Distributed research needs collaborative researchers

“What Sanofi is doing is reducing its own internal research capacity,” he said. “The days when we locked all of our scientists up in a building and put them on a nice tree-lined campus are done. We will do less of our own research. We’re not going to get out of research. We believe we do certain things well in research but we want to work with more outside companies, startup biotechs, with universities.”

Chris Viehbacher, CEO of pharmaceutical company Sanofi recently stated that ” …  big companies, and not just Big Pharma, big companies I believe, are not any good at doing innovation.” It seems Sanofi is moving to a more networked way of doing business. But to be more innovative, companies must first become open and transparent.

That’s the challenge of the networked organization. Trust only emerges if knowledge is shared and diverse points of view are accepted. People who have been working in silos for decades may not immediately embrace a more diverse and complex networked way of doing business.

Part of working smarter is connecting the work being done with the identification of opportunities for future work. Innovative ideas often come from loosely knit external learning networks. These can later get developed in slightly tighter communities of communities of practice. But in order to capitalize on novel ideas, professionals have to be continuously sharing knowledge in their communities and testing new opinions in more dynamic external networks.

As research becomes more networked, researchers will need to be more collaborative. Social learning, or learning from and with their (distributed) peers, will become more important. New practices will emerge from these new relationships and more innovative tools & processes will have to support this complex work. The role of connecting and communicating what is happening in various widespread groups will become critical. This is the job of a CCO, or some similar role: to manage workforce collaboration.

The three principles of net work remain, in my opinion:

  1. Transparency
  2. Narration of Work
  3. Distribution of Power
Getting a workforce, and many organizations, to embrace and internalize these principles will take time and managed effort. It will require normalizing the act of working across boundaries and switching the default mode to sharing information. In addition, the organization will have to tolerate mistakes and encourage reflection. This could be a major culture shift. Any company that is going to open its work processes to a networked model must make a significant effort to support its people in integrating their learning and work because you simply cannot train people to be social.

One Response to “Distributed research needs collaborative researchers”

  1. Harold Jarche

    Here’s a comment I received by email from Nick Lynch:

    Fully agree with the commentary here and in developing a more socialized network for collaboration, the data challenge and the ability to understand each others’ data becomes ever more important.

    This trend isn’t unique to pharma; a recent Gartner Symposium http://blogs.computerworld.com/19123/five_takeaways_from_symposium_itxpo covered all areas of IT and used examples of pre-competitive activities to support this social collaboration.

    As discussed elsewhere in unpacking the idea that even the biggest companies can’t deal with big data on their own. Instead, they are replacing separate, independently housed data pools with shared, open access pools co-created and shared by the organisations that need to access the data. Value comes not from the data itself, but from the value organisations are able to extract from that data.

    I would perhaps add a fourth principle to net work as Standards, since without the ability to communicate effectively a network does not reach full maturity.

    Thanks for a thought provoking article.


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