Mon, Sep

Tower of Pisa and LA Similar: Both Tilted the Wrong Way for Years


RETHINKING LA - The Leaning Tower of Pisa tilted to one side for more than 800 years, slowly settling in the soft subsoil to the point that it was in danger of toppling over. In 1964, the government of Italy requested aid, resulting in a multinational task force of engineers and mathematicians who spent over two decades on stabilization studies that failed to solve the problem.

Along came a gardener who looked at the tower and recognized that the problem was similar to the planting of a large tree. “You don’t raise the low side” the gardener explained, “the trick is to lower the high side, allowing the tower to settle into the ground.”

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was saved and for the first time in its history, it stopped moving, demonstrating the power of a fresh perspective and the value of new thinking when working on old problems.

More recently, a company in the business of making things stick produced a glue that simply didn’t work. An exasperated boss applied the adhesive to two pieces of paper and then pulled them apart saying to his staff “What am I going to do with a glue that doesn’t stick?”

A staffer innocently commented “Sometimes I prefer a glue that doesn’t stick forever.” That fresh perspective resulted in the invention of the Post-It.

Life as we know it is filled with examples of accidental discoveries that demonstrate the nature of genius as the ability to look at things differently and to recognize opportunity when faced with defeat.

Alexander Fleming, a Scottish bacteriologist, returned from vacation to discover mold growing on the bacteria cultures he had left exposed in his laboratory. His curiosity exceeded his cleanliness, resulting in the discovery of penicillin.

Alfred Nobel was working with nitroglycerin, a highly unstable explosive, when he dropped some on the ground, but it didn’t explode. His clumsiness resulted in a discovery that led him to develop dynamite.

Life as we know it is filled with inventions and innovations that are the result of happy accidents.

From potato chips and Corn Flakes to pacemakers and anesthetics, we’re surrounded by the results of average folks challenging the status quo and simply asking “What if?”

Even humor has the power to transform as was demonstrated when Dr. Palmer heard a joke so funny he slapped the back of the deaf man next to him, restoring the man’s hearing, and leading to the development of Chiropractic medicine.

This is America, it was discovered by accident. It’s our heritage to celebrate the unexpected and to make the best of the opportunities that often come disguised as problems or failures.

There’s no reason, short of rampant timidity, that we should be an entire generation behind in traffic control innovations or in communications technology.

There’s no reason, short of fear of failure, that we be so far behind in the development of more efficient, effective, economical, and environmentally sensitive energy producing strategies.

There’s no reason, short of institutional mythology, that we should be held hostage as individuals, as communities, and as a city by those who avoid change by arguing “That’s not how it’s done!” and avoid action by claiming “We’ll get sued!”

The City of Los Angeles is in the midst of a crisis and the Mayor has two years to turn around the failures of the Housing, Building & Safety, Planning, Transportation and Water & Power Departments.

Based on results, often harsh but always fair, it’s going to take a fresh perspective, one that rejects the inertia of the past in favor of seizing this moment as an opportunity for new thinking.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:            [email protected] .)

Vol 9 Issue 45
Pub: June 7, 2011