There’s a difference between the levers you can pull and the outcomes you want to achieve.

When planning out your actions for the year, it can be very easy to confuse outcomes with actions. Saving money is an outcome, not an action. Changing service levels is an action, not an outcome.

Working through this differences is the gap between success and failure in your actions throughout a year. It’s the difference between a great doctor and bad doctor. Great doctors know how to figure out what is really wrong and what they are capable of doing about it. Bad doctors just treat you for whatever obvious symptoms you show up with – usually they’ll be right but they will be wrong often enough to be noticeable.

The difference between good and great often comes down to a few things you do throughout the year. Yes, simply going the extra mile can make a difference. But the biggest impact you can have is by doing work that matters versus doing work that is obvious.


Things can go wrong even when you do everything right.

It’s not good enough to just be right. To a very real extent, the phrase “the ends justify the means” can feel too close to the truth. 

Let’s start over. Outcomes are sometimes independent from process. What this means is that sometimes everything works out perfectly even when everything goes wrong, all the wrong people say no, every step of the way has issues, and the schedule and budget are mismanaged. Even then, sometimes things works out. Similarly, sometimes everything falls apart even when the process was perfect.

When everything falls apart for no reason, it can be easy to justify shortcuts or doing things the wrong way to fix the outcome. Surely, this time you can stray to get the outcome that should have happened. 

In reality, both process and outcomes matter. Doing things the right way is important. Achieving your objectives is important. Plenty of important people have been found out in the cold because only one or the other didn’t happen for them. 

All this to say, sometimes things don’t work out and there was nothing you could do about it. Don’t let it get you down, sometimes you lose when you shouldn’t. 

No one is successful on their own, we all succeed with partners.

No one can be successful 100% on their own. You have to have employees or customers or advisors or teachers to do anything. Even if you make your money in a bubble, someone gave you a direction to look in. Someone taught you the methods (at least the fundamentals) you are using. Someone is on the other end of the transaction.

It’s easy to begin thinking about how we drive our own success. Much of business leadership talks of empowerment and how the individual controls their own destiny. This can be true for a large part but there is no such thing as completely controlled success. Partners and luck always have a role somewhere in the picture.

Don’t forget those who came before. Their roles may have been supporting only. They may have gotten as much out of the relationship as you did. But they are part of the story.

Ability to make good decisions is the single biggest predictor of long-term success.

I don’t have any scientific studies to back up this opinion but I’m going to stand by it anyway:

An ability to make good decisions is the single biggest predictor of long-term success.

There are two operative words in that prediction: 1) good and 2) decisions. Both of these seem like relatively straightforward words with simple definitions. But as with so many things in life, making good decisions is neither straightforward nor simple.

The biggest problem with good decisions is understanding where the judgment of a decision being “good” comes from. Plenty of decisions that I thought were good (even after the fact) were not considered good by others. Doing “right” is often the opposite of making “good decisions.” This is because most of our long-term success will be impacted by how others evaluate our performance. Even if you go into business for yourself, your employees and customers will be evaluating you.

Decisions are everything from the little to the large. Even the decisions you make around what time you start and end your day come into it. In many places, an early start/late end is a good decisions but some organizational cultures weigh work/life balance much more signficantly. Not making waves with coworkers may seem like a good decision but some may look for direct conversations as an indicator of success. Similarly, creativity and independence in decision making is sometimes valued but certainly not always.

Parameters for being successful change moment to moment and situation to situation. You can be in the exact same situation two days in a row and the “good decision” is polar opposite simply due to timing. Often, the ability to navigate these shifting waters is judgment. If you can quickly evaluate and understand the nuanced way that decisions are evaluated you will be positioned to do well.

How do you measure your success?

Success is a tricky topic as I’ve covered here before. It may have even become the topic I write about the most. It’s been top of mind as it’s one of the biggest mindset shifts I’ve gone through going from being a consultant to the corporate side of the house. When you are a consultant, success is relatively straightforward because it’s tied to projects; it’s highly measurable. Success on the corporate side is different, it’s much more difficult to measure and occurs over a longer period of time.

The measuring of success can be tricky. Do you tie it to personal, group, or corporate success? If a combination, how do you weight the various elements? If you are doing something new, how do you define success? If you are working cross-functionally, how does your success tie to other groups?

There is no right answer to the topic. The hard part is stopping to actually think about it. Stopping to think is a critical step in the process. Stopping may feel unproductive but often it is the most productive time you can have.

The clearest goals are usually the best ones.

It’s really hard to be successful if you can’t define what success looks like.

This may seem like a simple statement of fact, but all of us occasionally start new projects without knowing what the end state looks like. Often times, this is just the nature of what we all do. Not everything can be defined up front.

The problem arises when you never stop early in the project to define success before really getting underway. At some point, before the work really gets going, you have to understand what you are trying to achieve. Without a picture of the end, you can’t actually get to the end. Moving goalposts lead to lots of problems.

Simplicity is your friend in this. A simple, clear goal can be explained to others and compared to the final product. Success should be more than just throwing your arms up and declaring it. It should be something recognizable by others.

Sometimes success is shining a light on what’s going on.

Last week I talked about sometimes success is not failing. Other times success is actively looking to break things – or at least shine a light into the dark places. Just because there isn’t noise today doesn’t mean that everything is working as it is supposed to.

Shining a light on what isn’t going right can feel wrong. You are essentially pointing out where things aren’t working as they are supposed to. The reality of it is that someone would catch on eventually in all likelihood. Usually, that happens when something really bad goes wrong.

Waiting for that really bad thing to happen is bad policy. The worst case scenario is invariably worse than uncovering and fixing the issues yourself. In the latter method, you control the noise and approach. You can control the message.