I’m a big believer in focusing on processes over results. We all certainly want to have positive results from our efforts, but the focus should be on the process behind the effort and not on the final outcome.
Last week I was playing a round of golf, and on the last hole I was at the edge of the fairway about 140 yards out. This was a perfect distance for my 8-iron, but there were a bunch of leafy tree branches directly in where the flight of my ball should go. I decide to just attack it anyhow, the ball somehow sailed through clean and I ended up with a great finish to my round.
Using a crude image from Google Earth, here is roughly where I was (technically on the fairway, but just barely):
The question is: was attacking the hole in that position a good idea? Almost certainly not. The fact that my ball found its way through cleanly doesn’t change the fact that 90% of the time it have hit some branches and landed just a few yards in front of me. I only took that risk because it was a casual game; if it had been more important, I would have used a longer club and kept the ball lower as a safer (but less effective) shot. The fact that I snuck through cleanly doesn’t change the fact that it was a bad decision and I got lucky.
In his book “Farsighted“, author Steven Johnson sums it up very succinctly:
“We have a tendency to emphasize the results of good decisions and not the process that led to the decision itself.”
Sports are an easy way to view this (like the Seahawks good decision that ended poorly in Super Bowl XLIX), but it applies to many areas in life as well.
For example, maybe this week I’ll decide to not follow up with any of our leads and just hope some come through. That’s a bad decision, but there’s a chance we’ll be ok — maybe some will come back through without another touchpoint. If they do, does that mean my decision to just sit and do nothing was wise? Not likely.
If you’ve not yet read Annie Duke’s book “Thinking in Bets“, it unpacks far better than I ever could. She starts with the Seahawks story from above, and it only gets better from there. Whether you read it or not, focusing on keeping your decisions separate from their outcomes, while tricky at times, is a great lens through which to view life.