We live in a “now” society. Questions like “what have you done for me lately?” are quick on the lips of anyone assessing your success in life. It’s a grow or die environment. Either you increase your level of outcome over the previous year, or you’re considered a failure. Try telling Facebook it doesn’t have to increase its revenue or earnings. Even if they maintained an output of billions of dollars, if the company isn't expanding, by society’s standards, it’s retracting.
How unfair though, am I right? If you’re alive, which for the sake of this article I’ll assume that you are, you know that life is unpredictable. The only certainty is that it’s uncertain. We all know this to be true, yet we still subscribe ourselves to the idea that outcome is king. Sure, there are aspects of success out of your control, and sometimes success is reliant on luck, but who cares? You either succeed or you fail, say it with me!
But we can’t directly control the outcome of our actions. Trying to validate your success solely based on results is a fool's errand. And at the same time, we need measurable goals, and we need to make strides towards achieving them. Therefore, we should measure the output of our actions over the outcome of our output.
It’s a risk / reward scenario. We can’t know with 100% certainty that action A will result in outcome B. We can, however, assess the situation, and figure out what types of output has the highest probability of accurately moving us in the direction of our desired outcome. Which, of course, leads us to the principle that you should base your goals, and success, on the output you consistently show day after day, rather than the unpredictable outcome of those actions.
I repurposed this from Tim Ferriss (and probably a slew of other thought leaders), but it’s important to think of your desired outcome as a post or pillar in the distance, rather than a goal itself. If you want to get technical, then you can call it your “overarching goal,” but for me, I think of it as my direction rather than the measurement of my success.
Once you have that pillar firmly set in the distance, work your way back to present. What actions are needed to get there? What manageable goals, when compounded together, will push you in the direction of your desired outcome? Start thinking of success in terms of bite-sized actions that have the highest likelihood of achieving the outcome you want.
If your goal is to run a business that makes $100k of revenue in a single month, and the pillar you set for yourself is 12 months away, start thinking about what actions will get you to $100k in 12 tries. Boil it down to its simplest form. If a client spends $10k a month, on average, you know that you’ll need 10 clients to reach your target revenue. When you consider normal churn, add an extra five clients to that number to give you a buffer.
In this scenario, you’ll need 15 clients to reach your pillar or overarching goal. Great! What output do you need to close 15 deals? Maybe you can close one out of every 10 leads in your CRM, and it takes roughly 40 cold calls to generate those 10 leads. If the sales cycle, from initial reach out to closing the deal, lasts a month on average, you know that every 40 cold calls will generate one client, within one month of the 40th reach out. Therefore, you’ll need to cold call at a clip just over 40 a month to achieve 15 total clients in a 12 month period.
For the sake of ease, let’s say that you’ll need to conduct 50 cold calls a month to sign 15 deals in a single year. While the pillar or outcome you want is $100k of revenue, the only way you’ll get there is by strategically cold calling 50 potential leads a month. Therefore, your goal shouldn’t be a monetary target, but should be the 50 monthly cold calls themselves. The revenue number is more of a direction than a goal, and you move towards it with dedicated output.
Now, this doesn’t mean we can ignore outcome completely. Busy doesn’t equal productive, and sometimes we have to be honest with ourselves in that the output we thought would help us achieve our desired outcome isn’t the right action to take. But, we only know this to be true if we strategize our initial output, and then execute on that output. If we find that the actions we take are moving us farther away from our desired outcome, we have to course correct, adjusting our trajectory on the fly.
Say that your desired outcome is to support yourself full-time with your artistic endeavors. You’re a painter, and you believe that your paintings can be sold for thousands of dollars. You arrive at the conclusion that you can price each painting at $2k, and that you’ll need to produce and sell two paintings a month to live comfortably.
To sell your paintings, you assume that showing them at local art galleries will be the best way to get your product in front of your ideal consumer, and you calculate that it will take six art shows a month to sell two paintings. And then, upon executing the output of two paintings and six art shows a month, you realize that the price per painting is too high, and your millennial customer is unwilling to pay for it. What now? Did you fail? Of course not! Obviously you can’t rely on your current output to validate your success because the output isn’t effective. But, some sort of output will be effective, and all it takes is trial and error to find it.
Perhaps that while millennials don’t want to pay thousands of dollars for a painting, they love your style and would gladly pay $100 for a print copy. Using Instagram as a marketing medium, you adjust your output so it coincides with the effective development and sale of prints, with the same outcome of supporting yourself with your art.
You see, the outcome "pillar" never changed, but you changed your output so it got you closer to your desired destination. This shows that your actions result in your outcome, and are therefore the most important things to measure. Meaning, while your vision remains steadfast on your distant pillar, you need to focus on daily output goals, and measure your success by effort.
Even course correcting and abandoning your initial output assumptions is a win. A crooked path to success is still a good one. It means that you made assumptions, tested them through action, and adjusted your output when needed, never taking your eye of your desired outcome.
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