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Posted: March 12, 2014

The definition of business insanity

Condoning what doesn't work

Todd Ordal

“On Saturday night, Coots was handling three rattlesnakes at his small church, the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, when one of them bit him on his right hand. He lost consciousness and was taken home, where his family refused antivenom treatment by an emergency medical crew. Jamie Coots was pronounced dead about two hours after the bite.”
— National Public Radio, reporting on the death of Pastor Jamie Coots after his 10th snake bite

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me! I suspect most of us would consider this the definition of insanity — getting bit nine times by snakes, expecting a different result in spite of continued snake handling and then refusing treatment. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there’s a better way to motivate your flock!

Fortunately, most insane behavior doesn’t result in immediate death, though much of it can be very damaging. Another variation of the “snake mistake” is to repeat the damaging behavior and then look for an easy way out. In Saudi Arabia, children as young as 2 get bariatric surgery because their parents apparently feel this is a better solution than to quit feeding them so much food! I think Pastor Snake Handler might be smarter than those parents.

I picked some easy targets to identify irrational behavior and take no joy in a man losing his life or children losing their intestines. But doesn’t it just boggle the mind?

There are several things businesspeople (and spouses and parents) do that aren’t quite as ridiculous as handling snakes and force-feeding kids but are nevertheless pretty dumb. We just don’t see it.

What behavior or practices do you condone or reward in your business that don’t work?  Here are some I see frequently:

• Asking for X behavior but rewarding Y behavior. X might be profit, and Y might be revenue. X might be collaboration, and Y might be lone-ranger behavior. X might be quality, and Y might be speed or cost. You get the picture.
• Requesting new ideas and creativity but punishing people for making mistakes. You can’t have it both ways.
• Expecting loyalty from employees but treating them as indentured servants.
• Demanding ethical behavior (it’s in the mission statement, isn’t it?) but allowing people to repeatedly cross the line in search of customers, revenue or market share.
• Trying to build a performance culture with high expectations but allowing some of the team to repeatedly underperform.
• And probably the most insidious: wishing and wishing and wishing for something but never taking the steps to get it.

If you’re getting fat, stop with the doughnuts! If you’re getting bit, stop playing with snakes! What are the doughnuts and snakes in your world?

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at,  303-527-0417 or

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Readers Respond

Thanks, Liz! By Todd Ordal on 2014 03 13
Great article Todd. I recently came across your book on my book shelf and read it again. "This is chess, it ain't checkers" Its was a quick, insightful and enjoyable read. Liz By liz wendling on 2014 03 12
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