That is actually NOT the definition of insanity.

Do you know what the definition of insanity is? No doubt you have heard a proposed definition of insanity many times. In nearly every meeting about change, or broken processes someone breaks out TDOI. If you haven’t been in a course-correction meeting since the Korean War, here is the statement I am referring to:

 “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”  -unknown

This quote has been misattributed to everyone. Einstein, Twain, Franklin, Cheech, Chong.

But it is not true. I have degrees from The University of Wisconsin in both journalism and psychology. Which makes the inaccurate reporting of this psychological definition feel like a wheel of cheese under my proverbial mattress.

Here is the actual definition


noun. The state of being seriously mentally ill; madness:

or:  extreme foolishness or irrationality.

Insanity comes from the Latin ‘in’ (meaning not) and ‘sanus’ (which makes me snicker, but means healthy).  

When you put them together you get insane, meaning not healthy.

My suggestion

I encourage you to continue pointing out the problem of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. But let’s lose ‘the definition’ part. Definitions sound so… definitive. This statement is more of a creative observation. So let’s try it like this:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

We can call this a metaphor instead of a definition. It still works. Yet it doesn’t make me want to throw my DSM-IV across the conference room table. Deal?