cutting edge of tech and health 5 questions with Neil Ackerman from Johnson & Johnson

The Cutting Edge of Tech & Health — 5 Questions with Neil Ackerman from Johnson & Johnson

We’re used to new companies springing up to disrupt old industries. But sometimes the most familiar brands are doing unfamiliar work right under our noses. Did you know that Johnson & Johnson is pushing the boundaries of AI technology? How about the fact that they have the sixth largest corporate venture capital fund (beating out tech giants like Microsoft and Samsung)?

Clearly, I need an update, and there’s no one better to talk to than Neil Ackerman, JnJ’s Senior Director for Global Supply Chain Advanced Planning. Neil is truly remarkable, from how he volunteers his time, to his previous work serving in key roles at Amazon, to the fact that he holds 10 U.S. patents.

So, without further ado… Here are five (actually six) questions from the cutting edge of Tech & Health!

Question 1: Your title at Johnson & Johnson is Senior Director, Global Supply Chain Enterprise Plan and Innovation. That’s a mouthful! What does that mean?

My objective is to deliver an improved customer experience and competitive advantage by leveraging advanced capabilities. Still a mouthful? Let me give you a little context.

Johnson & Johnson is one of the top 10 companies in the world for market capitalization. And, in fact, we are the largest healthcare company in the world. For all of our customers and partners, supply chain concerns can make an immense difference to the bottom line and to consumers’ health outcomes.

I work across all segments — from pharmaceuticals and biomed devices to consumer planning processes — end-to-end. That means the entire supply chain process, from sourcing and creating, to delivering final products to customers. Because of the global business environment and today’s consumer trends, digitizing the supply chain is our most important task.

Another way to think about what my team does is to consider what I like to call our four main “innovation power areas”:

1. Intelligent platforms and predictability

2. IoT and sensors

3. Track and trace

4. Customer fulfillment and the last mile

We push the boundaries of technology to improve the entire supply chain, from end to end.  

Question 2: Does Johnson & Johnson use video, either internally or externally?

Yes! Look online and you’ll see tons of our videos on many of the most common platforms covering a variety of topics — from consumer products to the Human Performance Institute, and even how we engage with healthcare challenges globally.

Video is how you educate the public today. It’s how you educate internally. Video is how you get attention in this very cluttered world. Short, high-impact videos are extremely powerful, and motivate people to live healthier lives. If we can provide people with the means to live a healthier life, then we are fulfilling our mission at JnJ. Video is simply essential.

Question 3: What’s your top AI prediction for your industry in the year ahead? How will it change our world?

Artificial intelligence should be called REAL intelligence —  there’s nothing artificial about it. AI actually starts with humans. Human beings draw the insights from AI and machine learning. Not only that, but you have to make all of this work with rapid speed to create a competitive advantage for your company and your customers — and you need people for that. Good people.

With those kinds of people in place, AI is already improving our lives in four main areas. I call them the 4 P’s:  

Projection (optimizing future production through data-based forecasting)

Production (smarter, faster, more efficient production)

Promotion (reaching the right customer in the right place at the right time)

Personalization (providing a targeted user experience)

I think all of this will change our world in some very important ways when it comes to optimizing our health. First, AI will help improve wellness and preventative medicine. Combined with IoT (smart, connected devices), AI will create effortless ways to implement wellness. Your wellness plans will be personalized to take into account your body type, where and when you exercise, and how you spend your time. Finally, we should see an impact when it comes to aging, managing chronic diseases, and end-of-life challenges.

These are all important parts of optimizing healthcare that AI will impact deeply over the coming years.

Question 4: Have you ever worked with a mentor? How do you find someone who’s right for you?

Yes, many! I forged my connections with them all in different contexts, and I connected with them all for different reasons.

When it comes to seeking out mentorship, the most important thing is to understand what your values are, and to follow your heart and your value system. I don’t look at mentors as, “Well, this person told me to do X and I did it.” I looked for mentors who aligned with my values, and therefore understood how I think about things.

If you have a mentor who’s only focused on one area of life, but fails to understand you as a person, as a whole being, it won’t really matter what their advice is. We are all complicated people, and it’s really important that if you’re not sure who you really are yet, that you get a mentor to help you figure that out first. Questions about big decisions, your career path, your family, are difficult, and should be addressed with both earnestness and passion for what you love to do.

Question 5: Do you have a particular philosophy or tips you live by when it comes to effective communication?

Funny you should ask. My team has actually compiled a list of Acker-nyms — a list of all my our teams’ favorite sayings for working together. The title reads, “Neil always says, there’s no exclusivity on good ideas.” In other words, no one has the perfect idea, and no one likes a know-it-all.

That basic idea of respect and collaboration is key to how I understand communication. It’s not just important for the ideas we’re discussing, but also how we communicate with each other.

In my office I keep a sign to remind people about our talking rules:

#1. Listen — There’s no extra points for talking a lot!

#2. Simplicity — Democratize your message. Make it for everybody in your audience.

#3. Build trust through accuracy — We don’t exaggerate to make ourselves feel important.

Bonus Question: I’m starting my career from scratch… Tell me what I should do!

The worst thing you could ever do is tell somebody what to do. I would try to help you discover what you want to do, or what you’re passionate about. But if I just tell you what to do, then we’re really missing the whole point of life.

Thanks, Neil!

Wow. Changing health outcomes for the human race. Innovating at the cutting edge of artificial (real!) intelligence. And simple, honest, and value-based communication. No wonder he’s pushing the boundaries. Keep up with Neil and his groundbreaking work on LinkedIn.

So… how do YOU communicate effectively? Will machine learning change the way you go about your life? Has it already? Tell me YOUR take in the comments below!

Stay awesome!

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Nick Liebman

Nick is Powtoon's Head of Content Marketing. His last blog was voted one of the top 8 CRO blogs on the internet, tackling the latest in customer experience and online business. Nick honed his skills in the unlikely world of music and non-profit work. He holds a B.A. in Music from Grinnell College and an M.M. in Music Composition from Butler University, and has performed his and others' music all over the world.

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