Challenge Your Thinking IV – What Really Happened Next

Dr. William Douglass walks into his study, opens his desk drawer, places the periodical inside, and then swiftly closes the drawer and locks it. Done and done, he thought to himself.

Douglass’s first and main concern wasn’t smallpox but rather medical standards and, to be honest, his own reputation as a physician. He wasn’t convinced by the journal article about what someone may or may not be doing in Turkey with a wild-eyed technique called inoculation. The Turks were a savage race in Douglass’s view and there was nothing they could teach to either Europeans or transplanted Europeans such as Douglass. If he allowed such things to become the source of change in medicine, then the floodgates would be opened and any quack or crank with a home remedy would think themselves the equal of trained, dedicated, and credentialed doctors like himself.

And that would take he and his profession down a notch–not a good thing in Douglass’s mind.

In addition, Douglass already was part of a very effective (everyone said so) system for responding to smallpox. This “response-system” in Boston was regarded as the best in the British colonial world. If there had been professional conferences in those days, Douglass and the response-system would have been praised as a “best-practice.”

Therein is your leadership challenge. Today’s best practice is one step closer to tomorrow’s status quo. Douglass couldn’t envision anything better than what he knew–and what he had been largely responsible for developing and maintaining. This was also wrapped up in his understanding of medical standards, professional excellence, and personal identity. He couldn’t pull one of these points out without all of them collapsing. Hence, he locked his desk drawer.

One final point. Information is a vital part of leadership. The person who seeks to control it will usually not have the purest motives for doing so. Be sure to check yourself whenever your first instinct is to hoard and hold on to information.

Postscript–Douglass didn’t realize that the man who borrowed and returned the journal–Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather–had already had his family copy out the journal article by hand, by quill feather pen. The information was leaking out while Douglass stood there smugly with the key to the desk drawer in his hand. In leadership, you just never know.

Learn from Douglass.

All the best, Dan