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Bridging Philosophical Differences in an Alliance

What happens when companies in an alliance find they have significant philosophical differences they just can’t align? It can be a recipe for stalemate and escalation. Decisions are delayed and value is lost. These differences can often be hard to uncover, hidden by positions and proposals that weren’t developed collaboratively or put forth without a discussion of underlying assumptions. It is the alliance professional’s responsibility to help find a way forward.

Aristotle and Socrates Were Both Right!

Both influential philosophers sought to understand the world and people from different perspectives: Aristotle from nature and logic and Socrates from ethics and the human condition. Both perspectives are equally important and provide valuable insights. There is no one right way to understand the world. Similarly, although certainly not as consequential, companies with distinct beliefs and policies about how to carry out science and pursue drug development and commercialization can have equally valid but just as different approaches. The challenge comes in when they are trying to align, especially when they are codeveloping or cocommercializing.

Can We Find Common Ground?

Here’s an example we encounter fairly frequently in various forms:

The parties have begun their preparations for the joint commercial launch in two-plus-years’ time of their first indication. They can’t agree on a budget. This is because one partner plans an aggressive medical and scientific educational effort and engagement with KOLs and institutional providers. This requires investing at risk in a fairly significantly sized team. The other partner doesn’t put people in the field until one year before launch. It would rather focus early efforts on market access strategies to ensure inclusion on formularies once approved and to take advantage of discounting and rebate strategies. This approach requires only a small team, pursuing very targeted actions. Delays in getting an approved budget are mounting and relationships are becoming strained.

How can the alliance professionals help achieve a solution? Start by helping people appreciate the partners have two different philosophies about preparing for launch and both are valid. But that doesn’t help arrive at a budget.

It Takes a Deliberate and Iterative Process to Bridge Philosophical Differences

There are five key questions to ask to guide teams through developing a deep understanding of what each other cares about and to arrive at an answer – in our example, an approved budget:

  1. What are you trying to achieve? Gain clarity and align on what you are trying to solve for. Define what success in this instance is for the alliance. Consider specific criteria to define success.
  2. What are the key assumptions? Identify the assumptions each party has about how to achieve success and what they are concerned about.
  3. What are the parties’ motivating interests? Identify what matters to each party including any limitations have been established by alliance governance and each party’s relevant executives.
  4. What are the options? Brainstorm multiple options that could achieve the success the alliance seeks. (Hint: If the parties’ different approaches are complementary, consider pursuing both, recognizing there may not be equal inputs from each company. Remind people the goal is an exponential outcome, not equal inputs.)
  5. Which options will prove the assumptions? Evaluate each option’s ability to achieve success and address motivating interests.

Once you’ve walked through these questions – which is a process that takes time, diligence, trust in good intentions, and transparency – the option most likely to achieve success while bridging philosophical differences will emerge. It might take a few iterations, but experience tells us this is the best way to arrive at a collaborative outcome that gives each party as much of what they want as possible, rather than a compromise that leaves value on the table, no one happy, and an issue that will resurface in the future.

Aristotle and Socrates would approve.

Download the pdf of the process

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