Outcome-oriented thinking is the ability to focus on the desired results, instead of the process, effort or tactics that you take to get there. It is the idea that nothing else matters other than achieving the results. The process that you take or the effort that you put in, while they are contributors to the final outcome, are not necessarily the drivers to focus on.
When do you use it?
An important distinction to make right off the bat is that different situations require us to use different mental models, in fact I would argue that we value the wisdom obtained from experience not because it gives us the answers, but because it gives us new frameworks or modalities to use when solving problems.
Outcome-oriented thinking is best used when we are trying to achieve something experimental by design, something that will require flexibility and failure along the way.
Examples include: inventing the light bulb, finding product/market fit, teaching/learning a new subject, etc…
When do you NOT use it?
In contrast, a common mental model that serves as an antithesis to outcome-oriented thinking is process-oriented thinking. Process-oriented thinking is the ability to focus on discipline and incremental progress instead of the outcome. This is a good way to think when attempting an outcome that has a well-understood path to success.
Examples include: training for a marathon, losing weight, saving money, etc…
Because we work on teams, with other humans, it’s not as simple as setting a goal and saying “Go!”
First let’s start with a different example.
In 1943 Abraham Maslow released his initial work describing humanity’s hierarchy of needs.
The idea is that humans have different, cumulative levels of needs in order to achieve happiness based on their current position in life. Once we have acquired a certain level of happiness we immediately focus on the next one until we achieve “self-actualization” or our full potential in life.
It would be difficult to focus on our psychological needs while lacking some basic needs like food, water and shelter. It would also be difficult to focus on our full potential while lacking a sense of belonging, personal relationships and feelings of accomplishment.
If the outcome we aim for is happiness, as described by achieving our full potential, we first have to establish the lower levels in the hierarchy of needs.
Similarly, if we are attempting to achieve an outcome, as a team, with the full flexibility, failure and trust of outcome-oriented thinking, then we first have to establish a hierarchy of trust and accountability.
Outcomes as Teams
How do we do it?
The base of our pyramid is transparency. Transparency means that we are communicating our failures and roadblocks. Everyone understands that the outcome may require fits and starts of experimentation, there is a healthy, blameless dialogue of what is going well and what isn’t. The team is learning together and has trust that everyone is making intelligent decisions in an attempt to reach the outcome. We are asking ourselves, “how can we deliver value along the way?”
Output is the middle layer of the pyramid. Output is the work that we are producing on a daily basis. We are working hard, with a sense of urgency, but we also know our own limits and when we need a step-function increase in results we stop and think about how we can work smarter instead of even harder. Heroics, while sometimes necessary, are a negative influence to a sustainable, repeatable process. Most importantly, output without learning and without achieving the outcome means nothing.
Transparency and Output are both table-stakes to outcome-oriented thinking as a team. They have to be there but they are not the level to optimize against for accountability. In order to produce outcomes as a team we need trust and accountability, because transparency and output are table-stakes we default to trust that our team is being transparent and producing output and we leverage accountability at the outcome level.
Because we are holding ourselves accountable to producing the outcome, we ask ourselves every day, “Does this matter?” instead of wasting time completing work that is no longer valuable.
We break down the final outcome into milestones that we communicate and deliver, which shortens the time between each hypothesis and expected value, instead of leaving stakeholders anxiously awaiting a binary result from months of work.
We push ourselves as a team to ruthlessly prioritize what’s important and to accept failure along the way, instead of politicizing and pointing fingers at the first sign of trouble.
We debate each other to arrive at the best solution, instead of becoming attached to our favorite ideas.
We succeed together, so we help each other, instead of focusing on showing off our own individual effort.
We succeed together.