Stop what you’re doing and ask yourself: What are you working on right now? Do you know why it’s important? If it’s a personal project – does it align with your goals and values? If it’s work related – do you know how it will (hopefully) influence your customers, improve their lives, and encourage them to use, buy, or spend more for your company’s product(s)?
Don’t worry if you can’t answer those questions – you’re not alone (especially if you work in the software development industry). Now ask yourself this – How many times do you find you’re working on a “critical” project, you are not even sure what it is for, you’re pressed to get it done as fast as possible, you burn yourself out getting it done and then nothing happens? No increase in customer satisfaction or revenues. Or worse…they decide to “shelve” your work and not release it to customers?
This is a common story at work today. Somewhere along the way it becomes easier to focus on keeping busy, instead of productive. We focus on how to do more; how to make ourselves and/or our organizations seem more impactful. In the process we lose focus on how the work we’re doing makes a difference to ourselves, our customers, or has any impact on the bottom line. In other words, we find ourselves more focused on increasing output, and not on improving the outcomes we hope to achieve.
A personal example: In a past life I was a musician, playing in a band and writing and recording music. I decided to start a new project – I was going to build the best guitar amplifier in the world and by doing that, I’d become a better musician and have better recordings. I worked on this project for years and years and spent thousands of dollars along the way. I dealt with setback after setback and got so attached to just finishing the project.
Then this weird thing happened. I finally finished building that amplifier. And it was “perfect”! The sound was great. It looked good. But there was a huge problem – I never used it. In the time it took me to get it done, the digital age of recording/music had come, and I was already getting much better recordings using other tools and my computer. What a letdown! I made the classic mistake: I focused on getting a particular solution done, instead of the real outcome I wanted.
What if I had used all that time and money on something else? What if I had cut my losses and moved on earlier? What could I have done? How much better a musician/recording artist would I be? What if it led me to that dream of making a living as a musician? It was a tough reality to face, and an expensive lesson to learn.
Now think of a project you worked on that didn’t produce results, or was shelved. What if we didn’t waste all that time and all those resources on it? What if we could cut our losses sooner? What if we spent that time and money on something that mattered? How much more successful could we be? Could your organization be the next <enter super successful company here>?
And this is the core issue. We spend so much of our work and personal lives working on things that don’t really matter in the end. This robs us personally and professionally of our three most valuable commodities: time, resources (usually money), and energy (motivation). What if we could change that? Isn’t that worth talking about?
This is part 1 of a series on Outcomes, not Output. You can find Part 2 here.
Also published on Medium.