Life is filled with a series of ups and downs. There are good times and bad. Curveballs come our way, sicknesses happen, individuals lose their jobs, and projects fail. However, if you have a plan for your life and are working on taking steps forward each day to achieve your goals, these setbacks are not major obstacles, they are just bumps in the road that you learn from.
Many people have plans for their lives – go to school, find a career, launch a start-up, begin a family, travel to 50 countries, etc. When you have goals squarely in focus and a well thoughtout plan to reach those goals, you trust the process. Contrast this approach with either having no process or attempting to force an ill-suited process to achieve an unrealistic outcome. The key is remembering you rarely have full control over outcomes, however, you do have control over the decisions you make as you follow your process. Control process, not outcomes.
Unexpected events happen. They can be huge, like a global pandemic; or relatively minor, like a budget not getting approved for a work project. A good process – one that can be trusted – recognizes there is always ambiguity and uncertainty about the future. People often resort to artificially controlling their lives of futility attempting to control the uncontrollable (The Fallacy of Control).
‘Trust the process’ is frequently brought up in the context of professional sports. Sam Hinkie, GM and president of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers turned it into a tagline and an oft-repeated meme. This quote from his introductory press conference gets to the heart of the matter: “We talk a lot about process—not outcome—and trying to consistently take all the best information you can and consistently make good decisions. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but you reevaluate them all.”
Michael Lewis, in his 2004 book Moneyball, made the process used by Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane so famous it became a feature film. A novel idea at the time, the A’s used analytical methods to find undervalued player talent, market inefficiency, to construct a winning team on a small budget. The A’s had an extremely successful run for years while competing with teams with higher payrolls, however, they never won a championship. In Moneyball, Beane makes it extremely clear about the limitations of his process and the part played by luck:
“My s*&% doesn’t work in the playoffs,” Beane famously told Lewis. “My job is to get us to the playoffs. What happens after that is…luck.”
I know my weakness is wanting quick gratification around my process and goals. I’m generally thoughtful about developing my plan and looking at the data to determine if my process is sound. However, I get anxious if the process is not yielding results during my timeline. Life has shown me time and time again that my timeline is not the timeline that the process works. Here are some pitfalls that I watch for regarding ways processes can get off track.
What Derails a Process?
- Not having a plan
- Abandoning and/or not following the process
- Short-term thinking and impulsiveness
- Using emotion versus data
- Trusting a broken process – assumptions must be challenged
I was listing to an Unusual Ventures podcast where the founder of one of their portfolio companies was talking about trusting the process. He spoke about starting his company and finding the right product market fit. Early on in his company journey, he started engaging with prospects. He created a process for how he pitched his company and spoke about his offering that was based on his expertise and the feedback he received from potential customers. The founder iterated along the way, improving the outcome over time, but the key was trusting the process to result in prospects willing to engage further. The learning he shared was that, “You cannot dictate that outcome that you are going to get product fit, you are not guaranteed to get it. But what you can do is control the process and be as efficient as possible about what doesn’t work.”
On the flip side of derailing processes, there are best practices that will keep you on track and moving along the path to achieving your goals and building the life you have planned for.
What Building a Process Looks Like
- Create a methodology using best practices
- Clearly articulated short and long-term goals
- Determine what data and objective criteria you will use to make decisions
- Plan for the variables that you can’t control
- Focus on the process, not short-term results
- Stick to YOUR plan and don’t be swayed both others
- Show up every day and give your best, expect good results
The key is to focus on what you can control in terms of having a plan, using objective data to make decisions, iterating as more is learned, having retrospectives for continuous improvement, showing up every day and staying optimistic even in the face of obstacles. Life is an unfolding journey, rarely is the path to the destination linear. There are twists and turns you could never have predicted. By trusting the process, many will have a decrease in anxiety and see elements of their life come together. Persistence, grace, hope, and faith are all part of trusting the process. Remain true to who you are, trust your plan, and it’s amazing how life has a way of working out.