Roadrunner cartoons were among my favorites growing up. When my sons were young, I enjoyed watching and sharing these classic funnies with them. It was a cherished Saturday morning ritual for a few short years. Cartoons in the early 1980s were primarily for entertainment and not the not-so-cleverly contrived animations we see now that seek to do far more than entertain. I watched them with my sons because it was something they enjoyed. Watching, I discovered the Road Runner cartoon seemed to put our approach to problem-solving into clear perspective
The roadrunner is a dumb bird possessing only one asset, incredible speed. On the other hand, the wily coyote seems to have everything going for him. He is a regular genius. So how does this dumb bird keep from ending up in the jaws of the intelligent predator?
We soon learn the coyote has a peculiar flaw. The predator, with all his advantages, still cannot catch the dumb little roadrunner. Here, in metaphor, is how we, like the wily coyote, have learned to approach problem-solving situations. The coyote, rather than devising a straightforward plan, continually escalates his approach. After each failure, it adds more inputs. It expends more energy, time, capital, technology, and resources expecting to satisfy his obsession. It wants the stupid bird for dinner. Of course, what we see, and what makes the cartoon funny and work are the luckless carnivore’s progressively more spectacular failures. His genius is repeatedly thwarted by the dumb bird’s simple defense.
Our approach to solving problems bears a striking resemblance to that of the wily coyote. We keep using more energy, capital, time, technology, and scarce resources to solve problems, yet things keep getting worse. We are mired in muck, trying to solve our problems using the same thinking that created them. The climate crisis looms. The health crisis grows more overwhelming. A financial collapse waits only for the right moment, and terrorists threaten us at home as well as abroad. Like the coyote, we still are no closer to solving our problems than before. All we seem to have accomplished is the squandering of vast quantities of energy and resources on more elaborate schemes resulting in more frustration and failure.
Consider our experience from the Vietnam War. We had vast advantages in technology, armaments, firepower, and logistics but could not defeat a determined enemy using simple tools and solutions to combat us. Our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has some similar qualities. Our solution? Use drones that cost millions of dollars to shoot missiles that cost thousands of dollars each to destroy mud huts and kill people who make less than a dollar a day.
Americans, in particular, are apt to fall into this trap. We have two flaws that make this outcome probable. One, we often believe we have the solution to whatever the problem is. All that needs to happen is for others to get out of our way and let us show how wonderful we are. The second is our twisted belief that acquiring great wealth bestows knowledge and wisdom providing an almost god-like adoration by the envious masses.
On another front, the pontifications of the billionaire elite are received almost as gospel. Their pronouncements receive plenty of attention from the press and electronic media. They are experts because they are rich. They are listened to even when what they propose or write is balderdash. The Gates Foundation has funded geoengineering schemes to address climate change and global warming while speaking against measures to discourage and halt the use of fossil fuels. Jeff Bezos wants to build cylinder habitats in space to move humans off-planet. It might be a useful idea in the future for us to learn how to create sustainable environments in outer space. First, we need to learn how to live sustainably within the habitat we know as earth. If we fail here, what happens there will not matter. Elon Musk plans to send people, not himself naturally, to Mars without us having the technologies and capabilities to support such an endeavor. It would be a one-way death trip for whoever signs up to bolster an over-sized ego.
No entity on earth spends more money developing increasing numbers of sophisticated equipment, gadgets, and weapons than the U.S. Department of Defense. Our nation’s treasure is pouring into this wealth devouring creation in ever-increasing amounts. The benefits versus the costs are rarely or never asked. Like the coyote cartoon, we believe spending more brings more benefits and solves problems.
The scheming coyote never sees or suspects the glaring error of its approach. Despite its intelligence and skill, the canine never sees or suspects the mistake. It is incapable of sitting down and re-conceptualizing and redefining the problem. Men often have the same difficulty. We believe more information or more resources, more equipment or more of everything will solve the problem—whatever it is. However, adding more only serves to lock us more deeply in the same approach to problem-solving. Albert Einstein said it best, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” His words define insanity.
In other words, the solution to a problem is most often not achieved by applying more of anything! The answer is found in approaching our problems differently, to see them from new perspectives and angles. Solving twenty-first Century problems beginning with climate change and global warming will not be accomplished locked into our current mode of thinking and problem-solving. Solutions will be determined by how effectively we can teach ourselves to see our problems in new ways. We need to reopen the doors of our minds and let in new approaches and ideas. In doing this, we move beyond merely acquiring more information and more knowledge toward applying wisdom.
Also available at Jerrymlawson.medium.com