web analytics
CONFERENCE
Dent explores the magic and science of visionary leadership and groundbreaking success... Learn more about dent
VIDEO

REQUEST AN INVITATION

BLOG

Studying Alzheimer’s Disease in a Petri Dish

by Teresa on October 20, 2014

brainpuzzleThe eponymous ship in Star Trek: Voyager featured a 24th century technological innovation: bio-neural gel packs. “The gel packs formed the basis of the bio-neural circuitry, which was essentially an organic computer system. The packs contained neural fibers surrounded in a blue gel with metallic interfaces on the top and bottom. They helped store more information and operated at faster speeds than isolinear circuitry.”

This was the first thing I thought of when I read about the breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research, wherein researchers grow brain cells in a special gel and then introduce the gene for Alzheimer’s:

The key to their success, said the lead researcher, Rudolph E. Tanzi ofMassachusetts General Hospital in Boston, was a suggestion by his colleague Doo Yeon Kim to grow human brain cells in a gel, where they formed networks as in an actual brain. They gave the neurons genes for Alzheimer’s disease. Within weeks they saw the hard Brillo-like clumps known as plaques and then the twisted spaghetti-like coils known as tangles — the defining features of Alzheimer’s disease.

The work, which also offers strong support for an old idea about how the disease progresses, was published in Nature on Sunday. Leading researchers said it should have a big effect.

“It is a giant step forward for the field,” said Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Duke University. “It could dramatically accelerate testing of new drug candidates.”

Of course, a petri dish is not a brain, and the petri dish system lacks certain crucial components, like immune system cells, that appear to contribute to the devastation once Alzheimer’s gets started. But it allows researchers to quickly, cheaply and easily test drugs that might stop the process in the first place. The crucial step, of course, will be to see if drugs that work in this system stop Alzheimer’s in patients.

=================

Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

{ 0 comments }

Looking for Dents in Unforeseen Places

by Teresa on October 17, 2014

possibleIn a recent Grand Challenge – a contest of sorts, where a grant is promised to all comers for a promising new approach to a problem – an auto mechanic came up with a method of saving the lives of mothers and babies during complicated births:

Mechanic Jorge Odon came up with an invention using a folded plastic sleeve pumped up with air to pop the baby out — an idea inspired by a party trick Odon saw onYouTube for getting a cork out of an empty wine bottle with a plastic bag.

As with Odon, solutions sometimes come from unlikely places. In another Grand Challenge, a Columbia University Astrophysicist received a grant to work on a promising new method for protecting human being from mosquito-borne diseases. 

USAID has recently issued a $5 Million Grand Challenge to help combat Ebola in West Africa: more breathable hazmat suits. The current models get so hot that they can only be worn for 20-30 minutes at a stretch in the tropical heat. They will begin accepting ideas immediately.

===============

Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

{ 0 comments }

Denter of the Week: Eric Ng

by Teresa on October 16, 2014

EricNgEach week from now through December, we’ll pose several short questions to a member of the Dent family and share their answers with you. This week’s featured Denter is Eric Ng, VP of Marketing for smart transportation startup Via

Say it in a sentence: Whether you’ve met your biggest goal or it’s still ahead of you, how would you like to be known for having dented the universe?
I’d hope to be known for bringing together people to solve problems, small and large.

What would I know about you after we’d worked together for a year?
When developing brand positioning or shepherding creative projects, I like to gather a lot of input and take opposing sides. The process is messy, but if I’m doing it right, the results are focused and clear.

What world-changing innovation from history do you find most interesting or inspirational?
Of course, there are too many to list. A topical one: Toilets. They’re deceptively simple as they elegantly hide the complex infrastructure needed to run them effectively at scale. India’s PM Modi recently pledged to give all Indians access to toilets (2.5b people still live without proper sanitation, including 600M in India). We’re fortunate to have them.

What quality do you appreciate most in your colleagues?
I love their commitment to solving the existential problem of traffic/congestion, while at the same time, focusing on things that are more tangible, like creating an incredible customer experience. Plus, I like that they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Who else is doing interesting, universe-denting work right now?
Here’s someone famous who I don’t think gets nearly enough credit for innovation: Stephen Colbert (and his team). Things like his creation of a Super PAC and his approach to election sponsorships really extend well past the boundaries of satire. Sad that the character won’t be moving with him when he takes Letterman’s seat.

