This is always a reflective time with the New Year and the close of another JP Morgan Healthcare Conference.  In between reading all the blogs and updates from JPM, I read a couple of interesting and very timely articles in the Harvard Business Review.  Both of these articles hold important lessons for the broader healthcare industry (including pharmaceutical and other life sciences organizations).

The two lessons from these articles for the healthcare industry are: 1) remembering the requirements of being part of a larger ecosystem and 2) not to take a position or assume what another believes, but to actually ask (and have a conversation).

The first article, “The Limits of Empathy” by Adam Waytz, acknowledges the limitations of the common view of empathy. For many of us, it means feeling that we need to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. The problem is that imagining how another feels leads to speculation, misinterpretation, and even more damaging, the wrong conclusions. Waytz points out a smarter way to empathize is to actually ask someone what they are thinking, how they feel and what they want. I would agree. In my experience, getting people to explain a situation and its impact from their perspective, and allowing them to articulate their interests is often the most critical step in successful conflict resolution.

The second HBR article is by Reeves, Levon, and Ueda titled “The Biology of Corporate Survival”. The article makes the analogy between the increasingly complex and unpredictable business climate and the complex adaptive systems found in nature. What resonated most for me is the statement that today’s leaders must be sure they are adding value to the system even as they seek to maximize profits.

It seems almost everyday one pharmaceutical company or another is getting lambasted about drug prices. And yet, we still want innovative new devices, diagnostics, and drugs. The reality is that everyone has a role in the greater healthcare system that they think is critical, justifiable, and that no one else can understand. Even if we make an effort to empathize, we cannot imagine and fully appreciate what it must be like to be in their shoes.  So why not ask? We have a lot to gain and even more to loose by not doing so.

The good news is that many people are simultaneously patients, shareholders (through retirement accounts or other investments), and healthcare consumers. If we stop and think about it, we actually do have a perspective of the conflicting interests at play. That is a good place to start. If we can empathize, great, but even better if we just listen to discover the place of opportunity.

Nature thrives on adaptive mechanisms. Maybe it’s time to start having some meaningful conversations with others in the healthcare ecosystem. Those who get it right will ultimately survive.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”  -Rumi