Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Great Expectations - Part 2

Read part one onf the post here

A very popular story taught in moral science classes speaks of a king who ruled over a prosperous land, was very wealthy and rich, and loved a lot by his subjects. However, the king could not sleep at night due to some anxiety or depression. Lot of physicians examined the king and tried to suggest a remedy for this unique problem but none of them seemed to work. Finally a learned priest examined the king and told his ministers that all the depression and anxiety would be cured, if the king slept for one night wearing the shirt of a happy man!

The ministers thought it was such an easy thing to find a truly happy man, as the country was vast and fertile and everyone in the kingdom were rich and prosperous. However, when they went in search of a truly happy man, they realized that everyone in the country had one or the other reason to be worried. The minister said that he fought with his son, the dukes said they were troubled by the turmoil in the neighboring states, the farmers were worried about making more money for the future, and so on and so forth. The search party was about to give up their quest for a truly happy person, when they found on the streets, a beggar happily singing and whistling.

Upon speaking to this ragged poor man, they found out that this man was truly happy. He had no money, no home and lived on the streets. But he seemed happy and content with what he had and expected no more. They took him to the king, only to realize that this beggar had no shirt!


A bunch of MBAs including me reported for work in a new company after college and we were immediately put through a rigorous training session, which involved us picking up technical skills like programming, data crunching, the ubiquitous office, statistics and analytics – all in a span of three to four weeks. And at the end of the month, there were back to back tests which grilled on all these topics.

On one fine day, there were two tests scheduled – one in the morning on data models and SQL, and the afternoon exam was on MS-Excel. Although I was very confident on programming and statistics, the data pull or SQL was something which I was being introduced for the first time. And all the questions asked very tricky. After spending sometime in the industry, I now know that all these questions were direct rip-offs from the now so familiar But that time, all the questions seemed very difficult and I fared really miserably. During the lunch break, I was feeling so down and depressed, I did not want to eat nor wanted to study for the next exam. I just went to a meeting room and sat there thinking. A tear or two escaped from my eye. And usually sadness leads to more sadness. I remembered about the tough part I was going through even on the personal front and life seemed so depressing at that point. I had fared so bad in spite of being very passionate – be it the profession or the personal relationship!

It is at that moment a realization hit me. It just struck me from nowhere but the thought was very powerful – “In life there are no successes or failures. It is just that you/someone expected too much or too little from yourself!". That was enough to immediately calm me down and stop feeling depressed! I smiled at the simplicity of the thought. But it made perfect sense. We categorize ourselves as successful/failures only because of the expectations we set for ourselves. And if we do set unrealistic expectations, we are doomed to fail and feel sad more often than not. Quite simple, yet so powerful!


Consider this: By the time you turn 18 and are having a perfectly happy life in school/PU college, expectations are built up on getting into a very nice professional course. Suppose you do choose engineering (because, well, do you need a reason?) and get into an engineering college, expectations are built up aroung bagging the most coveted job offer from the campus. And lets say you managed to do that and landed in (where else?) the IT biggies, you feel successful and remain happy until you see your buddies planning to quit for better opportunities/higher studies. Again, expectations start building up and you feel tell yourself that you’ll be successful only if you got that coveted seat in the top ranked college. And after working hard you do manage to get into a top technology / management college, that’s when the expectations come in fours and sixes! … ‘listen ya! he is doing MS itseems, he should get atleast $120,000 package after college’ or ‘oye, heard she got into that top ranked MII, she will surely get minimum 50LPA package after two years’

Expectations are everywhere. And in today’s fast paced materialistic world, the expectations are never ending but always too high! People want instant results… They want a bike, a car, a house, and a eight digit bank balance by the time they turn 30! Graduates from engineering don’t want to go through the grind of technical jobs. They expect onsite roles in Amreeka within 2 years of joining! Fat people join gymnasium or aerobic and expect to lose more than 10 kg within a month! Even though their parents might have served in the same position for more than a decade, professionals expect promotions every year! Isn’t this too much too soon? And what happens when these expectations don’t get fulfilled? Depression, stress, anxiety, visits to career counsellors, psychiatrists, drugs, anti-depressants and what not! Do we really need to go down that route?

