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Embracing An Outsider Mindset: Three Strategies For CEO Success

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Regardless of the business, it's essential for the CEO to balance a respect for the organization's foundation with a willingness to learn from other industries.

“Outsiders disrupt industries by asking the right questions that insiders are afraid to ask, and that’s where true innovation begins.” – Simon Sinek

Innovation often comes from outsiders willing to challenge the status quo.  When I founded Slope, my knowledge of clinical research barely scratched the surface. While I was an industry outsider, my deep background in predictive supply chain modeling helped me see that clinical research “best practices” were, in fact, slowing everything down. Because I asked the questions that insiders didn’t, and wasn’t bound by the industry’s norms, our team discovered a massive, hidden leverage point that we have built an amazing business around.

But why is that? Research has consistently shown that outsiders, unrestricted by the norms and standards of insiders, often identify solutions that incumbents overlook. The key lies in embracing the outsider mindset, rather than viewing it as a disadvantage.

Here, I will discuss three strategies that I employed to transform the process of clinical trial execution. Each serves as a guideline for CEOs entering new or change-resistant industries.

1. Always ask, “Does it have to be done this way?”

It is crucial to examine every aspect, from established processes and technology to the surrounding ecosystem. Adopting an outsider perspective grants you the ability to uncover overlooked areas for improvement, ones that have become ingrained as the way of doing business. Without this perspective, the tendency is to stick with what is familiar, succumbing to the allure of the status quo. For example, research conducted by William Samuelson and Richard Zeckhauser on status quo bias in decision-making reveals that individuals disproportionately favor maintaining the existing state.

When an opportunity arose to assist a CRO with a problem they faced while conducting complex, sample-intensive clinical trials, we questioned why they lacked oversight of their supply chain. The answer, though simple, unraveled into a complex web of interconnected factors. We dared to question why stakeholders were confined within silos, why study teams heavily relied on spreadsheets, and why the industry hasn’t solved these systemic issues previously.

By challenging the status quo, we ignited a transformative journey, introducing novel approaches to enhance efficiency and foster collaboration.

2. View problems as opportunities.

Not everyone sees problems as opportunities. This often results in companies offering solutions that fail to address real issues and receive lackluster adoption. Adopting an outsider mindset not only enables you to identify problems but also cultivates a growth mindset necessary for seizing opportunities.

It all starts with your vision. Initially, your team may not perceive the same opportunities. Some employees may have spent their entire careers accepting certain challenges as unsolvable. As a leader, it is your responsibility to inspire your team, empathize with their past experiences, and find ways to bring about positive change that benefits them.

I have witnessed firsthand how viewing problems as opportunities can lead to significant breakthroughs. When faced with a problem encountered by clinical trial professionals, the key question becomes: Can we solve it? Should we solve it? The answers to these two questions may not always align, but it is crucial to ask them to ensure that you focus not only on transforming problems into opportunities but also on addressing the right problems.

3. Push boundaries but keep sight of the existing foundation.

Question, challenge and innovate. These are three of the hallmark traits of an outsider CEO. However, to be successful, you must remember that you are building upon the foundations of what came before. This requires understanding the existing framework while striving to improve it. Purpose-driven disruption, rooted in an understanding of past achievements, leads to meaningful progress. Disruption without purpose is hollow and ineffective.

It is crucial to navigate the delicate balance between pushing boundaries and preserving the essence of the organization. By seeking a deep understanding of the existing foundation, you can identify areas where innovation can create genuine progress. This entails recognizing the successes of the past and leveraging them as a launching pad for future transformation. Remember, the goal is not to dismantle everything.

At Slope, we are pushing the boundaries in our messaging and our capabilities. The clinical trial industry is full of acronyms, and even the same terms have different interpretations depending on who you are talking to. Creating a new product category — a clinical trial execution platform — that connects stakeholders typically separated by silos presents a host of challenges. We’ve taken great care to tailor our messaging to anchor our targets against what is familiar, while at the same time moving towards software capabilities that no one has imagined were possible.

People often view an outsider CEO who achieves positive change and lasting impact as someone who defied the odds. However, by leveraging these approaches, success is possible. In fact, research suggests that successful outsiders are not statistical outliers. Whether you find yourself in an outsider position or are an insider seeking fresh perspectives, it is essential to balance a respect for the organization’s foundation with a willingness to learn from other industries. This combination of honoring tradition while embracing new insights truly fuels innovation and transformation.


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