Friday, May 31, 2013

Reasonable Expectations: A Key to Success

My colleague, Nevin Harwood, often extols the importance of setting reasonable and appropriate expectations in life—in fact, as a fellow entreVIEW author, he even posted on the topic just over a couple of years ago, shortly after we launched our blog. I’ve also talked with his wife, who has assured me that setting reasonable expectations has been one of the keys to the enduring success of their marriage!

I was reminded of the significance of expectations on my recently completed biannual pilgrimage to New York City, Mecca for musical-obsessed individuals like me. Prior to the journey, I had some pre-conceived notions about the six musicals we would see (in four days—yes, I know it’s an illness). The shows included:

The highly acclaimed “Matilda The Musical”—more on  
   that below;                  
“Kinky Boots” (with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper);
“Motown The Musical”;
“Far From Heaven”;
The revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” (starring Minnesota’s own  
   Laura Osnes in the title role); and 
“Here Lies Love” (authored by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim)*

When it comes to high expectations, “Matilda The Musical” couldn’t be topped. This show, based on the classic children’s novel by Roald Dahl, was originally developed by the Royal Shakespeare Company and opened in London in November of 2011, where it won a slew of awards, including seven Olivier awards (including Best Musical). In April, the show opened on Broadway to widespread acclaim.  It has been nominated for 12 Tony Awards and already has won a ton of awards on this side of the Atlantic.

Was it good? Yes. But it wasn’t that good. It was a very cleverly staged, well-acted, accurate portrayal of the Dahl novel with a score that was fine, but not memorable.

A couple of shows that exceeded my expectations were “Motown,” which actually tells the story of Berry Gordy Jr. rather than just stringing together performances of the expected jukebox hits, and “Cinderella,” which has managed to keep the terrific score from the original, add a few more songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein trunk, and almost completely overhaul the book to make the characters much more three-dimensional. 

I’m not sure that “Cinderella” was significantly better than “Matilda.” It’s just that one of them fell short while the other exceeded my high expectations.

The entrepreneurial “lesson” here is be careful to set appropriate expectations when you are talking with advisors, potential investors, bankers, or even family members. You’ll do much better long term by creating projections that you can actually achieve, and by exceeding any milestones you identify. I’m not saying that you should “sandbag” potential supporters by setting the bar too low; I’m just suggesting that you’d be better off slightly overachieving a realistic goal than slightly underachieving an aggressive one. Investors aren’t likely betting on your projections (as long as they can see there’s a significant opportunity), but they are betting on you.  By setting reasonable expectations, you’ll help reinforce why they made the bet and give them confidence to rely on you in the future.

*In case you were curious, “Here Lies Love” was my favorite show of this trip. It wasn’t just because I was able to become a patron at a Filipino dance club inhabited by Imelda Marcos and cohorts (which is the transformation that the Public Theater made to its black-box theatre); it’s because the historical story was interesting, the characters were engaging, and the score was inventive and memorable. I suppose it could also be that my expectations weren't set too high...

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