Mountain View, CA — The cover of this week’s Time magazine reads “Can Google Solve Death? The search giant is launching a venture to extend the human life span.” That’s followed by an all-to-true subhead: “That would be crazy – if it weren’t Google.”

Late last week, Google officially announced the launch of Calico, a new company that will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases.

This move could be industry-changing, or it could go the way of Google Health. But Google’s fountain of youth lab proves two things for sure: Innovation by outsiders will continue to challenge healthcare and culture can change how people think about problems.

Innovation From Outsiders

One of the biggest barriers to innovation that healthcare faces – particularly in its commercialization engine – is something called “collaborative competition.”

Cindy Gallop, former BBH chairman, describes collaborative competition this way, “when everyone in a sector competes with everyone else in the sector by doing exactly the same thing as everyone else in the sector is doing.”

Sound familiar? Think about the last three commercials for prescription drugs you saw. What about the last three public health campaigns to “get people moving”? There’s a certain “sea of sameness” to it all. That’s dangerous, Gallop says, because it’s “what allows innovation and disruption to come in from the outside.” Said another way, it takes only one brilliantly innovative bullet to take an entire industry down.

Microsoft, Ford, AT&T and others are investing in completely new approaches to diagnostics and care. These outside influencers bring bold new perspectives and high expectations for what healthcare really could and should do. They’re focusing on single goals and bringing new levels of user experience to bear. Google is focused on aging. Ford is targeting safety. But, some outsider health goals are even more specific. For example, Etisalat, a major telecom in Abu Dhabi, has taken on outcomes by making the Millennium Development Goal 5 to reduce maternal mortality in childbirth by 75% its own goal. Or in Japan, the telecom NTT Docomo teamed up with medical equipment manufacturer Omron Healthcare to build the enabling infrastructure for remote monitoring and mHealth.

If collaborative competition continues to drive mainstream healthcare and pharma, we’ll become more and more vulnerable to innovation from outsiders. The question, as a reporter from Med Ad News recently asked us, is: What should we do? It’s possible the answer is nothing. For a whole range of good and bad reasons, healthcare in general – and pharma in particular – has made incredible, life-changing strides in our labs (for our products), but innovated only incrementally in the experience around them. It’s possible that innovation from outsiders will challenge us in ways that help us all achieve more – for both the people we serve and the brands we represent.

Culture Can Change How People Think

The Chief Executive Officer and a founding investor of Calico is Arthur D. Levinson, Chairman and former CEO of Genentech and Chairman of Apple.

The expanded leadership is some of the best of our industry, brilliantly transplanted to a culture that challenges every rule, every guardrail we think we know. (Google is the company that asked why do we need people to drive cars? Why wouldn’t you wear a computer? And, other outright heresy.) How will that culture change how these leaders think?

It reminds us of another experiment – one that started in the summer of 2004 in a renovated brewery in downtown Cincinnati at the corner of 14th and Clay Street. It was P&G’s attempt to bring innovation in-house, a new skunkworks that brought cross-functional teams together to spend 10 weeks away from their day jobs to create new brands. Michael Luh and David Kuehler, the co-directors of Procter & Gamble’s Clay Street Project, were charged with one thing: do not think like P&G executives.

Their methods were unique – and often completely foreign to P&G culture – but every time a new team came through their doors, they left with a completely new outlook on whatever project they’d been working on. Now, eighteen sessions and almost 200 team members later, the Clay Street Project has made a lasting impact throughout P&G by revitalizing troubled brands, delivering breakthrough product innovations, creating new categories, and inspiring culture change.

Google was born of that kind of culture and continues to be influenced by the expectations inside and outside its walls. In that Time magazine article, authors Harry McCracken and Lev Grossman write, “It’s a lot easier to take Google’s venture seriously if you live under the invisible dome over Silicon Valley, home to a worldview whereby, broadly speaking, there is no problem that can’t be addressed by the application of liberal amounts of technology and everything is solvable if you reduce it to data and then throw enough processing power at it.”

Thanks to Google’s investment in 23andMe, a fast-growing genomic database, that culture now includes both its corporate one and the real-world lives this new organization touches.

If this works, how will it change all of our companies? Can we systematically separate the machine of compliance from the dangerous promise of real creativity?

Yes we can.

Posted by: Leigh Householder

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for shaping the company’s perspective on the next era of healthcare marketing. Through thought leadership, strategic innovation workshops and new products and capabilities, Leigh focuses on identifying marketing approaches that will fuel that new era and generate significant growth for clients. Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for over 17 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 had several leadership roles at one of our agencies, 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. Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice, 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.