Separating The Quality of the Outcome and the Quality of the Decision

“Don’t be so hard on yourself when things go badly and don’t be so proud of yourself when they go well.” I think this is one of the hardest pieces of advice to follow. Chance is an important contributor to any outcome. sometimes we just get lucky. That recent crypto trade in which you made 25% in an hour. The time you met your significant other for the first time. The hiring decision in your startup that was a wild guess, but worked out beautifully.

Annie Duke, a professional poker player, said the quote above. In hold ‘em poker, you may draw a King-high straight flush, one of the strongest hands in the game, and yet lose all your money. The odds are 1.5 million to 1. But you can still bust.

In a recent interview, Duke talked about distinguishing the quality of the outcome and the quality of the decision. Like all really important concepts in life and business, this idea can be distilled into a 2 x 2 matrix1. On one axis we have quality of outcome. On the vertical axis: quality of decision-making process.

Of course we always want to be in the top right. A well-thought-out decision-making process leads to a terrific outcome. Most of the time, we’re going to oscillate between “I’m feeling lucky,” a poor decision-making leads to a great outcome, and “Bummer, on to the next one,” when a good decision-making process leads to a poor outcome.

The wisdom in Duke’s advice is to focus on the process, because eventually the right process will lead to great outcomes. Bill Walsh echoes this feedback in his book, The Score Takes Care Of Itself. Walsh relates the story of the turnaround of the San Francisco 49ers and the importance of discipline and process.

Success is a lagging indicator. Processes are proxy metrics, leading indicators of success. Processes establish some degree of repeatability in a world where chance roams freely.

1. Don’t believe everything you read.


Published 2018-05-02 in Management 

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