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Outcome or input? How to make a positive impact

Despite my nerves, the day went well and I returned home rather pleased with myself.

The workshop had made a positive impact – of that I was sure. Indeed, the feedback forms were filled with praise. I was positive they’d use my services again.

Then I didn’t hear anything from them – for years. Perhaps, I thought as I waited for the phone to ring, I had kidded myself about the impact. But undaunted, I went on to run many such workshops, using much of the preparation I’d put into the one in the Illawarra. (When it comes to inputs, nothing is ever wasted.)

Last year, a full 16 years later, I received an enquiry via my speaking agent to run a comms workshop for the Illawarra health-promotion community. It turned out that one of the participants at my original workshop was now running the show and had some money for training in her budget. She’d thought about what professional development had made the biggest impact on her and, you guessed it, it was my little workshop all those years before. Sixteen years after the first gig, I got a repeat purchase. Never say never.

No such thing as wasted effort

Now my children are grown, they have given me some interesting feedback about what bits of my parenting really hit home. One was my habit, whenever they bitched about a schoolmate who was annoying them or who they (in the exaggerated language of teenage girls) hated, I would (apparently) say that I was sure the subject of their ire had their own story. My memory is that they also hated me saying that. I endured the withering teenage eye-roll every time I made the remark.

Now both say they not only remember what I said, but also believe it. This has taught me that sometimes you have the most impact when you get the most resistance. When feminist friends of mine come under attack on social media, I often try to comfort them by saying we attract the most vitriol when we’re making the biggest impact.

Making a positive impact on others – be it participants in a workshop, clients, colleagues, your kids or (hopefully) readers – is something I strive for. I never worry about outcomes. Here’s how I learned that outcomes are beyond our control.

Sometimes you have the most impact when you get the most resistance.

A few years after I did that comms workshop, I was asked by the education reporter in a major newspaper to write a column for her page while she was away on holidays. I was both thrilled and terrified. I laboured over those 800 words in a way I’ve never laboured since. I chose my subject carefully. I did copious research and wrote and rewrote the article many times. I met my deadline and the column duly appeared.

But I doubt a single soul actually read it because it appeared on September 12, 2001.

That’s why I believe you can only control inputs. After all, despite the fact that no-one read my little education column (for understandable reasons), the work I put into it wasn’t wasted. I learned much about writing a column during the process and the research I did then has found its way into many an article since.

That column may not have had any impact on anyone else, but it made a very positive impact on me.

Jane Caro runs her own communications consultancy. She worked in the advertising industry for 30 years and is now an author, journalist, lecturer and media commentator. She tweets at @janecaro.

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