Question from previously featured Denter, Roem Baur: When you look in the mirror, what surprises you about yourself?
I’m surprised that I feel lucky to work on tough challenges.  In the fantasies of my youth, my future self would solve issues effortlessly—but I don’t want that today.

What question would you like to ask next week’s featured Denter?
If failing is a key to success, what was one of your most substantive failures and what did you learn from it?

================

Eric Ng recently joined Via as VP of Marketing. Via is an On-Demand Transit system offering rides in truly shared, premium vehicles for low flat fares. To accomplish this, Via developed an algorithm that routes vehicles more effectively than anyone ever before, and supports it with a great customer experience.

Prior to Via, Eric was VP and Head of Marketing for IMG Worldwide. There, he developed proprietary methodologies for building the brands of culturally significant events and celebrities—including work for NCAA/College Sports, Novak Djokovic, The Indian Premier League, Danica Patrick, X-Games and many others. He was also responsible for building and repositioning IMG’s own brand. In 2014, WME and Silverlake acquired IMG. Earlier in his career, Eric managed advertising accounts at TBWA\Chiat\Day and in 1995, co-founded Student.Com, a startup that was backed by AT&T and others.

Eric is currently the Chairman of ioby.org, a crowdresourcing non-profit. He is a graduate of Yale University, and occasionally writes about branding and marketing at BrandNg.com.

Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

{ 0 comments }

Tackling Clotting Problems with Biomimicry

by Teresa on October 15, 2014

pitcherplant

Human beings have long been using biomimicry, the act of imitating processes and materials found elsewhere in nature, to solve many of our pressing problems and to move technology forward. When it comes to the problem of blood clotting in patients using pacemakers or during kidney dialysis, the answer may be found in a carnivorous plant:

A carnivorous plant has inspired an invention that may turn out to be a medical lifesaver.

Nepenthes, also known as tropical pitcher plants or monkey cups, produce a superslippery surface that causes unfortunate insects that climb into the plant to slide to their doom.

Scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering wondered if they could find a way to mimic that surface to solve [the blood clotting problem].

The Harvard scientists wondered if they could find a coating that would have the same properties as the nepenthe’s slippery surface; something that could be applied to tubing or devices that come in contact with blood.

As they report in the journal Nature Biotechnology, they tested man-made materials known as perfluorocarbons, searching for one that would have the same characteristics as the nepenthe’s coating. As luck would have it, they found one called perfluorodecalin which was already being used in medical applications.

The researchers tested the coating in pigs. They diverted blood coming from a pig’s heart through a loop of tubing before returning it the pig’s blood supply. They compared tubes with the new coating, and without. Blood flow through the coated tubes remained virtually constant over the 8 hours of the experiment, whereas clots formed in tubing without the coating, substantially slowing blood flow with time.

===============

Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

{ 0 comments }

traumaWhen we think of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the first image that comes to mind is of a soldier returning from war; but while combat does indeed often produce PTSD, it’s not the only way that people develop the life-changing disorder.

A deepening understanding of how a wide variety of traumatic experiences can result in changes in both brain and behavior has yielded a new category of proposed PTSD diagnosis: Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or C-PTSD:

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has not yet been listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, so it is not technically an official diagnosis. Yet most therapists agree that prolonged or repeated exposure to trauma causes a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that is more disabling and results in symptoms that are more numerous and often of greater intensity than those caused by a single trauma.

C-PTSD differs from what we think of as “regular” PTSD in cause, severity, and symptoms:

An individual can develop “simple” post-traumatic stress from a single traumatizing event, such as a serious car accident. The development of complex PTSD requires more protracted and severe trauma. Additionally, it is more likely to occur when the repeated traumas were interpersonal and occurred early in life.

Survivors of totalitarian regimes, torture victims, prisoners of war, religious cult survivors, and victims of concentration camps or child pornography/prostitution are especially prone to the development of complex PTSD symptoms. Children or spouses who have been severely abused over long periods of time are also likely to exhibit the disease, even if they block some or all of the abuse out of their consciousness.

Researchers are continuing to examine complex trauma; both its causes and potential treatments. As they do so, changes may take place in the way that clinicians conduct differential diagnosis. It seems that many cases of Complex PTSD are misdiagnosed as either Borderline Personality Disorder or Bipolar II because they share many features.

