In the system of American science, caution has overtaken creation

By guest contributor and TEDMED 2015 speaker Roberta Ness

The scientific community is unwell. Worse, the hospital to which it has been taken is utterly unsuited to cure it. Young professionals feel that the system does not promote, but instead strangles, their creative dreams. The result: the most extraordinary potential for progress in history is being squandered.

InnovationInnovation is society’s engine of progress– our instrument for hope. Our modern love affair with innovation leads us to desire having as much of it as possible and to fear its loss. A quick web search for “innovation” yields about as many hits as the word, “boyfriend”. Yet, our system of science from its funders through its institutions, does not allow practitioners to reach their full creative potential. I know this firsthand because I have encountered so many of these frustrated scientists.. Nearly every time I lectured at a research university about how to improve innovative thinking, a young person would stand up at the back of the room during the question and answer period and say something like, “Dr. Ness, this was inspirational, but you are proposing really radical new ideas. If I tried to do what you counsel, I would never be able to get funded or be published.” I heard this lament perhaps a dozen times when finally it struck me, “duh– there’s a big problem here, and it is not due to these young, bright minds.”

The problem, I came to discover in writing my most recent book The Creativity Crisis is that caution has overtaken creation within the system of American science. Society begs for revolutionary advancement but spends its dollars on tangible products. Ideas are conceived as “individually owned” and intellectual property is shielded by patents rather than shared for the benefit of all. The hierarchy and insularity of science stymies rich collaborative possibilities, so, for instance, the historic opportunities offered by crowdsourcing goes unexploited. A suffocating burden of federal and state restrictions and regulations continue to grow as society becomes increasingly apprehensive about the harms that science can bring.

The result of this perfect storm is that the largest and most difficult problems science must solve-– climate change, emerging epidemics, social inequity, Alzheimer’s disease-– rage unabated. I believe we must find solutions to these disasters-in-progress that are far more radical than the current system permits.

Yet, not all is doom and gloom. Science continues to march forward at a prodigious pace, even if that march often produces things less necessary than nice. Some institutions such as the Howard Hughes Foundation and Google have incorporated a series of systems changes for the focused purpose of tending and nurturing creative innovation.

We need not be satisfied with a system of science that fails to achieve its full potential for advancing societal well-being. To implement original solutions to society’s most threatening problems, we must bring creation and caution into equipoise. The Creativity Crisis examines in detail the ills of modern science and multiple remedies that, by abandoning convention, may contribute to fixing the broken system. I can only hope that this book and related TEDMED talk will launch a discussion in which all of you will help to reinvent the scientific ecosystem. I believe that if you open your minds and your hearts to the potential for creative disruption, together we can solve the creativity crisis and unleash possibility.


Roberta Ness TEDMED Artist Illustration_FotorIn her TEDMED 2015 talk, innovation expert and physician-researcher Roberta Ness imparted her wisdom for combatting science’s creativity crisis and sparking the type of revolutionary innovations that science and medicine so desperately need.

Exploring the arc of innovation – Q&A with Thomas Goetz

At TEDMED 2014, Thomas Goetz, health journalist, science writer, and entrepreneur, shared a riveting story about one of the lesser-known heroes of medical research whose successes carried crucial implications for future health discoveries. Curious to learn more, we reached out to him with questions.

"Science is not about that first moment - it's about the rules and the process that we use to explore ideas." - Thomas Goetz, TEDMED 2014 [Photo: Jerod Harris]

“Science is not about that first moment – it’s about the rules and the process that we use to explore ideas.” – Thomas Goetz, TEDMED 2014 [Photo: Jerod Harris]

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

I spoke at TEDMED in 2010, and giving that talk had a profound impact on my work and my career. I knew that, given the chance, this was an invitation I couldn’t turn down!

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

“Innovation” is such a buzzword these days. Everyone wants to be an innovator, every organization feels compelled to be innovative. The word smacks of shiny technologies and slick strategies; it seems almost a facile topic. But innovation – true innovation – is hardly easy. It’s a struggle of ego and conflict and rife with failure. Most of all, it’s hard work.

To me, the story of Robert Koch’s scientific efforts shows that Koch was innovating on two levels at once. The first was science, with the investigations into the germ theory. But, just as difficult was the fact that he had to invent a process. He had to devise a rule set that allowed the pursuit of discovery, what we know now as “in vitro science.” This process, which we take for granted today, is received knowledge. It’s important to recognize that the process is as much a thing as the result of the process. What’s more, we’re in the midst of a new area of innovation today – the idea of “in vitae science,” which I discuss in my talk. My hope is that people will see that creating the rules that govern this new kind of science are as much for the making as the laboratory science of the 19th century. And, it could be just as impactful.

What’s next for you?

