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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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November 14, 2011

Translation Needed from Execulinga

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Posted by Derek

And Google Translate is no help at all for this sort of thing. A reader who attended the recent TEDMED conference sent along a quote transcribed from one of the speakers, a high-ranking Pfizer executive:

"We’ve moved from a [two-dimensional] to a [three-dimensional] approach. [Now,] we need to work all dimensions of the problems that face us, including the fourth dimension … time. Let’s call it “metacollaboration” — an approach that links knowledge and assets in a productive way to problem solve in every dimension."

Let's call it something else, shall we?

Comments (68) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Snake Oil


1. PharmaHeretic on November 14, 2011 10:10 AM writes...

I think that is an example of MBAese. For those who are unfamiliar with it, this new language is a mix of jargon that allows the user to appear knowledgeable and erudite to the lay person even when they are speaking gibberish.

It is similar to speech emanating from shamans under the effect of hallucinogenic drugs or religious people who have been possessed by the "holy spirit". It is however odd that modern people who would laugh at shamans and religious rubes tolerate and reward those who speak MBAese.

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2. Mutant Dragon on November 14, 2011 10:18 AM writes...

Truly beautiful. I am inspired.

I might be even more inspired, I suppose, if I had any idea what it really meant, or what the speaker actually plans to do.

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3. Lucullus on November 14, 2011 10:19 AM writes...

Sounds like a clueless exec trying to sound profound. An extreme example of a spreading syndrome.

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4. RB Woodweird on November 14, 2011 10:26 AM writes...

Now who can argue with that? I think we're all indebted to Gabby Johnson for stating what needed to be said. I am particularly glad that these lovely children are here today to hear that speech. Not only was it authentic frontier gibberish, it expressed the courage little seen in this day and age.

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5. Albert E on November 14, 2011 10:36 AM writes...

Sounds like the MBA version of spacetime; a single continuum of nonsense.

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6. Steve on November 14, 2011 10:39 AM writes...

Buddy, can you paradigm?

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7. D-Meth on November 14, 2011 10:43 AM writes...


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8. Biotechtranslated on November 14, 2011 10:54 AM writes...

I'm one of the MBA-types that is so commonly derided in the comment section here.

That said, my brain completely turns off when I hear this sort of thing and I hear it on a regular basis.

I think the big problems on the commercial side of the business are:

a) a lack of understanding of the challenges (both commercial and scientific) in drug discovery
b) the search for a magical solution that will make everything better
c) a hesitancy to put your ass on the line and make a decision

What I've noticed (in both the scientific and commercial realms) is that there are two camps, the ones that like to talk about doing stuff and the ones who realize that it mostly comes down to hard work. The first group comes up with phrases like the Pfizer guy did and the second is too busy doing work.


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9. Pig Farmer on November 14, 2011 10:55 AM writes...

Well they could solve one problem right away by firing this donkey! That's not going to happen though, is it?

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10. Cellbio on November 14, 2011 11:08 AM writes...


I have experienced option b) above quite often. Problem is, if you are experienced and know that, as you say, it comes down to hard work, you don't get the work. The job will go to someone who spins phrases or just doesn't know how long, risky and cash consuming the road ahead truly is. Sad time in our industry when experience is often discounted and the false optimism of ignorance and the "cures-what-ails-ya" charm of the circus barker are more favored.

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11. anon the II on November 14, 2011 11:14 AM writes...

At Mike, the Biotechtranslated.

The first group comes up with phrases like the Pfizer guy did and the second is out of work.

There, fixed that for ya.

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12. weirdo on November 14, 2011 11:14 AM writes...

You mean, you're not an active member of the TEDMED communuity, and avid supporter of the Tao of TED??

Get with it, man!

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13. SteveM on November 14, 2011 11:18 AM writes...

Well that got my Bullshit antennae oscillating.

And "metacollaboration"? McKinsey and Accenture will be slapping that buzzword of the month on their low value, boilerplate consulting services in no time. An expensive dose of metacollaboration could drive Astra, Merck, Pfizer and Eli-Lilly to new depths of corporate dysfunction.

P.S. Inane consultating is where it's at. Because consultants never recommend outsourcing themselves.

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14. milo on November 14, 2011 11:24 AM writes...

I'll reachout to you and we will discuss our alignment offline.....

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15. MutantDragon on November 14, 2011 11:36 AM writes...

Actually -- the first thing that always comes to mind for me when I see this kind of stuff is Orwell's Politics and the English Language (online at this link):

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink." & etc.

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16. RD on November 14, 2011 11:36 AM writes...

I have it! The "Idea Rat" works for Pfizer:

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17. anchor on November 14, 2011 11:39 AM writes...

Say what? "Metacollaboration"? Even if you say "ortho" or "para" collaboration, I do not get it. Can someone tell me what does that mean? It is still a Monday morning over here!

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18. anchor on November 14, 2011 11:41 AM writes...

Say what? "Metacollaboration"? Even if you say "ortho" or "para" collaboration, I do not get it. Can someone tell me what does that mean? It is still a Monday morning over here!

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19. Biotechtranslated on November 14, 2011 12:16 PM writes...

@#16, anchor,

Meta is a term used to describe something "within the same thing". So a meta-analysis is an analysis of an analysis.

So I assume metacollaboration means, "collaboration within collaboration" or in other words, it's a stupid way of saying you collaborate more.

