Tesla and Elon Musk will be inspired by New Jersey’s slight

Elon Musk has gained a lot of attention as of late. Whether it’s his hyperloop technology, self-landing rocket tests, or Tesla Motors, he has captured the adoration of technologists, scientists and the general public. But not all the news is good.

Last week the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission voted to ban Tesla’s operations with a rule that requires new motor vehicles to be sold through authorized franchises. Because Tesla does not have franchises, it will likely have to close its two stores in New Jersey. Not surprisingly, Tesla was more than a little upset with these “anti-Tesla regulations,” posting on its blog frustration over what looks like an apparent stab in the back from Governor Chris Christie’s staff.

The commission and Christie’s staff seem to defend their decision citing current laws in place, designed to ensure a fair playing field but many believe this is simply an excuse, the real reason being protectionist-like policies influenced in part by New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers. Even Rep. Tim Eustace said Christie was “unilaterally bypassing the legislature and serving as a roadblock as the electric car industry attempts to expand its presence in New Jersey,” Philly.com reported.

My personal opinion is that this is more a case of bigger car companies trying to subdue a new flashy competitor. A new competitor that has made indications it will expand.

But with New Jersey joining Texas in their ban of Tesla sales, are we seeing a pattern? With the noose beginning to tighten are we seeing the end of Tesla before they truly get started? Actually, I see the opposite.

History has shown us that when driven individuals are met with impossible challenges and constraints, instead of stopping progress, they discover new opportunities that were unimaginable before. My favorite example of this is put eloquently by my friend Matthew May in his book, The Laws of Subtraction (Disclosure: I made a brief contribution to the book).

He describes how Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel started as an impossible challenge. Michelangelo was initially hired by the pope to do sculpture, his preferred medium. Fearing their loss of influence and seeking to elevate Raphael, a new up-and-comer revered as a genius, the pope’s advisors engineered a clever trap.

Knowing Michelangelo hated painting and had zero experience with fresco, that’s exactly what they persuaded the Pope to change the scope to just that, and for good measure he had to pull it off on his back painting the ceiling. If Michelangelo refused, his career would be over, but if he attempted and failed he would be humiliated. What started as impossible constraint, drove Michelangelo’s creativity with him developing his own fresco technique, inventing his own scaffolding design, and even driving him to expand the scope of the project to the walls as well.

With the odds stacked against it, will Tesla break down or will these challenges push it many miles farther than it ever imagined? That story has yet to be written, but I believe history is on their side. These constraints may just be the very spark this electric car company will use to unlock explosive creative potential, reinventing the entire American car industry.

This article originally appeared in The Washington Post on March 17, 2014. You can read it here.

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