At my startup Iodine, we are actively trying to build the rules and technologies that might allow in vitae science to flourish. By giving people a forum to share their medical histories and creating a new dataset that can help drive better decisions for others, we are providing a quantitative assessment of subjective experience. It’s very much continuing what I spoke about at TEDMED, and putting these ideas into real life.

An Emerging Era of Vitalized Electricity: Q&A with Mark Levatich

At TEDMED 2014, Mark Levatich urged us to imagine the possibilities of a world vivified by electricity. Inspired by his enthusiasm, we reached out to him with questions about his talk, and any tips he has for young innovators.

"Electricity should be boring by now, but waves of revolution ripple up from initially small innovation to consume and transform our world.  Why, when we see the timeline, and the consistency of change, could we ever think the wonder is done?" - Mark Levatich at TEDMED 2014 [Photo: Kevork Djansezian]

“Electricity should be boring by now, but waves of revolution ripple up from initially small innovation to consume and transform our world. Why, when we see the timeline, and the consistency of change, could we ever think the wonder is done?” – Mark Levatich at TEDMED 2014 [Photo: Kevork Djansezian]

Why does your talk matter now? What do you hope people learn?

I knew my great-grandfather; he fought in WWI on horseback, and later lived in a household full of Apple products. We can imagine the transition of living in his world and expect the same scale of change in ours. The advances may not look rapid but we’re still rehashing the same tools of computers and programs. Leaps that challenge our imagination arise from fundamentally different abilities. That is why shape-changing plastic is primed to alter the course of human history. It can solve hundreds of existing problems, in unexpected, previously impossible ways. It also solves problems we didn’t recognize without an obvious solution. Nearly living plastic won’t be the final surprise during our lifetimes, but it’s primed to be the next.

In my talk, I described living plastic enhancing heart surgery, but I could have focused on braille, or keyboards, mice, drones, camera lenses, hearing aids, band-aid insulin pumps, capacitive batteries, bullet-sized tasers, electro-caloric heat sinks, ultrasonic tape, or woven sensors in clothes. The technology is already functional, but will see centuries of rehashing to creatively morph our world. It matters now because it will happen soon. It matters now because the pace of change is becoming mind-boggling, even for those of us now who are accustomed to surprise.

What advice would you give to other aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs?

If you are a young innovator, protect your naiveté and practice inception. As a budding innovator, you may find mentors and peers willing to help. I am sorry that their advice may be your greatest early challenge.

Any new skill takes repetition to master. Innovation by its nature should always yield conflicts with existing knowledge. To learn from a mentor’s advice, you must repeatedly sacrifice ideas. The sacrifice is active. It’s more than presenting concepts for appraisal. Ask your subject to share what their thoughts were just prior to their objection. Decipher the types of mental connections they used to crunch your idea, rather than source material. Meditating through and duplicating their thought process will permit you to absorb the strongest mental tools they have demonstrated. Repeating this process with diverse and accomplished people will allow you to compound the strengths of your mentors. In the end, the most important outcome is protecting your willingness to re-engage in deconstruction. Your naiveté makes your ideas vulnerable to overcorrection, and you must resist the social shock and keep practicing.

You may be presented with a plethora of unseen obstacles, a weakness of founding knowledge, an unrealistic sense of time, challenge, or concept placement in the existing landscape. All of these are irrelevant. The quality of your ideas matters only when you are primed to strike out and implement. Until that time comes, your goal should be to propose endless concepts. Exercise, through repetition, the mechanics of inception. The plentiful resource of criticism is not a crucible for your sword of conquest; it is, in fact, the hammer you wield to pound your innovation into shape.

Giving Sight to Innovation: Q&A with Uzma Samadani

Uzma Samadani is the cofounder of Oculogica, a neurodiagnostic company that, through eye movement tracking, specializes in detecting concussions and other brain injuries otherwise invisible on radiologic scans. She shared her journey of discovery on the TEDMED 2014 stage. We caught up with Uzma and learned more about her vision and methods of discovery.

Uzma Samadani at TEDMED 2014 discusses her eye tracking innovation for diagnosing brain injury.

“I hope people who hear my talk are inspired to work hard and make their own discoveries.” Uzma Samadani at TEDMED 2014. [Photo: Sandy Huffaker for TEDMED]

Who or what has been your main source of inspiration that drives you to innovate?

Necessity was the mother of invention, and serendipity the father. We sought to develop an outcome measure for a clinical trial for severely injured vegetative patients when we developed the eye-tracking algorithm that we subsequently realized could detect concussion. We had expected to use the eye-tracking algorithm to calculate how well people could pay attention and fixate their gaze, but then were surprised to find that it actually showed us what was wrong with the brain. Now that we have discovered this technology, we understand its implications: it enables us to detect previously ‘invisible’ brain injury. We are inspired, driven even, to innovate and make this technology available to everyone who has sustained trauma. We can help people who previously would not have had objective measures indicating brain injury.

