Going. Ahead. with Gage: Interview with Ryan Flinn, Innovation Integration Communication Leader at Johnson & Johnson

Are you ready for some #MondayMotivation?! My next #GAWG interview features an incredibly talented communications leader in the healthcare industry. He loves wine, tiki drinks and I’m honored to call him my friend: Ryan Flinn from Johnson & Johnson!

1. First and foremost, what is your job as the Innovation Integration Communications Leader at Johnson & Johnson?

My short and simple answer is that I help scientists tell stories. Of course, it’s much more complex than that, but my overall goal is to help our business leaders and business units communicate about our collaborations and to message to entrepreneurs outside of J&J about the deals we do, the types of science we work on and why we’re great partners to work with. This means I travel to conferences to support our leaders on the ground; strategize about what stories we want to tell and how we want to tell them; and provide support and advice to those inside the company on storytelling, content, media relations and other communications functions.

2. You started your career as a reporter – What was your favorite part of the job?

The wine reviews, of course! But in all seriousness, I really loved the fact that my job was to constantly learn new things every day, and then find creative ways to explain these things to a broader audience. It was such an amazing feeling writing an article that would have an impact on a person’s life – whether it was spreading the word about a new type of research, or detailing a patient’s journey, or making complex science understandable.

3. What do you think is the most challenging part of working in Healthcare in a social media world?

I think healthcare has some of the most amazing stories to tell – patient journeys, “a-ha!” discovery moments, the really cool scientific explanations for how medicines work – but it’s hard to share these stories for many reasons. Given that we’re a highly regulated industry, and with legitimate concerns around not overhyping science that may not pan out in further testing, it makes sense to hold back. But as someone who is passionate about these things, I’m always looking for ways to share what we can, to educate patients and consumers, but also to inspire the next generation to become researchers and scientists. I’d love to be able to create and share stories on social media that would leave a positive, lasting impact on someone interested in contributing to the field some day in some way.

4. We’re now, more than ever, in a purpose-driven world. How do you think Healthcare brands are currently doing?

I think of all industries, healthcare is the most purpose-driven. We’re trying to save lives, every day. It’s something that’s personal to me, as I have a daughter with special needs – so every day I go to work knowing that I’m contributing in some way to advancing scientific knowledge and getting new treatments to patients.

Check out Ryan’s presentation on “The Secret Science of Storytelling.”

5. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Hang in there!!!

6. How do you encourage innovative and creative thinking on the teams you lead and work with?

I’ve found it’s useful with new ideas to test them out on small projects, so you can learn and iterate, before trying to bring them to a larger group. Once you have a few successful examples under your belt, you can build support for broader efforts across different divisions and offices.

It really helps to have colleagues that back up your ideas, so early successes demonstrating how a new concept would look in the real world is vital.

7. What advice do you have for junior level employees wanting to make it to the C-Suite one day?

One important thing I’ve learned over the past two decades is that your connections do matter. People will judge you on the quality of your work and your experience, but I’ve been amazed at how friendships and connections I made years ago continue to resurface throughout my career and make an impact. I always try to help people who reach out to me, because some day you may be asking them for advice or help.

8. What is one of the most difficult decisions you’ve made in your career and what did you learn from it?

I never thought I would be anything else but a journalist. However, I reached a point in my career where I felt stuck, and didn’t think simply switching employers would allow me to grow in the way that I wanted to. So I decided to make a career switch to communications. I’m glad I did – I really enjoy having greater insight of what’s going on inside companies, and helping them shape and tell their stories.

9. I love book recommendations to help me grow in my career and challenge my thinking – What books would you recommend as a must-read for career growth and just for fictional fun?!

I tend to only read non-fiction – I find there’s so many amazing true stories out there, I want to learn about them all! I recently read an insightful book called “Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives,” by Tim Harford. It gives some incredible examples of how the best successes in history have come from less than ideal situations – everything from war, art, music and business. 

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next #GAWG next month!

— Gage Grammer

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