Find the inconceivable truth, and other ways of enabling innovation. (Episode 98)

Find the inconceivable truth, and other ways of enabling innovation. (Episode 98)

Interview with Mohamed Nasser, General Manager, Middle East and Africa at Amgen.


There is perhaps nothing more important for leaders than to enable innovation within their teams. How to do this is something that Mohamed Nasser has been thinking a lot about. Mohamed is the General Manager, Middle East and Africa at Amgen. Amgen’s mission is to serve patients and is focused on fighting the world’s toughest diseases by harnessing the power of biology and technology.

Or, in their own words:

“Amgen is committed to unlocking the potential of biology for patients suffering from serious illnesses by discovering, developing, manufacturing, and delivering innovative human therapeutics.”

And Mohamed is passionate about two things: improving the health of people and innovation.

Or, in his own words again: “I am a healthcare fan, especially the innovation part that helps patients.”

In an inspiring conversation with me, he shared some impactful ways of thinking about enabling innovation.

1) Balance the paradox of certainty and uncertainty.

Today, we live in a world where we have more access to data and information than we ever had before, which -ideally- can help us make informed and measurable decisions. Paradoxically, the world has never been more unpredictable, which means we need to be more comfortable with not knowing what’s going to happen. It is more leadership than management .

To be aware of—and know how to balance—the paradox of certainty and uncertainty is crucial for teams who want to innovate. It is like driving with an eye on the mirror, on autopilot on a steady road, but as the dynamics change, you are ready to take over.

2) Traveling between the now and the next.

The future used to mean 5, 10, or even 20 years ahead. But with unprecedented technological advancements and geopolitical dynamics, the future could now be just 6 to 12 months away. This new phase could be called “The Next,” which demands abilities and skills to execute now with agility and readiness to change course quickly for “The Next“ driven by your vision. Leaders need to help their teams develop the skills of execution in “the now” and the readiness for “the next”. At Amgen, they do so by empowering their teams to execute in “the now” while playing a leading role in shaping “the Next”.

3) The exchange of learning and unlearning.

People can learn from each other; this is a given. But they also need to be open to “unlearning” their experiences and established points of reference. In repetitive situations, many of us tend to believe that what we know is correct because we have gone through it before. This can inhibit innovation, which in itself includes a significant process of “unlearning” and building new experiences. This is what Mohamed Nasser calls “finding the inconceivable truth—a new truth that was in the unthinkable because of what we thought we knew.” One could find “the inconceivable truth” by having a diverse group of people, some being experts, others being creative, etc., where everyone asks other members of the group this question: “What do you have for me? What can I learn from you?”, instead of having people focus on their own expertise, they are invited to learn from each other, where the new wider horizon gives the inconceivable truth a bigger chance of showing itself.  Leaders also need to challenge their teams with a bold new vision while encouraging a culture of humbleness.

Today, for instance, there are 5 elements that can develop many “inconceivable truths” in patient-centric healthcare: Electronic medical records, artificial intelligence, mobile devices , diagnostics, and delivery systems. Combining these or even 2 of them under 1 program could improve the patient journey and quality of life significantly. For example, yesterday’s impossible prediction and prevention of the next heart attack is possible today. Smart algorithms can help predict the next heart attack, and more importantly, healthcare stakeholders can partner together to prevent it. This is innovation which requires unlearning what we knew for decades and allowing new learning and collaboration models.

Mohamed’s last message to me was to stress the power of a common purpose or vision when it comes to helping people challenge their “truths”. He summed it up in the very powerful message of: “A strong meaning weakens dogmas.” The stronger the vision and purpose, the more likely one is to question old dogmas of how things should be done.

For people in healthcare, delivering innovation is the fine line between life and better life or in many cases survival or not. Companies like Amgen and people like Mohamed Nasser enable innovation because they are inspired by their mission to serve patients.

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