If an expert says it’s impossible, he’s not an expert

Nothing in the following blog post is original. The purpose of this post is to get people to watch yet another of the videos from the Exponential Medicine website, specifically the one called “We are innovating what?”.

This video, like others from the same conference, is short and to the point. Almost every sentence spoken has an important message. I will do my best to summarize some of the key points noted in this video, but I will not do it justice. Please take the time to watch the video and possibly gain a perspective that is critical to success.

Years ago, Apple, and specifically Steve Jobs, came up with a commercial, that only overtly linked back to Apple in the final few seconds, by displaying the Apple logo. The commercial’s title was “Think different” and it really did demonstrate the unique focus of Apple. No one can deny that, at least as long as Steve Jobs was alive, Apple saw things differently, and managed to create products that were much more an innovation of thought than technology. The iPhone changed the world and will one day probably be recognized as the event that finally gave the developing world a chance to rise up out of poverty. The message in this video from the Exponential Medicine conference is fundamentally the same, and is just as valuable.

The speaker in the video brings a quote at one point which effectively states that experts are the ones who tell you why something can’t be done. I personally often quote an old tech saying that “software is never complete. Either the project runs out of time or money”. Actually, I usually paraphrase this and say “nothing is impossible. It’s just a question of time and/or money”. I’ve shared this quote with a great number of people/companies, and I’m always surprised by their reaction to the concept that “impossible” is a relative term. Ever since the landing on the moon, which was orchestrated with technology that is dwarfed by the supercomputers we carry in our pockets, I personally believe that the absolute nature of impossible should no longer be accepted.

As a side point, which is just a wonderful example of the concept of impossible, I recently saw a documentary based on Dr. Stephen Hawking, and the concept of things simply popping into existence was reclassified within the realm of our reality. The following article is an excellent summary of this issue,  and once again does a far better job of explaining the issue than I could. What I actually find somewhat funny about this physical possibility of “something from nothing”, which some claim demonstrates the lack of a need for G-d in the creation process, is that it parallels the description of the birth of existence as described in the Bible. In Genesis, there is the clear statement that G-d commanded that there be light and there was light. I am not sure how else you would describe the original singularity coming into existence and then the following Big Bang, to people from 3 1/2 thousand years ago.

One of the comments of the speaker in the video is that when faced with a difficulty within your own field of expertise, you should look to experts in other fields, who bring with them a totally different perspective. The speaker brings the example of the Apple stores that based their design, not on other brick-and-mortar stores, but on famous lavish hotels. The concept worked, and Apple stores more than justify their elaborate nature.

I know from my own experience that I would never have come up with some of the  critical ideas I have had, had I not trained in both computer science and medicine. Medicine focuses on memorization and following fixed protocols. When it comes to these protocols, I am sometimes reminded of the way in which knowledge, if you can call it that, was disseminated in the book “1984”. When there was a change in political status, it was as if this change was in fact the reality from time immemorial. To quote, “Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.”. In medicine, when new protocols are established, this becomes the new absolute truth. All doctors I know have at least once smirked when thinking of how medicine was practiced 100 years ago. And yet, at that time, the doctors were following the established protocols of that era.

Computer science was from day one more about hacking together a solution rather than building on existing knowledge. The entire world of technology has at its foundation, the need for innovation and change. In this day and age, you cannot even predict where technology will lead us beyond the next few years. This is one of the reasons that doctors struggle with technology – it is a constantly moving target. Doctors have been trained to know the answer to a given question. Technology has a tendency to answer questions  that we didn’t know we even had yet. In a classic example of this, Ford once noted that had he asked people what they want in order to improve travel, they would have said faster horses. Computer science is about thinking outside the box in almost every situation. Medicine is the box. The mix of these two perspectives yields a rather unique vision that has served me very well.

The speaker in the video presents yet another case of an individual without a medical nor an engineering background, who brought together five experts from different fields and had them hack a solution for 3-D printing artificial lower arms and hands. This hack not only worked, but was delivered to a location in Africa that had as yet never seen an iPad. This approach was so successful that the locals were able to take over the task of 3-D printing the parts for the artificial limbs and then, assembling the parts on their own. To say that this story is inspiring is a great understatement. It also demonstrates how a person with nothing more than drive can create realities just by getting people together who have different perspectives.

I strongly advise anyone in the startup world to watch this video. It may very well have the answers that you are looking for. If nothing else, it will reaffirm the belief that nothing is impossible anymore.

Thanks for listening

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.