Overestimating the Time to Success

2019 here we come.

The silver bells and holly jolly have been officially put away for another year… ‘Tis the Season to now be bombarded with messages about a new year and new you.

A new year offers the chance to turn over a new leaf. An opportunity to achieve a fresh start.

Who doesn’t love knowing that there’s open runway, new budget, renewed focused and ample opportunity to make something happen? New years are incredible for just that reason.

But it doesn’t take long for the “new” of the new year to lose its appeal. In fact, it may be gone before the end of next week!

As you find yourself reflecting on last year’s achievements and this year’s future goals, it’s worth pondering this quote from Microsoft’s, Bill Gates: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year, and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

Go ahead. Take a look at what lies in front of you to achieve this year. Is it, to be frank, just a lot? Like, seriously, how will all that ever get done? Or is it highly guarded, because, well, you’re just a bit jaded on what’s possible and so you’re taking a highly limited view of what’s possible?

Makes sense that we overestimate the here and now, while underestimating the not-really-that-distant future. Here as some things to watch out for and work against.

Why Things Rarely Happen as Fast

It’s easy to get discouraged when change doesn’t happen as we wrote in the business plan.

At some point you’ll want to throw in the towel. At those points it will be important to remember that there are many reasons that change isn’t as fast to come as you hoped:

Change management – Management, leadership and change would be great if it weren’t for the people. So often this is the part that’s left out of the equation. Why do things take longer? Because people, with very different (and yet often valid) points of view are involved. Managing the change is hard work. It slows things down… but when navigated, also strengthens company position and often speeds things up (think 10 year possibilities).

Need time to work – Some trees have to go through a few seasons of growth before they bear fruit. Human bodies in the midst of transformation undergo great change inside before ever showing tangible results on the outside. The truth is, sometimes the towel gets thrown in too early with leadership teams believing it’s not working, while things may just be getting ready to explode.

Fast pace feels like it will never end – Because people are involved (see the first reason above) the frantic pace and uncharted swirling waters can feel like it is never going to end. People and teams get frustrated thinking that the pace, investigation level and work load will never let up. It’s not true… but it feels that way. And that hopeless feeling can lead to people looking for other work right when the hard work is just starting to pay off and normalize.

Results are measured in short term – Business growth (and your marketing initiatives) are not like a vending machine. You don’t necessarily put a dollar in and get a bag of skittles. And anyone that tells you it is, isn’t telling the whole truth.

No one should expect that overhauling your website will bring in 10 new clients next month. At the same time, just because it can’t be expected to have a 1-to-1 return does not mean it shouldn’t be done. The implications of making such a change are more wide-reaching than that. The fact that things are looked at in quarterly increments and tied to wall street reporting is a big reason that the bigger transformation doesn’t come.

There’s a game called OSMOS that is a helpful illustration of what can happen given realistic expectations, steady trajectory and a long-term vision. The games goal is for you to grow by absorbing bubbles smaller than you. As your bubble gets bigger, you can absorb bubbles that are much larger, yet still smaller than you. But it’s a process. At first many challenges feel big. Soon challenges feel more manageable. And not too long after that, challenges are small.

1 Feels Big
2 Then Manageable
3 Seems Small

Why We Don’t Expect More

Gates was on to something. It seems that doses of success are not always catalysts for going further, but riding those waves of success. So many do in fact underestimate what’s possible in “10 years.” Consider some of these potential reasons why:

Complacency – Good enough is good enough. There’s a Lifelock commercial you may have seen that shows some guys running with the bulls in Spain. They are making sure they stay ahead of the charging bulls, but get knocked down by a window shutter they didn’t see coming. The point is that it’s the things you don’t see that can hurt you. And that’s how complacency works. What you’re monitoring and staying ahead of is only ONE part of the problem you’ll want to keep an eye on.

Change isn’t comfortable – People don’t like to change. Doing things different and staying ahead means experimenting and swirling… and if there’s an opportunity to avoid it, people will do that every time.

Gun-shy to keep going through evolution process – related to that is the memory of the transformative processes the team may have worked through. Evolution is messy and it keeps a long memory. You’ll remember the struggle, the restarts, the redos and the overwhelming amount of work it takes to get to a new normal… and just like above, if a person is permitted to avoid it, they almost always will.

So welcome to a new year. It’s a great place to be.

Take a look at your goals and seriously consider where you may be expecting too much… and where you may be thinking too small. The right perspective is everything.