Decisions vs. Outcomes

Have you ever worked hard to make a good decision but it didn’t work out well? Have you ever made a bad decision but it worked out anyway? A good decision does not necessarily result in a good outcome. Conversely, a bad decision does not necessarily result in a bad outcome. A decision and it’s outcome are separate. Here are some examples:

Sam Phillips owned a small recording company in Memphis. In 1955 he sold to RCA Records, for the sum of $35,000, the exclusive contract he had with a young man named Elvis Presley, thereby forfeiting royalties on more than a billion records.

In 1938 Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel sold all rights to the comic-strip character Superman to their publishers for $130, a tidy $65 each.

In 1889 the editor of the San Francisco Examiner published one article by Rudyard Kipling but declined to accept any more. “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling,” he said, “but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

In 1898 young Albert Einstein applied for admission to the Munich Technical Institute, but was turned down on the grounds that he “showed no promise” as a student.

Were these bad decisions? While the outcomes appear to us at this later time to be bad, we don’t know the circumstances, the thinking and the goals of the decision maker. We can’t jump to the conclusion that these were bad decisions based on the apparently bad outcome. These may have been very good decisions to that person at the time.

Consider this scenario: In 1981, an investor throws a dart at the stock page he has tacked to his office wall. The dart lands on a new company named “Microsoft”. The investor invests $10,000. Thirty years later the stock is worth $20,000,000. Was this a bad decision? Yes, picking a stock by pure chance is not generally considered to be a wise method of selection. Was there a good outcome? Obviously.

Consider this situation: The President is facing an grave international situation. He consults with the best experts, brings in the best minds to tackle the problem and, after long and careful consideration, makes a decision. The result is disastrous. Did the President make a bad decision. No. If he did the best he could, employed all resources available and was diligent and earnest in his efforts, he made a good decision. Was the outcome bad. Unfortunately, yes. It is interesting to observe that despite the clear distinction between decisions and outcomes, the person, party or organization who made the decision is generally credited or blamed for the outcome.

A decision and it’s outcome are separate and distinct. Your goal should be to make the best decision possible under the circumstances, then release from the outcome. Don’t blame yourself if the outcome isn’t what you wanted or expected. You don’t have control over everything, only what you can do personally.