Looking for innovation to solve a health crisis? Maybe we should engage the MD-Generation?

A couple of days ago I heard about another amazing example of a “child” showing us their own power of creativity to drive innovation and I thought about a recent experience playing a game with my son .  A child’s ability to create a hypothesis, test, and verify process is no less than an adults and it may be improved since they are not bridled by the fear of failure.  This year we have seen a couple of the most astonishing medical inventions come from work of teenagers!  How do we continue to create an environment where they are able to discover, explore, and create?  If their current pace of innovation continues maybe we will need to start referring to them as the MD-Generation?

Earlier this summer I was reminded of a simple fact from my 6 year old son: kids will try things, they will sometimes fail, and they won’t worry about it.  My son had discovered a new app for the iPad – Plants vs. Zombies.  The app was $2.99 and we normally would not let him download an app that wasn’t free.  But this time he was just so persistent and eventually he figured out a way to get what he wanted.  He suggested that he would pay us the $3 from his birthday money so that he could buy the app.  It was incredible to see how much he loved playing that game all summer long.  The strategy of the game is to use different types of plants to defend your house from different types of zombies before they break in and eat your brains.  Pretty simple really.

One day we were discussing a strategy for one of the levels and I had told him what my suggestion was for winning the level.  Like often happens, he didn’t want to hear any of it.  He just wanted to test his theory and he started placing his plants on the board.  I too could be persistent and again I shared my theory and this time I explained why I thought it was a better strategy.  He still wasn’t sold.  This was the classic determination that we have seen from this child for most of his life.  I may have thought I knew the “right” answer but he wasn’t interested in hearing it.  Instead he wanted to test his own hypothesis.  He may have failed but he didn’t care.  It was just a game and with a little persistence who knows maybe his theory would work too?

Back in May of this year a persistent 15 year old boy from Crownsville, MD won the grand prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.  He had lost an uncle to pancreatic cancer and he knew first hand how important early screening was.  He had worked daily with a researcher from John’s Hopkins University (with his mom driving him back and forth) to develop a “dip stick” like test that could detect cancer in a person’s blood or urine.  The test was over 90% accurate and was 28 times cheaper and faster than the current test or about $0.03 and a 5 minute wait.  For his innovation Jack Andraka won the $75,000 grand prize and the admiration of many.  When his mother was asked how Jack had become so creative she answered with her secret recipe.  When Jack would ask a question at home, she wouldn’t answer it.  Instead, she would ask him what he thinks, what his hypothesis was, and she would then tell him to go figure it out.  Brilliant… discovery through trial and error!  By the way, Jack’s test not only succeeds in identifying pancreatic cancer but it could also detect ovarian and lung cancer too.  (Link here)

Earlier this week we heard of another incredible story of medical invention coming out of Morristown, NJ.  Catherine Wong, a 17 year old, had created a prototype of a portable electrocardiogram (EKG) that can connect to a cell phone via Bluetooth and transmit the results over a cellular network.  Her invention won her a spot as a finalist in this year’s Goggle Science Fair and she placed first in a recent National Public Radio competition (Joe’s Big Idea).  The impact can be enormous for an invention like this because it uses inexpensive off the shelf parts to provide a solution to so many people in developing countries who don’t have access to hospitals or cannot afford treatment from doctors.  (Link here)

Food for thought:

  • Do you answer questions for your child (or your employees) or do you ask them to solve problems?
  • Are we patient with others to solve problems in their own way?
  • Do we enable others to test their hypothesis and possibly fail?  Or do we try to “protect” them from failure?

2 replies to “Looking for innovation to solve a health crisis? Maybe we should engage the MD-Generation?”

  1. E. Laramy | Sep 13, 2012, 12:41 pm

    Agreed! Perhaps more important than the “what” is the “how” in our learning process. Students stuck on tricky or even simple concepts often face teachers repeatedly forcing the same formula for learning on their attention. This brings to mind the saying “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.” Yet we all know of people who have taken varied and different approaches to provide insight to problems and concepts, insight that flips a switch and captures our desire to learn. IMO the desire to learn is what drives the success and it is that desire to learn that must be fed.

    Good stuff Matt.

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