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Innovating for the future of human health

For more than 130 years, Johnson & Johnson has innovated with a purpose—to improve health for people everywhere. Here’s how.

Innovating for the future of human health
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Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is more than 100 years old, but operates with a startup mindset, relentless in its mission to advance health for humanity. This includes both internal and external strategies to drive innovation, motivated by the need to solve everyday health challenges and life-threatening conditions. Within its walls, J&J is cultivating a purpose-led culture and making industry-leading investments in research and development (R&D). Externally, J&J is also collaborating with scientists and organizations across the globe applying science and innovation to healthcare challenges like COVID-19, Ebola virus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and others.

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As a global, broad-based healthcare company, J&J is committed to using its size and influence for good. Its established networks and resources are certainly helpful, but just as integral is its decision to operate with the heart and mindset of a startup, and that may be J&J’s secret to decades of game-changing inventions. From antiseptic surgical sutures back in 1887 to improving surgical outcomes using virtual reality and artificial intelligence, Johnson & Johnson has remained at the forefront of healthcare. It is also part of why this legacy company earns a spot on Fast Company‘s Best Workplaces for Innovators list, which is no small feat when your workplace is home to nearly 134,000 employees.

From the inside out

Peter Fasolo, executive vice president and chief human resources officer, says you can’t innovate without strong leadership. Leaders at J&J are expected to challenge themselves to raise the bar, and, most important, to create a supportive environment where teams feel empowered to take risks. In fact, Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels has a saying: “You take the risk; I take the blame.”

“Everything we do, from our work in product development to our experimentation with new technology, has inherent risk,” Fasolo says. “So, we accept failure as part of the scientific process, encourage R&D employees to fail early and fast in the development process, and share learnings across the organization so we can turn failures into successes.”

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An example of this culture in action is the company’s response to COVID-19. Having long fostered an environment where employees can innovate and experiment with a strong sense of ownership and agility, J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals was well-positioned to quickly mobilize, test, and scale up production when faced with the emerging global pandemic in early 2020. Building on the groundbreaking science and scalable production platforms that were used to construct Ebola, Zika and HIV vaccine candidates, Johnson & Johnson is committed to making its vaccine available to people around the world in a timely manner, if proven to be safe and effective, and in coordination with regulators and health authorities. The company’s culture, vaccine development technology, deep scientific expertise and strong global manufacturing capabilities provide a strong foundation to develop vaccine candidates and upscale production to ensure, if proven safe and effective, they can get it in the hands of those who need it most as quickly and as safely as possible. This includes preparing to accelerate production to meet the company’s goal to supply more than one billion doses of the vaccine globally through the course of 2021 on a not-for-profit basis for emergency pandemic use, should clinical trials confirm it is safe and effective.

J&J also ensures employees at every level understand how their daily tasks advance the company purpose. All decision making is informed by the Johnson & Johnson Credo, a set of values and principles that reminds employees that everything they do is ultimately for the benefit of the people they serve. Among the values inscribed in the Credo are commitments to fostering a diverse and inclusive (D&I) culture, where employees can bring their whole self to work. D&I serves as a key lever for innovation by fueling creativity through a culture of inclusion and enabling the delivery of health innovations to patients, consumers, and customers.

One way J&J empowers employees to share their ideas and opinions is through Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). ERGs are uniquely positioned to provide key insights, driving tangible outcomes on behalf of employees, the marketplace, and communities. For example, the African Ancestry Leadership Council (AALC) ERG has educated Black communities around the United States on the value and importance of participating in clinical trials, with the goal of reducing disparity in trial participation, ultimately leading to greater equity in disease management for chronic conditions most prevalent in this community and demographic. With 431 ERG chapters worldwide, J&J believes these groups both contribute to an employee’s feeling of inclusion and belonging at work and fuel the future of human health.

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Investing in innovation

Johnson & Johnson made Fast Company’s Best Workplaces for Innovators in 2020.

In addition to its own industry-leading R&D portfolio, to which J&J dedicated more than $11.4 billion in 2019 (an increase of 5.4% over 2018), J&J looks beyond its walls for complementary expertise to unlock the full potential of science and technology, creating a positive impact on lives, families, and communities. Part of doing so includes supporting and partnering with a range of game-changing startups and entrepreneurs via a flexible, external innovation model. Through its four Innovation Centers, located in major life-science hotspots, the company connects with early-stage innovation to create flexible collaborations and accelerate science around the world. More than 500 deals have been completed, and more than $1 billion has been deployed via the Innovation Centers in the past six years.

J&J also makes strategic investments in healthcare companies on the rise, through its own corporate venture arm. And, its life-science incubator network for innovators, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS, gives early-stage developers access to labs, equipment, mentoring, and niche expertise. Since the launch of JLABS in 2012, J&J has supported hundreds of entrepreneurs across more than 650 companies who are working to turn breakthrough science and technologies into transformative solutions.

So, what is on the horizon for the next century? J&J is uniquely positioned to address both the world’s current and future healthcare challenges because it sits at the convergence of so many relevant technologies and focus areas. These include everything from uncovering consumer insights and applying diagnostics to developing devices and discovering life-changing treatments. But Fasolo points out the most distinguishing factor of all—its people. “We have employees around the world who are critically focused on a common purpose,” he says. “By continuing to unleash the passion, talent, and unique perspectives of our people and harnessing the power of technology to improve delivery and scale our solutions, we are poised to drive improved health outcomes on behalf of the patients and consumers at the center of everything we do.”

About the author

FastCo Works is Fast Company's branded content studio. Advertisers commission us to consult on projects, as well as to create content and video on their behalf.

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