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HOW IDEAS SPREAD: THE 100th MONKEY EFFECT AND WHAT THAT HAS TO DO WITH MEDICAL CONFERENCES.

Pamela Schwartz | July 10, 2017
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How do ideas spread? Historically, people migrated from place to place, spreading ideas as well as goods and culture, even disease, to new locations and new populations. Today, we have social networks to communicate and spread new ideas instantaneously. But can ideas spread from one person to another with no direct contact?

 

We live our lives in networks - networks of friends, relatives and co-workers. Elaborate and complex networks - where we share experiences and information in social interaction both online and off.

 

At medical conferences, there is an opportunity to exchange information with peers in another network – a professional network. For professional inspiration, we can read blogs, like this one, listen to podcasts and attend webinars to learn new skills and best practices.

 

Why do you attend medical conferences? Of course, it is nice to visit a new city and meet new people. It is professionally rewarding to present up-to-date data and get feedback from KOLs. In the sessions, you learn about new clinical approaches and hear panel discussions, while at the breaks or over dinner, you share and exchange information.

 

I was recently attending the Meeting of the World Society for Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery (WSSFN) in Berlin and an amazing thing happened - two different physicians from different parts of the globe relayed the same exact idea to pursue a new clinical approach with focused ultrasound. I was astounded.

 

One of them, a KOL (Key Opinion Leader), told me the following story how a new idea can spread from one person or group to another by unexplained means. Back in the 50’s, scientists conducted a study of macaque monkeys on the Japanese island of Koshima. These scientists observed that some of these monkeys learned to wash sweet potatoes with salt water, and gradually this new behavior spread to the younger generation of monkeys through observation and repetition. It was concluded that once a critical number of monkeys was reached, i.e., the hundredth monkey, this previously learned behavior spread across the water to monkeys on nearby islands.

 

How did this occur? How does a behavior, or an idea, spread like a virus, with no direct contact?

 

Medical conferences are the perfect environment for this. Conferences build a global professional network since they bring together influencers, mature experts, young residents and industry representatives to exchange information both on and off podium.  

 

At the recent WSSFN, for example, neurosurgeons who perform focused ultrasound thalamotomy presented their clinical experience and observations about the technique for treating essential tremor. Attendees, sitting in the audience, probably already started thinking what comes next…what are the possible future applications of focused ultrasound?

 

Unlike the monkeys at the remote island who unexplainably began washing their sweet potatoes in salt water, maybe here we can explain how ideas spread with no direct contact. A professional network supports discussion and debate, stimulates the sharing and the spread of new and innovative ideas. Maybe a charged atmosphere of inspiration is all that is required to explain how two physicians can have the same idea to pursue a new clinical treatment.

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