Today’s economy does not allow for mediocrity. You have to deliver results better and faster than your competition does, but only virtuosos can do that. Identifying and developing these exceptional people will position you for a competitive advantage both now and in the future.
I should point out, however, that not all virtuoso teams function seamlessly or easily. Some have to navigate turbulent, unrelenting waters before they reach shore. But the steering of the vessel remains paramount to success in all scenarios, as it did with the team that discovered insulin.
Before the discovery of insulin, diabetes led to death. Doctors understood little about the disease and were helpless to save those afflicted. Dr. Frederick Banting, a Canadian physician, determined to find a cure, approached Professor John Macleod about his theories. Macleod, a leading figure in the study of diabetes, didn’t think much of Banting’s ideas, but in 1921 he reluctantly gave Banting a laboratory with a minimum of equipment, ten dogs, and a research assistant named Charles Best.
The lab was hardly the gleaming vision that Banting had imagined. Shrouded in veils of dust and cobwebs, it looked more like the lab in a Frankenstein movie. But greatness would not suffer obstacles. One of the most significant advances in medical science began in a sub-standard lab with bleach, a bucket, sponges, mops, and the sweat labor of virtuosos.
After Banting and Best discovered insulin and proved that it could save lives, they encountered trouble finding ways to purify and extract it. Macleod assigned chemist James Collip to help the group.Collip solved the problem.
Harmony did not reign among these great scientists, however. As the reality of a human trail became more plausible, Banting and Best raced with Collip to develop next steps. It was decided that Collip would supply the purified extract.
When Banting learned of the plan, he was furious. He assumed he would be the one to administer the first clinical test. Banting won the debate. The team used Banting and Best’s extract, despite its being less pure than Collip’s. Amid this high drama and posturing, doctors admitted a fourteen-year-old diabetic boy, Leonard Thompson, to Toronto General Hospital on Dec. 2, 1921. The boy received “Macleod’s serum,” which rendered inconclusive results.
When Collip learned of the reversal of the plan, he considered it a personal betrayal, but he wasn’t the only unhappy scientist in the lab. Banting told everyone the trial had failed because the quantity was insufficient-a tale of injustice and tribulation he voiced loudly and indiscriminately. At one point, Macleod commented that he should start taking a chair and whip to work to tame the lions on his team. Since Banting resorted to fisticuffs in his attempts to communicate his displeasure with Collip, Macleod wasn’t too far off in his solution.
During all this tumult, the science continued. On January 23rd, doctors began injecting Thompson with Collip’s extract. Since the child had been near death, his recovery was nothing short of miraculous. In 1923 Banting and Macleod received the Nobel Prize “for the discovery of insulin.”
The story has a happy ending, even though it did not unfold harmoniously. Instead, the miraculous discovery of insulin began with a team of Canadian virtuosos who fought each other both literally and figuratively. However, two things allowed the research to become a reality: the exceptional talent of the scientists and the dedicated leadership of Dr. Macleod. Had either been absent, insulin would have remained a mystery indefinitely, and countless lives would have been wasted.
Leading a team of virtuosos won’t always offer fair skies and smooth sailing. In fact, often chaos and turbulence will cause a leader like Dr. Macleod to question how he can control the hurly-burly around him. However, once in a while, out of the mayhem comes a miracle like the discovery of insulin.