Are You Attached to the Process or the Outcome?

In the comments for What’s the Difference Between Problem Whining and Problem Solving?, I spoke about a couple of different things:

  • Being attached to the process or being attached to the outcome/result
  • Perceived or real lack of choices with respect to the outcome

In this post, I’ll address what we might attach to: the process or the outcome.

I have my own way of writing, speaking, cooking, you name it. I’ve honed my approaches throughout the years, and I know what works for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t experiment—I do. But, I don’t experiment as often as I do when I am busy learning.

That’s because I’m at least competent at the above. Consider the Dreyfus Model of skills acquisition:

  • Novice: Rigid adherence to the process. No exercise of judgment.
  • Advanced beginner: Some situational perception of the entire system.
  • Competent: Able to use deliberate planning and can formulate routines that work
  • Proficient: Holistic view of the situation and can adapt to the situation at hand.
  • Expert: transcends reliance on rules. Can see what is possible.

You might be familiar with Shu Ha Ri, which is roughly analogous to Novice, Competent, and Expert.

Novices and Advance beginners are attached to the process. That’s because they are learning. People who are Proficient or Expert are attached to the outcomes. In my experience, Competent people might go either way, because they are still learning, but might be able to see the system, the holistic situation.

If you are part of any change initiative at home or in your organization, you might see this in terms of the Satir change model. When we first learn about something new, we are novices. We move through advanced beginner stage and once we have our transforming idea, we can build our competence. Once we are in New Status Quo, we expect we are, at least, proficient.

Let’s see how this might work for solving problems.

As a child learning to swim, I passed through each of these stages. I swam for pleasure and exercise through my 20s. I continued to swim on vacation. I lost some speed because I didn’t continue to practice. However, my form remained expert.

With my vertigo, I am back to being an advanced beginner/competent because I can’t move my head side-to-side frequently enough to breathe the way I used to. I can use my previously-expert knowledge to adapt. I rarely do the crawl. Instead, I adapt the breaststroke so I can continue to look forward. I look strange in the pool. I’m fine with that.

I am attached to enjoying myself in the water—the outcome I desire—than the process of swimming.

I’ve seen this when people start to use agile approaches. In the worst cases, the organization sheep-dips everyone in two-day training. Too often, that training is a certification, so people (the people in the training and the people paying for the training) have the illusion of proficiency. However, too often the training leads to—at best—advanced beginner knowledge. Too often, we don’t yet have the transforming idea of what an agile approach might mean for our jobs.

We are attached to the process, not the outcome. Why? Because we can’t even imagine the outcomes for our organization. Not yet.

Once we practice, once we are able to move from the recipe to a system-approach to seeing our situation and our problems, we can start to imagine our possible outcomes. We start to create a holistic approach to the situation and see our data and our problems. Now, we can be attached to the outcomes.

Let me phrase this in concrete terms: When I swim now, I swim for fun. When I use agile approaches, I take from all approaches to create my environment to deliver small chunks of customer value fast. When I teach and consult with agile approaches, I help my clients see their situation so they move from the recipe to more possibilities and learn how to deliver their customer value fast.

When I teach, I’m attached to the outcomes, not the process that people use to achieve those outcomes. Sometimes, my students surprise me with their approaches. They see other ways to achieve their outcomes.

Too often, when I am in problem-whining, I’m attached to the process. When I am in problem-solving, I tend to be attached to the outcome. That’s me.

And, that is the question this week: Are you attached to the process or the outcome?

8 thoughts on “Are You Attached to the Process or the Outcome?”

  1. Reading this post made me think about “trusting the process” for rehabilitating from a sports injury. As an old slow overweight jogger, I get injured from time to time. When that injury prevents me from jogging, I usually go see my sports chiropractor or my doctor who then has me see a physical therapist. (Or, if I have had that injury before, I just get to work doing what I need to do to rehabilitate).

    I find if I don’t know the process or when the outcome will be achieved, that I have to place my trust in others who do…and I hope that it works. It is frustrating in that I become impatient with the process.

    But if I have had a similar injury before I find myself tinkering with the process because I know what the outcome should be (and I try other things to help as well). So my physical therapist was astounded that I did all my assigned exercises and wanted to learn more. Yet there are times when I realize that I need to consider outside help even when I know what is happening (because the outcome will be much better). I don’t like going to my sports chiropractor, but when I do, the outcome is always improvement. So I guess I am attached more to the outcome: I want to keep jogging than the process (how I keep myself healthy enough to do so)…yet I can’t ignore the process, either. You have to keep both in balance.

    So bottom line (for me, anyways): once I know

    1. let me finish that last thought….

      once I know whether I am comfortable with a process, I will tinker with it to achieve my outcome.

      But if I am not comfortable with the process and uncertain in the outcome, I will have to be a beginner, trusting the process that someone else guides me through. But I am more uncomfortable in that situation. And always want to learn the whys behind the what to dos..

      1. Me too!! I think that’s part of the change model, at least for me. When I’m comfortable, in practice and integration, I tinker. I think of myself as a beginner (chaos in the change model), I also look for the whys and what precisely to do.

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