Working at a contract drug development and manufacturing organization years ago, I had direct reports stationed around the globe. Among the lessons learned: There’s an industry-related conference somewhere on practically every day of the year.
Subsequent to that role, and while discussing my joining Outsourced Pharma as editor, the idea of starting up a new conference was mentioned. My carefully nuanced reply was: “A conference? The last thing this industry needs is another conference!”
Somehow, I still got the job. And over the past four years I’ve been proven woefully wrong. Here’s why.
The Three Pillars
Every organization – and each individual within – has specific needs and objectives. Yet, we can identify three overarching criteria for attending most conferences.
1. Go where you can meet customers
From business development to engineer to CEO, we’re all interested in attending gatherings that include current and prospective customers. But to make these conferences worthwhile, we should understand customer objectives for attending, and adjust our approach accordingly.
2. Go where you can learn
I include “networking” here. If networking isn’t in large measure a learning experience, you’re just passing the time with peers and customers. Next, we learn from speakers, panel interactions, and audience response. These interlocutions, though, must be substantive – not politically correct – to be of intrinsic value.
3. Go where you can participate
No matter experience level or position, you should consider yourself a current or future leader in some capacity. Therefore, seek out environments conducive to authentic attendee participation and discussion, where you can utilize or build leadership skills. Customers and peers will notice.
Food For Thought Vs. Energy For Action
I’m certain many of you have been at a conference where you wanted to add your opinion to a panel discussion, pose a question, or perhaps challenge or second a speaker’s position. In other words, you wanted more than to attend. You wanted to participate, to add your energy to the mix.
Why didn’t you?
Most likely the atmosphere was not conducive to real participation. Perhaps:
In other words, “thought leadership,” if it could take place at all, was only on stage. You were spoon-fed food for thought when you really wanted to generate energy for action.
What do I mean by that?
A Philosophic Participation
We’re referencing more than a simple impetus to speak up, but the opportunity for intellectual participation to produce a more experiential learning.
You want to participate – because you do have something to offer – on behalf of yourself, and those customers and peers in attendance.
You want a meaningful exchange to bring back to your workplace, to perhaps catalyze some discussion or better behavior there.
In other words, you want to create energy for action.
In a book on philosophy Gary Hayden describes the essential elements of epistemology – the study of the nature and scope of human knowledge – and two types of learning:
“It can be helpful to think of a priori knowledge as the kind you can acquire simply by sitting in your chair and cogitating, and a posteriori knowledge as the kind that requires you to get up out of your chair and investigate the world.”
Our food for knowledge versus energy for action analogy may not be exactly what centuries of philosophers have had in mind. Yet we can understand from them how vital is the opportunity for participatory experiences at our conferences. And this vitality leads to better business outcomes.
We’ve Never Talked Like This Before
Which brings us back to our genesis four years ago. What I had been right about was the industry didn’t need another conference like so many others. This isn’t to suggest there aren’t good – even great – conferences out there. And of course some conferences may indeed stand on somewhat different principles.
But Outsourced Pharma was built on the three pillars of customers, learning, and participation. We quickly learned from our attendees that the third pillar had been the most neglected, weakening opportunities for the first two as well.
To create a participatory atmosphere, moderators and panelists can’t paper over conflicts; they must be intently receptive to learning from the audience. For example, during a session on the real costs of outsourcing, everyone and all sides must dig into how a biotech can afford not to select the lowest cost FTEs; why CMOs feel Big Pharma is squeezing them; or how to handle drug-owner concerns about not benefiting from new technologies or innovation in their supply chains.
What’s needed is not more “networking,” but an open community to create better business practices, opportunities and outcomes … to generate our industry’s energy for action. We’ll continue to form that community from all walks of pharma and biotech, and an equally diverse membership of contract development and manufacturing organizations.
I’ll end with this: A most rewarding part of my role as conference chair is when both experienced and younger professionals tell me after a conference session: “I didn’t plan to speak up, but I am very happy I did.”
“A summit on modern-day drug development and manufacturing outsourcing” is the title of the next Outsourced Pharma conference and exhibition in Boston, April 26-27. For details, click on energy for action.