challenge_your_thinking_header2IV: 1721


Dr. William Douglass is one of the leading medical experts in his region. Dr. Douglass is a pioneer in medical research and the recognized leader in both public and private health care in his community. Dr. Douglass insists on the establishment and maintenance of the highest possible standards in health care. Dr. Douglass wants to know, test, and promote the latest medical techniques. Dr. Douglass is 1 of 11 physicians—and the only credentialed physician—in the town of Boston in 1721, population 11,000.

Smallpox has broken out in Boston in the spring. A physician-colleague of Dr. Douglass has borrowed a copy of a scientific journal and in this publication has learned of a new way to respond to smallpox: inoculation. The authors of the article write about the first use of inoculation, east of the Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey. Dr. Douglass’s colleague is quite interested in this article and suggests to Dr. Douglass that perhaps Boston’s 11 physicians might collaborate on how to adapt this new technique in the current smallpox epidemic. The colleague thanks Dr. Douglass for having loaned out this copy of the scientific journal with its article on smallpox inoculation. Dr. Douglass nods, takes back his copy of the journal, and closes his front door. (image below is a 17th century sketch of the stages of smallpox)


If you’re Dr. William Douglass and you’ve just closed the front door and you’re holding the journal in your hands, what do you do now? Do you invite your colleague back in to discuss the idea of collaboration on inoculation? Do you organize a collaborative effort on your own? What is your next action of leadership?

Email me your thoughts on what you think Douglass as a leader should do. After you’ve done so, look below at the nature of other people’s responses. Then, move on over to another spot on my website, The Commonplace Book in the “My Writings” section. I’ve written about what Douglass actually did. His real-world actions might look familiar to you, based on your experience. Thanks much for your effort. All the best, Dan

Ed: “Douglass must have some sort of problem with the guy. If he does, I think he’ll stew about it for a day or so and then invite the guy back. That’s when the two of them will sit down and sort out what to do about taking the new idea and spreading it throughout the town. After a day, his ego will calm down.”

Jennifer: “He just made a mistake. He didn’t have time to think about it. After all, it is the middle of a smallpox epidemic and he has a lot on his mind. It might be that it does take a little while, like a few hours or a day, but he’ll get his mind around the need to bring the man back and talk about taking the next step. He can’t do it alone. OK, I’m going to The Commonplace Book to find out that I’m right!”

Tim: “If you are Douglass, as one of the leaders of the region, you bring the man back in and explore the inoculation process and how the you and the others can implement this practice in Boston. That way there is a “blueprint” to work off of. The blueprint that Douglass and his collegue come up with will serve as a starting point for the rest.”