Output Vs Outcome

During a meeting this week I came across this discussion point – is output more important than an outcome? Interesting and Debatable! Let me first clarify the difference between the two words as many of them had confusion during the meeting as well.

Take the case of reading a book – if we read a book with the intent of writing a book review, then the focus is just on the output; we are constantly looking for points to help us in doing just that during the reading process. On the contrary if we read the book with the belief that it will change our perspective, then there is a larger transformational impact on completion of reading. While the book review is the output, the reader undergoing a change on reading the book is the outcome.

Like all matters of differences between good and great this too has a subtle difference! It makes a whale of a difference to our approach towards an activity.

Outcome based approach to activities lead to effectiveness while output based approach leads to efficiency. Increasing activities which leads us to effectiveness also lays the foundation for a more fundamentally strong and larger transformational change. Outcome based approach also aids in long term plans. Because long term plans require a more definitive shift to the current perspective, approach and culture in small intangible steps.

It is like picking a stock the Warren Buffet way using Graham’s approach of fundamental analysis. In the short term they do not return extraordinary results but provide phenomenal long term value creation.

To practice outcome based thinking requires enormous faith in the approach itself and a high level of patience. While on the other hand output based approach provides for immediate tangible results.

In case of planning, the short term goals are met by output based tasks, and long term goals are achieved in continuous execution and planning of outcome based tasks. Many of us fail to recognize this and get carried away with only one of them.

Take for example the planning of daily to-do lists. Every night before sleep we plan for our to-do items for the next day. When an item is ticked, it marks a small achievement and gives us confidence. However if the whole year is planned as a series of daily to-do’s which need an output that is tangible, then at the end a year of hard work and exhaustion we may be in for some surprise, to see we have not moved too much in spite of having done so much.

The daily to-do is a great tool, but when used without a greater goal embedded in it – it leads to short term euphoria and creates dampening of enthusiasm in the medium term and a strong feeling of “lost in the wilderness” over the long term.

Outcome based approach should be used in principle as our approach to achieving goals and planning, while output based view must be adopted to calibrate at regular intervals the outcome itself. A good mix and in the right places and proportions of outcome and output will leads us to successful long term value creation, achievement and positive change.