Even relationships are not exempt from this unrealistic expectation menace. Everyone wants that perfect partner who understands them without even having to speak or struggle. They conveniently forget the essential communication aspect which goes into making a relationship work. And adding to all this is the self-glorification tactics due to the advent of social networking sites. Even before you get to know the person, your expectations are set so high that the relationship is on thin ice even before it has begun. How often have you seen marriages/relationships fail these days due to mis-communications/failed expectations. And then there are few of those relationships which you never thought will last but have continued to do well just because the couples involved were willing to talk and set the right expectations.

The next time you feel really depressed or sad for someone/something, just pause for a moment and think – was it because of setting the expectations wrong? Maybe you under-estimated something or did not factor in some important considerations. More often than not, communicating and resetting expectations helps a lot. On that day when I realized this in between the exams, I just said to myself, ‘alright! Maybe I have fared bad in this one skill. That does not mean I have failed. Let me continue to focus on my strengths and achieve some quick wins. I can always come back to the weak areas later’. I went back to the next exam with a totally different approach...and yes, I did really well :)

A lot of people expect things for themselves because of comparisons they make with their peers. If you did really well in your job and did not get that onsite offer which your friend got six months ago, just sit back and think for some time. The situation was different, the evaluation criteria were different, and there was an entirely different scenario then. And instead of fretting about it and sulking, just speak to the leads involved and set the expectations very clearly so that next time you are clear on what you wanted. Success might not come exactly when you want it, but do realize efforts do pay off sooner or later. And yes, don’t just feel sad because you don’t have things in your life. Life does test you a little bit before things start going the way you want them. As the street urchin in the above story proved to us, if all that you expect is happiness, you can be happy even without a shirt. Right?

PS: Title credit - Charles Dickens famous novel. Used it as it made sense. Copyrights belong to their respective owners :)

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Great Expectations - Part 1

“Amazon reports 45% drop in profit! Investors cheer and invest some more”

Amazon is the world’s largest online retail store. It has been in operation for over 20 years now. From its humble beginnings in the m-commerce sector, Amazon has now expanded to all things digital – from providing solutions to big data and investing heavily in computer controlled instruments. It made quarterly sales of $17 billion in the Q3 of 2013, and yet the profits it generated were almost zero. In spite of this, investors believe Amazon will make money in the future and hence, they keep on investing, regardless of whether the company posted very less profits or outright losses.


“Nokia sells 15.7 million smartphones!!! Investors, however consider the outlook to be gloomy for the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer!”

This happened in 2008, when Nokia was the still world’s largest cell phone maker. It had 40% of the world’s smart phone market share. It had recently launched its touchscreen device, 5800 Xpressmusic and was investing heavily in a lot of diverse platforms (Symbian/S60, meego, S40, etc) to counter-attack the newest entrants in the market – iphone and android. And although things looked promising for the future, investors had already started to expect the decline. The CEO’s actions or statements did nothing to re-assure them and win their confidence.


“Facebook acquires whatsapp for $19 billion”

Whatsapp is an instant messaging service. It has revolutionized the way people used their phones, by providing a simple data based platform with which users could conveniently exchange texts, and media. From its humble beginnings in 2009, Whatsapp was valued at $1.5 billion and had a user base of around 200 million active users. And within a year, facebook bought all of whatsapp for a whooping amount of 19 billion dollars, leaving the financial pundits perplexed. How could it command such a premium?


“Inspite of critics giving it a total thumbs up and technically well made, fiza bombs at the box office”

Fiza was Hrithik Roshan’s second movie in Bollywood. It was a movie with a well written script, well directed and all the lead protagonists acting so well. And inspite of all of this, the film was a disaster at the box office. Why can a movie fail after being so well-made?


