I better start this with full disclosure: I feel especially close to Roadrunner and Coyote, and not just because they’re my favorite TV cartoon characters. It so happens that a few years ago, I got a chance to direct an amazing team doing 17 brand new Roadrunner episodes for Warner Bros. I even got to storyboard a couple of them myself, and animate a few shots as well.
Here’s one of the shorts we’ve done:
Given that I’ve been thinking of nothing but Coyotes and Roadrunners for a couple of years, I guess it’s no wonder they jumped at me as the perfect metaphor for two very distinct kinds of creative professionals…
ARE YOU A COYOTE?
If you think about it, the thing that perhaps defines Coyote the most is that he’s compulsively creative. He has this one problem – how to catch the Roadrunner; and in every episode, he finds a completely new way of trying to do that. In other words, he never tries the same idea twice! Even as a small kid, I remember thinking that this was his main fault. Had he tried one of his better ideas a few times, surely he could have learned from previous mistakes, refine it, and get it to work!
Of course, that would have made for quite a boring cartoon show… but that’s not the point.
So – who are the Coyote-type creative professionals?
These are the artists who live for innovation. They’re always on the lookout for the next great idea. They like experimenting, inventing stuff and learning new technology, which is why they’re often good at more than one thing. They think big and get bored with the little details, and they absolutely can’t stand dry practice or repetitive work!
What’s great about being a Coyote?
Because they do a bit of everything, a coyote’s experience is rich and varied – and that’s an absolute asset in this dynamic, fast changing era. They can combine seemingly unconnected experiences and capabilities to create stunning innovations (Steve Jobs famously fell in love with calligraphy, which has nothing to do with computers – except that it had revolutionized the computer industry forever).
Always happy to explore uncharted territories, Coyotes get to seize opportunities other people don’t know about or can’t use. Once establishing themselves, hey often become leaders and teachers in these innovative areas.
They are also great problem solvers, often coming up with outside-the-box solutions. Just don’t ask them to catch a Roadrunner: that’s one problem they can’t solve.
What sucks about being a Coyote?
Just like the original cartoons, Coyotes can get caught up with innovation and forget the value of accumulated experience and specialization. They can get confused with all the different options around, biting more than they can chew, spreading themselves too thin and losing sight of who they really are and what they’re really good at. They also tend to leave too many things unfinished and lose confidence in their ability to succeed.
Test yourself: Are you a coyote?
The more YES you get, the more of a Coyote you are!
- Have you started multiple personal projects, each one completely unique and different?
- Have you been working on a single project for years, but haven’t made much progress?
- Do you have a whole bunch of unfinished projects in your bag?
- When you succeed with a project, do you tend to lose interest and try something else?
- In the last 3 years, have you tried to seriously develop yourself in more than one professional direction?
- Do you like inventing interesting new ways of doing things?
- Do you enjoy learning new software and tools?
- Are you constantly on the lookout for the next exciting idea?
- Do you often jump out of bed and rush to try out a new idea you just had?
ARE YOU A ROADRUNNER?
The roadrunner, by complete contrast, is perhaps the least creative character ever seen on screen. He has no ideas, no solutions, he never tries anything and never ponders. He can do, wants to do, the one and only thing that he does so amazingly well: run.
Likewise, Roadrunner-type creatives usually focus on the one thing they can do better than anyone else. They tend to like doing things in the good old tried-and-tested way. As students they are the ones who practice the hardest and get the best results; and as professional creatives, they make the most diligent and reliable workers out there.
What’s great about being a Roadrunner?
Roadrunners don’t get confused with options and decisions. They just run on, happily oblivious to the cacophony of ideas and possibilities offered to them. Investing 100% of their productive time in a single medium or method, they accumulate experience very fast. Over time, they become extremely good at what they do. In a world that allows (and often demands) niche specialists, this is often the key to success.
What sucks about begin a Roadrunner?
Focusing on a single medium or method, Roadrunners essentially put all their eggs in one basket. In today’s very changeable creative environment, they are woefully vulnerable to change.
This isn’t just a fancy theory, by the way. As an animator, I’ve experienced for myself the big industry shift from drawn animation to 3D animation. Within a few short years, some of the most prominent figures in the industry had completely disappeared. They were Roadrunners who just couldn’t change. I also started as a 2D animator, but being a pretty hardcore Coyote I was way ahead of the trend. When the industry changed, I suddenly found myself at the front, supervising a team of 20 animators in a brand new 3D animation studio and making more than twice my former salary.
I personally think it’s also a bit boring to be a complete roadrunner, endlessly doing that one particular thing in that one particular way. I believe this kind of extreme narrowness is harmful to artists. It makes them stale, unimaginative, repetitive, and ultimately pretty tiresome.
Test yourself: are you a Roadrunner?
Again, the more YES you get the more of a Roadrunner you are.
- Have you been focused exclusively on a single creative medium (e.g. oil painting) for more than 3 years straight?
- Have you been focused exclusively on a single style of theme (e.g. semi-realistic caricatures) for more than 3 years straight?
- Have you worked at the same company, or for the same client, for more than 5 years?
- Are you known to have an amazingly extensive knowledge about a very specific subject?
- Do you care more about your medium than about the content?
- Do you tend to trust proven, tried-and-tested ways of doing things?
- Do you tend to follow experienced people’s advice rather than try your own solutions?
As you have probably gathered by now, Roadrunner and Coyote are the two unlikely extremes of a pretty wide scale. Few people are 100% this or that; however, most of us are noticeably closer to one of these two poles. Understanding where you are on the scale and what the implications are – advantages as well as snags – can help you steer your creative career more wisely.
If you’re more of a coyote – take full advantage of those special opportunities that present themselves in a brand new field. Those are the ones that will take you the furthest and fastest. Take any opportunity to help others follow suit – nothing in this world pays more dividends than a crowd of people that see you as the expert!
Fight the urge to jump to new ideas before your previous ones get a proper chance to bare fruits. Try to be focused on finishing rather than a starting. Accept that that every success story MUST come with some amount of repetition and trivial work. Life can’t be always a fun cartoon, you know!
If you’re more of a roadrunner – look for ways to capitalize on your special niche capabilities. Look for customers or employers who are desperate for exactly what you have. Also, if you know more than anyone else on a very particular topic, there are plenty of people out there who would pay good money to learn from you. Find a way to help them do that!
In addition, try to open up a little. Don’t bury yourself in a single company for too many years – the combination of limited contacts and a narrow field of expertise can have a devastating effect when you get to around 40. Also, try to at least find a creative hobby you can get good at in addition to your professional course. Just as in Steve Jobs’ case, different areas of expertise are likely to find interesting ways of enhancing one another, helping your art grow in unexpected ways, outwards instead of coiling onto itself.
Are you more of a Roadrunner or more of a Coyote? What’s great about it? What’s annoying about it? Write a comment and share your own experience!