Some want to go a step further in re-categorizing a variety of mental health issues. Dr. John Briere, a Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at USC, has argued that the vast majority of mental disorders are really the result of some form of childhood trauma. “If we could somehow end child abuse and neglect,” says Briere, “the eight hundred pages of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual would be shrunk to a pamphlet in two generations.”

Given the human and economic cost of mental illnesses (mental health-related absences cost American businesses more than $23 billion dollars each year), getting to a clearer understanding of the causes and treatments for mental illness in general, and trauma in particular, should be on everyone’s radar.

===============

Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

 

{ 0 comments }

thepillThe birth control pill, which put a dent not just in science and medicine, but in the dynamics of human interaction, has a new biography out.

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution, by Jonathan Eig, is available now from W.W. Norton & Company. The book tells the thrilling, but often ethically compromised story of birth control rabble rouser Margaret Sanger, suffragette Katharine McCormick, controversial researcher Gregory Pincus, and physician John Rock – as they developed the most impactful invention of the modern age.

NPR has a terrific interview with Eig that does not skirt some of the shadier details of the group’s work:

There’s a lot of lying in this process of creating the first oral contraceptive. That’s what they have to do. You can really have a wonderful ethical discussion and debate about whether it was worth it, whether they were doing things that were beyond the bounds. The laws and the ethics of science were very different in the 1950s than they are today — you didn’t have to give informed consent, you didn’t have to have anybody sign forms giving away their rights, telling them about what these experiments are for. So in a way, we do have women being treated like lab animals so that we may find a form of birth control that frees them. There’s a great irony there.

This is the first pill ever created for healthy women to take every day. There’s never been anything like this and the idea of seeking FDA approval for something women are going to take every day without studying it for years and years and checking out the long-term side effects, this is scary stuff! But Pincus also feels like he’s racing the clock, that if the word gets out about this and the Catholic Church and the federal government realize what they’re doing, the opposition will mount and he’ll have no chance of getting it through.

It’s one of the great bluffs in scientific history. [Pincus] knows that he has the science. He’s not sure that it’s really ready; he hasn’t tested it on nearly enough women. His partner John Rock is saying, “Don’t you dare announce that we’re ready to do this yet. If you do, I’m out.” He’s furious with Pincus. But Pincus does it anyway. He realizes that they’ve got some momentum and they need to keep it going, this whole thing could fall apart if too much opposition is raised.

The lesson here, and it should be taken with more than a heaping grain of salt, is that sometimes universe denting work often requires some corner-cutting; and even some downright unethical behavior.

What do you think? Did the ends justify the means when it came to the creation of the pill? What lessons can we glean from the daring actions of this revolutionary group?

===============

Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

 

{ 0 comments }

The Incongruous, Improbable Creative Personality

by Teresa on October 10, 2014

childd

Fast Company has a great article on the paradoxical traits of creative personalities based on the work of psychology professor and noted creativity expert Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that rang true for me as both an artist and a geek.

Here are a few of my favorites:

2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time.

“It involves fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas. These are the dimensions of thinking that most creativity tests measure and that most workshops try to enhance.”

To create, you need both wisdom and innocence; you must be able to approach a problem with a beginner’s mind, but with something truthful and relatable and human to say.

5. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted.

We’re usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.

Performers especially seem to exhibit this trait in my experience; we’re very good at being bright and bubbly and connected with those around us, but we also need lots of alone time to recharge our batteries.

7. Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid gender role stereotyping.

When tests of masculinity and femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.

Rigid categories of any type don’t fit creative souls; and this goes for gender as well.

10. Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment.

“Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.”

Robert Scoble asked a very insightful question about this at Dent 2014: “why is it that so much beauty comes from painful stories?” Creativity seems to be the child of human suffering and our immense will to heal.

===============

Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

 

{ 0 comments }

Denter of the Week: Noah Iliinsky

by Teresa on October 9, 2014

noahEach week from now through December, we’ll pose several short questions to a member of the Dent family and share their answers with you. This week’s featured Denter is Noah Iliinsky, an internationally recognized expert in the growing field of data visualization. He is the author of Designing Data Visualizations, and the technical editor of, and a contributor to, Beautiful Visualization, both published by O’Reilly Media.

