Influence

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I’d like you to imagine yourself in a 170 year old hospital. The temperature inside the hospital is the same as the temperature outside, and it’s much dirtier than you are used too. You walk through the first room filled with ancient medical equipment and into a large room with 5 beds on each side, each bed containing a young woman and you say to yourself “I’m leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that my next leap will be the leap home.” You think two things,

  1. That was the opening line to show Quantum Leap
  2. You are a much bigger Sci-Fi nerd than you once thought.

As you contemplate your own personal degree of Sci-Fi nerdery the room you are in fills with nurses. They walk down the aisle between the beds and 5 nurses move to the beds on the left and 5 nurses move to the beds on the right. The 5 nurses furthest from you bend down and hand a baby to the women in the bed and they each smile, holding their newborn child. The next two nurses bend down and whisper something in the ear of the women, and they begin to cry. They try to keep the crying quiet so as not to ruin the happy day for the new mothers, but it can’t be ignored. The new mothers try to roll away from the crying but it gets louder and more uncontrollable when the last 3 nurses bend down and pull the sheets over the heads of the last three women.

And the crying stops.

This was the  environment of labor and delivery in 1847 in some hospitals during the childbed fever epidemic. The Hungarian docrtor Ignaz Semmelwies found himself dealing with a patient death rate in the delivery room equal to that of some lung cancer patients today. Semmelvies instituted a strict hand and tool washing policy at his hospital in the hopes of reducing childbed fever. Only instead of reducing death rates, he almost abolished them.

With the simple act of cleaning between deliveries, childbed fever was almost eradicated from the hospital!

But this is not a happy story, this is an example of a failure.

Semmelvies was fired March 20, 1849 because of his abrasive personality. He is almost universally revered as arrogant and angry and he took that arrogance and anger to the public with his work.

It was the work he did not publish until 1861! Over a decade after he was fired and 13 years after he knew the results.

He wrote to one obstetrician in Vienna: ‘‘You, Herr Professor, have been a partner in this massacre.’’  then again he wrote, “I declare before God and the world that you are a murderer and the ‘History of Childbed Fever’ would not be unjust to you if it memorialized you as a medical Nero.’’

Of course no one listened. 

In 1867 two years after Semmelvies died, Joseph Lister, more famous for fresh breath, than saving billions of babies actually influenced doctors to wash their hands. If you are keeping track, thats 18 years of unnecessary childbed fever deaths, not because the information wasn’t out there, but because the person delivering the message didn’t have the personality for it.

Influence is so much less about manipulating other people, and more about manipulating our selves into the person other people want to be influenced by.

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