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The Semmelweiss Effect


As soon as we hear the following sentence, our heart sinks:

“But that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

And we know that there is every chance we will have a fight on our hands.  While it is important to watch and listen to any client organisation, because sometimes the way they have always done something is pretty good, has been developed for a reason and gives benefit all round.   Other times though, it is the surest sign of a moribund organisation where the status quo is given more credence than innovation.

This instant rejection of new ideas is known as the Semmelweis Effect, named after a Hungarian doctor, who in 1847 suggested that by washing their hands regularly maternity ward doctors could drastically reduce the mortality rate of mothers, something he had done himself.  Such a simple idea and yet it was dismissed by the medical profession of the time out of hand.

While many businesses have been launched and succeeded because their founders came up against resistance to their ideas, many more have foundered because they can’t let go of the past and embrace fresh thinking.  But without innovation and the frisson of excitement created by trying something new we would never evolve with our customers or generate new ones.

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