Are you outcome-focused or process-focused?
Do you judge decisions as good or bad based on the outcome or the process?
For example, if you ate healthily, exercised, and did the normal things you are supposed to do to live a long life and then died of cancer at an early age, was the decision to eat healthy a poor one?
If you started investing in 2008 and watched stocks fall over 50% over the next year, was the decision to invest a poor one?
If you drank too much, took a ride-sharing service home, and still got in an accident, was the decision to have someone else drive you home a poor one?
We often judge a decision based on the outcome – not the process. This is unfortunate because even low probability, random events can happen following a poor process.
The elderly woman who smokes her entire life and never eats a vegetable lives until age 95.
The person who has never invested a penny in their life buys cryptocurrency and becomes a millionaire.
The man who regularly drinks too much drives home, but never gets in an accident.
In these scenarios, it feels like bad behavior is being rewarded. The process is poor, but the outcome is good. Therefore, was it a good decision?
Of course not.
We struggle with this on a daily basis.
Let’s talk about how this affects everything from saving to insurance to investing.
Saving is a boring activity that often feels like it comes with no reward. There is no hit of adrenaline when you deposit $20 in your savings account the way there is when you go out to eat or buy something new.
The process is boring. Consistently though, the outcome is amazing. Save and invest $20 per week over your lifetime and the amount you end up with at the end will likely surprise you. In case you are curious, $20 per week for 40 years earning 8% annually turns into over $280,000.
The difficulty is that by year 20, you don’t even have $50,000 yet.
There are many opportunities between year 1 and year 20 to do something different. Then, there is another 20 years after that until year 40 when you have $280,000.
There is the allure of the woman down the street who wins $500,000 in the lottery. There is a friend who inherits $300,000 from his dad. There is also the person who joined a startup at a lucky time and through the initial public offering (IPO) is now worth $2,000,000. None of them had ever saved a nickel. They lived paycheck to paycheck but ended up with more money than the person who diligently saved each week.
Great outcomes. Poor processes.
If you hear about the lottery winners, inheritors, and lucky startup employees enough, you may think that is a better process.
Who wants to painfully save with little results to show for it when they hear about a way to get rich quickly? The allure is strong. Take the speculator who “invested” $8,000 into SHIB, a cryptocurrency, that turned into $5.6 billion. Billion – with a B. All in less than two years.
It’s easy to see why an investor anywhere along their saving journey would abandon a proven, thoughtful process to chase after outcome-based results. If I am being honest, even I am jealous. Speculating on a few joke meme cryptocurrencies has appeal if they can make you financially independent practically overnight.
Would it be prudent to sell everything and invest it all in a joke meme cryptocurrency? Would it be a good choice to redirect all future savings to it? Should I change my investing strategy entirely?
The outcome above would say YES!
However, knowing the answer to a few questions would be helpful:
- What is the track record of this person?
- Are they connected in any way to the cryptocurrency?
- Is this repeatable?
You may find out that this person has lost a lot of money on other cryptocurrency bets, but this one was the big win. They may be pumping up the cryptocurrency to help boost their position. You may learn that most of the joke meme cryptocurrencies end up worthless.
Knowing the facts, your answer may go from YES to ABSOLUTELY NOT!
When saving, it’s easy to chase after the shiny objects that promise quick rewards with little effort. We are naturally wired that way. Fabulous outcomes make it on the news. Friends only talk about their wins. Family members let you know when they have a great outcome.
Very few people talk about the process of saving. Imagine hearing a story from a family member who said, “I worked at various jobs throughout my career, but I always made sure to save 20% of my paycheck and invest it each month. It wasn’t always easy, particularly when we cut back during the Financial Crisis, but that hard work paid off. I have enough money to never work again if desired.”
It’s not going to grab your attention in the same way as a friend saying, “I put $5,000 into this unknown investment because other people were doing it and now I am worth $250,000.”
The former is repeatable. There is a clear process for a good outcome.
The latter is not repeatable. It’s random. It’s luck.
As you think about your own savings, ask yourself, “Am I changing habits based on the outcome?” If so, is there a process that can be followed to create the same outcome with consistency? If not, move forward carefully.
Insurance is a critical risk management tool. Life insurance can help your family if you die early. Disability insurance can protect your earnings before you are financially independent. Auto insurance protects your car and assets if you are in a collision. Umbrella insurance provides higher limits of coverage if your other insurance coverages are not sufficient.
Unfortunately, people often look at the decision to buy insurance from an outcome perspective.
“I lived until age 90, never bought insurance, and my four kids and spouse were okay.”
