Process Determines Outcome

In my early twenties I became involved in a business to import balsa wood from the jungles of Ecuador and Peru to the United States. At the time, my Spanish speaking skills were quite good and the company I was working for asked me and another fellow, who spoke Spanish very well, to go to Ecuador and Peru and to get agreements from mill owners in those countries to supply balsa wood and ship it to Houston, Texas.

The process for doing this involved a great deal of preparation. There was no internet in 1975. Letters went back and forth for six months and ultimately we set up two meetings in Guayaquil, Ecuador and one in Lima, Peru. Our first meeting in Guayaquil was very scary and went badly.

German expatriates, former Nazis, who fled Germany after World War II, controlled most of the balsa wood business. My business associate and I met them in their offices on the docks of Guayaquil.

After a short and nice introduction, the tone changed. They told us that there was no way they would let us export balsa wood from Ecuador to the United States because that threatened their semi-monopoly at the time and their U. S. office in Miami. At this point, a door at the back of the office opened and two large men came out and proceeded to hit us, kick us while the owner told us that if we valued our lives we would not stay in the balsa wood business.

They literally kicked us out the door and let us go. Scared does not even begin to describe the multitude of emotions. Yes, we were scared. We were angry. Worst of all we understood that they could have killed us without any repercussions.

Obviously, this was not a good process and the result for us, was a very bad outcome. If we had understood the true nature of the process, we would have avoided the outcome. The tricky part in business and life is that at times we may think, as my business associate and I did, that we are in a good process. Sadly, it masks, when you are dealing with people who think “I win” “You lose” in terms of outcome.

Too often in business and life we look at outcome and wonder why something failed or, on the other hand, we marvel at how something succeeded. To find the answer always look at process. Process determines outcome.

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