The COSMOS Connection

 In Blog

We live in a complex world.   Technology is all around us, industries are evolving faster than ever, and the pace of innovation is almost daunting.

It feels a bit like Ferris Bueller’s classic line “life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I think we all feel at times as if the world is spinning too fast, and the rules of the game have become too hard to follow, that it’s harder than ever to succeed at whatever you’re trying to do, especially when you’re trying to do something new.

Almost two years ago, I began to immerse myself in trying to understand cancer. Even though I had spent the last 20 years deploying technology across many industries (printing, logistics, media, local commerce, manufacturing), this was an entirely new world for me.

Everything about it was new. I had to learn a new language as physicians rarely speak English when it comes to discussing patients. I had to learn entirely new fields of study, like biology and chemistry, at a level that would at least allow me to engage with the top minds in the field. I had to learn the nuances of giant industries, like healthcare and pharmaceuticals and insurance.

It hasn’t been easy (as it never is) but the more you submerge yourself the easier it becomes over time. That said, there is one trick to learning something new that has helped me more than anything else over time, it’s basically my secret weapon:  talk to anyone and everyone that can teach you something new.

At Tempus, even now, I spend an incredible amount of time talking to people – oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, surgeons, nurses, computational biologists, bioinformaticians, researchers, administrators, pharmacologists, insurance providers, and so on.

The more I talk to people and engage with others who have domain expertise, the more I absorb; a bit like osmosis.

And there is no better way to find people to connect with than to look for opportunities to collaborate.

One of the ways to encourage collaboration is to build and promote community. I’ve lived in Chicago for nearly two decades and we are known for a number of things: top universities, great museums and theater, incredible food, a vibrant downtown, the Cubs, and these days more and more a growing tech community (thanks to companies like Groupon, Grubhub and Uptake and incubators like 1871).

There are countless reasons that we should also be known for our contribution to healthcare, but we must first build a stronger and more innovative healthcare community in order for that to happen. We have all the ingredients needed for the ecosystem to thrive: world class medical schools, top ranked hospitals and physicians, large pharmaceutical companies in our backyard.  The only thing missing is technology.

When we started InnerWorkings in 2001, Chicago didn’t have much of a tech community, and too often our most talented technology grads flocked to the coasts.  By 2008, when we started Groupon, the exodus of talent had begun to subside.  By giving people a reason to stay (jobs, the prospect of more interesting projects and a sense of community) companies like Groupon helped create a community that is flourishing today.

This is precisely what the Chicago healthcare industry needs to do with computational scientists and other technologists who want to invest the time to learn what I have learned and help drive innovation in the field.

Technology has transformed every industry and every part of our lives, and its impact on healthcare in inevitable and will, I believe, have an unimaginable impact on our lives.

It’s in our collective interest to build a health-tech community that is rooted right here in Chicago. That is the thought behind a Meetup group called COSMOS, comprised of computational biologists, bioinformaticians and those specializing in the analysis and/or computation of molecular data, to network and strengthen community. Too often, these men and women aren’t integrated into the larger healthcare community and they should be.

If we hope to tackle a disease that has been around since the dawn of humanity, we need all of the best minds we can get collaborating and learning from each other. And we need to embrace technology and put our best software engineers and data scientists right next to doctors, working hand in hand to deliver the benefits of technology to the patient’s they’re serving.

It might seem daunting, but the first step is manageable – just reach out to someone, ask them a question, and learn something new. It’s how some of the best collaborations, and partnerships, begin.

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