The (research) definition of insanity?

stressed out person

This morning I had a deeply satisfying research session. I sketched out plans for a new testbed (related to the grant application I’m working on currently). I defined “roles” for each system within the testbed. I identified the main research questions, and even set next steps. I was feeling good.

One of the “next steps” involves solving a rather tricky problem…one that sounded familiar. On a hunch, I went back into my research notebooks….and found notes on the same tricky problem, from at least three different occasions, dating back to the spring of 2010. A tricky problem that, obviously, still remains unsolved, despite my best efforts.

The famous quote by Albert Einstein states that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Clearly solving this problem is necessary to moving this particular line of research forward. Clearly I’ve not been able to jump this hurdle in the past. Does this mean I’m foolish for trying again?

On the surface, yes, I am crazy for repeating my past failures. But on the other hand, each one of my previous attempts taught me something about the problem, something which I applied the next time to the problem. And each previous attempt also taught me that I was not quite ready to solve the problem—I didn’t have enough information, didn’t know enough about how the system I’m designing and developing behaves. In the interim, while I was off solving other problems and tinkering with the system, I gained (or so I’d like to believe) valuable insights and knowledge that should get me closer to the solution.

And then there’s that little thing about how my biggest breakthroughs tend to happen when I revisit old failures…and finally see that little nugget I failed to notice before, the key to solving the problem.

So as usual, I’ll plunge ahead in my normal insane way, trust my instincts, and hope that the fourth time’s the charm.

Image credit: http://www.rudecactus.com/

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3 thoughts on “The (research) definition of insanity?

  1. Rasmus, I have to admit I’d never heard that tale before, but it’s wonderful. I’ll adopt that view instead. Thanks!

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