Decision Insanity: An additional variation on the old “Adage”

The old adage is of course: “Expecting different results by doing more of what you have being doing!” Today I am going to explore a new (to me at least) appreciation of this adage in the realm of regulation. This post is inspired by an article in the 20 April, 2011 Vancouver Sun titled “Entrepreneur: Mobile abattoir required slicing through a lot of red tape” by Jenny Lee, page C7.

The story is about Peggy Thompson whose business is being a mobile chicken slaughterhouse in the Okanagan. Apparently she has to deal with 12 different government-type agencies in order to stay in business. The article has to be read to be believed.

I came away with a Kafka like appreciation for how the “best of intentions” can achieve so much chaos and hardship.

  • A food inspector has to follow her around every single working to make the chickens are processed safely.
  • The desire of a health agency wanting to inspect her a a food premises (yes like a restaurant). She had to “negotiate” on the fact that she is not a restaurant.
  • An inspector became upset because there were feathers on the floor.
  • The installed stainless steel walls were rejected because they were on an approved materials list (which was developed to accomodate large scale poultry processing firms). She finally got the applicable okay.
  • She had to fight to get approval to work weekends (to support the fact that many of her customers were part-time farmers).
  • They have to provide a bathroom for the attending inspector. (So they tow along a Porta-potty
  • and so on

So here is my additional variation on the insanity adage (modified 21 April, 2011):

Insanity is also expecting the same results when doing what you’ve been doing in new, atypical or adjacent areas.

This variation is, I suspect, particularly prevalent in regulatory and “rules” oriented situations when faced with change such as innovation.


Where we have rules we also have clear ideas on how the situation (that the rules apply to) operates. There is clarity around process and more importantly procedure. Rules make the argument that:  “If we do it this way within this operational context , we and others will be safe!” But “this way” is always contextual. Hence if we innovate a system where there are well understood hazards wouldn’t it make total sense to review how the risk of exposure to these hazards has shifted and amend the rules accordingly? Shouldn’t this be an automatic “reasoned” response. Apparently no. Rule appliers, unfortunately get caught up in the notion that the context for the rules no longer are important.

One of dilemmas for Rule appliers is they know full well that changing rules takes time and they have do something now, AND they are only authorized to do a prescribed set of choices. So my challenge to those who make rules anywhere:

If your motive is to make people safe and to enable people to make legal and honourable livelihoods – you are obligated to enable your officials to operate sanely in changing and atypical circumstances. If you don’t accept this obligation then how can we respect “your” (thats personal now) purpose? 


About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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