Direct vs. Indirect control
I often spend a lot of time planning, envisioning, and wishing for a particular outcome to happen. It occurs in different areas of work – in software projects, in design, in management. This is normal. This “wishful thinking” gives us direction and focus. It helps to identify elements and activities that shift odds in our favour. This “wishing” helps to create a plan. It does help, indirectly, to achieve our desired outcome. And so on. This is how we all get some things done. We “wish” for something to happen, we do “our thing”, and then the outcome happens. As we wished for, or not.
Often, the outcome decides if the undertaking is considered a success or a failure. This is a form of mental jump that we do. A form of “simplified thinking”. The trap is that our “wishful thinking” and “outcome” blur the value of our work with all the value that is created in spite of us. Our mental processes blur the elements that are in our direct control from the elements that are not in our direct control.
One realisation that occurred to me is that things that are in my direct control are, by far, much more important than things that are not. And, what’s more important, things that are in my direct control define me, whereas things that are not in my direct control, do not. What follows from this is that the outcome alone does not define me. This is somewhat counter-intuitive and a bit entangled, so let me explain. I work on a project. I control a number of elements, e.g. the quality of the code, the usability of the interface, the architecture of the system, the engagement of end-users, and so on. Those things are in my direct control. These factors shift the odds of the project being adapted and used by users. But, I do not control directly the end-user uptake. I can only, indirectly, influence it, and I can shift the odds by doing high quality work, but there is a number of elements that will always be beyond my control. The trap is that I often disregard those elements, and treat them as if they were non-existant. This is a mistake for two reason: first, I lose focus on things that are in my control, and second, I tend to take credit (or blame) for things that were completely out of my own control or influence (things that just happened, in spite of my own efforts or doing).
The result we wish for is often a combination of elements in our direct control, together, with elements that are outside, elements that we do not control directly. Focusing only on the outcome might distract you from the quality of your work. Instead, you should direct your focus to all the elements that are in your direct control.
Instead of the outcome, you should let the quality of your craftsmanship define you.
The interesting paradox is that the outcome of a project is strongly influenced by the quality of work and all the elements in our direct control. Hence, the elements in our direct control and the actual outcome are entangled. Focusing on the mastery and the craftsmanship will ultimately help to achieve the desired outcome and it will prevent taking blame (or credit) for things that are beyond our control.