When the Italian government announced that all villages with fewer than 1000 residents would be forced to merge with nearby villages to save money, they expected compliance. Bureaucrats can assume obedience, and if not obedience, then submission.
Mayor Luca Sellari did not see compliance as necessary. Instead, he and the village declared independence from Italy, printed its own currency, announced a new coat of arms and invited a member of the deposed royal family to become the Prince of Filettino!
Many small towns were unhappy but only this group of 544 people tried something non-obvious. Yet obvious actions – like complaining or writing letters – would have been anticipated by the same bureaucracies who have adapted in such unimaginative (and damaging) ways to the financial crisis.
Reversing the obvious adaptation opens up possibilities. Even just speaking against prevailing wisdom out loud can create opportunities. Saying the opposite can free people from never seriously considering alternatives. It takes considerable imagination – and for unacceptable wisdom to be embraced. Progress so often depends on obsessive creativity.
At Levi Strauss & Co, Carl Chiara wasn’t happy about the arms race in jean manufacturing. He wasn’t willing to accept the 42 litres of water used in the finishing process to give jeans the designer tucks, creases, and wear marks.
“We went down to the laundry”, he explained. “And told them we wanted to do the most incredible finishing you’ve ever seen, but we didn’t want to use any water. They thought we were crazy because you go to a laundry to use water. But we got really stubborn. And we figured it out.”
They invented stone washes without stones. They found a way of rinsing with resin instead of with water. And as a result of all the changes made, the water used in the most efficient production processes went down by 96%.
The obvious adaptation would be to hide the facts their customers, or at least to not go looking for inconvenient truths. The less obvious adaptation to customer and environmental concerns is to find out how much water was used and then advertise that information. The less obvious adaptation is accepting responsibility for water wastage and doing something about it.
Many innovative solutions came from creating a problem (by rebelling against the status quo) instead of waiting for a problem to solve. Rebellion can create problems where none existed. It can resist acceptance – the enemy of transcendent adaptability. A rebellious nature fights against constraints, tilts at windmills, stands up when it should lie down, it fights when it should quit. It refuses the will of the crowd. It rejects easy conformity.
If you want better solutions, you need better problems. There is a place in adaptability heaven for those people who set their standards above what exists. Their desire to improve what is around them comes from a deep sense of self; it is innate rather than externally imposed. And as a result, cannot be stopped by external opposition or satisfaction. So, if you want to learn, listen to the other side of the argument. If you want to new wisdom, embrace unacceptable wisdom.