Outcome thinking pervades every aspect of this book, including the other approaches to thinking: systemic thinking and the coaching mindset. That’s because every activity we ever undertake has a purpose, even when we don’t know exactly what that is, or have forgotten what it originally was. A deliberate decision to keep our desired outcomes in mind when we are doing things, especially complex and subtle things, keeps us grounded and tends to lead for efficient interventions rather than irrelevant or self-indulgent activities.
The existence of this book rests on purpose. The car designer needs to understand the mechanics of the engine, suspension and steering in order to achieve the result that he or she wants: whether that is speed, comfort, or fuel economy. Similarly, we assume that the reader of this book is engaging with it because of the positive results that might be delivered, rather than because of our wonderful purple prose.
Outcome thinking is an overall attitude which, in practice, consists of constantly asking the internal question:
- “what exactly am I seeking to achieve, doing what I am doing, right now?”
This becomes most explicit when coaching or facilitating complex meetings:
- a cornerstone of these processes is to establish, early on, what the participants want to get out of the situation. If they don’t know, why coach or have a facilitator? A massive amount of value can be delivered by spending time on clarifying this issue just by itself.
- during the coaching process, the coach needs to set mental stakes in the ground about what the purpose of each part of the coaching conversation is leading towards. If not, there is a risk of the conversation diverging into areas that have no pay-off for the coachee.
- equally, in any complex meeting, regular interim checks on current direction, individual involvement and relevance of the discussion will expedite the process.
- we need to listen for outcomes that are not explicitly disclosed by the coachee or the group, usually because they are not fully aware of them. When someone wants to shift away from a current state to a more desirable state, an important part of the whole process is to understand the (probably hidden) outcomes that are being met by staying in the current state.
What is an outcome? In simple terms it is a describable future result that stimulates action because it engages the senses and emotions as well as our logical mind. The SMART goals and SOCRATES tools provide approaches to modifying outcomes so that they are as effective as possible. But the problem with these tangible outcomes is that, despite the existence of a massive goals culture in business, many people (including the authors), are not that highly motivated by tangible goals. They are motivated by other, more qualitative things:
- I want to be a good father or mother
- I want to help other people as best I can
- I want to be respected
- I want to challenge myself to do the best I can in whatever I’m doing
- I want to avoid failure and/or looking stupid
… etc. But the point of outcome thinking is that we, as human beings, are inherently engineered to pursue tangible goals if we are sufficiently motivated: our ability to do that is why we have emerged as the most dominant life form on this planet. So if we want to be a good father or mother or help other people or be respected, the most powerful way to further these purposes is to establish achievable outcomes that support them.
In the Welcome chapter we, the authors, describe our qualitative motivation for writing this book. But if we had left it at that, very little would have happened. Instead, what we did was to break down our qualitative objectives into specific deliverable outcomes including, for example:
- working out the best web technology to use – and switching when necessary
- deciding a workable approach for who writes what and when
- delivering feedback and being open to receive it
- agreeing, and committing to, short-term milestones (even when the ultimate goal looks years away)
Although our motivation is driven by our conceptual goals, our human mechanics operate best with outcomes that engage our senses and utilise our values. Even if we don’t have a specific outcome in mind, if we want to get anything done the most effective approach is to constantly establish tangible, deliverable outcomes. That’s what outcome thinking is all about.