Set Realistic Expectations: Not All Dreams Are Ours To Reach

By Riley Snelling

How we as individuals measure happiness is equivalent to how a business measures success.

I read a brilliant blog post some time ago that defines happiness as reality minus expectations. When we set our expectations too high, they become almost impossible to reach. The result: depression.

Similarly, in business, if we set our goals too high or too wide, it becomes almost impossible to succeed. The result: disappointment, in ourselves and from our customers.

Despite these simple equations, we too often manage to do it anyways.

Why? Because we have always been told that no dream is too big. It’s not that we can’t reach our dreams or expectations, it’s that not all dreams are ours to reach.

We have the ability to manage our self-expectations. The people around us may influence them, but the end goal we have as humans is to be happy in the life we’re living. To get there, we have to be smart about how we let other’s influence us.

This is also a predicament in business.

The more demand we can capture, the more we will sell, and therefore the more profit we will make, right?

Maybe in the short-run, but in the long-run we’ll be digging ourselves into a deeper and deeper hole. It’s not sustainable.

That’s exactly why it is so important to identify who our customer is and understand what they want. I heard from a previous employee of Victoria Secret, that for each collection they define who “she” is; e.g. the PINK girl is a 20-year-old, college student, fashionable, outgoing, etc., and as that individual gets older, other collections within the brand are able to meet her ever-changing demands.

It’s about identifying what they want, and creating or changing an offering to meet that.

From working in advertising, I’ve learned that it is frighteningly common for clients to assume who and why people should buy their product. They then ask agencies to create a message that will hopefully convince people their assumption is true.

Even worse, is making a false statement about the existing product to meet the demands of customers. A very recent example of that is Volkswagen claiming it offered “clean diesel” vehicles when in fact it was faking the tests. Unfortunately, there are plenty of similar cases.

What people want changes over time; the sustainable solution is to change the offering rather than create temporary or false messaging.

Similarly, there are times we may need to change our expectations, rather than being dishonest about our achievements.

Prior to the industrial revolution, the need to specialize and customize to meet customer demands wasn’t nearly as important. The Hudson Bay Company, which originally traded fur for centuries, had two main customers: the First Nations and the European merchants. Each had different demands, but there were also minimal options (amicable competition just wasn’t how business was conducted back then — think The Revenant).

Today, it’s a free market. There is far more variety than there has been historically.

What we have to remember is that demands today are also more varietal. Therefore, rather than convincing people to want your brand, give them what they’re already asking for.

A company that has shown its ability to do this is Uber. It recognized that there was a demand for instant and affordable transportation that taxis or black cars weren’t fulfilling. The business model was created and maintained around what customers were asking for. And there are countless more new companies living by that model. Those in maturity therefore need to alter their offerings to keep up with the new demands.

Let’s face it; we can’t make everyone happy, but we can make someone happy.


Message in a Bottle

To Everyone:

As an individual, that someone is you. Be realistic about the expectations you set, and you will be far happier in the long run.

To Businesses:

That someone is your target customer. Be realistic about the data, research and real life conversations you have in order to define who that is and what they want. It’s not about convincing them to buy, but recognizing and fulfilling their existing demand.