I was reviewing my diary a few days ago and realised that since September I will have attended or will be planning to attend by year end something like nine conferences and exhibitions, and that excludes a plethora of others that I chose not to attend this time.

This is a relatively big investment of time and money and they are not catered for by AirMiles or hotel group points. So why do it?

Those that know me will realise there is likely some focus on the pharmaceutical or print world, especially packaging. Our passion to use packaging innovation and technical capability to improve the patient adherence levels above the average 50% (depending on therapeutic area) is well known. But how often do we focus on attending the conferences that “fit” our particular area of interest or expertise rather than those that will create stimulus for our work and, from there, develop the potential to cross pollinate between industry sectors. The answer is simple: Learning from others.

As packaging professionals, we work continuously to create and develop leading edge systems and solutions for the problems posed by customers, clients or colleagues. We work in our own industry sectors and frequently ignore the opportunities to learn that may exist in other industry areas, despite the fact that the materials and techniques are broadly the same. Packaging is used everywhere, by people and industries that are facing the same issues and problems.

The pharmaceutical industry has to face the issue of child resistance and senior friendly packaging, so shouldn’t Amazon rate its packaging for easy opening, an obvious parallel? In transit, white goods packs have the same challenges as food or drugs. But how often would an FMCG professional visit a pharma-focussed conference or vice versa?

In our daily work lives we are frequently posed the ‘left field’ question where our knowledge and experience is tested. The ability to think out of the box, to utilise the thinking and techniques from other industries, may well support this activity.  Equally, the ability to bring novelty into your day job and to your business might well provide that boost that your business was looking for.  A recent revelation to me was Smarter Barcodes, using the existing retail barcode to link B2C or to create a route to deliver cost effective patient adherence via the ubiquitous Smart Phones.

Up until around 10 years ago I was a corporate guy, with a mind-set, arguably an arrogance, that went along the lines of “We have our internal challenges, who from outside could possibly know more than we do about our issues?” When I moved out of the corporate life, I began to realise that there are in fact many who understand these challenges and have addressed them. The contacts and technologies that you suddenly get exposed to show there is so much more out there when you’re not facing the limitations of the “Approved Supplier List”, a list created typically years ago by the procurement team.  Don’t get me wrong, the procurement guys are experts in their own fields, but communicating and accepting that you can learn from anyone is an essential feature of those that excel.

That is where the attendance at exhibitions and conferences comes in. The opportunities to learn, to gain experience, to understand other ways to address challenges and, importantly, meet new colleagues, are manifest. These opportunities to learn are at the heart of what packaging is all about.

Stephanie Cornwall
Stephanie Cornwall