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Friday, September 21, 2012

David Brooks, "Temerity at the Top": What's Needed for Innovation

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Temerity at the Top" (, David Brooks focuses on the achievements of Elon Musk, the remarkable 41-year-old founder of SpaceX and co-founder of Tesla Motors and Paypal. Brooks begins by noting:

"Prosperity is often driven by small enclaves of extraordinary individuals that build new industries and amass large fortunes. These driven, manic individuals are frequently unpleasant to be around. But, if your country is not attracting and nurturing them, you’re cooked."

Brooks concludes with the observation:

"A few ridiculously ambitious people can change an economy more than any president."

I agree and disagree with Brooks. Innovation is necessarily grounded upon vision and ambition. Manic tendencies are not a necessary component of the equation.

Late in the second half of the game, I am blessed to be able to work with two companies seeking to change the world in which we live.

Compugen, which is revolutionizing the manner in which new drugs and diagnostics are discovered, has spent the past decade building an infrastructure of proprietary scientific understandings, predictive platforms, algorithms, and machine learning systems for the in silico (by computer) prediction and selection of product candidates. Although Compugen is the vision of Martin Gerstel, who in the past guided Alza, a drug delivery company, to success, the ongoing realization of Mr. Gerstel's dream is in the hands of some 40 geniuses who have collectively integrated their diverse fields of knowledge - no small endeavor. I meet and talk regularly with Mr. Gerstel and Compugen's management and scientific team. Although I am overwhelmed by their intellects, I have never encountered arrogance or condescension. Quite the contrary: I have always experienced smiles and angelic patience as their scientists have explained to me their latest achievements.

Nano Retina, which is the brainchild of renowned medical device inventor Yossi Gross and nanotechnology icon Jim Von Ehr, is seeking to create a miniaturized retinal implant to restore vision to persons blinded by age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa following a 30-minute minimally invasive operation. A video is worth a thousand words? Have a look for yourselves:

Again, I have only known kindness and caring from the founders and small team of scientists responsible for this breakthrough project.

Innovation is premised upon vision, ambition, teamwork and no small amount of sweat. Temerity, rapacity and insensitivity are unnecessary ingredients.

[As noted in prior blog entries, I am a Compugen shareholder, this blog entry is not a recommendation to buy or sell Compugen shares, and in September 2009 I began work as a part-time external consultant to Compugen. The opinions expressed herein are mine and are based on publicly available information. This blog entry has not been authorized, approved or reviewed prior to posting by Compugen.]

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