Where Did Life Science Innovation Go?

The good old BHAG had quite a run in the ‘90s, but in large part it seems to have disappeared – along with true innovation in larger companies.

I’m not seeing larger life science companies shooting for Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) anymore. Lately, it seems the only growth plan large companies have is acquisition. They’ve left their vision at the door. Instead they watch and wait. They let all the innovation happen at small and start-up level companies. Then they buy them.

Psst…acquisition is not a BHAG.

I think we’ve missed an opportunity, or we’ve lost sight of the opportunity. When Collins and Porras wrote Built to Last, they included visionary companies such as Johnson & Johnson and General Electric but look at where we are now. Did we not follow the rules of Built to Last? Did we not pay attention to the value of BHAGs?

I’ve been wondering why this is happening. Are you?

A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)

Granted, it’s not the most appealing of names but it does deliver the concept of outside-the-box thinking and long-term objectives quite clearly.

In 1994, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras introduced the business world to the BHAG in their book “Built to Last.” The book set the business world on fire and got companies thinking – and acting.

As Jim Collins states:

A true BHAG is clear and compelling and serves as a unifying focal point of effort—often creating immense team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal … A BHAG engages people—it reaches out and grabs them in the gut. It is tangible, energizing, highly focused. People “get it” right away; it takes little or no explanation.

BHAG scaled Passion/Best in the World/Economic Engine

The bottom line is your company’s BHAG has got to have passion. It’s got to be ‘best in class’ and it’s got to be a financial driver.

Where Have All the Good Times Gone?

While every goal has an economic driver, are we developing ones with passion? Are they high energy goals with clear finish lines?

For some companies, marketing plans aren’t approved until mid or end of Q1. Due to the delay, marketing teams struggle to get plans in place, editorial opportunities are missed and overall marketing momentum is lost.

Large companies seem to be simply playing with numbers and managing to stockholders’ expectations, shooting for quarter-to-quarter earnings.

You can say BHAGs were a 90’s thing, but I disagree with that assumption.

You can still find companies shooting for BHAGs. Some may be small start-ups who have created their entire culture and product delivery based on BHAGs. And then there are large companies like Netflix, Virgin and other visionary companies shooting for their own BHAGs.

When Built to Last was published in the 90’s, we – as a nation – were doing well. We had great economic growth, the stock market was thriving, and we were building funds in our treasury. In 2000, we had a surplus. So, what happened?

When did goal-setting move from long-term vision to quarter-by-quarter earnings? I have a feeling maybe we got lazy during the good times. It escalated when we had the bubble, and shifted after the dot-com bust. Then everyone started thinking, “Okay, what’s the next quarter? What’s the next quarter?”

Unfortunately, we are living in a month-to-month, quarter-by-quarter environment. I get it. Everyone is hanging on the earnings report. The market is volatile and worldwide trade uncertainty seems to be the order of the day.

But somewhere there has to be a vision for what a company needs to look like 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now.

There’s got to be a roadmap.

Long term economic growth doesn’t come from stockholders whose sole focus is “What’s my return on investment? How much did we make?” It comes from C-suite vision and shareholders who are willing to care about the long-term health of the company they have invested in.

But really, would you need stockholders’ goals if you had Big Hairy Audacious Goals?

Is This Our Opportunity for Big Hairy Audacious Goals?

I think when companies stop striving for BHAGs – whether in product development or larger global impacts, like the moonshot – we all lose.

Here we are in 2019 and it’s the end of the first quarter. Half of the companies out there probably haven’t had their marketing budgets approved yet, and many companies don’t even have their sales quotas out for their sales teams.

Now is the time. You’re planning what you are going to develop during the course of the year. What big challenge needs to be overcome?

It’s time to think about that next revolutionary product or service. It means you need to start to do your homework and create that product based on real information and research. Then market it.

What are we waiting for?

Set Your BHAG

The great thing about big hairy audacious goals is you can set a BHAG any time you want. It’s not driven by a start of the year; it’s not quarter-by-quarter. A BHAG has nothing to do with the quarter.

It has to do with vision. Passion and vision.

These projects can take longer than a year to achieve. But the results will impact future years.

It doesn’t matter when you set them.

Netflix was founded on a BHAG and has continuously set them as part of their growth plan. From “becoming the Amazon of something” at their founding, to transforming movie viewing through streaming to their latest BHAG of “becoming HBO faster than HBO can become Netflix,” Netflix is a perfect example of industry innovation through BHAGs.

Go Get ‘Em

Right now it’s all about enabling your teams to have BHAGs – to want to have BHAGs. So, perhaps now while you’re putting your budget together, you put some money aside to explore BHAGs. And this year, you say, “In 2019, I’m going to encourage our teams to come up with a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.”

You could say, “Look, I want each division to pitch me a BHAG. What’s in your back pocket that you’ve been thinking about that you’re too afraid to talk about?”

Start small, or start in a small market, but encourage your people to think outside-of-the-box. It’s your team that will come up with the Big Idea. There might be a voice in your team that’s very quiet, but there’s a BHAG in there and you’re missing the opportunity.

Are You Ready to Create Opportunity & Innovation?

What are your thoughts about BHAGs? Where do you think we should be going?

Brandwidth Solutions serves the healthcare, life sciences, energy and contract pharma industries. We work with companies that want to make the most of their marketing – who want their marketing empowered to help drive leads – and ultimately sales. If you want to move your product or service forward in a smart way, we want to work with you. Call us at 215.997.8575.

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