Synchronicity is Not Just an Album by The Police. Nor is Serendipity Just a John Cusack movie.

2/1/10

The most incredible things happen when scientists with a common interest have an opportunity to simply talk with one another. On a bone-chilling December night, 50 Seattle researchers from more than 10 different institutions with dramatically different backgrounds gathered to share drinks and conversation about their work. They discovered surprising connections, initiated new collaborations and found that many of them were exploring similar problems. The first Global Health Dialogues took place. The outcome may be groundbreaking new approaches to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Serendipity, where one randomly stumbles on something critically useful while looking for something else, and synchronicity, where important ideas are ‘in the air’ at the same time, are two important aspects of research that are not often discussed. Sometimes researchers just lack the final piece of the puzzle needed for success. Or perhaps they need to alter their perspective slightly to see a way around a problem. Or maybe several scientists, working on very similar topics, just happen to randomly connect, to synchronize, resulting in a large flow of information that often solves very difficult problems.

In many ways, synchronicity is a major aspect of the work being undertaken at such organizations as Infectious Disease Research Institute, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, PATH, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Pacific Northwest National Labs, along with the major research universities in the state, UW and WSU. Their scientists may be researching different approaches to global health, but they often face similar hurdles getting a drug or therapy to the market.

But they are usually working inside their own silos, often unknowingly in parallel with other institutions. Scientific specialization creates increasingly narrow viewpoints separating researchers from others. Collaborations are critical but are hampered by these divisions.

One way to break silos and permit the flow of useful information is to exploit serendipity and synchronicity.

Let me provide some personal examples of this potent combination.

In an Xconomy article written in May, I showed, using only information that I could find online, that the Seattle area had more researchers with more funds working in more non-profit biomedical institutions than almost any other city in the U.S.

It turns out that this was an idea that was also … Next Page »

Richard Gayle is the founder and president of SpreadingScience. Follow @

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  • http://www.robmacgregor.net Rob MacGregor

    Interesting article. I thought you might like to read this post from our synchronicity blog on scientific synchronicities. – Rob MacGregor

    http://ofscarabs.blogspot.com/2009/09/what-gas.html

  • Krassen Dimitrov

    Cool!
    The Lisa Cohen you mention will be here (Brisbane) on Thursday. After reading your article I am signing for a breakfast with her. Thanks!

  • Bill Neil

    Richard,

    Great stuff!f See you at the next ISB event.

    Bill

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