Salus journal

Healthy Planet. Healthy People.

Healthcare / Innovation

European Healthcare Design 2019

“Culture eats strategy for lunch every day”: the science and art of sustainable healthcare innovation

By Katharina Janus 19 Aug 2019 0

Since the medical revolution in the mid-19th century, innovation has driven healthcare market developments and contributed to growing budgets. This keynote talk considers the importance of professional culture and cross-cultural sensitivity in healthcare.


While healthcare costs, in general, continue to grow, investments in innovation – be it technology, drugs, devices or management – have been scrutinised and are increasingly driven by regulatory and reimbursement considerations. The industry’s response to make innovation sustainable and secure investments in research and development has been the creation of governmental and regulatory affairs departments, which aim at influencing key opinion leaders and governmental decision-makers.

In this context, cross-cultural sensitivity is key. It describes the knowledge, awareness and acceptance of other cultures (national, professional, organisational). At the individual level, it allows people to navigate successfully a different culture that they are interacting with, whereas it’s considered one of the primary factors that drives the way organisations behave. The toolbox of cultural sensitivity relates to comprehensive research (hard facts) and human behaviour in context (soft facts). Very often, however, “Hard (numbers/plans) is Soft” and “Soft (relationships/culture) is Hard” (Peters, Watermann; 1982).

I will provide examples from my work around the world on how doctors’ motivation is driven by similar factors in San Francisco, USA, and Hanover, Germany, despite very different healthcare systems, meaning that professional culture overrides national culture in medicine. Another example is the implementation of performance measurement systems in the US, where performance is “cool”, and Germany, where “best in class” do not usually show off. I will talk about the need to support online training and sales in France with personal interaction while, from an American perspective, it does not make sense that in France we have endless lunches without closing a deal.

As Lou Gerstner said: “Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game.” In my talk, I go a step further by calling for cultural sensitivity – because we’ve been talking, researching and acknowledging the importance of culture for years. Sustainable innovation depends, however, on the sophisticated use and implementation of sensitivity for and of national, professional and organisational cultures. In this context, listening is the ultimate mark of respect. In my work, I listen to understand, not necessarily to respond. Ben Stein described personal relationships as “the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grow”. If you wish to do business globally, have empathy for the world around you because “culture eats strategy for lunch every day” (Janus; 2003).

Organisations involved