In Search of Ingenuity
The quiet heroes of innovation do the little things that bring big ideas to life.
Few people may recognize the name Norman Heatley. Even the Nobel Committee overlooked him when, in 1945, it awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine jointly to Alexander Fleming of St. Mary’s Hospital and Ernst Chain and Howard Florey of Oxford University for discovering the lifesaving antibiotic penicillin. But it was Heatley, working side by side with Chain and Florey, who devised the first methods for growing enough penicillin to study its chemical structure and activity, purifying it, and measuring its potency. Sir Henry Harris, who succeeded Florey as head of Oxford’s Dunn School of Pathology, once summed up Heatley’s role by saying, “Without Fleming, no Chain or Florey; without Florey, no Heatley; without Heatley, no penicillin.”
Most of the credit and attention for breakthroughs typically goes to the individual with a grand vision, the genius whose exceptional creativity reshapes a company or even an industry. Heatley didn’t have the sudden insight that sparked a big idea. Rather, he put into practice the hundreds of small insights necessary to make a big idea real, figuring out how to get things done against all odds — enabling a major scientific breakthrough in the worst of wartime Britain. (keep reading…)
published in Strategy+Business
February 10, 2016 / Spring 2016 / Issue 82