URS “Ideas are Cheap, Show me the Data”
Reggie 叔叔的故事：想法是廉价的，给我看看数据 (Sonic 翻译)
I’ve always enjoyed taking young doctors on ward rounds, and teaching and talking with them about medicine, their patient, or life. At times, some young enterprising doctor would make a sensible suggestion about what could be done to improve patient care. I would compliment her, then often challenge her, that she could start a small research study to prove scientifically whether this suggestion would work or not in reality, and I could even help her design such a study. Very few young doctors responded to do that. It’s much easier to spout off great ideas, but it’s very difficult to do the hard work of proving that the ideas are really great. “Ideas are cheap,” I might remind them, “Show me the data.”
我总是乐此不疲的带年轻医师查房，并和他们探讨医学、他们的病人以及生命。一些脑瓜子很活泛的年轻医生经常就如何提高病人的医疗水平发表很有建设性的意见。我首先肯定她，然后总是激将她，要她开展一个小的研究来科学地证实这些建议事实上是否可行，我还甚至说我愿意帮她设计这样的研究。很少有年轻医生回应愿意去做这样的研究。信口开河的提出高大上的观点是轻而易举的，去脚踏实地的苦干以证实这个想法确实不同凡响却相当困难。“想法是廉价的”，我提醒他们，“给我数据看看,”(“ideas are cheap, show me the data”).
In fact, I had research fellows who even declared indignantly that someone had “stolen their idea” and published a paper that they were thinking about doing. I remember one time reviewing, on-site, a proposal by a young man at another famous institution. His proposal was similar to a research study I had nearly finished, and a paper that I was in the middle of writing, so I was able to critique it well, and even offer what I thought were good suggestions to improve it.
Not too long after that, I published my research paper, and I received an angry letter from the young man that “I had stolen his idea.” Fortunately, I had adequate records that I was already far ahead in my research, way before I had even seen his proposal. I understood his sensitivity, and his “pain,” but in this instance again, “ideas are (sort of) cheap,” and “showing the data,” reminds us that “ideas are often competitive,” and actually doing, and publishing the research, is the key point.
We often might think our ideas are so novel and original, that we forget there are actually very few “totally original” ideas. Basically, all ideas come from previous ideas, in some form or other. A new idea always seems new to the one who thought of it, until he or she investigates and finds that other people may have come up with the same or similar idea, months or even years before that, sometimes so long ago, that the young investigator is probably not even aware of it, or had just ignored it.
I remind young people who like research, that we all read similar scientific journals, and logically we can think of what the next step in research should be. Which means that there are likely, in this world, maybe at least 10 or 20 people who think in a similar logical way as we do about the next research steps. And the biggest difference then is the person who jumps in, energetically dirtying his fingers, to do the actual research data collection, who doesn’t sit around just thinking of how great the idea was.
Of course, it is very important to have good ideas, but as we have been likely told, there is an ancient inspiration, something like, “success is 9 parts perspiration, one part inspiration.” I have this very sentence inscribed in my childhood book of good advice, which I just rediscovered recently. Do you remember the fun of childhood when your kid and adult friends started writing things in your memories book! (Actually, I do not know if kids still do that anymore; do they?) I have remembered this aphorism ever since then. I even “improved on it” in my mind, since I remembered it all along, as 99% hard work!
Execution is a key to any successful venture. This thinking is very Asian of course, similar to comments such as xin fu hau tim (early bitter, later sweet, in Cantonese) or bor biaa bor yeaa (no passionate struggle, no winning, in Fujianese), Asian versions of “no pain, no gain.” So, I would venture that everyone actually knows this in their hearts, but not everyone wants to pay the price.
任何成功的冒险都是以实干为关键。当然这个想法非常亚洲，和这些，如先苦后甜（广东话），没拼没赢（闽南语），亚洲版本，“No pain no gain,无劳无获”相似。因此，我敢肯定，事实上人人心里都知道这一点，但是不是每一个都愿意去付出。
Actually, I often think that the issue of “someone stole my ideas,” is just a quasi-lazy way of getting out of doing hard work. If we really have such a great idea, we could work at it and provide the data that proves it, so that others indeed might want then to really steal our idea. I appreciate the expression, “imitation is the best form of flattery,” which is very true. If our idea is really that good, I would hope that many people will aspire to “steal it,” especially to make the world a better world. Personally speaking, I would love if someone would steal all my best ideas (see URS counterfeits), and then improve on them.
