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  • Thomas Thurston

Death by innovation

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Ever felt like your innovation wasn’t being fully appreciated? Has it met strong institutional resistance, despite its obvious benefits?  You are not alone.  Take a little solace in knowing there are others who’ve had it much, much worse than you.

This is one of the iconic (and truly sad) stories of an innovator who used empirical evidence to find a huge breakthrough for humanity. Semmelweis was a doctor who figured out hand-washing could prevent medical infection. Despite how intuitively obvious his discovery seems today, even to children, at the time his breakthrough suffered the all too common barriers and challenges of classic innovation.

Whether you’re a doctor in the 1800s or a software engineer today, even the most important innovations can be met with strong institutional resistance.

Semmelweis’s life, although tragic, continues to remind us how great progress is possible with the right passion, innovation and dedication.  If only he’d lived long enough to see the rewards himself.  Unable to convince any  doctors to simply wash their hands, Semmelweis went insane, was committed to an asylum and died of septicemia (i.e. bacterial infection) just as Louis Pasteur had begun to reveal “germ theory.”


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