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9 Tips for Navigating the Inevitable Unexpected

 Navigating the Inevitable Unexpected

ALL COMPANIES begin with a vision. Individuals or partners develop a plan and iterate as new information arises. It takes an enormous amount of their time, forces them to commit, and requires some degree of funding. If sophisticated investors are involved — as often happens in biotech — the plan is undoubtedly subjected to intensive due diligence. Models are developed, scrutinized, and refined. Given that the global biotechnology market was valued at USD 1.55 trillion in 2023 and is projected to grow nearly 14% a year in the next 6 years, that's understandable: there's a lot at stake.

All of this hard work usually involves smart people with significant experience. But that's not always enough: some 90 percent of startups do not survive past five years, and 63% of tech startups are doomed to failure. Some fail for a host of strategic or operational shortcomings addressed in any decent business school course. Others fail because no matter their degree of planning or vetting, they are unable to adequately address unexpected events in those moments of truth when they occur.

I call these inevitable unexpected events — inevitable because they occur with relatively high frequency. They're things you never saw coming and you never planned for. No one can predict what they may be or when they may occur, but it's nearly guaranteed that you will encounter them. Over the course of five years, these events will occur frequently enough that your ability to address them will likely determine whether your business succeeds or fails. Any wrong move can take you down.

Barriers and Opportunities

These unexpected events may appear in the form of barriers to overcome, or as opportunities worthy of addressing, but you need to decide whether to do so. They are not always business issues, although they are all issues that will affect your business.

I've learned that from my nearly forty years of working with scientists and clinicians to transform inventions into successful commercial products. Whether a challenge or a potential win, the common ground they share is that they will happen, they will have an impact, and how you respond will be critical to the business.

No Such Thing as a Perfect Plan

Can we avoid these events? Probably not: we'll encounter them no matter the breadth of our collective intelligence and experience, despite the models we develop, and regardless of the plans we base on those models. They're a humbling reminder of the incredible complexity and beauty of biology, life, and the universe we inhabit. The number of factors one would need to have considered, accounted for, and correctly predicted to have a “perfect plan” is comparable to the number of stars in the sky.

This doesn’t mean we’re doomed to failure. The likelihood of making beneficial decisions when facing the unexpected increases if we routinely practice certain values, skills, and approaches. These unexpected events should not be feared but rather appreciated as opportunities to flourish and to distinguish yourself in the eyes of customers, competitors, partners, and investors.

Here's a rundown of nine practices that have been particularly helpful to me when it comes to navigating life’s inevitable unexpected events:

  1. Develop strong foundations, with deep knowledge and experience in your domain.
  2. Develop living plans that are regularly updated.
  3. Respect the unknown and expect unanticipated events.
  4. Assemble diverse teams with complementary skills and a shared vision.
  5. Establish a culture where people with aligned goals can thrive and have fun.
  6. Act in a calm, focused, efficient, and timely manner.
  7. Be persistent yet adaptable: open-minded, flexible, and resilient.
  8. Always be building and leveraging resources and relationships.
  9. Always be thinking about options.

As with any other skill set, awareness can be generated. But there will still be a spectrum of performance across individuals regarding how well they are able to apply these values and approaches to their own businesses. Certain values and approaches may not resonate as well for some as for others.

My advice is not to simply store a list in your memory and pull certain items out when needed. It’s more about developing a practice, a way of conducting business (or your life). If you follow these approaches all the time, you will be as prepared as you possibly can be when it comes to confronting life’s inevitable unexpected events.

The opportunities for bioentrepreneurs can be more exciting and impactful than ever in today's accelerated market. No question the biotech industry is experiencing significant growth. Navigating the unexpected has become a critical skill — and beyond biotech, these 9 tips will certainly help anyone who's pursuing a creative endeavor in any field. Build a strong foundation, cultivate a healthy respect for the unforeseen, and follow a business practice that includes proper preparation and execution, and you not only have the potential to achieve great things, you'll have a lot of fun doing so.

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Leading Forum
Stan Rose, PhD is an MIT biologist turned life sciences executive and entrepreneur who has created and led multiple businesses in the emerging fields of DNA analysis and genomics. After several successful ventures, he was suddenly diagnosed with a life-threatening genetic disease. Some of the same technologies he had helped bring to the clinic became critical to his own survival. Following a kidney transplant, he's continued to contribute to science and medicine. His firm, Rose Ventures, Inc., works with early-stage companies developing innovative, high-impact life science products and services. His new book is Can't Tame a Mongoose: Memoir of a Genomics Entrepreneur. Learn more at roseventures.net.

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