Mary Pennington, Ignaz Semmelweis,
And the “Last 98%”

Mary Pennington, IBD tells us (June 22), was known as the “Ice Lady.” The Philadelphian saved countless lives via her successful campaigns for sanitary food practices in the early 1900s. Her engaging demeanor was such that she was time and again able to gain the support of both producers and distributors. (A Ph.D. chemist from Penn, remarkable in itself, she became the first woman employed by the USDA.)

Reading about Ms Pennington, I was reminded of the virtually opposite story of Ignaz Semmelweis, another pioneer in the field of sanitary conditions. While his work, and that of his peers, eventually had enormous impact, it fell flat for decades—in spite of the obviousness of his findings. Rather than making common cause with the doctors whose practices he was trying to alter (wash your hands), he instead did such things as writing letters to the press at times denouncing the docs, per Wikipedia, as “irresponsible murderers.”

It is “just” a “Monday rant” from me reminding us, as the week begins, of that “all important last 98%” called implementation—and, of course, that implementation is a matter of respect and listening and carefully nurtured relationships 98% of the time.

Tom Peters posted this on June 29, 2009, in Execution.
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