Monday, November 23, 2009

A Really Scurvy Story About Change

Great ideas always spread rapidly, right? People see the obvious merits of a really good idea and change, don't they?

Let's look back in history at the treatment of scurvy in Britain's Royal Navy.

Oooo exciting.

On long sea voyages many years ago, scurvy killed more sailors than all other causes, including warfare and accidents. For example, 160 men sailed around the Cape of Good Hope with Vasco de Gama in 1497. 100 died of scurvy.

Captain James Lancaster conducted an experiment in 1601 to see if lemon juice could prevent scurvy. Captain Lancaster commanded 4 ships. He gave 3 teaspoons of lemon juice to the sailors on one ship. Most stayed healthy. The men on the other three ships, his control group in modern parlance, did not get the lemon juice. 110 of the 278 men on the ships that did not get the juice, died of scurvy.

Clear cut evidence, right?

So the British Navy immediately started to give lemon juice to its sailors, right?

Of course not.

In 1747, almost 150 years later, another experiment was conducted by James Lind a British Navy doctor. He found when sailors, stricken with scurvy, were given citrus fruits, the treatment cured them.

Wow! Surely the British Navy was overjoyed at this news and started supplying citrus fruits and juice to sailors on all its ships.

It did, in 1795... 48 years later!

And in 1865, a mere 70 more years, the British extended the policy to its merchant marines. Yay!

Why so long?

No one really knows. Maybe because even though Captain Lancaster was a captain, he wasn't as famous a Captain as Captain Cook, whose journals did not support a link between citrus and a reduction in scurvy. And maybe the the good Dr. Lind simply wasn't a prominent doctor who might have had the ear of some naval bigwig (and in those days bigwigs literally had...big wigs).

Whatever the reason, here's what you need to know:

Just because you have a good idea, just because it's proven to work does NOT mean your idea will be adopted.

You will have to work to get even the best idea accepted, let alone implemented. Knowing how to talk to those who can help, knowing how to rally people to your cause, these skills are as important as your idea.

Persistence and perseverance often trump brilliance.

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