That Isn’t the Definition of Insanity


“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” -Unknown

How many times have you heard this quote? Do you believe it?

It’s quite a convenient saying at the beginning of an inspirational talk to encourage you to make a change. And in many cases, it is wise to consider that continuing to eat hamburgers and getting the same number of steps every day won’t make you any better at losing weight. And yelling at your team one more time probably won’t suddenly get them to write code any faster.

But what is wrong with this much-repeated phrase?

First of all, it’s incorrect, and I’m going to guess there are a few psychologists who would like that noted. But I’m going to assume you knew that.

The bigger problem is that sometimes you should absolutely consider trying the same thing again. Why? Three things are always changing: circumstances, other people, and you; pretty much everything except physics. The context may have been wrong, people may have evolved in their thinking, and you probably won’t ever do the same thing *exactly* the same way next time anyway.

Instead of giving up, consider what would be different if each of those three dimensions changed. Would customers respond more positively to your phone calls when the weather warms up? Would your team work harder at a new initiative after reflecting on an inspirational talk they attended? What about you? Do you carry yourself differently?

Here are some steps to help you decide whether you should try a repeat or a fresh take.

Evaluate the situation

On those three dimensions (circumstances, other people, and yourself), consider what actually has changed since your last attempt. How much of an impact do you think that change is likely to have on the outcome? If customers are happier to receive your phone call when the weather warms up, will that help you get more business, or will more of them feel distracted and stop answering phones? On the other hand, what if their industry recently received a boost? Could you then do exactly the same sales plan and have it work this time?

…or change it yourself

You may not be able to change the weather, but could you change people’s hearts? If your team needs some added inspiration to work on your newest initiative, consider first taking some time to learn about their personal career aspirations and show them how this project aligns with their goals; or share with them videos of happy customers to show your team the impact they are having on real people. After that, you may find the rest of your plan is still worth a try. And don’t forget to reflect on yourself. Have you recently found more personal calm? Maybe that has resulted in others around you feeling more comfortable with you, and they are more apt to hear you out.

Decide

Always weigh the effort and reward of another attempt against trying something entirely new. If you realize the change required to make your original strategy work takes about the same amount of effort as something brand new, the best way to go may be to drop the baggage and start fresh. In other cases, it will make sense to reuse the work you already did with only the minor changes necessary. And consider the amount of risk you are taking on – if it doesn’t hurt, try doing some experiments, changing one thing at a time.

Always consider carefully before hitting the restart button, but just because something didn’t work in the past doesn’t mean it never will. Evaluate the situation, consider what is in your control, and critically weigh another attempt against starting anew.

Don’t let this well-worn quote talk you out of your healthy persistence.

Let’s face it. The best trails in life are long.

Only persistence will get you to the end.

Insanity has nothing to do with it.

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Boyd Falconer

Boyd Falconer

People have described Boyd Falconer as a secret weapon for navigating success. He specializes in coaching executives, entrepreneurs, athletes and celebrities.

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