Cannes, France – Andrew Spurgeon, ECD at Langland, turned in his guru badge on the stage of Lions Health. He said, working in this era of acceleration, when everything must be delivered faster, agencies no longer have the time to send sets of art directors and copywriters off to solve problems in insolation. Instead, they need new processes and rituals that get to numerous, more powerful ideas faster.

At Langland, they use a roundtable approach to problem solving. Cross-functional teams come together to fill the funnel of ideas. Everyone in the room is expected to put an idea on the table.

Shwen Gwee, Head of Digital Strategy, Global Clinical Operations at Biogen, stepped up to share what he’s learned about faster, bolder ideation working with MIT’s Hacking Medicine.

He started with his three personal mantras:

  • Meet the needs of other people
  • We can’t solve this alone: No matter what vertical we’re in, healthcare is a continuum for our patient. They go from one experience to the next.
  • Healthcare innovation is in the hands of the startups

There was a time, Gwee said, when our industry had some of the most admired companies in the world. Our leaders were talking about patient centricity long before it led headlines. John Merck emphasized putting patients before profits in the 1950s.

Today, it’s a different story. The latest Edelman Trust barometer found that 8 in 10 consumers believe that the pharmaceutical industry puts profits over people. And while technology creates rapid change every two years, our industry is on the exact opposite trajectory.

In that environment, we need to stop trying to be innovative, Gwee said. Innovation is a solution in search of a problem. We need to think like a startup instead.

The Hacker Mindset

A critical part of that startup thinking is a hack-mindset. Specifically, the creative application of ingenuity – like this favorite firetruck hack from the MIT team.

If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, 'This sucks. I'm going to do my own thing'.” – Yvon Chouinard

Gwee is part of that team now. He works with MIT’s Hacking Medicine, a student-run organization comprised of both current enrollees and community members. In four years, they’ve created more than 15 companies.

They team follows three basic steps to create:

  1. Break it down
  2. Build it up
  3. Make it better

Breaking it down starts with solving a real problem.

You have to solve a problem that people actually have. But it's not always a problem that they know they have, so that's tricky.” - Joshua Schachter.

Gwee said that the internet is an excellent learning lab for those insights:

  • Search is about intent – and quantity of that need
  • Social is where people go to complain – and show the pain points that need to be solved
  • Forums are where deep and dynamic conversations change people’s perceptions

In the startup world, building it up is all about experimentation. That means moving from a launch and wait behavior to an interactive cycle. “Don’t invest so much time and money right at the start,” Gwee said, “but learn along the way.

Finally, make it better by pivoting and responding to how people are really using a product. Some of the most successful companies we rely on every day used to be something else entirely:

  • Facebook was a Hot or Not competitor
  • Youtube was a video dating site
  • Instagram was a Foursquare competitor

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.