The surprising thing about expectations

When you meet expectations, when you make a promise and keep it, when your quality is on spec—we say “of course.”

On the other hand, if you relentlessly raise expectations, if you overpromise and add a bit of hype, you’re almost certain to fail to meet our dreams and hopes. At the same time, though, those raised hopes are their own sort 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, care and money to dramatically over-deliver, you probably won’t make as much in profit today, but that imbalance is often made up for with word of mouth in your favor. When you amaze and delight, your fans will pay it forward.

A hundred years into our industrial age, each of these forms of expectation has become its own signal. We’ve established expectations about expectations. You can’t raise money from a VC if you tell them exactly what the numbers are going to be like, and no one would have surgery if surgeons were clear about all the details.

The challenge is to be sure we put the correct expectations in the right categories.