time to take a fresh look at the problems that confront us, not merely to resume the worn-out discussions of the preceding twelve months.

It is a time to acknowledge that the act of asking the same question in the same manner that failed to produce an answer previously is unlikely to deliver a positive outcome when restated. Let us hear no more of the ‘perils’ of adverse event reporting, of the supposed indeterminacy of a return on digital investment, of regulatory lacunae, or any of the other hackneyed subjects that provide what Joyce in another context described as the ‘happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance.’

It is not easy for an industry such as pharma to refashion its self-image.

However, this is not merely a corollary of its traditional conservatism and aversion to risk. It is also a consequence of the fact that the agencies, analysts and pundits that swarm around pharma can serve (not always unwittingly) to conceal rather than reveal opportunities, diverting its gaze with gadgets, dashboards and statistics ‘in order not to look at’ the new possibilities that are in reality open to it.

New ideas are rendered ‘invisible because they are rejected in principle[…] and that is why their fleeting presence when it does occur goes unperceived’. Even for a regulated industry such as pharma, the majority of ‘limits are internal‘ as a consequence of its having ‘carried its outside inside it’.

In 2013, the pharma industry needs to cultivate a newly informed gaze, and new ways of seeing require new ways of saying in order to describe them.

In 2013, the industry should challenge itself as well as its service providers not to use the language that is reached for so lazily by so many without going to the trouble of interrogating its enduring relevance or meaning.

In 2013, pharma and healthcare concerns can choose either to continue to passively endure the repetitious drone of familiar voices who have little new to contribute to its advancement, or to actively emulate and aim to exceed the softly spoken, understated achievements of peers such as Sanofi and GE Healthcare who have quietly gone about their business redefining elements of clinician education and providing examples of new ways of thinking about what patient advocacy and support might look like in online environments.

The choice is theirs.

Health and happiness to you and yours in 2013.

Citations: Louis Althusser & Étienne Balibar, Reading Capital (1968; London: Verso, 2009) pp. 27-28

3 thoughts on “New ways of seeing, new ways of saying: a New Year for pharma

  1. Reblogged this on pugtato and commented:
    Great post! 2013 needs to be a year of major, actionable change in pharma. I am also writing about creativity killers in pharma in a mini-series “Are you there, Pharma? It’s me, Liz.”

  2. I’ve long wondered how on earth pharma managed to the cognitive dissonance that seems endemic in their industry: risk averse and ROI-driven while simultaneously working to move out past the edge of scientific discovery.
    That severe polar tension is getting worse at a time when it should be getting a good deep-tissue massage. I learned how far we *haven’t* come in the last two decades when I read Dr. Pedro Cuatrecasas’ “Drug discovery in jeopardy” on JCI:
    2006. Oy. How … static.

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