Archive for August, 2009

Panther Chameleon, Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Panther Chameleon, Smithsonian National Zoological Park

I recently discovered after a blog post  about the amazing (and ‘highly desirable’) capacity to “perfectly blend-in” reignited my long standing amazement regarding this remarkable power, widely associated with chameleons (the creatures). As a scientist, I have been most intrigued by the biological system(s) that support the chameleon capacity to change color, apparently at will, i.e., I have been wondering “how do they do this?” As a dilettante observer of behaviors, the question was “when and why” do they decide to blend in? The “chameleon” designation has been extended to describe humans capable of similar behavior and is frequently considered sinonimus with ‘liar’.

So, I finally spent a few minutes trying to finally get a quick answer to my questions. Thanks to the information available on the Internet, I was not only able to read about it (I will not bore you with the scientific details), but watch chameleons “in action” changing their color amazingly fast. What struck me most, watching a short but telling video from Animal Planet , was the fact that chameleons use different colors to clearly display their mood! A cool green chameleon parading around quickly turns bright red (just like people!) when angered by a trespassing competitor. I thought:” …Wait! Isn’t the clear indication of one’s mood the opposite of ‘blending in’?” Then right at the end of the clip, the defeated chameleon finally changes its color to perfectly blend in the surroundings… Here was the solution to the apparent contradiction: clearly displaying the mood, yet perfectly blending in…  I think I just discovered the color of… fear! The color of fear is simulating the rest of the environment.

Being driven by the power of their convictions and passions, innovators seldom are able – or even try – to blend in, unless of course they are made to do so. The history of innovators and innovations can attest to this, remember the story of Galileo? Should we all try to blend in as suggested by many, or wear the color of our convictions? This brought back the memory of a nice little encouraging book, called “Peacock in the land of penguins”, independently recommended by several friends. I hear it is very popular with many who at one time or another felt like the colorful peacock, thought to be ugly, outrageous and a misfit in the land of the black and white formal penguins. All its efforts to blend were futile and proved to be unproductive. The peacock and other various birds left the dogmatic world of black and white and found happiness in another land where they celebrated and capitalized on the power and beauty of their diversity. Such places are likely to welcome innovators and fresh approaches. The only way to ‘blend in’ such an environment is to proudly display the color of your own convictions. So go ahead, be a chameleon or a peacock: “Vive la difference!”

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How about this reply to the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question on everyone’s mind when it comes to the US health care reform: “Freedom to innovate!”

The health care reform proposal spurred a lot of discussion that seems to have fueled more emotional energy than rational arguments, not surprisingly used for political, business, and who knows what other purposes! The new reform has been presented by many as a dangerous threat to personal freedom, strongly resonating with a nation which fiercely values its freedom above all. I want to submit the idea that a well-thought-out reform would more likely enhance our overall capacity to make personal choices beyond the existing health care plans and such would increase our degree of individual freedom. In addition, having competitive options is very much in line with the overall philosophy of the American society and could have a very beneficial effect on innovation in the US.

People strongly react to such ‘push buttons’ and they fear the unknown. I could share some different personal experiences as someone who had lived in other places where universal health care options are available. For instance, I grew up not missing a single day of school. Good genetics? Maybe! Being vaccinated against all the childhood diseases and attending schools that had dedicated physician, dentist, and assistants on site… more likely! My parents also never had to take time off (for me to see the doctor or to nurse me) and never had to worry about paying medical bills if I would have gotten sick. My experience as a parent in the US was different. Most of us agree that it is not working well and that repeating the same and expecting different  – usually better ! – results equals insanity.

A reform is creating the opportunity to innovate the health care in the US.We have a great opportunity to analyse the highs and lows of several different systems currently run in different parts of the world. A new system in the US does not need to be the same as the European or Canadian systems, but could incorporate their successful features. However, the administration, congress, media, providers and consumers – we all – should collaborate to innovate the health care in the US.

A health care reform will also enhance the overall opportunities to innovate in the US.  The availability of a good employer-independent option has the potential to release a lot of people from their current ‘job lock,’ or even from its de luxe version: the ‘golden cuffs.’ Due to worries of not being able to provide health care for their young children, energetic workers are often stuck in jobs they would rather change. More ‘seasoned’ skilled workers are often worried about not being able to cover for their own potential health issues likely to increase during their gray years. Under current circumstances all these people are understandably seeking work with companies that provide generous health plans that most smaller companies cannot offer. A good employer-independent option would level the playing field: many small(er) companies, including New Co, a major source of US innovation, would have an easier time attracting valuable employees. Having put the fear of not being able to cover health bills behind them, many workers could then seek better job fits for their skills and passions. Does anybody doubt that being motivated by our passions rather than our fears has positive effects upon the output? Innovating health care in the US has the potential to trigger a chain reaction with a tremendous beneficial impact on the overall US innovation capacity.

Coming back to ‘what’s in it for’ us personally, let’s add another thought. Many studies indicate that stress is bad for our health. Losing the serious stress over not being able to afford the medical bills for ourselves, family, and employees might itself increase our overall well-being!

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