@#10 and #11,

Yeah, unfortunately, you often have to play the game and make your idea "sexy", but you can still back it up with solid work, no?

Another observation though, does this sort of "gibberish" not occur in science as well? Ideas are given a "sexy" name and thrown around as cure-alls. I'm thinking of "six sigma"...

A lot of the reason behind stupid business sayings is because the idea behind the concept is too complex to go through each time, so you give it a buzz word and people just run with it. It's like the word "deliverable". It just sounds more formal than saying "that stuff I was going to do for you".


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20. Vader on November 14, 2011 12:19 PM writes...

Y'all have completely missed it. It's not gibberish; it's code.

we need to work all dimensions of the problems that face us, including the fourth dimension … time.

Translation: You're going to start filling out time cards with 15-minute increments tracking all your activities. And we'll use Gant charts and other MBA-oid stuff to manage your use of time. Welcome to Hell.


This would be collaboration on how we're going to collaborate. That is, you're going to get in line and do what we say.

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21. Cellbio on November 14, 2011 12:27 PM writes...

Mike, no you can't back it up with solid work when your unemployed/outsourced/unfunded because solid work of drug discovery and development requires capital, and the schmucks that make up the silly sentences with no meaning control the cash.

And it sort of sounds like you are saying we should play the game, sell the idea of magic solutions instead of hard work applied to real problems. This might work for a few individuals who succeed in masking reality with a sexy pitch, but what about when the real time line and costs become apparent, and what about the industry as a whole? I think we need to shake out the scam artist, not sing their tune.

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22. Kevin on November 14, 2011 12:34 PM writes...

I declare shenanigans.

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23. BlaBla on November 14, 2011 12:38 PM writes...

six sigma is not science its one way of quality control until gibberish occured.

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24. anchor on November 14, 2011 12:46 PM writes...

#17 thanks for the enlightenment. Sounds more like a "psycho-babble" to me.

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25. Brit boy on November 14, 2011 12:50 PM writes...

In England we'd call it "bollocks" - there's a lot of it around

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26. Bio Snail on November 14, 2011 1:07 PM writes...

@ 16 cellbio said- "and the schmucks that make up the silly sentences with no meaning control the cash."

The incentive structure for any pharmaceutical company is to hold on to EXISTING cash to pay the outrageous salaries of their executive.

Pharma= big bank.

A start-up in pharma/biotech today is just a con-job to recruit NEW MONEY to pay ridiculous salaries and bonuses to people whose sole claim to fame is tenure (and/or) an Ivy league degree.

Pfizer and Merck can juggle their funds into various hedge funds and speculative market bets so as to seem profitable.

The people who run 80% of biotech and Pharam could care less if their companies fail, because they're rich long before the ship sinks. The actual business is mere noise that get in the way of their vacations. The quote under discussion
demonstrates quite well they are in a 'virtual-meta-business'.

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27. bbooooooya on November 14, 2011 1:36 PM writes...

Hopefully there were some good pie charts to go along with this!

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28. Matthew Herper on November 14, 2011 1:43 PM writes...

So they're going to use Google Plus?

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29. CMCguy on November 14, 2011 1:47 PM writes...

#20 Vader you indeed are a Master of the Darkside in describing the Hell of so many in and outside Big Pharma "metacollaborations". When everyone spends more time tracking and justifying efforts than actually using brains or doing work is it no wonder projects are doomed to failure?

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30. noname on November 14, 2011 1:47 PM writes...

Has anyone examined the speaker list for TEDMED? What a joke! The cited quotation fits in quite well with listed gang of bamboozlers.

You've got musicians, poets, an architect, an explorer, a mushroom freak, a photographer, Steve Wosniak, Lance Armstrong, the Surgeon General and the head of Weight Watchers. In addition to a mish-mash of pharma, biotech, hi-tech, VC, academic, and consulting types.

I've always enjoyed the handful of TED lectures I've seen on-line. But attending this fuzzy-brained wank fest sounds like the ninth circle.

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31. nick K on November 14, 2011 1:48 PM writes...

#15: Thank you for the link to the great Orwell essay. Though Orwell was writing about the abuse of language by politicians, this sentence is absolutely applicable to the world of business: "Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

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32. monoceros4 on November 14, 2011 2:01 PM writes...

"Another observation though, does this sort of 'gibberish' not occur in science as well?"

No, actually. But I can understand as how you might feel a bit defensive about it.

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33. milkshake on November 14, 2011 4:59 PM writes...

reminds me "while the decision-makers in our management are already facilitating, the rest of us still have to work"

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34. Susurrus on November 14, 2011 5:01 PM writes...

Metacollaboration: You get the same thing if you cross an elephant and a rhino. Elephino.

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35. SteveM on November 14, 2011 5:16 PM writes...

Re: #32 monoceros4

About science, see the technology page of the Ridge Diagnostics Depression Blood Test which includes this quote:

"These biological markers are mapped onto a multi-dimensional hyperspace model to create the hyperspace vectors that construct and define the patterns that indicate major depressive disorder.

multi-dimensional hyperspace model! hyperspace vectors! That's Wars! (It better be for a 700 buck screening fee...)

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36. I wonder... on November 14, 2011 5:21 PM writes...

I wonder if there is data correlating the number of MBAs/consultants/managers hired by ph