"The movie Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control documents the lives of four unusual men. The first is a lion tamer in a circus. The second designs and builds robots, including little robots created to walk on the moon. The third is a scientist who becomes an expert on the private life of a hairless mammal called the mole rat. The fourth is a gardener who has spent fifty years pruning giant bushes into animal shapes.
"Although I have called these men unusual, they are actually quite normal. What they share with one another and with all of us is that each in his own way is trying to maintain control in an essentially uncontrollable world. What is unusual about them is their occupations, which amplify what we all do in our own particular way: attempt to control the world in order to provide ourselves the illusion of security and happiness.
"The lion tamer's control strategy is never to show fear. Every time he leaves the cage, he is dripping with sweat, but he never lets the lions know that he's afraid. He must maintain the illusion that he is in charge. Even when a lion bites his calf and blood is dripping into his boot, he won't leave the cage. He stays to finish the act, to maintain his stance of control of these animals, knowing they could tear him apart in the blink of an eye.
"The robot designer wants to create machines that will do his bidding in order to make the world a more efficient place. Yet he discovers that he can't exactly make the robots walk. All he can do is program a sequence of mechanical actions that might result in walking. This relatively simple task gives him a glimpse into the incredible complexity of human movement and the difficulty of programming change. Yet still he looks for a way to maintain the illusion of control.
"The man who researches mole rats sets up elaborate displays in museums that illustrate how, like ants and bees, mole rats duplicate the mole rats' natural habitat, which is an elaborate maze of underground tunnels. He realizes that in nature something as ordinary as the foot of a passing elephant could crush and destroy this entire tunnel world. But knowing the arbitrary dangers in the mole rats' natural environment doesn't stop him from doing everything possible to create artificial conditions under which he can ward off any danger and guarantee safety.
"The gardener has spent half a century working in a wealthy woman's extensive garden, manually pruning large bushes into incredible animal-shaped topiary. Yet a single storm could destroy years of his work. The movie portrays him walking helplessly through his garden in the midst of an icy rainstorm, an image that evokes the gut feeling of groundlessness that comes when we realize how flimsy our control strategies are. Despite his diligence, he can never control the damage that nature's forces might wreak.
"Like these four men, all of us are doing whatever it is we do to shape our world in accordance with our illusion of control. Our world becomes small and insulated as we focus on some little corner of our self-centered dream, trying to bolster our sense of comfort and security. And yet no matter how tight our stragegy is, we're all just one doctor's visit away from losing control."