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Overcome Fears to Stop the Insanity

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I think most of us are familiar with this Einstein quote and would agree with it. But I think many of us still do exactly that — repeat the same thing over and over even though the results don’t change.

I know as a parent of a teenager how many mornings I holler up the stairs, “It’s 7:30, 7:35, 7:40 … We’re going to be LATE!” And yet, I still find myself rushing us into the car and arriving at the school with only minutes to spare. Clearly, hollering isn’t working.

So, why do we prefer to repeat the familiar rather than try something different that could potentially produce better results and make our lives easier? Here’s what I think our hang-ups are and some arguments against them.

  • Fear: What if the new way doesn’t work? It’s too risky to change.
  • Argument: If what you’re currently doing isn’t working, what do you have to lose by trying something different? Probably not much, I say.
  • No time: How can you figure out why something isn’t working and how to fix it if you don’t have time to stop and think about it? At least things keep moving when you continue to do it the old way, right?
  • Argument: How much time will be spent later “fixing” outcomes simply because the issues weren’t addressed up front? Try writing down how much time you spend actually making corrections. It can be a real eye-opener.
  • Too much effort: If you come up with a new way to solve a problem/issue, you’ll just have to redo everything associated with the problem/issue, right?
  • Argument: Who says you have to redo “everything”? You can probably just test a small change to determine if there’s a positive impact.

If I consider these hang-ups and arguments in light of my child’s chronic lateness and my response to it, I realize two things:

  1. Clearly, my approach isn’t working; it’s really just insanity, and I need to take a few minutes to come up with something besides hollering.
  2. Not only do I need to try something different, I need to offer suggestions and support to my teenager to try something different. This will counter her objections with the fact that we’ll be eternally late unless something changes … and eventually, being late all the time is going to reflect negatively on her as she gets older.

Transitioning from home life to work life, I ask myself, “So, how does all this ‘insanity’ impact our roles in the training and performance improvement space?” In our effort to follow process, to rush ahead to meet deadlines, to continue to do what we’ve always done, do we miss opportunities to improve … to become sane? Can we address our hang-ups by agreeing to try something different? I think so!

Here are some suggestions to help you try something different:

  • Recognize and acknowledge when something in your process isn’t working. Take time — it can be as little as 30 minutes — to reflect and/or brainstorm with co-workers to come up with a different approach.
  • Look at each project as fresh and new. Does the general process for design and development of, for example, a 30-minute e-learning really work, given the subject matter or the available resources? What can you do differently?
  • Consult with clients, whether internal or external, about what it is they’re trying to change with their training or performance support initiative.
  • Is the solution being considered going to get the desired results?
  • Can a small change be made, such as replacing a module on a complex procedure in a web-based training course with a more easily accessible and portable job aid?
  • Is a “tried” but not necessarily “true” solution being used simply because “it’s what we’ve always done”?
  • Ask the right questions to ensure an issue really can be addressed with training or performance support. Share Gilbert’s Model to consider what else you might try given the situation, such as incentives, feedback, or additional resources.

Give something different a try! What have you got to lose but your insanity?

One Response

  1. Susan Fisher

    Excellent post! All of us in the learning business need to take this message to heart. Doing things the way we’ve always done them is going to be more and more unsuccessful as our learners, their needs, and their learning spaces continue to evolve.

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