A Tale of Street Lights

Years ago, I read a story about someone who moved to Italy and rented an apartment on the top floor of an old building. They get their first electric bill and it seemed extremely high to them, so they called the electric company to try to dispute it. This got them told "The bill is correct."

So then they go out to the fuse box and start pulling fuses to see what they are paying for. The first few fuses they pull shut down various rooms in their apartment, as expected.

And then the next fuse shuts off the elevator in the building. After that fuse, as they pull additional fuses, one by one, all the street lights on their street go out.

The punchline for the story was that the electric company came out the next day and rewired everything. For the author, the story ended there. It was just a funny story to tell.

For me, the story has a deeper meaning. The tale it tells is of someone in the past who had money and wanted to live in a more modern town and probably quietly paid to make that happen without a lot of fanfare. They probably paid for the lights to be installed and then paid for the electricity to run them every month for the rest of their lives and likely few people had any idea that was how that was happening.

If you want to cut through the red tape, having a good idea, the means to pay for it and the willingness to pay for it may be one of the most efficient means to make something happen.

It's too bad this type of thing isn't seen more often in the world.

If it's a bad idea, people may still object, so this only works if you have really done the leg work and come up with something good. It doesn't automatically kill the feedback process, it just makes it more likely that you will only get much hassle if it's something terrible.

In contrast, if you want others to help pay for it or implement it, it may never get done as people waste time arguing over who gets credit, what color to paint it, etc. Or it may get done -- at least partially -- but not to the standards you had envisioned.

It's hard to get anything done in the world, especially in the public sphere and especially to high standards. The more populous the world becomes, the more bogged down our processes seem to be.

We need to work on finding more best practices and perhaps this is a best practice that some people can run with.

If you are a small business, don't wait for government funding to come through. If you have a good idea or read of a good idea that is reasonably affordable and looks like it will pay for itself in the long run, pay out of pocket for it.

What I specifically have in mind at the moment is bike racks. If you think putting a bike rack on your commercial property is a good idea, don't wait for a government program or government funding. Make it happen if at all possible.

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