“Well, what did you expect?”
It’s usually a rhetorical question, asked after you do something stupid, without foreseeing the obvious consequences.
Like building a product that you like instead of a product that other people need, and being surprised when it doesn’t sell. Or calling your three Twitter followers a “social media strategy” and being surprised when it doesn’t work.
Or building a website and just expecting people to show up.
What it usually means is that “you really should have seen this coming.”
But sometimes, it’s the expectations themselves that doom you to failure…
Are You Blinded By Expectations?
Human beings are a rarity in the animal world, in that we can think about the future, and plan for it.
This helped us back when we were all living in caves, and it helps us today.
We renovate in summer so that our homes will keep us warm in the winter. We pursue education today to increase our opportunities tomorrow. And we save money for rainy days.
We also use our expectations to mitigate risks; we install alarm systems to prevent burglars from stealing our things, we buy insurance to protect against the damage of fire and disease, and when we hear that our employer lost a big client, we don’t wait for an announcement to update our resumes.
We expect that bad things might happen, and we take steps to either prevent them, or make sure that their impact isn’t as bad as it otherwise would be.
But sometimes, expectations come back to bite us.
Expecting to fail a test makes it a lot more likely that you actually will, the “beware of pickpockets” sign actually telegraphs to pickpockets which pockets they should pick, and expecting your customers will try to rip you off will change the dynamics of your interaction, before anyone says a word.
Expectations like these can be disastrous for a business.
A Case Study of Bad Expectations
I recently worked with a client who was the perfect case study of what bad expectations will do to a business.
He worked in a niche that had enormous and growing demand, and limited supply. He caught the internet wave ahead of his competitors, and his business had grown his small business to the point of making millions in annual revenues.
It sounds like a huge success story, but the truth is that his business was a mess; morale was in the pits, new initiatives took forever to get off the ground (if they didn’t die in his organization’s grid-lock), and he admitted to me in so many words that the reason they’re successful is not that they’re good, as much as it is that their competitors are so bad.
Of course, competitors won’t stay bad forever, and that’s a recipe for disaster.
And why was his company such a mess? Well, there were a lot of reasons, but a big part of it was his expectations:
- He expected his ground-level employees to leave, so he never invested in employee training or benefits. What do you think that did to employee turn-over?
- He expected his senior employees to defect, so he never gave them a real path for advancement. What do you think that did to retention of talent?
- He expected that new projects would fail, so he never properly funded them. What do you think that did to the success rates of new projects?
So what did he get? What did people give him?
Exactly what he expected.
Now, admittedly, this client’s situation was extreme, and your expectations might not be quite as cynical and destructive.
But most of us have bad expectations, and they’re holding us back…
Do you have bad expectations, without even realizing it?
Bad expectations are everywhere.
Sometimes they protect you – like the expectation that if you leave your shiny new convertible unattended in a bad neighborhood with the key in the ignition, it might not be there when you come back.
But other times, they just get in the way of your ability to create real value and engagement.
Here are a few of the bad expectations that you may have acquired as an entrepreneur, marketer, and blogger:
- People don’t want to spend money, and you need to be the cheapest solution around. This is nonsense, and the most profitable companies are the ones that charge premium prices (think Apple).
- Trading time for money is a sucker’s game. Nonsense – for most people, the best way to create freedom and wealth isn’t to stop trading time for money, it’s to trade time for more money.
- People have short attention spans, and the best blog posts are 300 words long. Again, nonsense – my average post is about 1,400 words long, and some are much longer – and my experience shows that the longer the post, the better it performs.
- People want instant gratification and bombastic promises. Once again, nonsense. Sure, some people fall for the lines about making $4,973.19/hour while they sleep on a beach, but that isn’t a sustainable way to build a business.
Here’s an idea – why not ditch the bad expectations, and expect more from people?
The Goethe Model for Setting Expectations
More than 200 years ago, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said something very smart:
“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.”
That’s my model for setting expectations, and it leads me to expect a lot of good things:
- I expect that people are smart, and curious.
- I expect that people are basically good, friendly, and helpful.
- I expect that people have the decency to give credit where credit is due.
- I expect that people are willing to work hard to achieve their good goals.
- I expect that people have the good sense to invest in things that are good for them.
- I expect that people are capable of being better tomorrow than they are today.
Are my expectations always met?
No, they aren’t.
Sometimes I’m disappointed, and it sucks when that happens. But I’d rather have high expectations and be frequently disappointed, than have low expectations, and always be right.
What about you? What do you expect? How do your expectations affect your business?
Danny Iny (@DannyIny) is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, expert marketer, and the Freddy Krueger of Blogging. Together with Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark and Mitch Joel, he wrote the book on how to build an engaged audience from scratch.