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The making of an innovative entrepreneur

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

To lead well, you need to observe well. By noticing what others miss, you gain insights that give you an edge.

As a young pharmaceutical salesman, James LeVoy Sorenson spent many hours watching physicians make their rounds in hospitals. His careful observation led him to develop a range of tools they could use to save time and provide better results for patients.

One of his early medical breakthroughs was the disposable surgical mask. The idea took hold in his mind in the late 1950s after he observed doctors in a hospital lounge.

As soon as they’d enter the break room, they would toss their dirty surgical masks in a special container for washing. But the masks weren’t necessarily pristine when they came back from the laundry.

Before resuming surgery, the doctors would need a clean mask. Sorenson watched as the surgeons sifted through the freshly laundered masks, sniffing each one first.

The doctors typically rejected the first three or four masks until they found one that didn’t smell of tobacco or bad breath from previous use. This made Sorenson wonder if doctors would pay 10 cents for a disposable surgical mask.

He teamed with an engineer to design a machine to mass-produce sterile surgical masks. The masks quickly became a hit, and the machine soon cranked out more than 3,000 masks an hour to meet rising demand. Disposable surgical masks are now standard in hospitals around the world.

Sorenson (1921-2008) wound up becoming one of America’s most innovative entrepreneurs with a net worth of $4.5 billion.

— Adapted from Finding The Better Way, James LeVoy Sorenson.

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