There are many ways we introduce ourselves to make an impact and grab the attention of our audience. In our line of work, that might be what your path was into biopharma (I was headed toward academic medicine with my MD/PhD but diverted for the reasons described below), or it could be the diverse companies where you’ve applied your skills (in my case, rare disease and oncology). It can even be the cities where you have lived (I transplanted to Boston from the Midwest over two decades ago; at some point, I expect to master driving here).

None of these attention-grabbers compare, however, to my secret weapon. I simply say, “My wife and I have triplets.” That never fails to get the attention of whomever I am speaking with. When I add that they are triplet teenagers, I have a captive audience.

As you might imagine, having three children of the same age has its challenges. But it also makes for some uniquely wonderful experiences. On the one hand, vacations have always been easy because we were catering to one kid age group in our family of five. On the other hand, my wife and I have had to play zone defense from day one, never having enjoyed the serenity of one-on-one coverage.

My kids have always been my link to pop culture and things that I might otherwise have never known about (did you know that these days you can get a full-ride D1 college scholarship to play video games?). And now, as my three head off to college in the Fall and my wife and I become empty nesters literally overnight, I fear losing my direct connection to what’s going on in the wider world.

My experience learning and staying current with three unique humans has been entirely different from how I learned through medical school with its well-defined curriculum and my PhD program with its detailed thesis plan. With these, it was memorize, analyze, apply — rinse and repeat.

Staying current in today’s biopharma world is more like learning from my kids. The workload is large, diverse, and fast-paced. And it takes time. I remember all too well during those (gulp!) 25 years ranging from being a med student to being a Global VP in industry, how difficult it was to absorb it all while simultaneously working a gazillion hours a week just to keep my head above water.

Still, I have always appreciated how essential it is to stay current on world events, industry trends, and know-how. Not just because it satisfies a certain intellectual curiosity (although it certainly does that) but also because it mitigates risk. For example, making plans or resource decisions that don’t reflect state-of-the-art thinking (e.g., updates to real-world evidence regulatory guidance, leveraging — or knowing when NOT to leverage — the latest technologies like AI) can lead to all kinds of mistakes and missed opportunities.

Further, not being up to date can cause one to slow down or speed up at the wrong times, pivot in the wrong direction, or cause confusion overall. Being less than fully informed is also a potential threat to internal credibility among both leadership and peers.

Now that I have reached a different (final?) state of my career as a consultant, where the day-to-day demands can be managed a little more flexibly, and I am in the position to advise leaders at all levels, I have much more time to dig in by:

      • Attending specialist/technical conferences (e.g., the Medical Affairs Professional Society [MAPS] meetings or The Professional Society for Health Economics and Outcomes Research [ISPOR] conferences) without being distracted (or as distracted as I used to be) by the inevitable fire drill the moment I step off the plane.

      • Spending “quality time” with dense documents (e.g., FDA and EMA guidance, ISPOR Good Practices Reports, MAPS white papers) in the morning when I am still appropriately caffeinated.

      • Reading the various industry newsletters (e.g., Endpoints, Pink Sheet) daily.

    • Having a flexible enough schedule to attend educational (or quasi-promotional) webinars on a wide range of topics, whether they are from the FDA or a patient organization (e.g., The EveryLife Foundation for Rare Diseases) or a service provider sharing a new technology that they believe will make a difference in the work we all do.

What do I recommend other leaders in demanding roles consider, and what would I do if I were to head back into a corporate or academic role? For me, I would…

      • Ensure team members (especially junior members) have opportunities to attend discipline-specific conferences. When they return, they would be required to give a short presentation on what they learned about the state-of-the-art and state-of-the future. Since I always encourage networking, I would also ask them who they met and what they learned from them.

      • Encourage my peers in other functions (e.g., Regulatory, Clinical Development) to send their people to these discipline-centered forums and present their learnings to OUR team. And when I have my usual update meetings with them, be sure to ask, “What’s the latest? What’s on the horizon you think I should know about?” I would also ask the same of the service providers we interact with, especially in RWE. They have focus, see across several clients, and are often eager to teach.

      • Organize team coffees/lunches (more virtually now, I suppose) during the various webinar presentations (e.g., from the FDA or MAPS) to bring the team together to learn as a group and discuss afterward.

      • Offer to lead discussions with other experts/teams on my area of expertise. In fact, I offer that to the readers of these e-conversations. I have had a long, medically/scientifically interesting, and personally rewarding career in rare disease and oncology (especially in Medical Affairs, real-world evidence, expanded access programs, and raising triplets). Send me a note here.

      • Set aside a short amount of time, at least weekly, if not daily, dedicated to keeping up on the industry’s news feeds and healthcare more broadly. Most of the news and trends are curated efficiently, so giving even a few days for the analysis to be completed can be helpful.

    • Show up as an eager learner willing to listen. This, more than anything, is what my triplets have shown me. An open mind can be cultivated with insight and wisdom far beyond what can be imagined. The rewards of that open mind are astonishing, and I am grateful to them for all they have taught me (and continue to teach me) every day.

The truth is, as I look at this list, it might be good advice for my three college-bound children as well!