Stop the Insanity!

Afro American Businessman

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.

Everywhere Else


Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will get you everywhere else.”

 I have this Albert Einstein quote posted at the base of my computer screen. It is a great reminder, every time I glance down from my screen, that new possibilities for mission impact come from the ability to see a future that is beyond our current points of reference — you know, those “realities” that we allow to box us in and constrain our thinking. Those realities are fine if you want to travel from A to B, to carry out tasks as assigned by another, but what about those of us who see a whole alphabet of ways to extend our mission reach? We will never get there by following the A/B logic.

I’m not saying that A/B logic is bad, in and of itself. We use a lot of it in our organization to ensure we consistently meet or exceed the expectations of our current programs and services. And many organizations plug along just fine living within the parameters prescribed by others, or that they themselves have developed, to achieve an intended goal. My point is, the same actions that allow you to achieve one well-defined goal will not get you to another aspirational destination. If you have a big hairy audacious goal, you’re going to have to set the rule book and paved road aside, because those things won’t get you to “everywhere else.”

Charting the route to “everywhere else” is a key function of leadership. While management is about systems and processes and consistency, leadership is about embracing change. (Which is not to say leadership is more important that management, it’s not; it is simply a different focus/skill set.) Many organizations, and leaders, get so mired down by the logic of what “we have to do” that they never raise their eyes to the horizon to consider a different landscape. I believe part of a leader’s job is to look up, see your “everywhere else” destination, and start building roads to get there.

Sure imagination involves risk, but so does logic if it limits your ability to fulfill your mission. Good stewardship is about making the best use of the resources before you to have the greatest impact, not taking the “safest” bet. If you can fulfill your mission by logically moving between point A and point B, great. For others of us, our mission requires us to look beyond the logic of A to B, and imagine the possibilities open to us . . . everywhere else.