Category Archives: Innovation


One of the privileges of doing cutting edge biomedical research is the opportunity to invent new technology or application that can quickly be translated in to a clinically available product for the benefit of all who may need it. I feel fortunate to have that opportunity working with Dr. Igor Efimov in his lab at George Washington University (GWU). As such, with the guidance from GWU technology commercialization office, we have filed for a US patent. On one side, patents guarantee the return of an inventor’s investment and profit and, on the other side, ensure availability — by patent disclosure — of the invention for the society when the patent terminates. As a scientist, I am more driven by the need to contribute to society, and less so to make a profit. Hopefully, this is the first step in that direction. More details about this technology can be found here

Jorge Soto – Future of early cancer detection

Jorge Soto in this intriguing TED Talk describes his team’s efforts in developing a diagnostic tool for early detection of cancer.  The highlights from his talk are:

  • The tool is minimally invasive as it requires 1ml of blood sample for analysis.
  • The tool is also designed to be affordable and inexpensive relative to time and money. It takes about an hour to complete blood analysis.
  • Finally, it claims higher accuracy compared to conventional approaches as it relies on microRNA as opposed to DNA assay testing for cancer detection.

Regardless of whether the tool and technique lives up to the claims, I applaud the focus, effort, and approach by his group to try and develop an accessible, affordable and high quality cancer detection tool.  We need to support and promote such groups and encourage others to do so. Innovation happens everywhere and when cultivated will benefit everyone.

Joi Ito: Want to innovate? Become a “now-ist”

An entertaining and educational TED Talk by Joi Ito (Director,  MIT Media Labs) about how innovation has evolved after the introduction of the internet.  Here are a few of the insights he shares:

  • Innovation has moved from the MBA model (create a business plan, acquire resources, hire engineers to build a product) to the Designer/Engineer model (build something first then focus on   funding and business plans). Think Agile model applied not only to software engineering, but other engineering fields as well including bioengineering, electronics etc.,
  • Pull vs Push.  Pull resources as and when you need them, rather than focusing on acquiring all the resources first.
  • Deploy or Die. All innovations have to make it into the real world, for it to count
  • Education is something others do to you. Learning is something you do to yourself.
  • Compass over map. Don’t try to plan out everything before hand.  One cannot account for everything and as a result, the effort will be expensive and inaccurate.  Instead, focus on the end goal and learn along the way.

I am  in lockstep with his ideas about innovation and would also add couple more to the list including:  Being curious and seeking to learn every day, and being flexible and adaptable to the ever changing environment.


Marvin Johnson – Art & Science of Creating Patents

Marvin Johnson is an acclaimed Scientist and a prolific inventor for Philips Petroleum with 327 patents issued to him over a career spanning half a century. In an interview with Fast Company, he shares his secrets for research creativity. Briefly,

1) Enjoy problem solving: As an engineer, he never met a problem he did not want to solve.
2) Focus on solving smaller research problems: His research revolved around solving smaller and more focused problems relying on his strengths of inquisitiveness, pragmatism and relentless perseverance.

“When I approach a problem, it’s not enough to discover the nature of the solution. I want to apply it. I know if I keep at it until I can describe everything with numbers and equations, then I will really understand it.”

3) Perspiration more than Inspiration: The research process entails primarily a diligent and patient approach to problem solving with eventual success, rather than expecting flash of genius to come up with brilliant solutions.

The entire interview can be accessed here

Max Mckeown – Adaptability

Deliberate adaptation is the key to a smarter future in this ever changing world.  The outcomes of adaptation or lack thereof could be positive or negative. However,  the author suggests that by recognizing the need for adaptation, understanding the rules of adaptation and doing what is necessary to adapt proactively leads to more options than otherwise would be available.

The rules of deliberate adaptation include:

1) Playing your own game –  Anticipating changing situations or possibilities thereof and seeking to act preemptively puts you in the position, where you are playing the game by your rules. On the flip side,  if you are reacting to a changing situation, you are already behind the 8-ball with fewer options available.

