Definition of Insanity

by Pamela A. Scott

InsanityThis issue came up twice today, so I guess there’s a need to deal with it. I was talking with Howard, CEO of an $8 million company. Howard is frustrated with Peter, his CFO.

“Peter doesn’t get me the financial reports I need,” Howard complained. That stopped me dead—how can a CFO not produce the financial reports that are inherent to the role?

Howard gave me a little more info. “No, he produces the usual financial reports, but he doesn’t give me information that I can use for bigger-picture analysis, for long-term planning. I have to ask him for it every month and then it takes several days before Peter provides what I need.”

I asked Howard if Peter knew what Howard wanted in addition to the usual stuff. And does Peter understand why Howard wants the information and what Howard uses it for?

“I haven’t really explained that,” Howard said. “I know I need to sit down with Peter and go over in writing what I want, when I want it, why I want it and what I’m using the information for.”

“I know I need to do that,” Howard said. “I just haven’t done it.”


The second situation came up over lunch with a friend. He mentioned that he knows a CEO who admits that he knows what he’s supposed to do. But, like Howard, he doesn’t do it.

Something is wrong with this picture. At the same time, this picture is very common. We know what we’re supposed to do, but we don’t do it.

That leads us to the common definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and hoping to get different results. Poor Peter can’t produce the results Howard wants because Howard hasn’t explained what that is. Yet every month, Howard is hoping Peter will produce the information he wants.

It doesn’t work. We can’t read minds. So, how do you make yourself do what you know you need to do to achieve the results you want?

Human beings are motivated by fear or desire, with fear being the greater force. I may say I am motivated by a desire to attain great wealth, but the real motivator is a fear of losing my house or some such thing.

Howard can use this information on motivation to examine why he doesn’t sit down with Peter and go over his needs. Howard desires the reports, but he may fear what he will find when he does get them. Those reports may show Howard is off-base in his long-term thinking.

And our unnamed CEO buddy? He knows what he’s supposed to do, but doesn’t do it. Without getting too heavy here, it’s possible that lack of doing is driven by a fear of failure.

If you find yourself or someone you work with in this position, try this approach.

1. Adjust Your Mindset

Recognize that we learn from mistakes. Buckminster Fuller wrote, “Whatever humans have learned had to be learned as a consequence only of trial and error experience. Humans have learned only through mistakes.” Make a “lessons learned” session integral to all work that you do.

2. Just DO Something

Stop thinking and act. One client and I discussed analysis paralysis—putting off doing something in the guise of “I’m still analyzing it.” Some of us can analyze things forever, which means we delay taking action.

3. Don’t Aim For Perfection

Dan Kennedy, a marketing guru, preaches, “Done is better than perfect.” Larry the Cable Guy chants “Get ‘er done.” All the perfectionists are simply delaying a reality check.

4. Once You’ve Taken Action, Keep On Keepin’ On

Don’t give up. Read “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell for more on this. Often, people try something and when they don’t get the expected response the first time, they quit and pronounce that “it doesn’t work.” This is particularly true with advertising.

5. You Are Not the Failure

Recognize that if an idea fails, it isn’t that you are a failure. You had an idea, you tried it, and it didn’t work. Have a lessons learned session, incorporate what you find, and try again.

As Nike says, “Just do it!”

If you found these tips from Pam Scott of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in her self-paced, downloadable courses at


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