Do you notice any connection in the above stories? For me, a common theme underlying in all these stories is expectations. Whether in business/ sports/ cinema/ politics, managing expectations is one of the toughest of tasks. If you succeed in this one task, anything else will hardly matter. Let us look at the Amazon example, why is it managing to attract investors inspite of failing to make money for the last 18 years? The answer lies in how the expectations have been set by the CEO. Mr. Bezos wants to set up a retail shop for the future! Whatever money the firm makes (and it is really a lot!), he goes on and invests in warehouses, hiring skilled people, robots, and what not. Amazon is promising to create a future with more cash for the investors, and hence, they are not worried for the moment. The same holds true with the acquisition of whatsapp; Even though the current worth of the application might not have been so much, analysts at facebook expected that the firm is much more valuable as it can generate money in the future. Not to mention, the variety of potential business models it could build up in the future by combining a smartphone based IM service, and their very own social networking. And no price seemed too much for having that control in this previously unchartered territory!

On the other hand, failing to meet expectations is something which can get down even the biggest of companies or stars. What killed Nokia was the fact that the top leadership failed to set the right expectations with the investors. During the time when Apple Inc. came up with an iphone and Google announced the open source android, Nokia virtually ruled the smartphone market (almost a 60% share in the market). Both the competitors had very promising device portfolios and nice products lined up for release, and the mobile telephone giant was totally unprepared for such an onslaught. Instead of focusing on getting their strategy right, they went all over the place, going back and forth on the choice of the OS, the choice of their CEO, and on almost everything. Investors lost faith in the company’s ability to take on the mighty competitors. They started pulling out their money. Nokia lost the battle without even fighting!

Perhaps no other Bollywood movie star has stepped into in the movie industry with so much of commercial success and hype as much as Hrithik Roshan. His debut ‘Kaho Naa.. Pyaar hai’ was a roaring success, and a runaway hit at the box office. It broke almost all records at the box office, the music stores and it bagged almost every award for the debutants in that year. Hrithik became an instant heart throb among the Indian female fraternity. So, naturally expectations started to build up when the promos of his second film started to surface. However, ‘fiza’ was a completely different movie as compared to the box-office pleasing romantic melodrama that kaho naa.. was. And hence, the expectations of the audience watching their star in a completely different role were grossly unmet. It was not because ‘fiza’ was a bad movie that it failed. It just failed because people had set very high expectations for the movie after the ultimate success of ‘Kaho naa..’

Expectation management is a very complex thing in itself, something like an art as well as a science. The success of any project depends upon how the expectations are set in the beginning and how the team works towards meeting those expectations. And a very crucial attribute that helps to get expectations right is communication. The importance of communication cannot be emphasized enough. Even at the cost of over-communicating, it is always better to talk to the people involved at regular intervals and make sure that they are aware of what to expect. Very often, projects go bad and draw flak from the stakeholders only because they were never told what to expect at the end of the project.

The other day, we went to a pizza outlet that advertised a ‘meal for two’ at Rs.500/- The person who took the order went on to suggest lot of modifications to the so called meal, without mentioning the costs. We just took what we thought were some reasonable additions (say an extra topping to a veg pizza, crushers instead of cola, etc). However, the final bill came to more than Rs 1200/- which certainly left us fuming and grumbling. That is when we realized that neither of us had bothered to change the hitherto set expectation on price. The waiter thought it was just fair that we pay because we were ordering something more than what was on offer. We just assumed that a little addition would not inflate the bill to more than 100%. Adding just an extra roti and masala chaas to an already advertised full meal, would not just double/triple your bill! Right? We paid up anyway, having learnt a valuable lesson for future eat-out experiences.

Because it is so critical in all professions, expectations management is slowly finding its way in the curriculum of most formal business management courses. It would be nothing more than a more formal course is communications, relationship management and diplomacy, but it is still important nevertheless. Even businesses realize that it is better to be forthcoming on their prospects and set the right expectations, than be secretive on information, which is only going to hurt in the long run. People never panic when things go as per some “plan”, however bad the plan is. In the concluding part of this article, we will see how expectation management applies to not only everything we do in professional life but also to our personal lives. If you have encountered things going wrong because of setting wrong expectations, or if you found things in this piece interesting, do let me know through comments. Set your expectations right and then success will be yours. All the best!

Continued in Part 2... here