True innovation is so unexpected that the mind often reacts by summarily rejecting the innovation. Take for example the hundreds of thousands of cartoons from the early 1900’s mocking all things automotive.
INSULT ADDED TO INJURY.—Wretched Boy. “Hi, guv’nor! D’yer want any help?”
The virulence with which the general public and the media rejected automobiles is only matched by the ubiquity with which the automobile later entered American culture.
I recently read a fascinating book about Garfield; no, not the lasagna loving, Monday hating cartoon character, but the assassinated 20th President of the United States. The book, was entitled “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President,” But my alternate title is “How Willful Ignorance and Failure to Adopt New Technologies Killed the President.”
President James A. Garfield was an amazing man. He was part of a pioneer family in Ohio, homesteading, clearing the land, under attack by Indians. His father died when he was only 17 months old and the family had to sell off much of the land to pay debts. His Mom and older brother worked the farm and sent James to school. James ran off to work the river boats. Eventually found his way back to school and did so well in his freshman year that in his sophomore year he was made a faculty member, and by age 26 he was President of the University. He was a loving father and husband, a trusted friend, and a great leader.
He was shot by a mad man, but the assassin’s bullet didn’t kill him, his doctors did. He lived a little over two months after the shooting, and he died of a massive infection caused by his doctors. In our next installment, we will learn more about how the refusal to adopt new technology in the 1880’s cost the United States a gifted leader.
In 1861 Dr. Lister (Yes, that is where the name Listerine comes from.) figured out that infections can come from uncleanly conditions during surgery. In Europe the medical community embraced Dr. Lister’s new technology resulting in greatly reduced morbidity and mortality. However, in the United States the medical community did not embrace the practice of antisepsis. When Garfield was shot the doctors fished around inside the President with dirty fingers and instruments causing a massive infection that eventually killed the president.
Although the X-Ray was 5 years too late for James Garfield, he still could have survived if Dr. Bliss had only embraced the technology developed by Dr. Lister in 1861. Have you ever heard the phrase “ignorance is bliss”? Well…another fascinating facet to this story is that Dr. Alexander Graham Bell (Yes, the inventor of the telephone.) invented the metal detector in order to help save the life of James Garfield. Unfortunately, James Garfield’s physician (Dr. Bliss) would not allow Dr. Bell to examine the area of President Garfield’s body that contained the bullet.
This type of willful ignorance and resistance to the adoption of new technology is still prevalent today. In our next installment we will examine how new technology in the neurosciences and scheduling world are being resisted. Have you seen examples in your work where new technology is resisted instead of embraced?