If there’s one industry that stands out as a bastion of secrecy and cutthroat competition, it’s pharmaceuticals.

Success through collaboration: the case of Big Pharma

So what in the world were GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer thinking when they partnered in the development of new HIV medications?

For that matter, what was Pfizer up to with sharing its anticoagulant Eliquis with Bristol-Myers Squibb?

2 proven ways to make collaboration work

Instead of competing, they were collaborating.

The old model of merely going head to head with other organizations is far from extinct, but collaboration offers several key advantages that competition can’t possibly provide—advantages that are crucial to success in a world characterized by exponential change.

1. Share resources

Collaborating with other organizations and individuals – even those you might consider competitors – can prove a powerful strategy in meeting and overcoming the challenges of today’s marketplace.

One obvious advantage is pooled financial resources, but compelling reasons for collaboration don’t end there.

Collaboration allows organizations to leverage shared resources, creativity and other means with which solutions can be identified in less time and with greater cost efficiency.

That’s particularly true with regard to cancer drugs. For instance, one cost estimate of a promising cancer “cocktail” medication checks in at a staggering $300,000 a year per patient.

Accordingly, companies such as Merck, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and others are collaborating on combination studies with the hope of reducing those sorts of prohibitive charges—and possibly bringing new drugs to the market more quickly.

That and other examples like it underscore the dynamics of collaboration. A decision to collaborate can overcome challenges and obstacles that may otherwise be insurmountable.

2. Partner with competitors

Given the enormous commitment of funds and other resources necessary to develop new products and penetrate new markets, few organizations command the means to go it alone all of the time.

For instance, in technology, Apple, Microsoft, Google and others can attribute much of their early success to partnerships with competitors.

Although it’s received a fair amount of buzz of late, collaboration involving competitors is hardly new. Dating back to the 1980s, General Motors and Toyota partnered to build cars, while Siemens and Philips came together to develop semiconductors.

Are you collaborating or cooperating?

What’s brought collaboration into a greater light is the growing speed of transformational innovation – not mere change, but game-changing digital disruption.

Given that ever-faster rate of transformation, collaboration isn’t so much an option as it is a growing necessity.

It’s important to distinguish between cooperation and collaboration.

Many organizations think they’re collaborating when, in fact, they’re merely cooperating. You cooperate because you have to; you collaborate because you want to.

Collaboration is tied to abundance

Rather than fighting to keep your share intact, collaboration allows organizations to work together to make a bigger pie for everyone. It’s inclusive and expansive.

For instance, when I worked with major automotive suppliers, they said they were collaborating with manufacturers.

Instead, they were merely cooperating, continuing to fight tooth and nail for their share of a shrinking amount of turf.

When the economy dropped, many of those suppliers went out of business.

That said, ask yourself these questions:

  • With whom could we collaborate to, in effect, grow a bigger market share for everyone?
  • Are we really collaborating with others or just cooperating?

Competing and cooperating with others can work fine under certain circumstances, but in a market where the speed of innovation is imperative, it can be far more productive and successful to collaborate.

Looked at another way, it’s a means by which you co-create the future together with others.

The Anticipatory Organization is where rivals become partners. Learn more about specific times when collaboration is key, get The Anticipatory Organization from or take a look at the AO Individual Learning System.

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