Frost & Sullivan’s Innovations in New Product Development eBulletin
  July 2011 | Vol. 4 Issue 3  CONNECT


Don’t Get Caught Up On Expectations, Anticipations

  By Timothy Grayson
Innovation Director
Canada Post

A persistently troubling concern to many innovators is expectations; sometimes they are unreasonably high, other times they bottom out for reasons as banal as ennui. Expectations are not only the enemy—in fact, they are a misunderstood ally.


Let’s begin at the bottom. An expectation is not discrete, fixed and inert; you can’t “set it and forget it.” Expectations are perceptions, which dynamically respond to complex, ongoing inputs from many sources. An expectation is different in every mind.

That means “expectations” are not the innovator’s responsibility or problem alone. They are created and continually adjusted by innovator and audience, whoever that is: boss, investor, customer, etc.

There is no way around expectations because our many perceptions affect key parts of our innovation experience. Not only are they an implicit element of performance prediction and measurement, expectations underpin the balancing and prioritizing of competing demands for limited resources. Expectations affect everyone.

Challenges of misaligned expectations

Every innovator deals with the challenges of misaligned expectations, fighting a rear-guard battle to respond to the consequences of those flaws. This happens if we succumb to the notion that expectations are static. And if we do that, imagine how much more others get de-scynchronized from an evolving reality. When expectations get locked-in by processes that force decisions based on that false precision, the problem is even more likely. In that situation, it’s easy to efficiently drive—or be driven—to where you no longer need or want to go. That’s in nobody’s interest.

Avoiding or correcting incorrect expectations demands ongoing, clarifying communication with everyone about shifting reality. This is the easiest way to keep everyone on track to desired goals as they evolve with more information. Ultimately, you’re working with stakeholders to (re)shape their expectations based on latest information and certainty, and only to the warranted level of accuracy.

Expectations management is change management; and it’s predictable Invention is novelty, but the fullness and value of innovation is getting people to incorporate and use that invention. As such, an innovation necessarily displaces something known and comfortable, even if that is “nothing.” It makes no difference if that invention is a polymer or a process. This is a critical realization: every innovation not only brings something new, it brings something else to an end. For every happy, hopeful hello there is an offsetting sad goodbye.

Because people resist change at the best of times, an innovation situation has to be change-managed. Unfortunately, it’s not the management of gain so much as the management of loss. Fortunately, it’s still generally predictable.

At the micro-level of an individual or a project, innovation requires managing people’s change that tends to be consistent with the Kűbler-Ross grieving process. (You know: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.) At the macro-level of technology or industry, change and expectations tend to follow a psycho-social path as captured in the Gartner Hype-Cycle™. Recognizing, adapting, and aligning to the appropriate stage of these harmonious cycles is key to successful expectation management.

Expectations Evolution curve

So what? Use expectations; don’t get used by them

Innovation as change management focuses you on the change, especially on working with dynamically evolving expectations. Is your perception of reality fair and reasonable, or are you projecting misexpectations? Consider whether stakeholder expectations (uniquely and collectively) are aligned to that reality. Correct if necessary.

The broad predictability of expectations evolution lets you anticipate it. The consistent general shape lets you adjust the shape of expectations for your innovation specifically. Chronicle how, when, and why (project) expectations evolved. Plot the changing expectation(s) on the Expectations Evolution curve.

Educating others early about likely expectations evolution will support the right level of performance predication accuracy. Assess information/events that will move project expectations along the curve (either way); determine indicators of that movement, and communicate it early to all stakeholders. Repeat regularly.

Expectations that reflect reality at the time will drive better balancing of demands. Use knowledge of the position and movement along the curve to de/accelerate resourcing to align and prioritize within corporate plans.


Expectations are a dread to many innovators, and rightfully so. But understanding what makes for expectations, and how they will almost assuredly evolve, can turn them into an ally. Use their power.

About the author:

Timothy Grayson is the author of The Spaces In Between, available directly at or at Find him via email: Tim at
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