We had a great group of creative researchers working together when I was in leadership at our Children’s Hospital, and we came up with what we thought was a brilliant new idea, to call our cooperative, collaborative group, the first “Perinatal Research Institute,” a really novel idea at the time. The institute facilitated excellent cross fertilization of ideas and research among different research teams from different research disciplines, and was indeed a very fine idea. This idea has now been “stolen,” many times, to our great satisfaction, in various guises, at various hospitals and medical centers.
We even set up a very classy booth at the annual 4,000 attendees Pediatric Academic Societies meeting, the first time any hospital actually had any booth. We used this booth to highlight the Perinatal Research Institute for the first few years, and then, in later years, we highlighted many other features of our very fine hospital medical center, and various selected departments. We drew lots of attention when we first had the Perinatal Research Institute booth, and some cynical criticism about what we were trying to “sell.” But, in the ensuing years, other hospitals began to “steal” the idea, and pretty soon, every major hospital was having their special booth at the meetings. Ideas are really sort of cheap, but once actually executed, can be easily stolen, to good effect.
The concept of short-term missions to all kinds of countries is a very old one, whether it’s youth missions or medical missions. I started many short-term youth missions when I was actively involved in youth ministries at our church. But then a strange opportunity arose, to my surprise, that we might be allowed to bring in a medical missions team into China, at a time when China was just opening up to the outside world, after decades hidden behind a “bamboo curtain.” I “stole” the short-term mission idea and quickly adapted it to the numerous new challenges and environment of China in transition.
Photo 3: How we started MSI: we took experiences from many short term youth missions, and developed those into medical teams from 11 countries and states, achieving 5,000 visits in 10 years, a great borrowed idea.
Pretty soon we were on a roll, “stealing” ideas left and right, to morph into a novel, and apparently, then one of a kind, medical missions organization for China. In this organization, we mobilized teams from more than 11 countries and regions, and arranged 5,000 visits during our first 10 years of existence. Ideas are quite cheap, can be stolen, and modified to become something unique, meaningful and lasting.
Back in Cincinnati, for our budding new church, I used to love to pick up kids every Sunday, from homes that could be far away, to safely bring them to hear the good word. Pretty soon, I noted that other people began to do the same thing. I began to advise people of the best way to do it consistently and faithfully, so it wasn’t just a one-time good deed. The good idea was now (lovingly) “stolen.”
Later on in life, I stole a great idea from student ministry workers. I began to pick up scholars that were coming from China to study at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, when they arrived at the Cincinnati airport. I knew how flustered people could be in their possibly first trip overseas, to land in a strangely named airport (Cincinnati is in Ohio, but its airport is in Kentucky, you figure that out), and to try to negotiate a foreign transportation system (no fast train connection to town).
I found that the simple gesture of picking up foreign visitors at the airport, was just so helpful and warm, that I felt a great passion to keep doing that. Then, young “Peter” insisted on taking over this “job” from me, on the basis that I was getting “too old” for it. At first, I was kind of resistant, as if my job had been taken away. But Peter definitely did a much better job, even adding immediately, on arrival at the airport, 2 to 3 days’ supply of good Chinese food from his own restaurant, showing that a stolen idea, stolen many times, can become a much better idea.
Once my wife and I made the then rather bold step of taking early retirement in my fifties, at my so-called “prime of life,” I began to realize that it really was a brilliant, but executable, idea. My “role model, show me the data” effect became very encouraging to others, and I spoke to groups and individuals to encourage them to also consider this. And indeed, for those who were willing to also “show me the data,” their later lives were also specially blessed and meaningful. Others who talked about how great the idea was, but who never actually did anything about it, missed out. Ideas remain cheap, if not acted on.
Actually, I do not really believe that “ideas are cheap.” I just said that to provoke you. Ideas are really very important, and great visionary ideas are critical. But nothing happens when we stop there. Those great ideas just wither on the vine, and die. Many great ideas are sadly, no longer around. Unfortunately, cheap, in a way. Take inspiration where you can. From your childhood autograph book. From the ideas of great people. From the greatest Book, written thousands of years ago. Steal the great ideas, and run with them, with passion and enthusiasm, and you will be amazed what happens.