Input or output?

Photo by Andres Rueda


Business thinking is always focused on outputs. On results. On measurable things. And usually, it is a good thing (at least when you are measuring the right thing). But we should not let our focus on results prevent us from acknowledging that sometimes, results are not the most important factor. Effort is.

I was reminded of this while I was reading this paragraph from Eduard De Bono Six Thinking Hats:

With white hat thinking we do expect a definite input of neutral and objective information. With black hat thinking we do expect some specific criticisms… With green thinking, however, we cannot demand an input. We can demand an effort…

You cannot order yourself (or others) to have a new idea, but you can order yourself (or others) to spend time trying to have a new idea.

And I think this is the problem many managers have with some of the “soft skills”. They judge it according to the outputs. Like a computer program. “If I acknowledge or recognize my employees x  times a week, they should be engaged”. But it does not work like that. First, because there are many things in life that are a function of probability. You can improve the probabilities if you follow a good process, but you can never make sure. Creative thinking is one. Employee engagement is the other. Second, because human beings are so special and unique, we can’t expect one system to work. Thus we need to put in the effort and do the adaptations according to the specific person and circumstances.

The question, of course, is more general: when do you measure using outputs and when do you measure using inputs? While there will never be a definitive answer, I think stopping and asking the question once in a while is beneficial by itself.


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