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iWant, iWait: Managing Expectations

In my long-haired, bell-bottom wearing days, I had been known to stand on line for hours to get concert tickets. And this was before the days of portable entertainment devices. I actually had to bring a friend or even a book to pass the time as I waited. But, I knew if I got there early enough, and waited long enough, my patience would be rewarded. Rock on!

Flash forward twenty-five years. We expect NOT to wait. We have instant messaging, instant access to information online, instant access to our funds via ATM banking and we can get great concert seats online. (The biggest “instant” we had 25 years ago was coffee, which apparently was the technology to remove flavor, aroma and any likeness to the original bean.)

Our expectations are all out of whack. We want it NOW! Online access, expedited delivery service, fast food and faster lifestyles have compressed what we consider a reasonable timeframe to get things done. We want the incredible experience of a gourmet meal, but wonder what’s taking so long. We vacation in the islands for that laid-back feeling and complain that the locals are so slow!

I have to admit that I am not a patient person. My days of waiting in line are pretty much a thing of the past. If I have to wait too long, I either don’t need it or will get it elsewhere. Normally, I won’t even go more than a 4-person-line at Starbucks. However, when the first iPhone™ came out, I wanted it badly, but I was able to restrain myself rather than be a line monkey. I controlled my fervor with a rational mind: my Treo® wasn’t that old, kind of did what I needed and it had cost a lot. I just could not justify waiting in line to replace it. Plus, as any technology aficionado will attest, the Gen One of anything makes you the company’s R and D department. The iPhone could wait. I didn’t need it that badly.

Then Apple, with their evil, lust-building ways, came out with the iPhone 3G. I followed the blogs, read up on development and anticipated delivery at a store near me. I was disappointed I could not order it online. I would have to do the unthinkable—wait in line. I really wanted it. I had waited patiently watching with envy as others enjoyed their Gen One iPhones. I was going for it! Apple’s web site said there would be plenty of phones available at my ATT store. So, on launch day, July 11, like a hungry dog chasing a meat truck, I was on line an hour and half before the store opened. There were maybe 60 people ahead of me—not bad. When the store finally opened, the line crawled forward. I waited. I sweated. I cranked up the iPod®. Just as I was within striking distance, about ten people from the door, the evil troll came out from under the bridge and blocked my progress. No more phones. Come back tomorrow. Tomorrow I could stand on line to put my name on a list (and pre-pay) to be called when a phone came in, so I could come back and get in line to get it activated. Maybe tomorrow or later in the week, new stock would arrive. MAYBE? Do we not have computer-controlled inventory?

The story just gets worse from there. Three weeks of playing “now we have inventory; now we don’t” with ATT and the Apple iPhone availability web site, I felt like Charlie Brown in the episode where Lucy holds the football, Charlie Brown runs to punt the ball and she yanks it away just as he gets there. And, she sucks him in to do it again and again. Apple built up my “want” to a fevered pitch, but failed to deliver. I was close to just writing it off because I so resented their lack of respect for me, a loyal customer. I know the frenzy and manipulated supply-and-demand were tools to keep stock up and demand high, but they took a huge risk. Their loyal client base was becoming disillusioned. I felt betrayed—they had played on my emotions, but I had allowed it to happen. I had drunk the Kool-aid.

In retrospect, I can review it from a point of reason rather than emotion. I realize that the iPhone wasn’t need driven, it was want driven. So many times our expectations are based on emotion. We get driven into a frenzied state by self-imposed deadlines. Sometimes we may want something yesterday, but we really don’t need it for a couple of weeks. In business situations, unreasonable deadlines can prevent you from getting the most creative solutions. The pressure of JIT (just-in-time) delivery can result in just-enough-to-get-by solutions. So, the key is managing expectations. Determine the scope of the project, milestones to evaluate progress and a reasonable completion date. You won’t need to lower your expectations, just manage them. In the immortal words wailed out by Mick Jagger (tickets worth waiting in line for), “you can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.” Effectively managing your expectations can get you more of both.

iPhone is trademark of Apple Inc. Treo is a registered trademark of Palm, Inc.


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