How to Get Satisfaction from Being in Business

You develop a way to save 50 million lives.  Of course, you become  rich and famous, right?  Well, not always – showing that sometimes our greatest successes in business do not bring the reward we deserve.

In the Bangladesh of the early 1970s, Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis developed a simple technique to treat people with acute cholera who would otherwise die.  Called oral rehydration therapy (ORT), this method is much easier to apply than the saline drips which had been used to great success in hospitals since 1906.  ORT is basically drinking large quantities of salted sugar water – a technique so crude it was dismissed until it was demonstrated to be dramatically effective.  No need for hospitals or medical professionals – ordinary people would mix and administer the treatment. As a recent Tim Hartford Financial Times article (behind a paywall) explained, “ORT is widely reckoned to have save 50 million people over the past half century” (Struck by the power of the simple invention)

Mahalanabis never got rich; for that matter, he got little  recognition in the West for his work.  Of course, he did not get a Nobel Prize in Medicine – that goes to this who come up with complicated techniques, not to those who save the most lives.  Mahalanabis died in October 2021.  Other than the Financial Times, not a singe U.S. or UK newspaper ran an obituary.  

In his book Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy, Hartford celebrates simple ideas. He writes, “simple things are cheap, and cheap things can be ubiquitous.” He adds, “no one knows who invented the brick or paper” but those items transformed life.  Some of the most useful inventions have been dismissed because they were developed by outsiders. For instance, female nurses realized that the cellucotton used by hospitals for bandages in World War I could be adapted for menstrual pads, while doctors dismissed the idea.

We at Mobus Creative Negotiating often say that we are in business to make money, not to make friends.  True, but making a difference can be as satisfying as making a fortune.  Or, as the old saying puts it, sometimes virtue has to be its own reward.