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Outcome versus activity

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A few weeks ago I had lunch with Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems. Since it was an off the record conversation, it didn’t show up on the blog. However, he did say something that has stuck in my mind and has become a daily mantra for me.

“Don’t confuse activity for progress,” he said, offering that as a piece of advice to a first time entrepreneur. It is such a simple sermon, yet so hard to adhere to. Chris Michel, Founder & CEO of Affinity Labs in this essay about outcomes and activity (similar theme) confesses that it took him ten years to figure out who to focus on outcomes, and why all activity is a means to an outcome.

“Outcomes, in this context, means a certain, generally measurable, end result — and one that matters a great deal,” he writes. “Activities, however, are a set of tactics that are used to achieve that outcome.”

This is one article every entrepreneur should read.

11 Responses to “Outcome versus activity”

  1. It today’s world it is easy to get very busy from day to day and look back thinking, “what did I really achieve over these last couple days?” Multi-tasking in an insidious self delusional lie. Everyone has heard the phrase, “Jack of all trades master of none” — this person was a multi-tasker. I venture to say we need MARGIN and we need FOCUS. With cell phones ringing, PDAs buzzing, and email overflowing (not to mention the txt msgs and Chat) it’s no wonder we’re an A.D.D. society.

  2. SomeGuy

    I don’t know who originated the phrase but the first time I heard it was from the mouth of Bill Walton who I assume was quoting his idol Coach Wooden who may have been quoting Drucker who probably picked it up from Sloan, etc. etc. Old concept but worth repeating!!

  3. there are very few brilliant mantras that did not have a previous source. the idea of measured progress is not novel, and I am assuming has even more fathers than Mr. Drucker. however, there is value in the ability to present these “mantras” in a new light or in a clear fashion. chris has achieved that by using his own business experience as the primary example.

    great article.

  4. Well done, Om and Chris. Having watched Chris and his companies for years (as well as hundreds of other start ups), it’s been great to witness and learn from the benefits of this philosophy. It’s one of those ideas that is so simple and powerful, that you wish you had thought of and captured captured it!

  5. <p>digginestdogg,</p>

    <p>thanks for the input. well to be honest i had not heard that mr. drucker said this earlier, so thanks for bring it to my attention. well either way, mr. drucker’s original intent to teach someone a new thing did come true, even if it was channeled through another person who repeated his mantra. whatever the reason, it was a valuable lesson, just like your comment. </p>

  6. digginestdogg

    Ahem. Peter Drucker wrote that stuff many decades ago. One of the problems with narrowly educated and younger arrogant bloggers and journalists is that when they hear something for the first time, they arrogantly assume it must then be original since they think so highly of their talent their having not known it surely must mean it is novel. No, it just shows they don’t read enough–its a sign of laziness and lack of worldliness Does sound like Mr. Schwartz has read Drucker. Good for him.

  7. Ronald,

    I could not agree with you more. I have recently switched to paper and pen, and life is actually getting a lot simpler. email, however remains to be a bone of contention.

  8. ronald

    Didn’t we have this discussion along the lines of disruptive Technology, IM, email, Phone ?
    You can be a very busy body with technology if you do not learn how to use it effectively and you will accomplish very little with it. Lots of activity with little outcome. Hence my comment about queues. If I can’t prioritize it and can not use technology to help me prioritize it, it ain’t of any use to me.
    I will not become a busy body because of some gadget. I don’t have ADD, I don’t work for Google. I think for myself :-).