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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

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

Who said it?

We got a beanbag recently, one of those moon pod things that’s full of some space age packing peanuts that make you feel like you’re sitting on a giant bag of moderately undercooked peas.

It’s oddly comfortable and yet oddly uncomfortable. Depending on how you drop into it, you can either lounge like you’re in bed, or sit like you’re on a chair. No matter what you do, you will have to roll over like a baked potato falling off the oven rack to get out of it.

I’ve been working from it, sort of backing into it and plopping down with a comfy sigh. I last about an hour then my legs are stiff and everything hurts and I have to fall out of it and get up so I can walk around for ten minutes to get the feeling back in my knees.

But insanity strikes and I decide it would be a really good idea to sit there again. It’s comfortable, after all.

Do you know who said that quote? Or have you looked it up yet?

The beanbag has a tag on it, like the ones that come on pillows and tell you not to remove them under penalty of prison or death or possibly armageddon. It’s a huge tag, and it stabs me in the face when I sit in the beanbag and get too comfortable.

So I have to fight with it. I smush it down and flatten it out and flip it over. Somehow it is always in my eyeball or under my arm or poking the back of my neck.

Today though, just as I was about to sit on it, I had a brilliant idea. Just flip it upside down so the tag is at the bottom.

Problem solved.

It only took me three weeks to come to that conclusion.

It’s not that I kept trying to deal with the tag in the same exact way every time. Sometimes I tried flattening. Sometimes I tried folding. Sometimes I tried shoving, and that failing, I tried swearing to the universe about stupid tags and stupid beanbag designs.

So that got me thinking. Why is the most obvious solution often the hardest to spot?

It’s not like the beanbag has an “up”. I didn’t have to think too far out of the box to just… move the tag out of the way.

But somehow, my brain was stuck in trying to fix the thing at face value instead of thinking about how to actually fix the thing.

Tag is there = tag must be made to work there.


Tag is there ≠ tag has to stay there.

I pondered this particular conundrum today because it isn’t the first time I’ve missed the obvious. I think it would be fair to say that if I had said to Ralph, this tag is driving me nuts, he would have said, why don’t you just flip it over?

There’s a word in this story, and it’s rethink.

I thought about the word and then rethought it, because at first it wanted to be different. Then it wanted to be shift, and perspective, and paradigm. Then it wanted to be stop being stupid and try something else.

Rethink won. Because that’s what I have learned to remind myself to do when actual thinking doesn’t work, when my brain gets stuck in its own box.

Rethink. How else can this work?

It happened not that long ago with pie crust. For years I had rolled out pie crust on my giant Boos block. Toss down a boatload of flour, roll, then gently scrape up and flip into a pie plate.


Except for when it sticks, no matter how much flour you use, or when it tears because you can’t quite pick it up in one piece or when you flip it over and it folds in on itself like a taco.

This went on for years until one day I thought, just put a piece of parchment paper under it and roll it on that.

And that worked so well that I did it again.

And that worked so well that I even figured out that I could put the pie plate upside down onto the rolled crust and flip the whole thing over, eliminating any breaking or crumbling whatsoever.

I think it would be fair to say that if I had said to Ralph, I keep breaking the pie crust when I try to pick it up, he would have said, why don’t you just flip the plate upside down?

Maybe the word is really WWRD?

Whether it’s a beanbag or a pie crust, sometimes you just have to flip a thing upside down. You can quote me on that.

Now do you know who said the quote about insanity?

If you said Albert Einstein, you’d be like 98% of the internet, and by that I mean wrong. It is often attributed to him, incorrectly. Nobody knows precisely where it originated, not with certainty, and some people think that it’s possible Einstein quoted whoever quoted it, but that he didn’t actually invent the saying.

It shows up in print in a novel from the early 80s, but that also seems to be a case of quoting a quote.

Do you know what the real definition of insanity it? Believing what you read on the internet, even if it’s repeated twenty thousand times.

The antidote is to rethink your assumptions. And flip it upside down.

Photo: the beanbag in the corner of the office where I park myself to work. Tag now at the bottom.