31 Jan 2012

On the edge of survival

Posted by jofr

There is an old saying  “necessity is the mother of invention” (in German “Not macht erfinderisch”) which means difficult situations inspire innovative solutions. It goes back to Plato who speaks in The Republic of necessity, who is the mother of invention: “let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.” When people really need and want to do something, they will figure out a way to do it.  Are people on the edge of survival more innovative than others? We argued earlier that innovation is an adaptation to the permanent threat of extinction. Individuals which are critically endangered or threatened by extinction have a stronger incentive to be innovative than others.

One example are the people of two small valleys in the Italian dolomites, Val di Zoldo and the neighboring valley “il Cadore” (or “Val di Cadore”), with the towns Zoldo Alto, Forno di Zoldo and Zoppe di Cadore. In the second half of the 19th century an economic crisis hit the Val di Zoldo, a narrow, picturesque valley in the Dolomites. Today, the region is a wonderful skiing area, but at that time the economic crisis forced residents to reinvent their professions. Many emigrated to Austria and Germany, trying to succeed in different professions. The official site of the valley says:

The people of the Zoldo Valley, always forced to emigrate in search of work, did their best in every field: shipwrights in Venice, carpenters in the building of roads and dykes, woodsmen, mechanics, pastry makers, peddlers of cooked pears and candied fruit. From the mid-19th century the Zoldo Valley inhabitants started to produce and sell their own ice-cream.

Selling homemade ice cream (“gelato”) was apparently one of the more successful activities, and finally the famous Italian ice cream carts and parlors were born. Due to the excellent quality of the ice cream produced by the Italian ice ceam makers according to local Zoldo tradition, the Italian ice-cream immediately gained success establishing itself by far the best on the European market. Zoldo Alto became the valley of the ice cream makers: Val di Zoldo is now known as the “valle dei gelatieri”.

Today, allegedly 75% of the ice cream parlors in Germany come from two small valleys in the Italian dolomites, val di Zoldo and Val di Cadore. What can we learn from this? On the edge of survival, ice cream can save your life..

(The Flickr photo of the strawberry ice cream is from Flickr user Jessica Merz)


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