From sticklebacks to midwifery – my innovation story

Genevieve and her sister Pat - an innovation story

An innovation story by Genevieve M Hibbs. 

When and why did I start to innovate?  That is a good question. My late older sister, Pat, undoubtedly had something to do with it.

Pat, who had physical challenges that throughout her life she intelligently and persistently fought to overcome, was five years older than me.  We lived in the vicarage of a feudal village in Yorkshire. The population of the village was a hundred people, though more came and went as the government took over the Grange as a rehabilitation centre for the RAF.

When Pat was at home, she used her superior knowledge of the natural world to manage the livestock and natural resources of the purpose designed, vicarage property and its rural environment.  She regularly teased and challenged me with her knowledge and ideas.

We explored all the local ponds using fine kitchen sieves to discover microscopic and larger creatures.  We collected daphne and other microscopic creatures to feed the sticklebacks and ever-hungry dragonfly larvae that we kept in battery tanks.

We took our goats and ponies out to local green roadside verges where we tethered them to stakes to feed on the grass and herbs.  Eventually, Pat hired a field to which we could ride using just halters (no saddle!). We would leave the ponies there while we went to senior school for the day.

After leaving school I worked unsuccessfully in a dress shop.  That involved cycling twelve miles both ways each day. Then, I worked at a Christian holiday conference centre for a year.  Now as I look back, I can see that my approach to work has always involved innovation.

My first job there, was cleaning bedrooms.  I worked out that if I did the basic work in each room every day and concentrated on getting some part of one or two rooms really clean, over time, the whole area became quicker to clean.  I did not discuss my methods.

Junior staff all helped with washing up.  The boys were very competitive about their speed.  I did not comment on speed, but worked to be able to win, especially to exceed my own previous performance.

My second job was in the kitchen, preparing vegetables in the morning and washing up the cooking pots and utensils in the afternoon.  I worked out that I could have control over the time spent in the cold vegetable room. The speed of peeling a sack or more of potatoes using the manual rotating potato peeler could be manipulated by amount of water, time in the machine, and the state of the potatoes.  How much would go to waste and how much time would one need to spend taking out ‘eyes’. This experience provided a case-study within my later PhD in cybernetics, “Information handling: concepts which emerged in practical situations and are analysed cybernetically.”

At the holiday conference centre, I attended their six-month Bible school and then went to West London to start my general nurse training.

When we were three months into our training, the matron interviewed us.  Matron told me that I was progressing quite well but was slow.

I didn’t comment to her, but did reflect that being slow was OK, because what I was trying to thoroughly understand what I was doing.  When I had understood, I would be faster than any of the other nurses. Previous competitive situations, especially those against myself had shown that was a realistic expectation.

This approach really paid off, when I was doing midwifery training.  I came on night-duty for my first 12-hour shift on a ward with mothers and their new babies, I was faced with a ward full of yelling new-borns and their exhausted and exasperated mothers.  Over the course of the first night I managed to get the babies fed so that they and their mothers could sleep. The mothers then had a much better chance of continuing to breast feed.

‘Innovation’ did not become part of my vocabulary until very recently, but my learning strategy inevitably led to smaller and larger innovations in many different contexts.  Curiosity and attention to the effects of details were essential.

Genevieve M Hibbs former: nurse (general and occupational health), midwife, Christian missionary, lecturer, elected councillor and mayor.

Image credit: Genevieve M Hibbs. Genevieve with her sister Pat.