Our Love Affair with Results Reconsidered

This guest post is by Tim Hurson , as a genuine contribution to our first edition of The Now Leadership Carnival, co-created with Anne Perschell, from Germane Consulting. Tim Hurson is a founding partner of thinkx intellectual capital and author of Think Better: an innovator’s guide to productive thinking.

Maybe we need to rethink our love affair with results


One of the clearest lessons of the financial meltdown of 2008 is that a mindless pursuit of results can have catastrophic consequences. The notion of doing primarily to achieve is a very masculine concept. Women tend to be more process oriented. This is not to say that women aren’t interested in doing well. Of course, they are, but for most of the women I know, doing well isn’t about achieving fixed goals; it’s about the emotional reward of performing well. Men tend to work for results. Women tend to work for meaning.

What are the ramifications of this distinction? And how might we benefit from more feminine energy in many aspects of life — particularly in business? Though it’s undeniable that result-driven work has produced useful outcomes, it’s equally true that it often misfires badly. The Wall Street debacle is a good example. Here’s why.

In 1976 two US economists, Michael Jensen and William Meckling, published a paper entitled, “The Theory of the Firm.” In it they argued that businesses suffer when the interests of managers are not aligned with those of shareholders. To rectify this, they proposed the theory of Shareholder Value, which holds that the main job of executives is to maximize share prices, and that the best way to institutionalize this is to tie management compensation to stock prices. Shareholder Value became the management mantra heard in boardrooms, shareholder meetings, and shop floors across the business world.

Unfortunately, the theory has serious flaws. It creates a distorted understanding about what business is really for. It emphasizes short-term changes in stock prices ahead of quality, employee satisfaction, and customer value. Lost in the cult of Shareholder Value is the true raison d’etre of business — meeting the needs of customers — doing work well as opposed to working to do well. The result-oriented approach of management-by-shareprice proved to be disastrous for scores of companies. In many cases, senior managers, who rewarded themselves by pumping up share prices, did so at the cost of breaking the bank. Just ask the ex-employees and investors of Worldcom, Enron, Lehman Brothers, and others.

Contrast this with a very different approach to work, an approach that incorporates what I’ve described as the feminine energy of working for meaning rather than results. To illustrate, I’ll use the story of Nicholas Fueni. Clearly, Nicholas is not a woman. But I use his story deliberately because I believe that feminine energy is not the exclusive domain of women. In fact, I argue that all of us can tap into this energy, all of us can benefit from doing so, and none of us (even the most masculine) need fear the consequences.

The Story…

When I knew him, Nicholas was 72 years old, a gardener, a Bantu elder, living under the oppression of South African apartheid. Yet Nicholas was the wisest, and perhaps the happiest, person I have ever met. Nicholas knew every centimeter, above and below ground, of the garden he tended. He knew its flowers, its animals, it soils, and its moods.

To Nicholas, the garden wasn’t simply a result; it was an on-going process. Not that it didn’t have a result, it was impossibly beautiful in every dimension: it looked beautiful, it smelled beautiful, it harmonized with its environment beautifully. And not that Nicholas was some sort of fairy tale gardener. He could be ruthless in dispatching harmful invaders, he worked the soil with strong masculine hands, he took pride in his accomplishments.

Though his garden gave profound joy to those who experienced it, that was not Nicholas’s purpose. His purpose was to know, really know, and then to bring out the very best of, the small plot of earth that was his work. Nicholas was the embodiment of the truth that real results come from a balance of masculine and feminine energy.

Let’s get over our infatuation with working only for results. Wouldn’t it be more productive to incorporate Nicholas Fueni’s wisdom into our own work, into the work of big business, into the complex work of governing? Aiming only for results — whether financial or electoral — may ultimately undermine our true potential. We don’t raise our children for results. Most mothers (and many fathers!) know that. How many times have we seen children rebel because the results their parents had planned for them weren’t right for them? The best mothers and fathers protect their children, nurture them, and guide them where they can, knowing that results, like those of Nicholas Fueni, come best if they are organic.

“My sense is that the full realization of human potential comes from balancing masculine and feminine energies, from following the model of Nicholas Fueni: know your garden as well as you can, nurture it, make it the best it can be, expect no other reward. Ironically, this simple formula produces the best possible “results”.”

Have a look at Tim Hurson.com, have fun with animated images of Tim! He clearly cultivates meaning, humor and creativity as well as getting things done 🙂 An innovator to Productive Thinking…

2 thoughts

  1. Tim, as one who is personally committed to mastery and as an avid gardener, I love some of the direction of this post.

    BUT, I am – at the same time – a big believer in the importance of results in certain aspects of our lives. Companies that do not produce adequate results for their constituencies will eventually wither and die due to the inability to attract and retain clients/customers, human capital, and financial capital.

    From where I sit as a consultant to leading professional service firms, the issue is really “what is the proper measure of results for an entity?” Clearly, measuring just short term results can create a culture of just short term thinking. And, being a slave to just quantitative results can create a culture that ignores important qualitative results.

    Neither the challenge in defining the right measures or the bliss that comes with pursuing mastery is ample reason to abandon a focus on results for organizations, or even for ourselves. For me, the quest is to have the wisdom to know when to apply results thinking and how to thoughtfully apply the right measure(s) of results.

    And, I don’t believe that my quest is gender specific. 🙂

    Off to enjoy my gardening, so as to nurture my soul before spending a week creating tangible results for my clients. One of the many beauties of this world is the dichotomies that we experience. Thank you for again engaging my thinking, as you so often do magnificently.

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