2) All failure is failure to adapt – “Failure” is in actuality failure to adapt.   You need to identify what adaptations are needed to succeed or survive and make the necessary adaptations.

3) Embrace unacceptable wisdom – When seeking to adapt,  don’t limit yourself to obvious options. If anything, seek out unconventional  ideas. They may provoke and increase your adaptive options

4) F**K with rules – Rules are based on experience and often valuable. Even so, when situations changes, those same rules may no longer hold true. Knowing when to break them is critical to successful adaptability

5) Stability is a dangerous illusion – Change is a constant, so any illusion of stability is just that. Trying to hold on to that illusion out of fear or complacency could be bad news for the future.  Rather than wait for situation to change, seek it out, anticipate and adapt.

6) Stupid survives until the smart succeeds – Science seeks to disprove its own theories in search of more and more useful theory. Similarly, the idea that “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”, runs counter to progress and  deliberate adaptation. The new way of looking at situation isn’t necessarily better than the old way, but to avoid new thinking is to limit effective adaptation.

The rules of adaptation:

  1. Play your own game
  2. All failure is failure to adapt
  3. Embrace unacceptable wisdom
  4. F**k with the rules
  5. Stability is a dangerous illusion
  6. Stupid survives until the smart succeeds
  7. Learning fast better than failing fast
  8. Plan B matters most
  9. Free radicals
  10. Think better together
  11. Get a kick-ass partner
  12. Never grow up
  13. Hierarchy is a fossil fuel
  14. Keep the ball
  15. Swerve and swarm
  16. Get your ambition on
  17. Always the beginning

7) Learning fast better than failing fast –  The point is not learn to fail, but to learn what works from failure.  The shift is from gaining insights to acting on it and learning until you get it right.

8) Plan B matters most – Adaptation is often initiated when the need is recognized, the nature of adaptation is understood and appropriate action taken.  There are often disastrous consequences for being late to adapt. Even so, successful adaptation depends on not so much on what has happened before, but on what can be imagined next.

9) Free the radicals – There are those who apply inherited knowledge to succeed. But a point comes when new knowledge needs to be created and that requires radical and sometimes divergent approach.  These knowledge creators, radicals if you will, are often instrumental in permitting effective adaptations.

10) Think better together – Improving collective ability to think is helpful to winning adaptation.  Moreover, motivating a collective to adapt does not need to start with majority support; it often starts with key individual(s) who lead the change culture and subsequently move the majority in to action.

11) Get a kick-ass partner – Effective adaptation is helped by having people with diverse skills and talents that can be leveraged into synergistic working relationships.

12) Never grow up – Most corporations become victims of their own success, grow stale and lose the edge that got them there in the first place. Successful adaptive companies stay forever young  constantly fanning the flames of curiosity and never grow up.

13) Hierarchy is  fossil fuel – Traditional corporate hierarchy as a structure resists constant learning and evolution in favor of  institutionalized self-interested behavior.  Obviously, this is counter to effective adaptation.

14) Keep the ball – If your adaptation becomes extremely successful, it then becomes the new industry standard.  That said, you and the competitors now get to the play the game by your rules.

15) Swerve and swarm – Efforts to bring attention to a particular situation and the need to adapt  can be a decisive factor in providing the impetus for change.

16) Get your ambition on – Ambition is a way of seeing the future that is possible. Any changes  and adaptations can only occur in the future; ambition is what gets us started.

17) Always the beginning –   Deliberate adaptation never ends.  In this context, if you are still in the game, then its always the beginning. Adaptation then is a never ending game, until you decide to quit.

It’s a great read and highlights the key element of successful careers and organization. The willingness of these people and organizations to  eschew status quo in favor of never-ending and deliberate adaptation to stay ahead of the game. You can learn more about the book and/or author here