The surprising thing about expectations

When you meet expectations, when you make a promise and keep it, when your quality meets specifications, we say sure.

On the other hand, if you relentlessly raise expectations, over-promise and add a little hype, you’re almost certain to fall short of our dreams and hopes. At the same time, however, these raised hopes are their own kind of placebo, an internal cognitive dissonance that will make some people like your work more than if you had simply promised less.

And finally, if you invest the time, attention, and money to dramatically overdeliver, you probably won’t make as much profit today, but that imbalance is often offset by word of mouth in your favor. When you amaze and delight, your fans will pay for it.

One hundred years after our industrial era, each of these forms of expectation has become its own signal. We set expectations upon expectations. You can’t raise money from a VC if you tell them exactly what the numbers will look like, and no one would have an operation if the surgeons were clear on all the details.

The challenge is to ensure that we place the right expectations in the right categories.

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