Can a Good Decision cause a Bad Outcome?

This week I was in a car crash. No one was hurt – thank God! But there was mangled metal and broken glass, and a four-figure car repair bill.

I was telling a friend of mine, and he said “well it’s a hassle, but that’s what insurance is for.”

Right. The only problem is, we don’t have insurance.

Now of course we have the required liability insurance that would cover anything that happened to someone else’s health or property. In fact, we also have collision insurance on our other car, which is newer and worth more.

Volvo_240 Classic


But on the old Volvo with 185,000 miles, we opted out of collision insurance. Had we paid just a few hundred dollars for this insurance, we would have saved a couple of thousand this month.

Ouch, that smarts.

So am I kicking myself? No.


Yes we are stuck with a big bill, and that is a major drag. But that doesn’t mean we should feel bad about the decision we made.

Here is the key information that led us to pass on collision insurance:

  • I had not been in a car accident in over 20 years
  • The car was worth less than $2,000
  • The additional cost would have been hundreds of dollars
  • We were comfortable with the level of risk

Looking at that data again now, I would make the same decision. I feel good about that.

Now some of you are still horrified at the idea of driving any car without collision insurance. Please get over it and keep reading, because I’m not saying anyone should or should not buy insurance. That’s not the point here.


The point is to think about decisions and outcomes, and to think about them independently.

By definition, good decisions will lead to good outcomes more often than not.

But it is also true that the right decision can lead to a less-than-perfect outcome.

Athletes and coaches know this. When Shane Battier kept missing three-pointers for the Miami Heat throughout the playoffs he was in a terrible slump – but that didn’t mean he stopped taking the shots. The decisions to keep pulling the trigger helped the team win the NBA Championship.

You’ve seen this in your own life and business: an ad campaign doesn’t produce many leads for a while, and then it works again. You bring home some bland oranges from the store, and the next week they taste delicious again.


But here’s where it gets tricky: when we have fewer repetitions, we don’t always see the probability play out.

This means that for some of our biggest decisions – like what kind of house to buy, or whether to hire a new CMO – we are vulnerable to be driven by a past outcome more than the right process.

It can sound like this:

  • “My old company used that marketing approach and it failed; let’s try something different.”
  • “We outsourced our [fill in the blank] two years ago and the vendor was a disaster. We’re not going to outsource anything anymore.”
  • “I dated a girl with glasses once, and look what happened!”

There are learning points in every negative experience, but sometimes we can over-apply or draw the wrong lesson.


So think about something recently that hasn’t worked out the way you hoped.

Was it a bad decision that you can learn from, or just a bad outcome?

The difference between learning and reacting is your ability to say, “that didn’t pan out, but it was a good decision.” (tweetable) Try saying that out loud, twice.

If you are facing a big decision or purchase on your team, I’d love to talk about it with you. Give me a call at 703.944.9676.

Also, we’ll probably have to replace the old Volvo. If you have a great used car to sell me, send me a note.

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