Predictability and Innovation

Part of my immediate inspiration for starting this blog to talk about the relationship between business, chance and science comes from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and I owe him a debt of gratitude.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship between cognition, chance, evolution and innovation ever since I started studying science, philosophy and biology some 25 years ago.

Kaleb, a trader, synthesized some of these same ideas better than I could hope to in a laugh out loud, no holds barred, best-selling book, Fooled by Radomness. The book, which I “borrowed” from my wife’s uncle, led me to believe that I probably have something to say about these topics with my experience and knowledge in neuroscience, knowledge management and technology.

Appropriately, by chance a couple of weeks ago, just in time for my 40th birthday, I had the opportunity to talk on a panel with the president of Johns Hopkins University, Dr. William Brody. The keynote talk he gave at the conference, the 5th Sino-US Symposium on Medicine in the 21st Century, was about Innovation in Medical Science and Healthcare, and the majority of his talk was based on the ideas put forward by Taleb in Fooled by Randomness (Dr. Brody was so inspired after reading the book that he immediately contacted him to have lunch). And I had just finished the same book a week earlier and went the the conference with it the ideas fresh in my mind.

Dr. Brody’s talk mostly covered how the lone scientist can improve his odds. While he didn’t discuss how new collaborative technologies (Web 2.0) are driving innovation (which I think misses the point a little), he gave some great examples of the kinds of biases we all maintain in our decision -making. He also talked about how much of science is pure luck combines with being open to new opportunities, going against the grain and keeping an open mind.

Anway, I’ll let Taleb speak for himself. You can read a good synopsis of Taleb’s views on science, randomness and innovation in this Forbes article he wrote.