Some interesting scifi news this week reminded me that I need to talk about Second Rat Gets the Cheese (SRGTC) Syndrome when we discuss Solarpunk. Yes, we need innovation to solve the problems of humanity that we currently face. Yet, is it just a matter of ‘find a problem, solve it?’ Historically, the answer to this question is ‘no.’
Here’s why I’m talking about this. Yahoo reported last month that the California’s Public Utilities Commission approved a significant expansion for Cruise and Waymo, the state’s two licensed robotaxi services … Just one week later Cruise agreed to cut its fleet in half after one of its driverless vehicles “entered the intersection on a green light and was struck” by a fire truck.
Robotaxis aren’t the only disruptive industry facing issues. Carbon-sequestering company Charm Industrial has people lining up to dunk on their technology and yet their stated intent is so bold and positive that you can’t help but wish for them to succeed so we can start gaining traction against the looming specter of climate change disaster.
We need to talk about these issues in the context of Second Rat Gets the Cheese (SRGTC) Syndrome. Just because we found an answer doesn’t mean we’re done with the question. Just because the first solution didn’t solve the problem doesn’t mean we’re abandoning the cause. We should expect failure, we should expect to go back to the drawing board. This is what real innovation looks like, when it’s happening in real-time.
That’s why I’m talking about all of this. We need these technologies, we need to move toward solarpunk solutions. We need to talk about Second Rat Gets the Cheese (SRGTC) Syndrome. Yes, this is a thing, and yes, we’ve seen it in the past. Walk with me through some historical, anecdotal evidence to support this conclusion. Everything’s going to be okay, eventually.
Innovation: A Non-Linear Journey
Most problems aren’t caused by a single issue. Most solutions aren’t achieved by a single path, either. Our culture has conditioned us to expect a simple A/B/C path and that hurts real innovators. In 2023, transparency means we’re getting to see how the sausage is made for really big, new ideas. This natural outcome of innovation has led to 21st Century Malcontents who make naysaying their personality. It’s discouraging innovators who may not have the emotional energy to deal with that negativity, and it can by extension hurt the rest of us.
But even the best-laid plans can still fail. That’s where Second Rat Gets the Cheese (SRGTC) Syndrome comes in. Let’s discuss some past examples:
A Brief History of Innovative Failure
In the pursuit of new ideas and innovation, we’re always looking for the NEXT BIG THING. Where are we going? What’s going to matter? How can I be on the right side of history? You can make a very comfortable living with the right business card and a marketing campaign discussing your prognostications about the next twenty years of civilinnovation. But, big ideas aren’t the end of the story.
Now, let’s talk about the Second Rat Gets the Cheese. According to QuoteInvestigator – the twisted proverb or anti-proverb first appeared appeared in the Usenet newsgroup rec.games.video.arcade in a message posted by “David Jakovac”. The saying was freestanding and no attribution was given: The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese!
Simply put: early adopters aren’t always beneficiaries. Countless examples exist throughout history. Valerian and Laureline were innovative scifi comics from the 70s, introducing concepts like a Cloud City, freezing somebody in a weird substance, and a girl in a sexy ‘slave outfit.’ But it wasn’t until a scifi franchise called ‘Star Wars’ came along that these concepts really connected with the larger audience of scifi fans. Allen Steele wrote a story about cloned dinosaurs in 1990 called ‘Trembling Earth’ but it wasn’t until an upstart named Michael Chricton published his book ‘Jurassic Park’ that the whole world jumped onto the bandwagon of cloned dinosaurs.
It’s not just scifi stories. Webvan was a startup started in 1996, growing fast to take advantage of its ‘first-mover’ advantage. But it wasn’t until a startup like Instacart that the public was ready to embrace web-based grocery shopping.
Get what I’m saying? History is rife with examples where the first guy through the door was the last guy to win the prize. The early bird may get the worm, but the second rat gets the cheese. Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come, as Victor Hugo is paraphrased as saying, but nothing is as vulnerable as a powerful idea whose time has not yet arrived. Ergo, it is wise to view all new disruptive ideas with cautious optimism. Yes, this sounds like a good idea – but what are we missing?
Living With Second Rat Gets the Cheese (SRGTC) Syndrome
The truth is, SRGTC Syndrome has always been with us. Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of failed inventions. The problems these inventions were designed to solve didn’t go away, we solved them eventually. The watered-down, over-simplified version of history we learn in school failed to teach us to keep trying. Yet, we need to learn to live with SRGTC if we plan to survive what’s happening now, and whatever happens next.
How do you live with SRGTC? I’ll discuss that more in an upcoming blog post. The main thing to take away now is: SRGTC is a thing – don’t be scared when you encounter it. It just means you’re going to have to find a different way to solve the problem.