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The System Failures of Wile E. Coyote — The Lessons For All Us Coyotes.

This treatise is inspired by a relatively recent production of the Coyote v. Roadrunner cartoons, updated using modern technology, while incorporating the same humor. Please enjoy “Coyote Falls.”

As always, in Coyote Falls the coyote fails, but why? Coyote is clearly not completely stupid as his various schemes suggest a high degree of innovation and cleverness, they are “Wile E” plans. He also possesses an abundance of resources able to order whatever tools he desires from the famous ACME Company. Yet he (painfully) fails at every turn.

Mr. Coyote’s efforts suffer numerous systemic failures making the ultimate lack of success of his overly complex plans predictable. Let’s examine his problems in the episode above, from a systems perspective.

SPOILER ALERT (the Coyote fails)

In this episode Mr. Coyote’s plan seems simple enough (though in execution it is complex). He plans to entice Roadrunner (gender unknown) into eating on a highway. With Roadrunner distracted by his cleverly placed bird seed, Mr. Coyote will jump from a bridge high above, attached by his ACME Bungee Cord, snatch the blissfully unaware hapless flightless bird and enjoy a nice Roadrunner dinner on the bridge.

Flaw 1: The Plan Has A Very Low Margin For Error. The plan requires that Coyote’s jump precisely takes him within reach of the Roadrunner while not smashing into the road. From a fall of many hundreds of feet the bungee cord must stretch to a predictable precision of within about only one foot. If Coyote ends up even just a little too high (as happens) he cannot reach Roadrunner. If he ends up too low he smashes into the road. This lack of any margin of error for the plan to succeed suggests the second flaw.

Flaw 2: No Testing of the Plan. Any plan should be tested before executing it. The lesser the margin for error the higher the need for testing. We know Coyote did not test the length of rope reach at all because he is seen opening the ACME box with the bungee cord just before making his fateful leap. Coyote should have made numerous test jumps, perhaps even using a mock life sized Roadrunner, to insure the cord had proper reach, before attempting the actual stretch, snatch and rebound.

Flaw 3: Know When To Cut Your Losses. When conditions required to make the plan succeed no longer exist, give up the plan. Further attempts are doomed to fail. When his first attempts to grab Roadrunner fail due to the rope being too short, Coyote lengthens his reach by pulling out a fork and knife (why didn’t he do that on the first jump?). However, for the plan to succeed it required surprise, which has now been lost. Roadrunner seeing the Coyote coming simply steps to the side, because even a birdbrain knows to do that. The results are coyotestrophic.

Flaw 4: Anticipate (to the extent possible) Things That May Interfere With The Plan. Coyote tries again later, with fresh birdseed. We presume that he has corrected the problem with the reach of the cord. However, the plan fails when a vehicle (what turns out to be many vehicles) strikes our hero just as he reaches the bird. That a vehicle might come down a highway is a predictable thing. Coyote should have anticipated that possibility. From his vantage point, high on the bridge, he should have at least looked. In truth, the plan would require spotters to insure vehicles would not arrive unexpected to thwart the plan. He could have even closed the road.

Flaw 5: Have A Safety: Coyote unnecessarily suffers greatly because once the plan does fail he remains attached to the bungee cord. He has no means to release it. Every plan should anticipate the possibility of failure and include means to reduce the damage from failure.

In your own lives, learn the lessons painfully taught you by Wile E. Coyote. In all your plans:

  1. Allow for a margin of error, the more generous the better.
  2. Test the plan first.
  3. Know when to cut your losses when conditions necessary for the plan to succeed no longer exist.
  4. Anticipate and plan for those things that may interfere with the plan.
  5. Include in the plan provisions to mitigate harm if the plan fails.

Written by

Retired lawyer & Army vet in The Villages of Florida. Lifelong: Republican (pre-Trump), Constitution buff, science nerd & dog lover. Twitter: @KeithDB80

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