Don’t Confuse Strategy With Outcome

It's almost a truism that we should judge the quality of a strategy and the projects and initiatives that come from it based on their outcomes. We're results oriented after all, aren't we? Unfortunately using outcomes as your sole measure is usually a terrible way to judge effectiveness. Outcome-based measures are usually the holy grail of performance measurement but if the goal is to make decision-making processes repeatable and to learn from past experience, judging solely on the basis of a few outcome data points won't get us very far.

What we need to do is focus on the quality of the strategy and decision-making process that led to the outcome. Our first question should always be whether the process was sound using the available data to make as informed a decision as possible. As Michael Mauboussin shows in his book The Success Equation, with most things in life there is a continuum between skill and luck. Most endeavors combine elements of the two. We can and should use skill to make decisions, but in the end, luck will act on those decisions in ways we cannot predict. The more complex and multi-faceted the issue and the more players there are involved, the greater the role luck plays.

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