Evolution, Revolution and Motivation: How To Balance Legacy With Innovation

In Orphan Drug Congress by Hugh Blackstaffe


There are two things in this world. Old and New. Both have their virtues and flaws. Both have the ability to affect change significantly and when the two are perfectly intertwined, then we achieve equilibrium and evolution.

During our existence on this planet of ours, orbiting at 67,000 miles an hour around an unregarded yellow sun, we have understood that we must learn from our past and embrace the future. The history of humanity is littered with forward looking innovation and historical retrospectives. However, a preference of one over the other leads to difficulty. It leads to mistakes, failures, and ultimately a project cannot survive because it cannot adapt or learn. This is where legacy and innovation come in. The balance of old and new, harmonised to create something spectacular and life changing.


Innovation Is Not A Dirty Word

The word ‘innovation’ is a word that really does get used a lot. It’s a buzzword, full of promise and cool, fresh, new things, things that will change the world, things that seem to say “It’s The Future Of Tomorrow…TODAY!”.

This is often not the case. Many things are purported to be ‘innovative’ because the marketing says so…however, true innovation is a gift, and it doesn’t have to be a huge leap in technological advancement. Innovation can come in the simplest, humbling form, and it can be as easy as offering up a new approach to something.

This year marks the 5th year that the World Orphan Drug Congress has been running, the longest established commercial orphan drug event in the world. It also happens to be my first one. I am the new balancing with the old. I (intend to be) the innovation balanced with the legacy.

Let’s start working through this. I am essentially instilling my own ideas, beliefs and values, as well as my research, into a well established, highly regarded event that keeps at it’s core the idea of bringing together the best and brightest of the orphan drug world in an educational, informative and progressive environment. The legacy of the event, the history and it’s big objectives are vital to keep at the forefront of my mind when planning. If I was to make too much significant change, make too much of it ‘new’, then I run the risk of making an event completely unlike the previous years. This confuses people, people like change but are also afraid of it.

However, no change at all makes things dull, boring, unimaginative and bland. Repetition is death in the event world. Nobody wants to go to an event and feel that the organisers are just ‘going through the motions’. Every event needs something new to ensure attendees/delegates/clients/audiences have a really good time and feel the price of admission is justified. And the event has to be good enough that they want to come back next year. If you put on a bad event, don’t expect people to come back next year. You have to bring in the innovation to make people attend and make them want to come back next year.

Old And Bold, New and Hugh

By working in the old and the new, the classic and the contemporary, the historic and the modern elements into the event, I will be able to build upon the fine reputation of the World Orphan Drug Congress. I can also have a significant amount of creative control over the event which, for a first job as a graduate, is practically unheard of. This merging of legacy and personality enables the event to take on a new form. It’s more of an evolution that a revolution. It’s not being mothballed and replaced with something new. It’s an old warship being refitted, updated to be powerful than ever, adapted to fit newer, contemporary challenges and missions. The superstructure is there, it just needs to have a new engine fitted, better communications equipment and maybe a new paint scheme. And once it’s had it’s refit, a change of command, and the crew has been brought up to speed on what’s new, then she can set sail for her voyage, resplendent and mission ready. This years World Orphan Drug Congress is the same powerful warship as it has been for the past five years, it’s just been upgraded, refitted and reorientated to handle new missions. She’s capable of dealing with new challenges with the same heart and soul, just made more powerful.

This attitude of building innovation into legacies is something that has repeatedly come up while working through my research for the event. The traditional, historic systems just aren’t capable of handling orphan drugs in the manner that is required. The work being done in the area of rare, undiagnosed diseases is as cutting edge as it can be in healthcare. Treatments being done at a genetic level, breaking new medical ground everyday in the hunt for cures for diseases that range from very common to ultra rare. This is the true innovation. However, it is lumbered by the systems and frameworks just not built to efficiently work with orphan drugs. Work is most certainly being done to implement changes and innovations that are desperately needed, but it’s still a long way off from being completed. There are so many factors at play, wrinkles to be ironed out and minds to be changed, that have to be dealt with systematically and rigorously in order to allow the innovation to truly take hold.

For more information, please visit the website, email hugh.blackstaffe@terrapinn.com or follow me on Twitter @HBlackstaffe

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this blog.


This week, the blog was written listening to a combination of the soundtracks to ‘Ocean’s 11’ (Soderbergh, 2001), ‘Skyfall’ (Mendes, 2012), The XX and Ben Howard.