It’s not how you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

Nowhere was that more true than in this past weekend’s Mayweather vs. Pacquiao boxing match, where the fact that Mayweather actually won was kind of irrelevant. Whether they won or lost, Mayweather was lined up to earn at least $120 million, while Pacquiao was lined up to earn $80 million.

What mattered was the process. After six long years of negotiation, these two guys finally faced off. The fight itself was almost an afterthought to the protracted and tense negotiation. This wasn’t just two guys beating each other up; this was seen as no less than a battle between good and evil.

Ultimately, only one of them is going to be able to say he was a better fighter, but it hardly matters to either of them. Pushing 40, each of them has already moved on with his life.

Mayweather, who baldly stated he did this only for the money, is talking about having one more fight in September, and then retiring.

Pacquiao, on the other hand, who got into boxing after his dad ate his dog, has a new profession; he is now a Congressman in his native Philippines. Really. You can’t make this stuff up.

Instead, more than one article is saying this fight has the potential to save the world of boxing itself. And this isn’t just sportswriter hyperbole. “Mayweather-Pacquiao will capture the attention of a lot of people who don’t normally watch boxing,” Stephen Espinoza, the top executive for Showtime’s sports division, told the Washington Post last week. “If their interest is piqued, it’s the responsibility of all of us who work in boxing to capitalize on that over the next few months and convert those casual fans into regular fans.”

Even the actual fight was a matter of process. With both fighters aging, it was less an issue of which guy would knock the other out and instead more a matter of scoring on points. That brings you into the whole issue of judging, with the four referees each bringing different styles that were thought to favor one or the other of the fighters.  And of course Pacquiao is claiming he wasn’t allowed to get an injection into his shoulder before the fight, which he says influenced his outcome.

But in today’s world, the emphasis on process over outcome isn’t unusual. Remember having to show your work in math class, not just get the right answer? In any number of fields, ranging from achieving goals to marriage to cooking, the mantra these days is “focus on the process, not the outcome.”

The presumption is that by setting up a system and focusing on the process, eventually you’ll get the outcome you want, even if you don’t get it right away.

Sometimes organizations are penalized for not following the process even if the outcome is correct. Holy Cross School in New Orleans, for example, is faced with having to pay back $82 million of the $89 million Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant for rebuilding its school after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it, all because it didn’t follow the right processes to ensure that the money was spent correctly.

Holy Cross built a new school, and nobody is claiming the money was spent fraudulently or inappropriately, but not all the Ts were crossed and Is were dotted. “It’s a criticism of the process, not the outcome; the form, not the substance,” says the school’s attorney.

While sporting events have traditionally been focused on the outcome—what most people want to know is, “Who won?”, not necessarily how the victory was accomplished—increasingly they have been moving toward this emphasis on process as well. Coaches and athletes alike are being quoted with this sentiment.

People—well, most of us—don’t want to just win; we want our side to win right, to win fair.

Look at how, after years of complaints, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) college football championships changed this year. It’s not that developing a playoff system really changed the results all that much from previous years. What mattered is that people felt better about the process.

So keep one thing in mind: Ultimately, this whole Mayweather-Pacquaio process earned the participants something on the order of a half-billion dollars. Remember that the next time someone tries to tell you that process doesn’t matter.


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