Ignaz Semmelweis was a physician in Hungary in the late 1840s who worked in the maternity ward of a hospital. The mortality rate for women giving birth in his hospital at that time varied from 5% to 30% depending on the ward they were in. He was bothered by this high mortality rate and also by the significant difference in mortality rates between wards. He decided to do some research to uncover the underlying issue and, to make a long story short, he discovered that it was primarily due to the lack of physician hygiene.
Essentially, when midwives were delivering the babies in a ward, the mortality rate of the mothers was low because the midwives were relatively clean. When doctors were delivering the babies in a ward, the mortality rates of the mothers was high because the doctors did not disinfect their hands between deliveries and quite often came straight from the dissecting room where they had been practicing on corpses.
Semmelweis determined the deaths could be reduced significantly just by having the doctors, interns and midwives disinfect their hands before beginning each procedure.
However, this was not received well by the medical community as the doctors refused to believe that their actions were causing so many deaths. Semmelweis was mocked, ridiculed and disgraced. He ended up dying in a lunatic asylum without seeing his important recommendations ever taken seriously!
So what does this have to do with us and our businesses?
Have you ever dismissed or mocked an idea outright without giving it a second thought? This negative, knee-jerk reaction to reject new ideas is called the Semmelweis Reflex in the scientific community. How many good ideas or concepts have you walked away from in your life because you had a Semmelweis Reflex?
The next time you are tempted to dismiss an idea or concept as crazy or ridiculous, spend a few more minutes thinking about it. Is the idea really that crazy? Is there something you can learn from the crazy idea that you can somehow leverage productively and profitably into your business? What kinds of questions should you be asking to help draw out some value from the idea? Take a look at some of my previous blog posts on asking questions.
Although there are some things that are definitely crazy and far fetched that we need to stay away from, be sure that you give new ideas and concepts a fighting chance and don’t be guilty of a Semmelweis reflex that results in missing out on a great concept, idea or product!