It’s 1847, Vienna, at the Vienna General Hospital’s First Obstetrical Clinic. A doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis comes up with the novel and unheard of idea that if the doctors and nurses would simply wash their hands between working with different patients, their mortality rate (which was three times the rate in the midwife wards) would significantly decrease.
Seems more than rational in our 21st century, post germ-theory logic, right?
Well, surprisingly, Semmelweis’ contemporaries dismissed his suggestion out of hand. Whether it was the doctors’ not wanting to seem “dirty” or the embedded beliefs in the humours of the body, “bad air,” and bloodletting, we now have a research response called the Semmelweis Reflex, the rejection of the results of research and observable fact because it conflicts with already established beliefs.
It’s not so much personality or even intelligence that dictates this reflex; rather, it has more to do with how deep an individual’s belief system can go. A business owner, for example, might hire a research company to find out why their products are being beat out in the market by a competitor’s. The research comes back and relays in detail how customers don’t like the packaging of the company’s products or the other company’s product just tastes better.
A healthy business response would be, “OK, let’s look at redesigning some packaging and do some taste testing and reformulation to reestablish our position.” Someone who exhibits the Semmelweis Reflex would say, “No, our product looks and tastes great. People love it and have loved it for years. It has to be something else. I just don’t believe what this research is saying.”
Now, it has to be a given that the research is reliable and done properly, but if that is the case, then the abject refusal to accept the results would be considered a Semmelweis Reflex.
Confidence and belief in yourself and your business is vital to success in an uncertain and ever-changing market, but it does you no service to refuse to believe evidence, even if it turns you on your ear…because if you become a victim of the Semmelweis Reflex, your business, as many business have been, could be out in a heartbeat.