I’ve been diving back into the pages of “Moonshot – Inside Pfizer’s Nine-Month Race to Make the Impossible Possible” for the second time, and the narrative continues to captivate me, just as it did two years ago. I was amazed by how their clarity, simplification, and courageous actions prepared them for an otherwise impossible endeavor. Even though it is a story about a corporate giant achieving groundbreaking feats in the face of a global crisis, it is also relatable to our personal and professional lives.
I took away these three main points from the story.
1. Clear Priority
When CEO Albert Bourla took over, he gathered the top one thousand leaders from around the globe. This resulted in a clear purpose statement, “We exist because the society needs- requires- us to deliver – Breakthroughs that change patients’ lives.” Four simple words accompanied it to describe their new culture- Courage, Excellence, Equity, and Joy. Their commitment to this clear purpose and a simple set of meaningful values drove their priorities and required cultural transformation.
2. Strategic Simplification
Pfizer’s leadership made hard choices. They had to let go of being the largest to become the best in innovation. They made sacrifices by eliminating some cash-producing businesses to bring an unwavering focus on R&D and Digitization. It’s a call to embrace courage over comfort, shaking up elements that don’t align with the envisioned direction.
3. Courageous Action
The courage to align actions with the core purpose, simplifying where necessary, and investing strategically formed the bedrock of Pfizer’s success. It’s a reminder that talk alone won’t propel progress; action is the key. CEO Bourla took practical actions like acting as a project manager and attending the project meetings so they could make decisions on the spot, alleviating time-consuming communication across multiple departments and the executives.
Less than two years of steering Pfizer in this new direction and cultivating a culture shift, they accomplished the seemingly impossible – developing a COVID-19 vaccine in nine months, a feat that typically takes a decade. They attributed it to their preparation in early 2019, much before they knew anything about the global pandemic.
“We succeeded not because we were Lucky. We succeeded because we were prepared.“Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla
My own moonshot story
Looking back, I recall a personal moonshot project. Serving as the first foreign-born president of the Coaching Federation in Washington State in 2017-18, I could maintain the status quo and consider it a success. However, I opted to leverage my position to pursue a bold vision, addressing members’ concerns about the lack of awareness regarding coaching among consumers. To achieve this, we established strategic partnerships with esteemed organizations like local universities and industry conferences to promote coaching within the business community.
It required courage, resourcefulness, and unpopular choices, such as letting go of established programs for newer initiatives. Despite the multifaceted challenges, our unwavering clarity and conviction guided my team, resulting in recognition for the excitement and opportunities our initiatives brought to our members. That experience continues to inspire and instill confidence in me.
So, What does it mean for you?
We all have such moonshot stories that brought us where we are today. Reflect on them and see what qualities helped you in that journey. Suppose you are thinking about your next one and unsure if you are up for it. Now might be the time to clarify it as much as possible and slowly prepare by taking bold actions. It could be as simple as focusing on your physical and emotional health or upgrading your skillset.
If you keep saying “yes” to every request and mindlessly fill your calendar, you automatically say “no” to that preparation. For Pfizer, it was about risking hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and convincing the shareholders. For you and me, it could be starting an authentic conversation with your boss, team, or even your significant other.
As the new year’s energy is fresh, let’s prepare for the next big bet. What clarity, simplification, and courageous act can we focus on now to embrace the moonshot challenges and opportunities in the coming months and years? Let’s take inspiration from Pfizer’s journey and apply it in our spheres.