Idea Generation

This is an interesting write up from Steve Altman. I don’t know who he is, but it was being discussed on the Hacker News forum so he might be some VC pushing out his wisdom for the larger world.

VC’s are the front ends for wealthy individuals who wish to take “risks”. The vision fund was one example, and I’d be really punching above my weight if I call it as an unmitigated disaster. Startups are fine, but they don’t represent the “groundbreaking innovation”. A few outliers lie above the graveyard and it is not surprising to see starry eyed individuals rolling in cash, provided you know how to pitch.

However, I wouldn’t just waive off excellent ideas as the historically uptight “grant committes” could take a leaf out from the startup world. Science is inherently risky. If the claims are “too good to be true”, well they aren’t. Past success in publications or metrics or the h-index is NO marker for the success.

I have been looking at the “idea generation” lab for myself where any idea, howsoever crazy, would be entertained. The way forward in medicine (and technology) is a healthy overlap, but not subsuming either. This balancing act has to be understood with its nuances.

Do we need the “right kind of environment”. Yes, and that’s a matter of serendipity. That’s why I have been pushing for “creativity and curiosity driven science” mated to clinical outcomes. It is difficult.

It’s important to be in the right kind of environment, and around the right kind of people. You want to be around people who have a good feel for the future, will entertain improbable plans, are optimistic, are smart in a creative way, and have a very high idea flux. These sorts of people tend to think without the constraints most people have, not have a lot of filters, and not care too much what other people think. 

Idea Generation – Sam Altman

There’s another excellent takeaway from here:

Finally, a good test for an idea is if you can articulate why most people think it’s a bad idea, but you understand what makes it good.

Combinatorial medicine (if I can call it) is a better idea than catch-all marketing term “personalised medicine” which requires a complex interplay of various disciplines. The problem with start-ups is that they create nothing “valuable”. Their paper valuation drives wealth, but the true idea of innovation should percolate down to masses.