The problems that matter

The problems that matter

Industry transformation is not about solving problems for the clients that matter, but about working with clients that focus on the problems that matter.

For me, it was toothpaste. It was 2002 and I was working at a digital boutique with an extraordinary team of developers, designers, and strategists to relaunch an online platform for America’s largest real estate company.

And then the toothpaste account came back.

The year before it had an extra stripe. And now the extra stripe had sparkles in it. High off the feeling of forever transforming how Americans would research and purchase homes, I could not get excited about marketing a sparkly stripe.

I have nothing against toothpaste. Or even toothpaste with sparkly stripes. But applying everything we learned about disrupting an opaque industry to squeeze more margin out of a tube of toothpaste was not going to cut it.

And yet, I kept doing it. For the next 5 years, I helped numerous industries adapt their business models and organizational structures to the changing technological norms of the 21st century. Luxury cars, makeup, semi-conductors, advertising conglomerates, apparel, hotels, financial services…and the list went on.

While incredibly proud of this work, the more the technology matured, the less meaningful the quest became. When social is the new search is the new banner ad, to what end are we doing all of this?

Then the market crashed.

I was just getting comfortable with the idea of a year subsisting on ramen noodles when a pharmaceutical company’s innovation team called seeking external advice. I felt conflicted about taking this project, and so I proposed a scope that I was sure they would turn down.

Instead, they put me on retainer.

Little did I know that this would be one of the better decisions I would make in my career. There was no post-recession rebuilding playbook, and so helping a company in a highly regulated industry adapt to new technological norms also necessitated an adaption to changing economic, political, and cultural norms. I was not just helping them sell more product; I was helping identify solutions to deliver better care at lower cost for people living with chronic disease.

Within 9 months, Luminary Labs was born.

My foray into health was a fluke. But an important fluke that taught me that industry transformation is not about solving problems for the clients that matter, but about working with clients that focus on the problems that matter.

Five years ago, it would never have occurred to me that our client base would extend across numerous industries and include leaders from the private sector, non-profits, and federal agencies such as FDA, HHS, ED, NASA, and EPA. And while these are all incredible clients, we are even more proud of the problems we address, such as labor trafficking, organizational behavior, the advancement of science, stemming chronic disease, education, workforce development, pathogen detection, and moonshot investment thesis formation.

And so my appeal to you — CEOs, strategists, designers, developers, data mavens, innovators of all stripes — is not to stop making, marketing, or selling sparkly toothpaste. It is, however, to radically reimagine how in doing so, you can also address the problems that matter.


Sara Holoubek
Founding Partner and CEO