Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An inspiring story

I'm very struck by this New York Magazine article about a "a young doctor, not even prominent at his own hospital, who by his own admission knew next to nothing about AIDS, doing something never done before." He cured AIDS in one of his patients who had lukemia by giving him a bone marrow transplant. The donor had a genetic mutation that was passed on to the man, making him resistant to AIDS. He was turned down from conferences and rejected from the leading medical journals. He was so outside of the AIDS research group nobody listened to what he had to say. People who lived and breathed AIDS research also just didn't think a "cure" was plausible. They had been so trained by their failures they didn't go down certain lines of inquiry anymore.

Being part of the in-group means learning all the things you can't do. Outsiders don't have to think outside the box. They haven't been taught to see the box.

In both of my jobs, I've experienced something like this. A lot of the processes or tasks seem superfluous, unnecessary, redundant, time-consuming, wasteful. You have to be patient, because sometimes the logic for these tasks is hidden. But once you do them for awhile, you begin to ossify. We really need this database! You have to organize the document like that! In my advertising job, especially, doing things differently got me into nothing but trouble. And when you do things your way, you have to take 100% responsibility for any failure, and must defend yourself against suspicion and skepticism all the time.

History is littered with the tales of thinkers whose inventions, theories, and discoveries were ignored in their time. Thirty or a hundred years later, someone else discovers the same thing, but this time the world takes notice.

It's not enough to just have a great idea. You have to be in a position of power. You have to have influence. Maybe people will pay attention eventually, in the case of this doctor. But maybe they won't.

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