Results and Relationship: Reimagining Success

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For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges into view that we never saw coming.


It’s highly likely that among people reading this article, the experience of suffering is widespread. Many will have had the illness themselves, tragically lost someone, or felt some of the ubiquitous indirect impacts of economic lockdown.

Yet for as many who have suffered, there are just as many, who through it all, feel that somehow, this experience has created space to reevaluate life, to think about how and why we’re living and what’s most important from this point on. Whatever your experience, one thing we all seem to share is a conviction that things can never be the same again.

We are at a watershed moment. We have an opportunity to question the things our culture has enshrined as definitions of success before now and ask whether in the light of COVID those ideas continue to be things we should believe. Does the way we look at the world need to change to make sense of the new things we’ve seen?

Results or relationship?

Something that’s come into view could be described as the importance of “relationship”. People saying they’ve been blown away, deeply encouraged, inspired by the solidarity that has emerged among us. We’ve all pulled together, led by the NHS and other keyworkers to try and tackle the virus arm in arm. At the same time many charities have created initiatives “for a time such as this” and the corporate world has pivoted flexibly into agile working.

This new sense of the importance of relationship has been felt societally, and also more privately – people feeling fresh appreciation for their husbands, wives, children, wider family – seeing them in a new and beautiful light – valuing lockdown opportunities to put the kids to bed each night, having time to slow down, relieved of commuting stresses, actually eat lunch.

Perhaps we’ve had a glimpse of the thing which is most important in this world – relationship. But it feels funny, it stands in contrast to the way most of us were living pre-COVID – the way we used to see things – the glasses we were wearing before the pandemic. Perhaps the old definition of success could be called the “results” based view.

At an individual level, the results-based view is the achievement of a set of goals or objectives in life and in our careers, driven to realise our potential – measuring success predominantly in material terms, to some extent seeing everything (everyone) else in the world as means to those ends. The market pays a proxy to the value of our life, we put in the work, we enjoy the results.

At a societal level, the results-based view looks at every problem, even moral problems, as issues to be addressed through market principles and ever-expanding definitions of economics. Healthcare, education, climate change, getting people to quit smoking or live beside runways – everything, even moral concerns, can be reduced to material terms.

David Brooks of the New York Times likens the difference between the results and relationships views to the difference between two mountains. Brooks says the first mountain in life is an individualist worldview, about our own desires and fulfilment whereas the second mountain, where real meaning is found, is about relationship, commitment and contribution.

The ultimate difference between the two mountains according to Brooks – and the way to know which we’re standing on – is about whether our ultimate concern is for ourselves, or something outside of ourselves, on a broader horizon. A good question to ask is what we take to be the motivator and ultimate goal of all our activity? Results or relationship?

Which makes better sense?

It is worth reflecting further on our experiences during COVID to ask which of the results or relationship view of success makes better sense. Two things we really value have come into conflict but the stunning economic sacrifices we’ve made to protect human life and to shield the vulnerable show that relationship is closer to the deep fabric of what life is really all about.

More people are alive than might have been, but more businesses are closed than might have been. What amount of life is worth what amount of economic pain? The difficulty in equivocating between the two shows that the results-based view of the world, the lens of looking at success only in economic or material terms falls short of life’s biggest questions.

Certain things don’t make sense in a results-based view, like this discerning the value of human life. The markets are not set up to place a value on human life – it pays nothing like what we’re really worth and they have no real proxy to the value and success of everything a person is. We’ve seen there is a fundamentally irreducible quality to how we should regard each other.

As a society we have said that when human life is in danger, we’ll do “whatever it takes” – “we will stop at nothing to protect people, the NHS and jobs” – in other words, these things are priceless – and even though the complexity runs deep, we agree on a fundamental level that there are things a results-based view of success has no power to rationalise.

Morality calls for more

COVID has also brought urgent issues of injustice and inequality to the fore. Moral issues that can no longer be ignored – we ask can they be addressed to some sort of market-based approach or set of economic interventions to get things right in the future? Well, in market-language, the word for “morality” is roughly translated as “ethics”.

