Are we really insane? Learning from experience

Albert Einstein is supposed to have said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I thought of this as I watched my five year old daughter play on a lakefront beach in Canada last week. After playing in the water, she wanted to put her flip-flops back on. So she walked four feet out of the water, put her feet into her flip-flops, and discovered that her feet were covered with sand. So she dutifully walked back into the water, rinsed off her feet, and walked back to the flip-flops. To her dismay, she found that her feet were once again covered with sand. So she turned around, went back to the water, and rinsed her feet off. As she began her walk back to the flip-flops, I could see that it dawned on her that her feet were going to be covered with sand again. So she walked over to the flip-flops, picked them up, brought them down to the water with her, rinsed off her feet, and put her feet in the flip-flops. Problem solved!

By Einstein’s definition, my daughter was temporarily insane. But of course what she was really doing was learning by experience. I could have immediately told her to take her flip-flops down to the water, but the likelihood is now that she’s experienced it first-hand, she’s far more likely to remember this next time she’s at the beach.

The same is true for how we manage databases. I consult with all types of associations on all types of data management issues. And I provide great advice to them. And in my experience, those associations that are most successful with their databases are those who have learned through experience, through trial and error.

Here are just a few examples of the ways my best clients learn:

  • Experiment with new product and service ideas. One of my clients has just created an entirely new membership organization within their existing organization, providing much needed consulting services to their member organizations.
  • Create a class of members (or an entire organization) based on free membership. There are several organizations who have done this in the past couple of years, opening membership to anyone who is willing to sign up, at no cost. One of my past clients, ADEA, has had great success with this.
  • Send different marketing messages to different audiences. For example, when promoting your annual conference, use different messages based on the recipients. Three different individuals may have three entirely different reasons for attending; the marketing message needs to address those differences.

In each of the cases above (including my daughter’s), the learning occurs because something new has been attempted, and based on feedback, adjustments and corrections are made, until success is reached. It’s not insanity if you learn and adjust.


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