“It is not the strongest of the species that survives; nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin
Stability is a cultural legacy that we have built into the framework of our society. From our educational, corporate, and political institutions to
the way we organize our daily life, there is little room for flexibility. We’re
rewarded for conformity—for colouring inside the lines, for following
instruction, for agreeing with whatever our authorities tell us. Being
resistant to change is often seen as the epitome of personal strength; the
hallmark of a successful business; the foundation of a powerful country.
Often, those who embrace fluidity or think outside the box are met with
covert or direct punishment. If an employee disagrees with his/her boss or
otherwise goes against the grain, the result is the loss of status or even
being taken off the payroll. A teacher who encourages his/her students to think outside school policy may have to answer to angry parents and a distressed school board. A pastor who preaches from a controversial new angle may be
discredited or reprimanded by the congregation or synod.
In my third year of studies as a student of Human Justice, one of my
professors assigned me a grade I thought was unfair. When I went to
dispute the grade, my professor told me “Oh, your paper had plenty of great
ideas, Katie. You just didn’t adhere to the format I wanted you to follow.”
Essentially, I was penalized for departing from a process that seemed
deficient in order to create a new, and perhaps better, alternative.
For the past few months, I have been immersed in the dynamic and rapidly-changing work environment that is fostered at Not For Sale. Needless to say, it has been a refreshing and empowering experience for me. Not For Sale, as an
incubator of innovative ideas and solution-based initiatives, follows its
own business model without subscribing to the confines of another. At an
unprecedented pace, the national staff are ruthlessly executing ideas that
are not guaranteed to work. Rarely do we end up with the results we
expected—but often, the product of our action is even better than
we could have fathomed.
Trial and error can be a method of creating large-scale change. Do you
realize that some of the greatest or most popular inventions came to us
fortuitously, or were born out of a mistake? The popsicle, for example,
was accidentally invented by leaving a drink out in the cold overnight. A
pharmacist in Atlanta was endeavouring to make a cure for headaches, mixed
together a bunch of ingredients, and ended up producing the universally
popular beverage, Coke. Alexander Fleming’s study of bacteria causing food
poisoning led to his discovery of penicillin.
Experiments are imperative. Attempting to replicate what worked yesterday
is archaic. In fact, Albert Einstein defined “insanity” as “doing the same
thing over and over and expecting different results.” What we need is
recalibration. The tacit thoughts, behaviours, political structures, and
business models we’ve always assumed were infallible need to be questioned.
In some cases, we need to dismantle them completely.
Replacing order and caution with innovativeness and risks does leave us
vulnerable. But it also creates greater potential to thrive. Our mistakes
help us to develop and succeed. Did Thomas Edison consider all of his
attempts to invent the light bulb to be a mark of failure? Of course
not—rather, he brought a new slant to experimentation by remarking: “We now
know a thousand ways not to make a light bulb.”
Those who are most likely to succeed are those who are most adaptable to
change. As if Darwin’s theory of evolution hasn’t been applied to enough
sociological and anthropological theories already, I now apply it to the
nonprofit sector … but because it works. Just ask Not For Sale.