Winning Isn’t Everything, Outputs Mean More Than Outcomes

Winning isn’t everything.

That isn’t to say it isn’t important.  In sports and in business if you don’t win enough people get fired.  That is the nature of those two endeavors.

However, winning is the outcome, and we have the least control of the outcomes.

Take a basketball game.  On any given offensive sequence both teams can run their offense and defense to the perfection.  The offense gets the ball in the hands of the shooter it wants to have the ball in the area it wants him to have the ball.  At the same time the defense gets defenders in the correct places to defend the shot they know is coming.  At the moment the shooter releases the ball it becomes a game of chance.  Yes, by doing their jobs correctly each side has maximized the possibility of  favorable outcome for themselves, however neither outcome is guaranteed.

Maybe this.  Maybe that.  Maybe a hundred things once the shot is released on a single basketball possession that decides whether the offense or defense gets their desired outcome, and neither side has any control over them.

The zero-sum nature of sports and business dictates someone has to win and someone has to lose and if you lose too much someone else will get the chance to win.  That often leads the weight being solely put on winning or achieving your statistical goals through whatever means at your disposal.  Players, coaches, managers, workers will often take shortcuts or “juke the stats” like the Baltimore Police Department in The Wire.  You get short-term and false success because the priority was put on the outcome that you ultimately do not complete control.

However, the thing about the most successful businesses and teams is their goal is long term success.  They achieve that by concentrating on individual actions.  They concentrate on the replication of successful behaviors because that gives you the greatest probability of success.  If you do the right thing the right way every time you will be successful more often than not.  These repeatable individual behaviors are the outputs.

You can base this in Zen or Eastern Philosophies or you can base it statistics, but both ways of thinking tell you the same thing:  You can guarantee outputs, but you cannot guarantee outcomes.  Correctly practicing a jump shot day after day, putting up hundreds of shots a day doesn’t guarantee you will make one in the game with 3 seconds left to win, but it makes the likelihood that you will make it higher.

If you practice your fundamentals every day and master them and build upon them, it will be easier to execute those fundamentals in a game with the pressure on you.  If you execute those fundamentals on a consistent basis in games, you have a greater chance of winning those games.  Again, it is not a guarantee of winning, but it increases the likelihood of you winning.

This is why I have become somewhat fascinated with Nick Saban’s “Process.”  Basically, it is the map Saban uses with Alabama football that increases the likelihood of winning without actually talking about winning.

This isn’t some Polly Anna, hippy attitude that no one should be fired.  I am a sports fan and if my team doesn’t win enough no matter how fundamentally sound they may be and no matter how hard they play, someone needs to be fired.  Again, it is a zero-sum game.  However, I also don’t want my coach to take shortcuts to win now and screw up the team for the next 5 years.

That is what a program is, that is what a franchise is.  They are constant because the base of consistently doing the right thing the right way all the time is just a part of what they are.


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