Why Do Cars Have Brakes?

“The more sure we are, the more likely we are to suffer an illusion.” – Jerry Weinberg

Why do automobiles have brakes?

To stop, right?

To stop. That’s one answer.

Is there another answer? I heard this on the radio recently, and I jotted it down in my mental notebook.

Cars have brakes so they can go fast.

It’s the ability to stop quickly that allows us to travel at speeds much faster than if we didn’t have brakes.

Without brakes, we’d all drive very, very slowly. Brakes give us flexibility in stopping when you want, where you want, and how you want.

Analogously, in your life it’s the very presence of boundaries that create new freedoms. Freedom isn’t free. (Similarly paradoxical, having choice isn’t what helps us in decision-making.) Having a gas pedal isn’t what enables you to go fast. It’s having a gas pedal AND a brake pedal.

Sometimes the short-term sacrifices in our lives are actually enabling us to achieve long-term goals. Your brakes are helping you go faster, even if it’s frustrating to stop at the stop sign.

Also to note: how you answered this question clues you into how your brain operates when thinking about actions, functions, and relationships among systems. Thinking that brakes brake; and that’s all, is a limited view on the capability of a function in a system. Often, each action or movement has multiple effects in the system.

How can you train your brain to look again and see if you can find other answers? It’s very Jerry Weinberg (author of An Introduction to General Systems Thinking.)

The next time you do something, ask yourself how it works. And ask yourself, is that the only thing happening here?

Probably not.

So, why do cars have brakes?

“The boundary of one thing is often the beginning of another” – Leonardo

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Also published on Medium.

10 Responses to Why Do Cars Have Brakes?

  1. Kaya says:

    Thank you Sarah, for this post. It is easy to get fixed on thinking one thing ‘should’ be like this and I like how you shared a different perspective on brakes.

    I have had a long break from my main road, taking a detour. Turned out it was, and it is the most exciting detour I’ve ever taken. So I guess stopping, or going on a different road helps me achieve goals in a way that I never thought of.

  2. Maria says:

    Beautiful analogy Sarah.

  3. Jon Giganti says:

    Sarah – love this….I’m a big believer in oscillation. Our ability to think creatively often times comes at this “breaking” state and allows us the freedom to go “fast”. It’s like an athlete – it doesn’t help to always go as fast as possible. Sometimes a running back needs to slow down and make a cut to avoid a defender.

    Really insightful writing – keep up the great work!


  4. Matt says:

    Awesome post and a great perspective in life. I am adding Jerry Weinberg to my reading list.

  5. Evert says:

    Amazed by the ironic yet intellectual context of this analogy, I asked my officemates this question. Oh boy, did they glower me with an “are-you-kidding-me-look.” It totally made sense to me but to them it’s a joke and said I was a creepy, crazy fuzzball.

  6. […] to go fast, you also need to know how to control the […]

  7. […] by Sam Davidson on May 1, 2012 As Sarah Peck so wonderfully points out, cars have brakes not so they can go slow, but so they can go fast. […]

  8. Decisions says:

    […] Sarah at It Starts With challenged my systems thinking when she asked why cars have brakes. […]

  9. Lee says:

    To start on a hill…