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When You Talk About How Easy Your Work Is, You Invite More Scrutiny

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In When You Deliver Work Late, You Invite More Scrutiny, Isaac Morehouse argues:

Here’s another reason to get your work done fast (yep, even (especially!) deep, creative work):  you’ll get less scrutiny and fewer requested edits…Every day past expectation the project takes, the expectation for perfection ratchets up.

From your customer’s perspective, it goes something like this: “I’m waiting so damn long for this thing, it’d better be perfect.  Is it perfect?  I don’t know.  Maybe we should tweak this one more thing…”

Creative types are notorious for delivering later than the expectations they set.  Then they get frustrated when people want to make changes and get picky.  When you kill momentum, you turn an otherwise big, excited greenlighter into a slow, skeptical analyst.

The idea is simple: When you wait for longer periods of time to show your work, you raise the bar of performance. Time is an investment just like money. When people spend more money on your work, they expect more from you. Ditto for time. If I have to wait 5 minutes for something, waiting is just a part of life. If I have to wait 5 weeks for something, it needs to be awesome.

If you want to avoid unnecessarily high scrutiny, work fast and update frequently when you can’t.

Here’s another way to avoid unnecessarily high scrutiny: Don’t make the slightest mention of how easy you think a project is until you’ve finished it and completely nailed it.

Whenever you say something like “this is too easy” or “that will be a piece of cake”, you’ve just made it much harder for your audience to be impressed with your work. When it’s time to evaluate your work, people will think “If this was really easy for him to do, then this is going to be really impressive.”

If you’re just on time, it will seem late for someone who thought it was easy. If it’s just above average, it will seem below average for someone who thought it was easy. If you show signs of struggle along the way, it will look arrogant, or naive, or dishonest for someone who said it would be easy.

If you’re hanging out with friends and talking about a subject that no one is going to call your bluff on, then saying things like “Oh that’s easy” is impressive and it makes you look cool. If you want to see proof of this, tell your friends that you love math and most of them will instantly respect you for being good at something they fear. None of them will hand you a piece of paper with equations to solve. The rewards for bragging about your abilities or downplaying the demands of a task are easy to obtain in a casual social setting.

In the professional world, the rules are the exact opposite. The moment you say something is easy, you just raised the bar of performance and you’ve established the expectation that your work will be done early and with excellence. You’ll be given more responsibilities and you’ll be greeted with less forgiving standards. And when you fail to produce remarkable work, people will feel confused or concerned.

Here’s a little anecdote a friend shared with me to illustrate this point:

I’ve made this mistake. I was asked about a project and responded with “Oh yeah, that’s easy, can definitely get it done soon.”

He looked at me said, “If it’s so easy then why isn’t it already done?”

Lesson learned.

There’s a series of videos you can find on YouTube called “Never Celebrate Too Early.” These videos show highlights from games where one team was clearly in the winning position and it seemed as if victory were certain. Rather than staying focused, finishing the job, and celebrating after the contest was definitively over, the winning team celebrated early (and arrogantly). And in a stunning turn of events, a miracle happens for the team who looked like they were going to lose. What initially seemed to be an impressive display of confidence was revealed to be an immature lack of respect for what it takes to finish the job.

Here’s one of my favorites of a soccer goalie who celebrates too soon after making an impressive block:

in every one of the examples in this video, the losing team was actually good enough to get the job done. Their only problem was that they thought it was too easy.

If you’re looking for an alternative way to sound sure of yourself, a simple “I got it” or “I’ll have something to you by {insert date here}” should do the trick. Be confident in your work, but if you want to overdeliver, don’t make the mistake of overpromising.

Focus on your work and finish the job. If it’s really too easy for you, let your final results do the talking.

This Post Has One Comment
  1. For reasons not all clear to me, many people want to make accomplishments look easy. Reluctant to reveal that these may have taken hard work and BST. (Blood, Sweat, Tears.) More so is the oft repeated comment that the most skilled people make it look easy and seamless. (Usually due to their private habit/s of practice and mastery.)

    I know a young man whose father was very successful, self made, self employed businessman. The father became ill with terminal cancer. The son told me this story: As a younger boy he witnessed his father performing his daily work effortlessly. “Did everything so well.” In retrospect, after his father’s death, he realized that his father recognized that his son was living in his shadow. The father made a point of taking on a new difficult hobby during his illness, so that his son could see the trial and error, the stumbling, the grit and persistence toward mastery and that it’s always hard until it’s easy. Without saying anything, the father also left it that the son would figure this out. He would even tell his son the odd clumsily spoken joke because he wasn’t good at that. This gave the son a new perspective He was reluctantly striving towards being an artist (painter) then, but has subsequently had some successful showings in different galleries around Canada and the U.S.

    Perhaps we should all show some of our BST so that others don’t think anything worthwhile comes that easily. To quote from A League of Their Own, (in response to “Playing baseball is hard”) “If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it.”

    Thought provoking post. (They usually are.) Thanks T.K.

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