51 - The pain of sticking to commitments: inside and outside views



I was twenty-five and I was reporting to one of the co-founders. We were launching a new global website and my job was to collate/write news stories and populate the news section. I think it came to around 25 news pieces. I did some math, banking mostly on my writing speed, and committed to a date by which I would be ready with the content for the news section. Let’s just say I fell comfortably short and for a long time after I was worried I had made a fool of myself.

The single biggest problem that young professionals managing projects face is that they burn themselves out trying to keep promises they’ve made. They balk at the prospect of losing respect in the organization because they cannot stick to the timelines they’ve committed to.

The problem is common and the solution is simple, though not easy.

We all feel we’re special. We’re better than the average Joe. The average driver believes they’re above average. If we’re prisoners to illusory superiority, it’s going to be a problem if we can’t find a way to get out of jail.

Imagine this: you’re running a campaign to test out a new product. For this, you put together a small team. Things start off okay until you find that the project timelines are way off your estimate. Perplexed, you ask your marketing manager, who has experience of previous such campaigns, about how long such projects usually take. Her answer is 3X the time you’ve accounted for.

This is what has happened. You’ve let yourself be swayed by an inside view. The inside view looks at the micro. It is concerned with the specifics of your case. You’re motivated, your focus is razor sharp, and under your watch it is unlikely that things will drag on.

The outside view tells a different story. It deals with the macro. _What is the typical duration for such projects? _This is captured by something called the base rate (the historical average or likelihood of an event).

The outside view is built on a common past. The inside view is about your version of the future. Talking to someone who has solved the problem you’re trying to solve can get you a reliable account of what typically happens. Listening to just yourself will mean that when things start slowing down, you’ll get knackered trying to keep things moving fast enough.

Going back to my inglorious episode, if I had checked with someone who had solved the problem before, I would’ve known that you can write news pieces as quickly as you want but getting approval for quotes and getting your content reviewed takes as long.

So give yourself a break and seek the outside view before you commit.

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