President of the Salk Institute
Title of Keynote Lecture: Uncommon Sense or Common Non-sense: Great ideas that would never work
Most often we look at historic events through the lens of past achievements. The phrase - “The history books are written by the victors of wars” - applies as well to technologic innovation. Rarely do we look at the process of innovation prospectively.
The purpose of this talk is to illustrate common fallacies in overreaching or under estimating the potential value of new inventions. Successful entrepreneurs attempt to credit their success to their intellect, creativity and drive to succeed, while those whose ideas or companies fail often attribute their lack of success due to external factors. In fact, in both cases, luck can play a major role in the success or failure of an idea, an invention, or a company.
Although there are not good statistics on the subject, our ability to predict winners or losers is not very good, and one author indicates that the probability of success for a start-up is around 30-35%, although the figure may be even lower as the total net returns for venture capital in the years between 2000 and 20010 were negative.
Some examples of errors of judgment that under or overestimated the chance of success for a new invention or innovation include:
- Luck – good or bad. Some innovations (e.g., coronary stents) succeed for entirely different applications that were intended by the inventor. Likewise, some truly great ideas fail because of market factors – e.g., failure to gain approval from Medicare for reimbursement – that are not under the control of the inventor or company developing the product.
- An idea predicted to fail might actually succeed because although the analysis predicting failure was correct given a set of assumptions, one or more of the assumptions was actually not true. Magnetic resonance imaging illustrates this situation.
- People may successfully innovate in their field but then become fixated on their solution and fail to recognize new opportunities when they become available. Cardiac surgeons developed the coronary artery bypass operation but failed to recognize the potential of balloon angioplasty and completely missed the opportunity.
- An idea that would appear to have little application becomes highly successful when enabled by a second innovation. Coronary angiography was thought to have little clinical utility until the coronary bypass operation was developed.
The purpose of this presentation is to provide examples that illustrate how flawed is our ability to predict the success or failure of new inventions. The author will present factors that bias our thinking with some specific examples from medical devices.
William R. Brody, President of the Salk Institute, is an acclaimed physician scientist. He was the 13th president of The Johns Hopkins University. Immediately prior to assuming that position, Dr. Brody was the provost of the Academic Health Center at the University of Minnesota. From 1987 to 1994, he was the Martin Donner Professor and director of the Department of Radiology, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins, and radiologist-in-chief of The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
A native of Stockton, California, Dr. Brody received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his M.D. and Ph.D., also in electrical engineering, from Stanford University. Following post-graduate training in cardiovascular surgery and radiology at Stanford, the National Institutes of Health and the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Brody was professor of radiology and electrical engineering at Stanford University (1977-1986). He has been a co-founder of three medical device companies, and served as the president and chief executive officer of Resonex Inc. from 1984 to 1987. He has over 100 publications and two U.S. patents in the field of medical imaging and has made contributions in medical acoustics, computed tomography, digital radiography and magnetic resonance imaging.
Dr. Brody serves as a trustee of The Commonwealth Fund and of the Baltimore Community Foundation. He serves on the board of directors of IBM. He is a member of the executive committee of the Council on Competitiveness, the International Academic Advisory Committee, Singapore, and the FBI’s National Security Higher Education Advisory Board. He formerly served on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, on the board of the Minnesota Orchestra Association, and on the Corporation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dr. Brody is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Engineering, and a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the American College of Radiology, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, the International Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, the American Institute of Biomedical Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.