“I never bought disability insurance, which was a good choice because I never became disabled.”
“I bought the cheapest auto insurance possible and never got in an accident. I’m glad I didn’t pay for better coverage.”
Here’s the thing. The outcome does not matter. I’m not happy if I die and get to use my life insurance. I don’t feel like a winner when I get to claim on my disability insurance policy. I don’t jump with joy when my auto insurance company pays about $10,000 to have my car repaired because now I’m getting back some of the premiums I paid to them over the years.
In fact, I’m content if I never make a claim on any insurance I pay my entire life. That would be wonderful!
Imagine the reverse.
I bought life insurance and died, providing my family with enough money to not disrupt their lives financially.
I bought disability insurance, had a stroke at a young age, and the disability insurance income helped us through a really tough time.
I bought expensive auto insurance with better benefits, which allowed me to replace my car and protect myself from a lawsuit.
Now, the decision to buy insurance looks better, but the decision was good regardless of the outcome.
Here’s the process that should be going through your head when deciding whether to buy insurance – “Can I cover the risk myself without significantly changing my life and, do I want to cover the risk?”
In the case of disability insurance, I’m not financially independent. I can’t cover the risk that I get disabled and earn no income. I need disability insurance.
In the case of auto insurance, I could replace my car, but it’s not a risk I want to assume, so I opt for higher replacement coverage.
In the case of cell phone insurance, I can cover the risk if I break my phone and need to replace it. I don’t purchase cell phone insurance. (If I don’t buy it and break my phone the next day, it was still a good decision to not buy the insurance).
Each person’s situation is unique.
Follow the question posed above, which will lead to a good process. Don’t rely on anecdotal stories of random outcomes to decide whether it’s a good decision to buy insurance. That’s outcome-driven decision making and it holds no bearing on your life. The process of coming to the decision to buy insurance (or not) and how much is more important than what happens after you buy it.
Investing is the holy grail of displaying outcome winners and punishing process-oriented decision-making.
Who gets put on TV? People who made a boatload of money, whether it was luck or not. Fund managers who recently had good returns, regardless of their past record. Economists who called the last crash, even if they called 20 out of the last 2 crashes.
When it comes to investing history, track records are almost never tracked or put on display.
The here and now seem to be the only thing that matters. Studies have shown it’s nearly impossible to consistently outperform the general market, yet people still attempt it.
Are the ones who outperform better? Are they smarter? Should you put money with them?
The studies say no. Most studies conclude buying a globally diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds will beat the majority of people trying to outperform the market.
If your friend gets lucky and buys a stock that goes up 10,000%, should you change your investing strategy and only buy a handful of individual stocks?
She did it. Surely you can, too. Your friend can even tell you what to buy.
If you do change, the outcome is changing your decision. What about all the other friends you did not hear from? The friends who bought the companies that went bankrupt, experienced stocks dropping 40% and never recovering, or soured on investing when the market dropped and went to cash, only to miss out on a 100% recovery.
Those people don’t share. You don’t hear about those people. But, if you did, you would understand that the process of investing most of your money in a handful of individual stocks is very risky.
I’m not saying don’t do it. Each person has a different level of risk they are willing to accept, different resources available, and varying income potential, but most people would not be well served by changing their investment strategy away from a proven long-term process to chase an outcome few people achieve.
Remember, if you read about an investing newsletter promising to teach you how to make money quickly, listen to a hedge fund manager on TV about the crash they saw coming, or see an ad telling you how you can identify the next Amazon and are tempted to follow their “guidance”, you are likely being outcome-focused.
Summary – Final Thoughts
It’s easy in today’s world with “success” stories painted in the news and social media to focus only on outcomes. It’s hard to remember that although following a process takes time, it usually leads to good long-term outcomes.
Whether it is saving, insurance, or investing, the world will likely try to make you outcome-focused. Good outcomes, regardless of the process or risk, are what get featured. They are the sexy stories that grab attention. They are the stories we like listening to. Those are the stories where we go, “Wow, that’s amazing. I wish that were me.”
If it is boring, repeatable, and requires consistency, it probably won’t grab your attention. At the same time, those are the stories we should be listening to because they are normally process-focused people sharing a strategy that will work most of the time.
As you go about your week, ask yourself, “Am I being outcome or processed-focused?” Is the story I heard focused on the outcome or the process? Could I and others repeat it with consistency? How much did luck play a role?
As much as we like to focus on outcomes, remember, the person who runs three times a week, eats healthily and dies of a heart attack at age 40 still had a good process.