• Alana Sandel

Find a Way to Say Yes

Inspirational Example of Transformational Leadership

Geoffrey Ling, Professor of Neurology & Attending Physician, John Hopkins University and CEO, Ling and Associates inspired an auditorium full of business and thought leaders at TWIN Global 2018 with his talk titled, Find a Way to Say Yes. Dr. Ling led the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) efforts in Biological Technologies. Since then, he has been taking transformative technologies to market. Examples include predictive quantitative models of brain reorganization during recovery and restorative technology to recover memory after brain injury.

Dr. Ling’s list of accomplishments and leadership accolades is long. Along with his roles at John Hopkins University and biotechnology start-ups he is the founder of the Center for Military Clinical Neurosciences at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science (USUHS), Vice-Chair of Research in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Inova Fairfax Medical Center, and founding Director of the Biological Technologies Office at DARPA. Under President Obama, Dr. Ling became Assistant Director for Biomedical Innovation, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). There he helped launch Obama’s BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative.

“Opportunity is available to all of us, it’s a question of what we do with it,” Dr. Ling shared in one of his opening lines.

Transforming Health care

He shared stories of technologies with the potential to fundamentally change the entire pharmaceutical industry—and how we can address public health challenges and disasters. Originally deployed as a doctor in Afghanistan, a short time later he joined DARPA as a program manager and has since completed six combat tours. These tours shaped a unique perspective in Dr. Ling and a rare combination of grit, tenacity, and investigative spirit.

One of the biggest problems in hospitals is drug shortage because most generic drugs are made overseas. How can we change this paradigm and others that get in the way of accessible, quality healthcare? Dr. Ling said, “Have a ‘why not?’ attitude.”

Why not equip doctors to create the drugs they need directly in hospitals? Dr. Ling calls this point of care manufacturing. He has orchestrated the development of a machine already in use in the military that can make up to 14 drug classes (and soon more). It can produce 1,000,000 doses of atropine (used to treat heart rhythm problems, stomach and bowel problems, and certain types of poisoning) per day.

Innovate to Relieve Suffering

Dr. Ling shared stories and examples of remarkable things that happen when people do say yes. Biotechnology is a strong example, especially in cases of severe injury. The loss of one’s arms and hands is an extremely disabling and challenging event. Dr. Ling saw many of these instances on his military tours and asked, can you come up with a replacement arm that is tied to the brain? Though this sounds futuristic, it really takes collaboration between neuroscience and engineering, both currently well-developed fields. The key is finding like-minded experts in these different fields to work together.

These types of solutions have potential to make a massive difference in our lives. Thinking about problems with a can-do attitude versus seeing them as inevitable changes the entire approach. There are things that each and every one of us can do to alter limitations. Network, brainstorm, and contribute your skills and resources where possible. This leaves no room for impossibility.

View Dr. Ling’s full talk here:


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