Jordan Silberman, MAPP '06 is an MD/PhD student at the University of Rochester where he studies neuroeconomics—the neural basis of decision making. He is currently developing a technique in which brain-computer interface technology is used to promote neural activity that may facilitate self-controlled behavior. Jordan has published articles on psychology, pediatric palliative care, health care communication, bioethics, and proteomics. Full bio.
Jordan's articles for Positive Psychology News Daily are here.
They weren’t Ph. Ds. They didn’t have millions in NIH grants, or access to well-oiled research and development labs. In fact, neither Augusto nor Michaela Odone had even a basic background in biology. Despite their lack of resources, the couple landed a spot in history; they are known for developing a treatment that successfully halts the progression of adrenoleukodystrophy.Although they lacked the resources that are typically required to achieve such a breakthrough, the Odones did have an unfathomably urgent need to find a cure for their son’s purportedly terminal illness. It was this necessity that drove them to achieve a feat previously deemed impossible by medical “experts.” In less than five years, they accomplished what typically requires an army of researchers, millions in grant funding, and decades of researchers’ time.
For me, this feat catalyzed two questions:
- What can we learn from them?
- What can we learn from learning from them?
What can we learn from them?
Given that the Odones accomplished far more with far less than most professional labs, one question is obvious: How did their methods differ from standard research protocols? Did they forego low-yield research steps? Did their lack of pre-conceived notions about pharmaceutical treatment lead them down a unique path? What can researchers learn from their non-pill-centric approach?
What can we learn from learning from them?
In scrutinizing the Odones’ approach, we are seeking strategies that arose when challenges required off-the-chart effectiveness. The Odones needed to find a treatment far faster than treatments are typically developed, so they found a much faster approach to treatment development.
We can, of course, identify circumstance-necessitated uber-effective strategies even when we are not facing intense challenges. Why just mimic those who have endured typical levels of challenge? Why not instead learn from those who–because they faced seemingly insurmountable challenge–were forced to find strategies that are far more effective?
A few examples from my own life may elucidate this process. As a medical student, I’m forced to memorize massive amounts of information. Maybe I should look to winners of international memory competitions for advice. To maintain balance in my life as a med student, maybe I should seek the advice of or mimic somebody who balances far greater demands on their time. Why should I settle for solutions developed in response to modest challenges, when I can seek solutions developed under circumstances that required far greater effectiveness?
I’d love comments. How have you used, or how might you be able to use, “necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention strategies?” In what aspects of your life-central or peripheral-can you find somebody who was forced to find a far more effective approach? Looking forward to your thoughts.