You’re baking delicious Neiman Marcus cookies and follow the recipe perfectly, but then your oven short-circuits and burns the cookies. There’s nothing wrong with your cookie-making process. And there’s nothing you really “learn” about baking cookies from this unfortunate incident. Shit just happens sometimes and now you have to get your oven repaired or replaced. When you have a functioning oven, you’ll use the same recipe and bake the cookies the same way.

Good process → Bad outcome. Solution: Move on.

On the other hand, if you eye-balled the amount of baking soda and the cookies ended up crumbly and deflated, this wasn’t bad luck. You need to revisit your process! (Speaking from experience here…) When you decide to give the recipe another try, you’ll certainly remember your mistake and do a better job of following the actual recipe.

Bad process → Bad outcome. Solution: Fix your process.

It’s Friday night, you’ve had three glasses of wine and decided to bake cookies again. You eyeball the ingredients again — a little bit of this, a little bit of that. But this time, somehow, the cookies turn out really gooey and delicious. You decide to enter a cooking competition…only to be disappointed because you can’t recreate those mouth-watering cookies you baked when you were super tipsy (hmmm…maybe the wine played a role).

Bad process → Good outcome. Solution: Check your ego…and your process!

When we’re talking about baking cookies, it’s easy to tweak the approach and question our assumptions. But we don’t always take the same approach when it comes to other decisions in life.

Here’s a quick way to assess and improve our process:

Observe outcome → Tweak process → Assess beliefs/assumptions → Repeat

An example with higher stakes:

> Observe outcome: You applied for 27 jobs on LinkedIn but have received zero calls for the job interview.

> Tweak process: You assess your process and realize it must be because your resume sucks.

> Assess beliefs/challenge assumptions: You fix your resume, but you still get zero calls…Time to question your bigger assumptions and beliefs.

Some good questions to ask yourself and their resulting answers:

  • What if I did the opposite? (= spend more time crafting 5 quality applications vs. the ‘spray and pray’ approach of 27 applications)
  • What if I could go direct instead of just sending my resume? (= email/inmail/get introduced to hiring manager instead of just using LinkedIn)
  • Am I applying for the right roles? Where am I not looking? (= broaden your horizons, don’t be so picky about job descriptions)

As a recruiter, I often witnessed people deciding not to apply for a job because they didn’t like one line in the job description (usually very trivial). In many cases I could convince them to apply, but in other cases they missed out on a potentially great career change. This was a negative bias — the negative case dominated the analysis of whether they should apply.

There’s plenty of other biases we have. To uncover them, a fun exercise is to read this list of cognitive biases (there’s a lot, but pick a few) and ask how they could be influencing your current thinking and perspective. And if you’re still stuck, that’s when you can ask other people to give you feedback.

In sum: Ask yourself the question, “Did I make the wrong decision or the right decision based on my process?” If your process was good, then you just had bad luck; but if you find there was something faulty in your process, correct it immediately. If it still doesn’t work, you need to work backwards and question the bigger assumptions that your process is built on. This holds true whether you’re baking cookies or applying for jobs!

Also published on Medium.

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