Building On Past Successes: When It Makes Sense To Look Backward

We’ve all heard it: “If you’re not moving forward, you’re going backwards.”

And certainly, there’s a sound argument for not getting complacent. Organizations do have to commit to continuous improvement. But that doesn’t mean forgetting where you came from.

In fact, many companies can discover new things about themselves by looking backward. Sometimes, the ideas or values that supplied the energy when the company was started are still viable—but they may have been forgotten or taken for granted. Reviving them brings new energy back to the team.

Also, especially for new organizations, some ideas may simply be ahead of their time. A startup that’s focused on survival may not have to explore new systems or technologies that are outside the mainstream. But once the company is established, those shelved ideas can pay dividends in new efficiencies or new market opportunities.

Sometimes, looking back may also revive a technology that didn’t work for its initial intended purpose.

Consider the case of Caisson Biotech, a company created to revitalize a technology that had been set aside from its original purpose. Caisson Biotech was created in 2009 to repurpose a technology, heparosan, originally created for the anticoagulant market. Caisson’s parent company, Heparinex, LLC, had started up seven years before to develop the anticoagulant as a synthetic version of the drug heparin.

However, other synthetics were also in development for the same purpose, and it was decided to abandon the anticoagulant approach.

Research was revisited, however, and it was decided to explore whether or not the technology could be used as drug delivery system instead. After two additional years of investigation, Caisson Biotech was formed.

The reinvigorated heparosan was re-marketed as an alternative for PEGylation (PEG), a multi-billion dollar market. The idea picked up momentum quickly, with new research and feasibility studies. In 2012, Caisson Biotech announced a multi-million dollar partnership with Novo Nordisk A/S to use the heparosan-based drug delivery platform (now called HEPtune™) for three of Novo Nordisk’s drugs.

The HEPtune platform offers a number of advantages, especially the ability to extend the half-life of drugs in the bodies of patients with lifelong diseases. The repurposed technology may ultimately be larger and more profitable than its original market promised.

So it’s important to look ahead. But it never hurts to take the time periodically to look backward within your organization and see what core competencies, initial products, and archived research may spark new ideas.

What do you want to build today?