Wednesday, 9 December 2009

John Wayne and Einstein remind us to do things differently if we want better results

There’s an old and very bad joke about two friends watching a John Wayne movie. One friend turns to the other and says “I bet you £1 the cowboy gets shot when he reaches the top of the hill.”,

“OK”, says his pal.

Sure enough as the cowboy gets to the top of the hill John Wayne shoots him. “Nah” says the first friend, “I can’t take £1 from you; I’ve seen the film before.”

“So have I”, says his pal “but I didn’t think he would make the same mistake twice.”

The joke's gentle dig at the idea that the cowboy might learn from his mistake isn’t so funny when we consider how often we expect different results from doing the same things.

Albert Einstein is attributed with saying:

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

Measuring and evaluating performance is only of value if we use the information to find new ways of doing things to improve results. Only by trying different things can we hope to get different results. If this sounds obvious it may be that it is obvious. The difficulty is that it is too easy to get caught up with trying harder to think about trying something new.

Company culture, stubborn personalities and just not thinking all contribute to the idea that somehow the cowboy might survive through sheer willpower alone. He won’t. And results won’t suddenly change unless something makes them.

Changes can be large or small, revolutionary or evolutionary. They should be tested alongside the way you’ve always done things and measured. Improvements in any process or business come from new ideas and new ways of doing things. Which is why new CEO’s brought in to revitalise companies are so fond of flashy change programmes that shake up the status quo.

So if you want to improve your performance, what are you going to change?


  1. Hi Caroline, enjoyed your John Wayne and Einstein points of reference. For me, it conjures up some creative and innovative thinking when it comes to tackling issues at work particularly those where employees get 'stuck' with a project. I wonder what John Wayne, Einstein would say / do differently? ... emm how might that take us out of the 'same old, same old' mindset ...ohh dare to do different, I like that!

  2. Hi Mary, the combination of John Wayne and Einstein is somewhat strange, I admit. Einstein was famous for being unmovable until he had finished a task, but still creative and different enough to do what he did. A challenging combination!

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