Want to work in pharma? Pirates need not apply

innovat-150x150A pirate can function within a bureaucracy. Pirates support one another and their leader in accomplishing a goal. A pirate can stay creative and on task in a challenging or hostile environment. A pirate can act independently and take intelligent risks, but always within the scope of the greater vision and the needs of the greater team. One could argue that today the biopharma industry is in dire need of many more pirates.

“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.” This quote, made back in the days of the original Mac development team, says a lot about how Steve viewed people and selected them for teams. It also speaks to the kind of team and team behavior he admired. To build a team, all organizations seek the best and the brightest people, particularly for their innovation and new product development organizations–that’s not what’s in question here. By seeking out the pirates, Steve took the idea further.

I keep waiting for someone within the pharma industry to take a bold step forward, but they seem to take baby steps for fear of not “fitting in.” When we talk about the best marketing, it refers more and more to consumer products, while pharma marketers hide behind the “we’re a regulated industry” phrase. Sure, some are testing the waters in social media, but when we refer to DTC marketing, we’re still stuck in lousy marketing.


Then there are the people who make up the core of pharma marketingNot long ago I talked to more than half a dozen former industry people to ask, “is there a real lack of talent in pharma marketing?”. The resounding answer was yes, but they frankly were OK with it because it meant more work for them and their agencies. When I asked for some reasons as to why these problems persist, the consensus was “too many people focused on trying to fit in a while collecting very good paychecks.” In other words, they become slaves to their paychecks and will do anything to keep that check, even if it means lowering the pirate flag.

Some will read this and think pirates must run rough shots over the organization. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m suggesting is that pirates and disruptors need to work harder to get back what our industry has lost: the public’s trust. Becoming adaptable to change and not understanding your organization’s strengths and weaknesses is a recipe for failure.

Steve Jobs was in a position to be a pirate because he was so passionate about what he did. I’ve never heard an HR person at a pharma company ask about someone’s passion for the industry or patients. Maybe it starts there?