Magazine Article | December 10, 2013

The Benefits Of Building A Cognitively Diverse Team In Life Sciences

Source: Life Science Leader

By Ed Henkler

Creativity and innovation are the lifeblood of any research organization, yet the media is filled with tales of biopharmaceutical companies struggling to discover and develop novel compounds. Hiring efforts often focus on top graduates from top schools, a strategy that guarantees excellent product but not innovative behavior. If you follow this strategy, all members of your team will tend to have a similar way of approaching problems. A professor from an Ivy League school once told me that the primary difference between his students and those at a neighboring city school is that the latter did not realize they were as smart as the Ivy League students. Tap into this market, and expand your recruiting efforts to second-tier institutions. Their top graduates are very smart and may surprise you with their work ethic and insights. A Google search on “Fortune 500 CEOs and their colleges” will demonstrate how many colleges have produced successful graduates, and you will also find that 35 of these CEOs did not even graduate from college.
Disability And Innovation
In 2009, approximately 750 million people had some form of disability, and baby boomers are driving that total higher rapidly. Hiring individuals who are disabled may pose some issues to resolve, but it can increase the possibilities dramatically. Many companies have discovered that hiring individuals who are differently abled can strengthen their productivity while reducing turnover and injury rates and increasing retention. The most well-known example is Walgreens, which has two distribution centers, each employing more than 40 percent individuals with a disability. These two sites outperform most of the other centers and have demonstrably improved morale. The bottom line is that our world still provides inadequate accommodation for individuals with disabilities. Ingenuity and inventiveness are essential to handle tasks others take for granted. Hiring employees who are differently abled virtually guarantees a more creative and innovative team. It’s also the right thing to do.

Engage The Worker Bees
D. Michael Abrashoff wrote a marvelous leadership tale, “It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.” Unfortunately, in spite of a capable crew, only a fraction of the highly advanced ship’s technology was being employed. Abrashoff created a culture of “it’s your ship,” resulting in everyone feeling personal responsibility for increasing the effectiveness of their station and their ship. He consistently engaged his frontline employees in strategic decisions, recognizing that their system expertise was at least as valuable as the theoretical knowledge of his senior leaders.

Problems are best solved by the people who routinely manage the associated activities. This is not intended to disparage the “chosen,” only to suggest that while they have a role, they aren’t the only ones who can contribute. As you engage more and more of your employees, innovation can become the norm. A chain is only as good as the weakest link — strengthen all of them!

Ed Henkler works with companies, from start-up through large cap multinational, to bring their strategic plans and big ideas to life. Engaging the right people at all levels ensures that they remain committed well past the excitement phase. For more info, go to