NEW: Max Dumais

I find that many of the mistakes we make in our thinking are often not process mistakes, but perception mistakes.

Managing expectations

Our perception is our reality. I find that many of the mistakes we make in our thinking are often not process mistakes, but perception mistakes.

For instance, if someone said there were three cars parked outside and I said there were two, it is more than likely that the difference could be explained by the fact that both of us had formed a different perception because we were looking from a different angle, than the other possibility that one of us can’t add.

During the week I came across an old friend who has developed a very powerful data compression system that will compress DVD presentations to 1% of their original size – so much so that videos can be broadcast to a PDA or a pocket PC.

When I introduced him to another friend whose current need is for exactly that solution, I was surprised to learn later that they had not been able to do business together. When I got to the bottom of it, I found that a demo had indeed been arranged, but that it had not met expectations.

Following up between them again, I discovered that the original trial had been presented in one format and when it was transmitted again that format had been changed.

As soon as the difference was explained and the whole thing was repeated, it turned out to be a great success. Unfortunately, the necessary communication to iron out the different perceptions was missed, and this meant that the expectations were not addressed properly.

From another angle, the fact that my friend had not heard about the success or failure of the trial meant that it was his perception that there was no further interest. While the facts said one thing, he had put a whole different story on it and, again, because this was now his reality, he didn’t bother to follow up.

It is often said that there is “many a slip between the cup and the lip” – which is all very well over lunch, but not when the slip means real business opportunities get lost in the process.

This is no more clear than when you convert a business conversation into a business opportunity and then into a business contract. It takes time and application to get the mutual expectations and perceptions right, but every moment it takes can only pay off in the longer term.


Tip of the week: Many a foul-up results simply from mismatched perceptions that have been converted into mismatched expectations. Contracts are not only put in place to handle the good times but, more often, to make clear the expectations of both parties when it comes to handling the possible fall out should the deal go wrong.

When there is likely to be any doubts, write down the mutual expectations by all parties and get sign off. Think of all the possible things that could go wrong and then work your way backwards.


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