Outcomes, not outputs

December 12th, 2012
Written by Mark
@MarkFairbanks

You may have noticed that our culture is enamored with claiming success by getting a task done or hitting a predetermined target:

“She’s carrying a 3.8 GPA.”

“They announced earnings of $1.56 per share.”

“It’s set to launch by the end of Q1.”

If we can move it from the inbox to the outbox, victory is declared. If the “expectations market” has been addressed, we can breathe a sigh of relief. The reason we do this is because this is how everyone else does it, and how it’s always been done. We focus on tasks. And while tasks are not always easy to perform, the act of doing them is easy to understand.

It’s not like all these tasks are getting us nowhere. They’re getting us somewhere, but we’re not exactly sure where that is. Is it closer to where we want to be? Is it at least in the right direction?

The Educational Assembly Line

Few would argue that our educational system needs rethinking. Our current model was built to train workers, preparing them to be interchangeable cogs that fed a vast managed manufacturing economy. This system values averages and test scores. A standard has to be maintained. But this type of learning no longer prepares children for the world in which they will need to compete in—a world in which their defined competition has changed.

I realize that I may be in a lucky minority, but upwards of 75% of my work life is spent working collaboratively. My son Charlie is currently a senior at Whitefish Bay, one of the better school districts in the state. When I asked him how much of his school day is spent working collaboratively, he responded somewhat derisively “less than 5%.” If our country’s economic competitive edge hinges on our ability to innovate, that’s a pretty big issue.

“If we keep teaching the same way, can we
expect different results?”
—harriettball.com

President Obama has asked that we allow schools the flexibility “To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test.” There is no better example than the breakthrough teaching strategies pioneered by the late Harriet Ball which champion teaching styles that best suit and captivate the interest of each student. Her Fearless Learning method understands that as humans we absorb information in multiple ways—via audio, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic. This approach enables each student equal access to learning because they are taught in their strongest learning mode. That’s a big departure from assembly line education, a process—perhaps not by accident—that has created an educational caste structure in our country. In their landmark book Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain, Caine and Caine establish the Principles of Brain-Based Learning which include the following discoveries: Learners learn by seeking connections to what they already know; The brain seeks patterns; Each brain is unique, and since learning changes the brain, the more we learn the more unique we become. That sounds like a road map for learning in the connection/innovation age.

Some might argue that in the “real world” everything isn’t tailored to the individual, so why should education? But if digital age has taught us anything, it is that mass is no longer the norm. Content is no longer a scarcity, and no longer the proprietary property of media companies and publishers. We get exactly what we want, when we want it. If user-centric is becoming a widely agreed upon practice, shouldn’t student-centric be the next big thing?

Conventional Wisdom, Inc.

In a brilliant Forbes piece from earlier this year, Steven Denning begins the article with an excerpt from the book Fixing the Game:

“Imagine an NFL coach,” writes Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, in his important new book, Fixing the Game, “holding a press conference on Wednesday to announce that he predicts a win by 9 points on Sunday, and that bettors should recognize that the current spread of 6 points is too low. Or picture the team’s quarterback standing up in the postgame press conference and apologizing for having only won by 3 points when the final betting spread was 9 points in his team’s favor. While it’s laughable to imagine coaches or quarterbacks doing so, CEOs are expected to do both of these things.”

If you’re like me, you probably read an endless amount of books and articles on innovative companies—how they think, how they do business, and how they delight their customers. But we are in the minority. In the world of large, publicly held corporations, more often than not business decisions are made on maximizing shareholder value. This management philosophy leads to a shareholder-centric focus instead of a customer-centric focus.

Innovation-driven companies are predominantly customer-centric, focusing on the real reason a business exists: There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer. But even in the startup community how often are the stories—“they just closed their round”—about an output? The preferred outcome of course, is an exit. This makes me wish for more voices like Jason Fried in the startup community. His metrics are all outcome based: Are you profitable? Are you building something great? Are you taking care of your people? Are you treating your customers well?

The Marketing Factory

Until very recently, in order to market a product you needed a great amount of advertising. So your outputs were TV, print, radio, outdoor, and direct mail. Line up the right agency(s) to do the creative, launch, and repeat with another new “integrated” campaign in 12 months. Then technology threw us web, mobile, social, etc. etc., so there were even more outputs to deal with. All of these tasks needed to be integrated. But in essence, none of these tactics have ever really been very well integrated at all, just a loosely strung together series of stunts.

These outputs are products of the marketing industry’s assembly line. The challenge is we are now in the connection age, and there is a greater need for the unique ability to see the bigger picture. Outputs no longer reliably lead to outcomes now that there is competition from a million different voices using a million different devices.

Many organizational cultures dictate that none of the output creation can even begin without the SOW (Scope of Work). The time put into specifying “What exactly do I get for my money?” is often more valued and scrutinized than any outcome the work will deliver upon. Partners are judged and evaluated based on what outputs their SOW will provide, not the possibilities of the outcomes they can produce for the business. The granularity demanded for these documents often leaves no room for fluidity, the ability to pivot based on findings, or providing flexibility for exploration down a newly discovered path.

What if?

The connection economy rewards the leader, the initiator, and the rebel.
The Icarus Deception

So.

What if a school turned out a graduating class without a cumulative grade average, but a cumulative story of problems solved? Or a measurement of the dots students connected between music and mathematics? Or the number of common threads discovered between art and science?

What if you could major in being a pirate? Or instead, the most sought after employees didn’t have an MBA, but an MPS—Master of Problem Solving?

What if we stopped measuring returns solely as financial? What if a company published charts that measured growth in learnings v. earnings over a 1 yr, 5 yr and 10 yr period? What if a business had a balance sheet for measuring connections? Or experience? Or art?

What if marketing wasn’t so “stunt-driven”, but built on messages, experiences and touch points that all created a unified brand experience platform? What if we started measuring brand utility in addition to brand awareness and affinity.

When you approach the work you’re doing today, are you just delivering outputs? Or can you be afforded the chance to take a step back, ask why things are done the way they are, and then deliver on a bigger, greater outcome? Think bigger. Go higher. Connect the dots. See the common threads. Think, plan, and create for an outcome.

The world is drowning in outputs. What it needs is better outcomes.

 

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