Say it in a sentence: Whether you’ve met your biggest goal or it’s still ahead of you, how would you like to be known for having dented the universe?
I hope people think my teaching and tools helped them be better at what they do.

What would I know about you after we’d worked together for a year?
I have many strong opinions that I’m not very attached to; show me some evidence and I’ll change my mind and be glad to have learned something. Also, I’m not very punctual.

What fault in others do you have the most patience for?
I’m pretty tolerant of a lot of faults, as long as you are interested in learning and your heart is in the right place.

What natural talent would you most like to be gifted with and why?
Time management. I’m envious of those who seem to organize everything effortlessly.

Who else is doing interesting, universe-denting work right now?
No question, Bret Victor is doing the most interesting thinking about interfaces and how humans build technology to interact with  humans in constructive ways. In the past year I’ve seen many ideas he wrote about in 2006 implemented by Google, etc. He’s a true polymath, visionary, and historian of interface, and he cares deeply about making things better.

Question from last week’s featured Denter, Roem Baur: When you look in the mirror, what surprises you about yourself?
I never expected to end up working in software; I thought I’d end up designing physical things. Also, I never suspected I’d end up in management, but I’m loving it.

===============

Noah Iliinsky strongly believes in the power of intentionally crafted communication. He has spent the last several years researching, writing, and speaking about best practices for designing visualizations, informed by his professional experience developing software, undergraduate work in the sciences, and graduate work in user experience and interaction design. He is a frequent speaker and instructor in both industry and academic contexts. His designs and trainings have been used by organizations including Barclay’s Wealth, Boeing, Corbis, The CIA, The Gates Foundation, IBM, O’Reilly Media, UIE, and VMware.

Author’s Disclaimer: I am married to Noah. In addition to being a great thought leader, he is a terrific husband.

Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

{ 0 comments }

Drs. May-Britt and Edvard I. Moser are newly minted Nobel laureates along with their mentor Dr. John O’Keefe. The committee honored them for their discovery of the specific cells, now known as “grid cells,” that are responsible for representing the three-dimensional map that the brain makes as it travels through a space.

But the Mosers didn’t set out to find these cells. Instead, they were working to build on an earlier discovery of O’Keefe’s - the so-called “place cells,” which are specific cells that are tied to a particular location:

The Mosers wanted to find how information was flowing to the place cells, whether it was going from one area of the hippocampus to another. But even after they inactivated sections of this brain area, the place cells still functioned. So it seemed that information was flowing in from the nearby brain area, the entorhinal cortex.

“We didn’t immediately find the grid cells,” Dr. Edvard Moser said. At first they noticed cells that would emit a signal every time a rat went to a particular spot, and they thought that perhaps this was something like the place cells in the hippocampus that are tied to locations in the outside world. But gradually they learned that what they were seeing was a cell that tracked the rat’s movement in the same way, no matter where the rat was. The cell was not responding to some external mark, it was keeping track of how the rat moved. And when they gave the rats enough room, a very regular pattern emerged.

“The first thing was that we thought there was something wrong with the equipment,” Dr. Edvard Moser said.

“I thought, ‘Is this a bug?’ ” Dr. May-Britt Moser said.

We often ask one another what dent we hope to be remembered for making; but it seems a constant of the human condition that when you ask one question, you usually end up answering an entirely different one in the course of your search. It is useful to remember, as we each muddle through seeking what we want most deeply, that happy accidents can lead to great things as well.

================

Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

{ 0 comments }

A recent post in Fast Company highlights the increasing popularity of “giving while living” styles of charity:

The current class of high-profile wealthy elite, people like Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg, are giving away money earlier in their life than their predecessors. Some are setting up their donations or foundations in a way that their funds won’t last for generations.

They’re using a foundation type called a “Limited life foundation,” which sets a time horizon by which the entire endowment must be spent and the nonprofit foundation itself must be shut down. It’s a very cool outlook on charity and giving that I think aligns with the attitude of many tech elite: succeed on merit, enable others to do so as well.

It’s certainly a “first world problem,” but I do think it presents a Brewster’s Millions type of challenge: how can an organization possible spend billions of dollars effectively in a 40-60 year time frame?

{ 0 comments }