Article • March 4, 2020

The Perfect Storm, or Why We Launched Salience Learning

By George Schmidt

A storm rolling in in the distance.

Why did we launch Salience Learning?  It’s a question I sometimes get, so it seemed like a good idea to write a short article about it. 

Back in 1997, Sebastian Junger published a (mostly) non-fiction book entitled The Perfect Storm about a ship that was lost in a massive Nor’easter off the coast of New England a few years before.  In 2000, a movie adaptation was released.  The storm itself was supposed to have grown so powerful because of an extremely rare confluence of three meteorological events. 

The story itself is a tragedy, but it also touched off a cliché that the business world clings to even today:  Calling any rare combination of events that come together to make a big impact a “perfect storm.”  In fact, Lake Superior State University put “the perfect storm” at the top of their 2007 list of words and phrases that should forever be banned due to overuse.  However, I’m going to drag it out one more time because I think it’s appropriate when describing why we launched Salience Learning.

The group of us who were involved in founding Salience Learning have spent many years working in biopharmaceuticals, covering both the “business” side of the industry as well as the learning and development (L&D) side.  We began to notice a confluence of factors that seemed to be creating a (cringe) “perfect storm” in biopharma, one that would have implications for business stakeholders and L&D stakeholders alike.  Furthermore, we didn’t see other L&D companies rising to meet the challenge, so we decided to step in and try to make a difference.

A Confluence of Factors

So, what are those factors that I mentioned?  Below, I describe them separately.  However, it’s important to note that they’re all inter-linked and it’s the combination that makes their effects so powerful. 

First, the job skills that are growing in demand are becoming far more focused on thinking skills and the ability to apply them.  In its Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum lists the fastest growing “in demand” skills through 2022 and beyond.  The list includes things like “Analytical thinking and innovation” (#1), “Active learning and learning strategies” (#2), “Creativity, originality, and initiative” (#3), and “Critical thinking and analysis” (#5).  The biopharma industry is no exception, as it is demanding these skills more and more. 

This leads us to factor number two:  The healthcare system continues to grow in complexity.  Biopharma companies must work with increasingly sophisticated customer groups, such as integrated delivery networks (IDNs) and health systems, a range of payer types, and more.  Add in the rise of new data types (such as real world evidence, or RWE), and it gets even more complicated.  Within biopharma companies, customer-facing roles are bearing the brunt of these changes.  In the “old days,” an account manager could succeed by being a great “relationship builder” and networker.  While those skills are still important, that same role must also be able to think more critically and strategically, and be highly confident in his or her use of RWE, health economics data and more.  Furthermore, these roles must be effective as part of larger, cross-functional matrix teams.  Pharma field representatives, medical affairs personnel, and other roles are also facing similar demands.

The third factor grows directly from the first two:  Science-based L&D that leverages active learning is now more important than ever.  Think back to when you learned to drive.  Driving is a physical and a mental skill, requiring knowledge of traffic laws and signage, as well as great situational awareness.  During the classroom portion, you probably learned a little bit.  But, let’s face it, the only way to truly learn to drive is to get behind the wheel and become an active participant in using and building the required knowledge and skill.  Now, back to the biopharma industry:  We had seen that a precious few were actually attempting to help industry professionals stay abreast of the changes we were seeing.  And, those that were had a knack for applying non-scientific approaches to L&D.  Basically, it was the equivalent of giving someone their license, the keys, and a hearty “Good luck to you!” after a few hours of driver’s education in the classroom.

Using the Science of Learning to Help the Business of Science

Our team saw a growing and significant need to use science-based approaches to L&D to help biopharma professionals succeed in the face of major industry changes and the challenges those changes bring.  In short, we saw a need to apply the “Science of Learning” to help the “Business of Science.”

That’s why you’ll see us talk and write a lot about using scientific approaches to designing learning programs, as well as the growing complexity of the healthcare system, changing data needs, and evolving customer-facing roles.  Our goal is to help people in these and other roles be successful in today’s environment, focusing on critical thinking, the complex healthcare system, working in matrixed teams, and more.

For the biopharma industry, the “Perfect Storm” is here and the conditions won’t improve any time soon.  Customers—and healthcare in general—are going to continue growing more sophisticated.  Demands on customer-facing roles will continue to intensify.  We’re here because we believe that L&D must to be at the “top of its game” to help biopharma professionals not only weather the storm, but also succeed.  Those that master the skills demanded by this new work environment have a real opportunity to stand out and thrive.  We want to help them do just that.

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