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  • Writer's pictureDr. Elizabeth O'Day

Aha! Moments

Almost every discipline has its version of an “Aha!” moment. In science it is known as the “Eureka!” moment, when a sudden realization or insight leads to a new understanding or solution. In education, it is known as the “click” moment, when a student suddenly grasps a concept that they had previously struggled with. In the arts, it’s termed a “creative breakthrough,” when an artist or writer discovers a new approach leading to transformative work.

While the actual “Aha!” maybe be abrupt, and isolated to an individual (take the storied examples of an apple falling on Sir Isaac Newton’s head, leading him to develop the law of universal gravity, or Archimedes getting into the bathtub, observing the water displacement and discovering buoyancy), I believe that in the majority of cases, “Aha!” moments begin with bringing people together.

Bringing people together is a powerful force to exchange ideas. While studying at the University of Cambridge, I attended events at the Cambridge Union. Founded in 1815, the Cambridge Union is the oldest debating society in the world. In addition to debates, they also host lectures and panel discussions with prominent speakers (such as the Dalai Lama, US Presidents and politicians, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, UK Prime Ministers, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, actors and actresses, astronauts, and leading experts across multiple fields). I was in the audience for one of the Union’s now most famous debates between scientist/atheist Richard Dawkins FRS, FRSL and theologian, poet, and archbishop Rowan Williams PC, FBA, FRSL, FRLSW. The chamber energy was electrifying as these two experts debated the role (if any) for religion in the 21st century. While I don’t remember who technically won the debate, parts of this discussion have stayed with me forever, shaping my own view on religion and living with a moral code.

Bringing people together also fosters collaboration. The World Economic Forum is a multistakeholder organization of politicians, business leaders, and cross-discipline experts committed to improving the state of the world. Whether it always meets that lofty goal is beyond this blog, but having led several of their initiatives on advancing biotechnology and precision medicine to improve human health, I can testify that the Forum excels at bringing people together. Each year they host a series of global meetings under “Chatham House Rules”, which is a set of guidelines for openness and confidentiality, wherein participants are free to use the information that they obtain during the discussion but cannot disclose the identity or affiliation of the speaker. This allows frank and constructive discussion about sensitive topics and how to work together. In doing so, the Forum helped prevent a war between Greece and Turkey, witnessed the handshake that ended apartheid, launched a global alliance that has vaccinated 700 million children, and more. These world altering initiatives starting by getting people in the same room.

Finally, I believe bringing people together is the bedrock for innovation. Throughout the 1960s, a group of computer scientists met at conferences and seminars to discuss “connecting computer networks,” which eventually led to ARPANET, the precursor of the internet. Transistors, lasers, Unix, information theory and the C-programming language are all products of events that brought people together at the esteemed Bell Labs research institution. Even the gene editing tool CRISPR can be traced back to a 2011 conference in Puerto Rico. Innovations that are now a part of daily lives all started by bringing people together.

Olaris aims to develop innovative products that change the world. To accomplish this, we will need several “aha moments”, but first we will need to bring people together. This includes our team, as well as bringing in experts across multiple fields. We hope to create an environment that fosters curiosity, learning and working together. As part of this we just launched the 9/90 seminar series (which also celebrates our new location at the intersection of Rt 9 and Rt 90 in Metrowest Massachusetts). Our inaugural event was a panel discussion on the potential of “omics” technology to revolutionize biomedicine. Experts from genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, data science, and biopharma had an honest and open discussion about what omics can do, what it can’t do, and the challenges we face. I truly believe everyone in that room learned something that day. Further, connections were made that are leading to new collaborations. And that was just our first event! I am excited to see what ripple effects these seminars have at Olaris and beyond. So, whether you call it “eureka”, “click”, or “creative breakthrough,” bringing people together is the first step for any Aha moment.

In the spirit of inspiring those moments, I would like to formally invite you to join us at our next event on May 17th at 3pm for an in-person (Chatham House Rules) conversation entitled “How to get there from here” – a conversation on investments, acquisitions, public financing, and venture capital in biotech, as well as personal finance strategies during the current economic conditions. The event will feature some heavy-hitting speakers and is sure to generate spirited conversations. Watch our social media for more information as the date approaches!

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