Sarah’s Diary Episode Thirty-Four

Jenny was anxious to see how her class related to Ben’s story. He had consistently ranked the highest on the innovation trait rankings she had done. Would their belief in him hold after she told his story?

“You evaluated Ben very high as an innovator,” Jenny began. “I want to tell you his story. You may recall that Ben was the one who was always in the woods. His curiosity was remarkable.”

“But Ben struggled in school. He just didn’t have a focused mind. Today I suspect he would be considered neuro-diverse; but in his day, there weren’t the accommodations we have now. He graduated from high school but he didn’t have the grades to get into college. He went to a trade school for a while but dropped out.”

“What turned his life around was when he became an apprentice to a pharmacist. This gave him an opportunity to do what he really enjoyed. This was a time in America when patent drugs were being developed. Most of them had little value, and some were actually dangerous. Others were addictive. The lack of uniformity in manufacturing was also a problem.”

“Ben had developed a salve when he was young that he thought was just as effective as what was being sold. He convinced the pharmacist to let him sell his salve, and it became a remarkable success. That started Ben on a pathway to developing other remedies from the plants he had studied. Eventually his drug portfolio was big enough for him to start his own business.”

“Ben was no businessman. Fortunately, he had married a woman who was a born organizer. With her business acumen, Ben’s business became one of the leaders in the emerging pharmaceutical industry. But there was a problem.”

“The competition that Ben faced was not from other manufacturer’s products but from their careless practices. The entire industry was under scrutiny and this was a deterrent to people accepting the worth of any product. What Ben did was to establish a rigorous testing protocol for any product he made. Then he set up a national certification board that would independently verify the worthiness of any pharmaceutical treatment. This became the forerunner for what is now the FDA. Without the board’s certification, phony drugs would not be accepted by the public.”

“We haven’t talked much about innovation partnerships, but would Ben have been a success without his wife? When you look at any new innovative start up, you generally find two people who make the start-up a success. There’s the creative type who has the basic idea for the business, and there’s the organizer who does what it takes to make the business work. This also applies to social innovations. Martin Luther King was the voice of the Civil Rights movement, but he was supported by many others, mostly women, who did the necessary work to keep the movement organized.”

“Now I’ll ask my question in a different way, “was Ben an innovator or was it the marriage of Ben and his wife that was the innovative combination?”   

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“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind that the one where they sprang up.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes (poet, physician)

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