Letting Go of Outcomes

Over the past ten years I’ve become much more “process-oriented.” Part of this learning comes from my work—as a consultant I’m often in situations where I don’t know very much about the specific content, but contribute to change based on looking at the larger system. I used to say that a focus on process leads to a better outcome.
In the past year I dove even more deeply into process and facilitation, especially through participating in and leading Open Space and World Cafe sessions (and couples counseling, a longer story). Now I’d go further about the value of process: When I participate in the design and iteration of a process, I am comfortable with whatever outcome arises. Focusing on how something is decided allows me to let go of what is decided.
One way to think about this is using my favorite phrase from the past year, abstract up. Take a specific situation, then generalize it a bit and work at that level. Then generalize that, and go up one more level. Continue, until you can’t make a general case that still contains the specific situation you’re dealing with. At that point apply the rules you’ve learned from the general case, and see how the specific case plays out.
Simple example: Say you’re going to buy a house from a friend. It’s not listed on the market, and it’s a private sale without real estate agents. How do you set the price? One way is to pick a number that feels good and fight for it trying not to compromise too much. Doesn’t usually work out too well. Another way is to let the buyer get an appraisal, and use that number. If that doesn’t seem quite right to either party, have the seller get another appraisal, and split the difference. At this point you will have two opinions by professionals, and you can choose to use them, or walk away from the deal, but it’s not going to make much sense shooting for a number a lot higher or lower than the bounds of the two appraisals.
It’s worth noting that letting go of outcomes is non-trivial, as they say in engineering. I would not yet say I am expert at this, only that when I am able to abstract up it works out, usually better than when I’m obsessed with “what’s going to happen.”