Day 5: “Getting on with it”


Radiation was Marie Curie’s field of expertise.

She knew more about radiation than any other person on the planet. She was after all, the person who discovered two new elements – radium and polonium.

She was the person who coined the word “radioactivity”.

Marie had won two Noble Prizes – the first person to ever achieve such a feat – for her work with radiation.

When War started in 1915, Marie Curie had to make a decision. Her Radium Institute had only recently been built to conduct research into radioactivity.

Now though, Marie found herself without any staff. They had all gone off to war to fight.

Marie was forty-eight years old. No one would have objected if she had chosen to retire quietly to the country for the duration of the war.

That wasn’t Marie’s style. She was a worker. She liked to be useful. She gave some thought to what she could do to alleviate suffering during the war.

She could volunteer as a nurse but she was used to being her own boss. She would find it hard to take orders.

Besides, it would be better for her to do something that made use of her strengths. After a lot of thought she came up with a sensational idea. She would help the war effort with X-Rays.

X-Rays, as a medical aid, were still in their infancy.

Marie, though, could see how useful they would be to surgeons working on the wounded. Shrapnel and bullets could easily be located with X-Rays.

Precious time and effort would be saved. Many unnecessary amputations would be avoided if army doctors had access to this marvelous invention. All she had to do was find a way to get an X-Ray machine to the wounded.

The solution was elegant and simple. Marie would develop a mobile X-Ray unit.

Wherever there were wounded to be treated she would arrive with her mobile X-Ray unit.

Marie hadn’t counted on the bureaucracy she would come up against. It was, after all, war time. She was a female, civilian and working outside official channels.

Red tape was everywhere. Petty bureaucrats thwarted her every move with “you can’t go there”, “you can’t have that”, “you need form S before we will let you in” etc.

Yet, according to her daughter, “Marie possessed in the highest degree that humble, precious gift of  “getting on with it”.

She made masterly use of the super method which the French in wartime called “System D”

– the defeat of red tape with ingenuity.

She borrowed cars from the rich – who else had a car in 1915 war-torn Paris?- with a gleeful promise to return the cars after the war (if they were not blown to pieces!)

At the end of the war, Marie Curie had begged and borrowed enough cars and materials to have twenty mobile X-Ray units (affectionately called “little Curies” by soldiers)

Marie had also established more than two hundred permanent radiological stations.

More than a million people were X-Rayed thanks to her ingenuity, persistence, getting on with!

System D

Don’t get caught up in others’ red tape (or even your own.)

Develop the precious gift of getting on with it. Find a way through, over, under or around. Be ingenious! Make a difference!

Decide what you want and then cut loose. Go and do it.

Marie Curie had a simple process. She saw what she had to do. She wasn’t overawed by the problems she faced. She just took them on, one at a time, solving them in a sensible, practical manner.

One women, with no money and no political allies, working on her own, against enormous bureaucracy, found a way to have 1,000,000 people X-rayed on the front lines, in one of the most brutal wars of all time.

Don’t be held back with red tape. Use System D. Practice “getting on with”


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