‘Focus On The Process Not The Outcomes’ – B-School Realisations By Abhijit Routray, IIM Lucknow
Life at IIM Lucknow is a constant race. A race against one’s peers, against time and with self. One lands up amidst the best brains of the country and he/she might as well kiss tardiness a sweet goodbye. No one comes to this place to laze around; everyone comes with a dream. But among so many people, there are always some people, who find survival more difficult. Who find fitting in more difficult. Such was the case of Rajiv, a 1st year student of the PGP programme.
Outside of this place, he was a star among his peers, but in here, he was a nobody. Adaptation is the name of the game here and it was pretty evident he didn’t adapt, not sufficiently enough. Deep into his 1st term at one of the most rigorous MBA programmes of the country, Rajiv began to feel he was inadequate and that this was not meant for him. Day after day, he was getting his test scores and they were, well, not high, to put it very mildly. On one late Saturday night, he decided to go out on a walk in spite of the heavy monsoon downpour. After all, what’s more dramatic than walking in the rains and being sad, all alone, when everyone else is asleep? The answer is coming up with such an idea to begin a story. But Rajiv is sad and so am I. So, cut us some slack and read on.
Rajiv, wearing shorts and a t-shirt with an umbrella in his hand went out of his hostel, on to the dark roads of HelL, on what would be ‘a walk to remember’ (classic movie reference, check!). He glanced at his swanky Casio Edifice, and it showed 2:30 am and for some reason, the watch had stopped working. He ignored it and moved ahead. He had walked for some time when he saw a faint image of a man walking. He wanted to walk alone but curiosity can be a ‘female dog’. He wanted to know who it was. As he came nearer, he started seeing more clearly. The man who was walking seemed awfully similar to a professor but Rajiv couldn’t say for sure. As he went nearer, Rajiv felt a shiver down his spine. It was indeed Prof. X; Prof. X is known to be a no-nonsense task master. What more? Rajiv had royally screwed up his scores in his papers. Rajiv realised it was a bad idea and decreased his pace to increase the distance between them. But suddenly he heard his name being called. The professor had seen him while he had turned back for a moment and called him. Rajiv ran towards the professor and said “Good morning Sir”.
“Good morning Rajiv, why are you not in your hostel room?” said the professor.
“I could ask the same of you”, thought Rajiv in his head but decided against saying it aloud. The professor sensed his discomfiture and asked Rajiv to walk with him. “Rajiv, is everything alright with you?”. Rajiv was wondering whether it was a trick question. Why is the professor asking him this? What should he say to him?
“Yes sir! I am just a bit upset as I am trying very hard, yet for some reason, I’m not getting the desired results. But I am learning sir, I’ll get better”, said Rajiv. A smile on his face that tried to fake confidence but it couldn’t hide the state Rajiv was in. The Professor gave him a smile and asked “Look ahead. What do you see?”
“Sir, I didn’t get it. What do you mean by what do I see?”, Rajiv wanted some clarification. “Look ahead into the road and tell me what do you see in front of you?”, clarified the professor.
“Sir, I still don’t understand. Everything is dark. I can just see this street light post to our right and its bright light. With all the water in my specs, the light is scattered all over and I am not able to see a thing beyond that.”
“Exactly”, said the professor.
“What exactly, sir? I am sorry, but I didn’t get you”, asked a curious Rajiv.
“It’s elementary, Watson”, laughed the Professor, having successfully cracked a Sherlock Holmes joke. But Rajiv had no idea whether to laugh or not. He was not used to seeing his professor like this and moreover, he had no idea what the professor was talking about. He felt quite like the hapless Dr. Watson in front of the mighty Mr. Holmes. Rajiv kept a straight face.
“Okay! See! What’s your job Rajiv? Is it to walk on the road or to focus on the lights?”, quipped the Professor. “My job is to walk, sir”, said Rajiv.
“Then why focus on the lights?”, said professor X as he went on to explain. “You say your job is to walk on the road, but you are focussing on everything but the road ahead. These light posts are like milestones. They are there to help you, give you a benchmark to keep track so that you do not lose your way. Focussing on them blinds you. You don’t see the road. If you focus on the road and look ahead, you’d see plenty of such light posts ahead. Each of them is a different milestone you will reach if you focus on your path and not get hooked on the closest one. Don’t be myopic Rajiv”
“So sir, do you mean, I should focus on the process and not the outcomes?”, asked Rajiv. To which, the professor nodded and smiled to show his agreement.
“But sir, isn’t being ahead everything here? Aren’t the outcomes the most important thing?”, said Rajiv.
Professor X laughed and said, “What do you think Rajiv? What decides the outcome and how far you go? Is it how you walk the road or is it how intently you look at that milestone nearest to you?”
Rajiv smiled, as he finally was beginning to understand what the professor was saying. The professor continued, “We are often dazzled by the bright light of milestones and are fixated on dreaming about being successful but we are not willing to walk the path and put in the work. Focussing on the process, and not fixating on end result leads to better outcomes”
“So you mean if I keep at it and be regular and diligent and focus on what I have to DO, I’ll be beat everyone else?” asked Rajiv curiously.
“No, what I mean is, when beating everyone else becomes irrelevant to you, only then will you focus”, said the professor with a smile.
“Ah! Now I get it. Thanks a lot, sir! I’ll remember this chat with you and you sleep well sir. See you in the class tomorrow”, said a visibly happier Rajiv as the Professor went into his quarters.
The next morning Rajiv woke up and got ready for class. He seemed in a much better mood and was upbeat about the day and what all he was going to do to be as productive as he could be. He wrote his agenda for the day on his white board, cleaned his room, brushed up on some of the concepts for the class and was in a generally upbeat mode. Rajiv’s roommate, Ankit woke up and came to his room and customary niceties of 2 slangs that, in their minds conveyed the same meaning as good morning, were exchanged.
Ankit said to Rajiv, “you have been sleeping since a long time. I was wondering whether everything was alright with you”
To this Rajiv smiled and said nothing. And both of them went together to have breakfast and attend classes. With the umbrella over his head, and walking towards the classrooms, he glanced at the hallowed buildings of Bodhigriha.
It was still raining heavily and the entire Bodhigriha was a sea of bright red. It was a sight to behold early in the morning. The mighty building receiving a mighty washing; blood-red in its full glory.
When he reached his class, he was excited as it was Prof X’s class. As the professor entered the classroom in his swashbuckling style with his umbrella in one hand and his bag in the other, Rajiv bore a wide grin on his face. Professor wrote “Linear Regression” on the board as he began his lecture, not paying any special/different attention to Rajiv. Rajiv seemed disappointed and as he looked at his swanky Casio Edifice, it showed 9:20 am and it was working perfectly well.
About the author:
Abhijit Routray is an alumnus of IIIT Bhubaneswar and is currently in the 1st year of the Post Graduate Programme at IIM Lucknow. He loves playing basketball and the synthesizer and claims to be a half decent computer overclocker.