Ethics has been a vogue subject for quite some time, and certainly forms an important aspect of our training and development as financial professionals. But what is often missing from these training courses is the importance of forming character. It is blithe talk to talk about behaviour in the absence of forming character. It is to talk of outcome without substance.

In business, we’ve tended to think that if we can get enough people to do enough good things enough of the time, measured by some KPI, then somehow by a process of osmosis our economy and thus by extension our society will fix itself. Injustice and inequality solved by the market, with no need for anyone really reflect on their own character.

But we know that ethics viewed in that manner is not morality. The ethics of a results approach is really just a faint shadow of the morality of relationship. The allocation of everything in life can’t be understood by reference to the ability to pay – inequality will always be the result of that assumption. Getting people to do the right thing can’t be understood as box-ticking.

Perhaps the underlying reason why a results-based approach cannot and will never bring us the success we’re really looking for in life, is that every time we look at things that way, our view of reality is obscured – or maybe a better word is “reduced” – because the only things that can be seen are objects – when we look at people, even they are turned from subjects into objects.

John Green in his prize-winning book, Looking for Alaska, put his finger on the heart of the issue. “People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason the world is in chaos, is because things are being loved and people are being used.” Really often, the objectifying, reductionist effect of the results-based view leads to the sacrifice of relationship.  

Is there any significance to the fact that most trading decisions on banking floors are made by algorithms, not people? Is it weird that in Silicon Valley entrepreneurs see it as a virtue to go bankrupt numerous times in pursuit of some start-up? Should we welcome that our debt and bond markets are becoming just as faceless as the equities?

More personally: are you a little like me? Are you the late person home only to check emails on repeat? Is your mind always somewhere else? The end point of a results-based definition of success is a place where not only is it difficult for us to understand what loving people and not using them in business might entail, but that we struggle even to translate the language.

Where to go from here?

If it is true that a relationships view of the world makes better sense, then at some level, what is required is a giving of ourselves, a giving of our heart – since that is where relationship begins. As a Christian, it is interesting to consider the example of Jesus Christ who gave himself so that we might be reconciled with each other restored to relationship with God.  

Jesus Christ spoke a lot about the tension we feel between results and relationships. One of the most famous Parables he told was the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s a profound story about two sons who asked their father to give them their inheritance while he was still alive – in other words they wished him dead – the ultimate sacrifice of relationship for material gain. 

One of these boys went off and spent his money on wild material pursuits, taking an individualist ideology to the extreme. The other son stayed at home, and according to the KPIs of the day, looked like a far more ethical person. However, the point of the story is not a criticism of desires for material gain – it’s that neither of them valued relationship. 

Relationship featured nowhere in their definition of success. An interesting point about this Parable is that in the West we call it the Prodigal Son but in the Middle East, not forgetting that Jesus would have originally told it for that audience, it’s referred to as the Parable of the Running Father because of the lengths the Father goes to to restore relationship. 

When the younger son realises he’s messed up, he comes home and his Father runs to greet him, to some extent disgracing himself in the process. And in that moment, the relationship is restored – he gets a ring on his finger, a robe on his back, and a party to celebrate – it turns out that the result he was always looking for was to be found in relationship all along! 


This is the claim at the heart of Christianity: that God made us for relationship with himself and that in that relationship, we find the means of our greatest flourishing. Sometimes things come along in life which cause us to reevaluate the way we’re looking at the world, to focus on something we’ve never seen before – for many people, COVID has done exactly that.  

Our world and our society are going through a profound watershed moment – it may be a time for you too to think about whether there is a different definition of success waiting for you in this life, prioritising and repairing relationships that have gone wrong, with the people on a horizontal level with you in this world – husbands, wives, children, friends, loved ones. 

The beautiful thing about the Parable of the Prodigal Son is that when we come to consider whether or not to repair our relationship, vertically, with God – we will find that he loves us and welcomes us home with open arms. Many have said that life is a bit like a Rubik’s cube that’s disorganised from every angle until the “click” of relationship with God is put in place.

This is something I have found to be very true of my own life – perhaps you may find the same. At the close of this short reflection, might I take the opportunity to wish you and your family well. In these unprecedented and challenging days, it is my hope that you are enjoying relative health, safety and security.