A Lesson for Pharma, Apple, and Amazon

The pharmaceutical industry is a tough business. It represents a constellation of disciplines that include, chemistry, biology, physics, marketing, and finance. Drug discovery and development may represent one of mankind’s greatest endeavors that has truly saved lives and changes the world.

It ain’t easy.

And over time, the list of required competencies is both growing and becoming more complex. Today, technology—from things such as CRISPR to social media—is required to reach a level of success that the marketplace demands. And interestingly, we see corporate giants making dangerous jumps from domain to domain in an attempt to grab new insights and market share. Note:

  • Pharma wants to be patient (consumer) centric.
  • Apple wants to be a healthcare company.
  • Amazon wants to distribute prescription drugs directly to consumers.

As I said, it ain’t easy. And as new dynamics emerge in the market, companies jockey for positions in areas that might just be out of their conform zones. We all know the pharma brand manager who nervously enters the discussion of SEO with a bit of undisclosed trepidation. And there’s also the consumer expert who stumbles across a dialogue around pharmaceutical brand labeling and on-label promotional claims.

But with difficulty comes a bit of confidence—even bravado. I’m reminded of an interesting psychological principle that suggests that confidence may not correlate with competence. Coined in 1999, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias in which people who are incompetent at something are unable to recognize their own incompetence. Or, worse, overestimate their skills at an early and critical time.

So What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

“People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden. Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.”

I sense that the complexities of the life sciences industry combined with those of consumer marketing offer up a mix that might also conger a bit of The Dunning-Kruger Effect. We certainly see a good deal of confidence in the health/tech pharma and technology space and some of that hubris might just be in store for an attitude adjustment.

Today’s mission statements commonly include that idea of disruption, bold thinking, and a relentless drive to change the world. That’s fine. But the reality just might be that today’s drive into new market territory comes with it a real danger—that of having your ego write checks that your skill set simply can’t cash. Fortunately, that skill can be an acquired strength and a function of time. However, as Dunning and Kruger warn us, the steep decline that follows that early rise in confidence might not be easily recoverable.

Yep, it ain’t easy.

  • John Nosta

    John Nosta is Founder at NostaLab. John is a leading voice who helps define, dissect, and deliberate global trends in the convergence of medicine and science. He is frequently defined as “most admired” to “top disruptor” in this category. He is also a member of the Google Health Advisory Board, pens HEALTH CRITICAL for Forbes and THE DIGITAL SELF for Psychology Today. NostaLab is a global, digital health think tank. 


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