Among Einstein's seminal contributions to scientific scholarship, apocryphally at least, was his modern definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
It's an apt description of the auto industry's effort to find love on Wall Street.
Take General Motors, which in just the past two years has exited global markets, cut salaried workers, trimmed its product lineup and bought back shares, all in an effort to elevate its stock price.
That sounds like doing lots of different things, but really, it's the same thing: begging for Wall Street's favor by thinking small. And it's not working. The stock is stuck more or less where it was five years ago.
So should GM and the others stop trying? Well, maybe yes.
Maybe it is time for the industry to stop preening so desperately for an investment community that keeps moving the goalposts for automakers, but swoons and slobbers over Silicon Valley phenoms like Theranos and Juicero.
There was a time when the U.S. auto industry was pretty good at creating prosperity on its own, not for the hedge fund managers, but for people who matter: employees, customers, dealers and their communities. It did so by innovating, hiring workers, opening plants, exploring new markets and product categories, and selling an upbeat, expansive vision. Shareholders who tolerated the industry's long product cycles and capital needs got rewarded in the form of rich profits and reliable dividends.
Somewhere along the line, as executives' bonuses became tethered to stock prices and the churning U.S. investor culture, their thinking turned narrow and short-term, and their imaginations withered. Their competitors overwhelmed them, and their businesses ended up as wards of the state.
Lesson learned? Not quite.
In this time of both healthy profitability and palpable tension over the future, automakers should remember why the public markets exist: not to validate companies but to enable them to innovate, expand and profit.
The principle of shareholder primacy doesn't justify the lunacy of chasing a stock price, or pegging an executives' pay to it. Automakers owe it to their many stakeholders to stop the insanity and start rethinking their notion of creating value.