Albert Einstein is widely credited with defining insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Upon hearing this, people often nod or smile, logically agreeing with that statement . . . and yet so often leaders fulfill Einstein’s definition. They want a change to take place, and yet do nothing to alter the systems or processes designed to make sure that change doesn’t happen. It is time to stop the insanity.
It’s not just leaders who struggle with this concept. Many of us have lots of information on good nutrition, the need for exercise and what causes weight gain, and yet if we don’t change our “systems” (fast food, sugary drinks, a sedentary lifestyle, etc.) knowledge alone is not going to give us a different outcome. In fact, knowing what we “should” do, but not figuring out a way to do it, only adds frustration/guilt/judgment/disappointment to the mix.
Apply that same concept to organizations. When we are faced with a challenge and need to consider a new way of doing things, some kind of training is often the answer — give the staff more knowledge, build their “capacity”. While this is an important part of the change process, training alone is not enough. Far too often, after the excitement of new information fades, those who received the training are frustrated because they run into roadblocks when they try to implement a new way of doing things. Likewise, those who commissioned the training are frustrated because they aren’t seeing the intended change.
What to do? Stop the insanity. How? Start by looking at your systems — those policies/procedures/ways of doing things designed to keep things running smoothly (and from a systems perspective, smoothly means consistently!) Systems are designed to preserve the status quo, treat every case the same, and deflect anything that doesn’t align with the set way of doing things. That is a good thing in many circumstances . . . unless you are trying to infuse new information and new ways of doing things based on changing variables. In those cases, engrained systems become a problem . . . even more so because they sometimes are almost invisible. They simply become how we do things, an almost unconscious barrier that can stop progress in its tracks. And adding new processes on top of old systems is not an option. Just pick your favorite bureaucracy and see how well that works.
We have to stop the insanity. And that often means exposing the hidden barriers. (Why do you think most diet plans have you write down everything you eat – people often don’t “see” the issue.) There are structured ways of doing this, such as lean problem-solving, or you can just ask your people. Those who have run up against your systemic barriers know where they are. Help them find a way around them.
That’s it. Pretty simple formula: new approach – systemic barriers = stopping the insanity. Einstein would be proud.