Why does your talk matter now? What do you hope people learn from your talk?

My talk is not so much about brain injury directly as it is about a moment of discovery – the rare shock of finding something remarkable and considering its implications, then the doubt, and the concern about artifact. And then, the gradual realization that we have discovered something real and potentially extremely helpful for humankind. I hope people who hear my talk are inspired to work hard and make their own discoveries.

What is the legacy you want your work to leave?

Brain injury is the single greatest cause of death and disability for Americans under the age of 35 years of age. By creating a biomarker and outcome measure for injury, we can test treatments and therapies and also evaluate prophylactics such as helmets. The true measure of our success will be its utility: to other researchers, to clinicians and to the people who sustain injury.

Reimagining an old technology: Q&A with Drew Lakatos

Engineer and entrepreneur Drew Lakatos, CEO of ActiveProtective, created a smart garment that uses airbag technology to protect the elderly from hip fractures when they fall. We caught up with Drew and learned more about his work and experience at TEDMED 2014.

Reimagining

Reimagining an old technology. Drew Lakatos, TEDMED 2014. Photo: Sandy Huffaker for TEDMED.

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

We are introducing a new technology (that repurposes an old one) that most people will scratch their heads the first time they hear or see it.  Only after studying the problem, as well as its size and scope, does it become clear that there really is no other way to prevent hip fractures in the frail elderly.  By sharing it at TEDMED, we hope to raise awareness and begin familiarizing it as an intuitive treatment for those at highest risk.

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

This talk matters now because of the seismic shift required to shift our “sick-care” system to a “healthcare” one by introducing, proving, and promoting preventive technologies that can completely avoid these tragic, expensive, death-sentence episodes of injury.

What were the top TEDMED2014 talks that left an impression with you?

I was shaken watching Marc Koska’s hidden video of a healthcare worker sharing needles of HIV+ patients. I was moved by Debra Jarvis’ warmth and honesty, and inspired by her heartfelt talk. I was touched, confused, and still processing Bob Carey’s Tutu Project. I don’t know where to store the images in my head, and loved his raw honesty.

How ultrasound became a disruptive innovation

Resa Lewiss, Director of Point-of-Care Ultrasound and Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and Radiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, unlocked imaginations about ultrasound applications in her talk at TEDMED2014. She explained why and how ultrasound at the bedside has become a game changer for clinical care.

She recently took a moment from her duties in Denver to share more about her work and impressions of TEDMED.

Resa Lewiss: How Ultrasound Has Become a Disruptive Innovation

Reas Lewiss at TEDMED2014. Photo by Sandy Huffaker for TEDMED

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

I attended TEDMED2013 in Washington DC. I was inspired by the people, the space and the vision of TEDMED. I believe that the arts inspire creativity and innovation. And innovation begets innovation. I live the aphorism mens sana in corpore sano, [a sound mind in a sound body]. TEDMED does too.

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

This talk will hopefully deconstruct healthcare silos. Point-of-care in partnership with ultrasound can be a concept that is difficult to comprehend. I hope to have connected the dots between the technology and the resultant improvement in patient care- for health care providers, people in tech and people in the world. The safety profile, time efficiency and cost effectiveness are self-evident.

Tell us about the top 3 TEDMED2014 talks or performances that left an impression with you.

Jill Vialet: Sobering reminder for ourselves and loved ones. Play is healthy.

Barbara Natterson-Horowitz: Back to basics, obvious and inherent and yet never quite articulated in this way before.

Bob Carey: Honest and emotional. Much respect for his willingness to show his vulnerability; a sobering performance.

Robin Guenther: She hit it on the head. Who is looking out for the healing and healers? Thank goodness she is. Mens sana in corpore sano.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

One of quality, integrity, justice, honesty, excellence, and mindfulness.

Contact Resa to learn more about how to encourage point-of-care ultrasound curricula integration at all medical schools and for all providers.

Resa Lewiss at TEDMED2014. Photo by Sandy Huffaker for TEDMED.

Perspectives: The upside of early innovation

What kind of corporate culture makes innovation inevitable?

Thomas Graham, M.D., Chief of Cleveland Clinic Innovations, and Vinay Gidwaney, co-founder and Chief Product Officer of DailyFeats — two who should know — talked with Lisa Witter as part of Perspectives, a series of conversations with thought leaders  co-produced by TEDMED and Fenton Studios and filmed at TEDMED 2012.

Achieving more medical innovation, more affordably is also one of TEDMED’s Great Challenges in health and medicine. The Challenges are persistent issues that demand collective understanding and discussion for management. Join this effort and help shape the future by sharing your thoughts now.