Stop the insanity!

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. M. Kenui Balutski
  • 71st Flying Training Wing command chief
Nearly 60 years ago Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results." After more than six decades, Dr. Einstein's definition of insanity still rings true as we routinely fail to adapt when it makes sense. In most situations, we're more comfortable proclaiming, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," instead of transforming our "good" into "great" by innovating.

About a month ago, I was talking to my sons about overcoming sports challenges by using "adjustments" against their opponents. As is usually the case, this talk led to an illustration from my past -- one from1992 where I had to face an undefeated champion. I was paraded into a packed arena and was forced into a contest that no human had ever won.

Yes, you heard me right. A human being had never gotten close to toppling the reigning champion -- a cockatoo named Elvis. I was involuntarily paired against a feather-duster wearing a Mohawk in what seemed to be a "no-win" scenario.

It was March and I was home on leave in Hawaii with my wife Donna and five of our family members from the states. This was the first time that Donna and her folks had ever been to Hawaii, so I guided them all over the islands to visit some local tourist attractions. One of those attractions was Paradise Park on Oahu, famous for its tropical bird shows.

While at the park, I was singled out by the bird trainers to star in the last show of the day. This finale was advertised as a contest where man faced bird in some type of race. At first I wondered why they selected me to represent the entire human species until I saw my opponent on center stage.

Standing roughly 12 inches tall and weighing in at three pounds, Elvis the Cockatoo was only slightly larger than one of my shoes. As the cheers erupted from the crowd I realized that Elvis was the "David" in this contest and I was the unfortunate "Goliath."

As the lead trainer announced the contest rules to the audience, I was given an oversized clothespin and was told that it would be my beak. Using only that beak, I was supposed to pick a hula-hoop off the floor, carry it to a stake in the middle of the stage, and deposit it there.

Elvis could use his own beak, but he'd have to transport three smaller rings instead. Although traditional logic suggested that I could get my one ring delivered before Elvis moved his three, it just wasn't the case. In fact, my task was virtually impossible -- by design.

My clothespin could only clamp onto a small fraction of the hula-hoop so gravity would pull it down whenever I tried lifting it up. The clothespin was also too thick to slide under the hoop, so trying to wedge it beneath the hoop wouldn't work either. All I could do was push the hula-hoop around the floor aimlessly as Elvis strutted past me and delivered his first ring. That's when it dawned on me. Elvis remained undefeated because his contenders only tried conventional things, and those would never work. Dr. Einstein would have called all of us insane.

What I needed were brand new tactics or unconventional methods to either enable myself or disrupt Elvis' operation. What I had was a giant clothespin in hand, a hula-hoop on the floor and about a minute left on the clock. I knew that I needed to do things that no one had thought of before.

In a flash, some innovative ideas materialized, but most of them weren't very sporting. I could grab Elvis by the drumstick, capture his rings or snatch his stake and hide it in the parking lot. Sure, those tactics would keep Elvis from winning, but they wouldn't allow me to get my job done. No dice. In order to complete my mission I'd need to get that darned hula-hoop off the ground.

As Elvis was dropping off his second ring I had a "eureka" moment. That's when I pushed my hoop to the edge of the stage, got my clothespin underneath the exposed end and lifted it up from below. That successful subterranean attack ultimately became the turning point in the war.

As the hoop came up, the trainers gasped and I began a victory lap before my feathered friend could pick up his last ring. Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building, but this time with a mark on his undefeated record. Actually, I waited for Elvis to catch-up and we shared a "tie." After all, I didn't need to beat a bird; I just needed to beat my barriers to task completion and mission success.

Critics are predicting that our Air Force will decline in dominance because we've been requiring "too much, from too little, for too long." They figure that sometime in the near future we'll lose ground in some of our core competencies and won't be able to overcome the personnel draw-downs and mission plus-ups for long.

If the naysayers think we're facing a no-win scenario, then they underestimated a key variable in their argument. That variable is the determination and ingenuity of the American Airman.

As a member of the Total Force, every one of us has a core responsibility to innovate and improve our mission areas whenever we recognize a need. So, if you see something that could be done better, let someone know about it. Your unique perspective might be one that has never been considered before and just may transform the way we do business. It really is up to everyone to innovate and be the advocate for changes that make sense.

Bottom line: Think of ways to improve your campsite every day. You just might have an answer that keeps the mission on-track or makes life better for someone in your area of responsibility.

Speak up and stop the insanity.