Process Over Product

One big mistake that people sometimes make is to confuse the quality and satisfaction of their results with the processes, procedures, and efforts they’re using to generate those results.

I remember a pre-season time when the Los Angeles Dodgers were widely expected to perform exceptionally well in the upcoming baseball season. Wouldn’t you know it? They lost the very first game they played. When asked to explain the “problem,” then-manager Tommy Lasorda wisely said: “All this shows me is that we’re not going to win them all.”

The fact is, almost nobody ever “wins them all.” So it’s a mistake to think that an unsatisfactory outcome is always the result of faulty processes, procedures, or efforts. It’s equally wrong to think that a satisfactory outcome proves you’re doing everything right.

Let me say it even more plainly: Good decisions can yield bad results, and bad decisions can yield good results.

That’s why it’s a good idea to focus on your decision-making process at least as much as, or even more than, on the results it produces.

Let’s dig a little deeper:

Hindsight Isn’t Foresight

When things go wrong, we often do an “after action analysis” of what went wrong. Looking back, it’s fairly easy to see what we could have done better to prevent the unsatisfactory outcome we experienced.

But while it’s helpful to apply those lessons from past mistakes to future processes, procedures, and efforts – and the aviation industry has done a great job of this to make flying as safe as it is – errors and accidents can still happen.  

This is proof that even the best decision-making process can still leave room for some clunkers.

Shed Those Blinders

People fit horses with blinders to prevent them from seeing anything that might frighten them when they’re supposed to be fully focused on winning a race. People fit themselves with metaphorical blinders for much the same reason.

The big difference is that horses are under the stewardship of riders who help them avoid any dangers that might be lurking outside their limited field of view. People who limit their field of view rarely have anyone watching out for them.

The result is: you can get blindsided in your work and your life by unexpected situations or developments.

We often think the best decisions are those that work out great when the future we’re planning on emerges. But we fail to realize that those same decisions can work out poorly if the future doesn’t develop as we anticipated.

It’s much better, therefore, to open your eyes to a wide range of possible futures, and make decisions that will produce acceptable results in many or most of them. The ideal would be to make choices that will provide good results no matter what happens. That’s probably unattainable, but a worthy performance goal anyway.

It’s the Process

A favorite bugaboo of mine is sports reporters who go into the winner’s locker room and ask “What got you here?” Winners always have interesting explanations of how they engineered their win, but there’s no proof these analyses are correct. Lots of others may have done the exact same things and still failed to win.

In light of all this, it’s much better to stop obsessing about good vs bad results and focus instead on honing your decision-making process.

One way is to eliminate any weaknesses in how you make decisions, such as:

  • Unexamined biases and assumptions,
  • A shortage of facts or hard data,
  • Faulty logic or reasoning,
  • Starting with conclusions, then cherry-picking evidence to support them,

and other possible baked-in sources of error.

The bottom line is that you’re unlikely to “win them all.” But you are likely to win a great many if you concentrate on making decisions effectively, and also on continually striving to improve your decision-making process.

To paraphrase the great coach John Wooden:

“Success is the peace of mind and self-satisfaction that comes from knowing you did your best to make the best decisions.”

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