We’ve heard it a hundred times. “Under-promise, and over-deliver.” It’s one of those truisms that appears indisputable, right up with “the customer is always right” and “the early bird gets the worm.” But as one who enjoys balking traditional approaches, I respectfully disagree.
To me, this false wisdom encourages mediocrity. It grants permission to make small, flaccid commitments and then gleefully celebrate delivering them. The very nature of the argument suggests holding back on achievements that can actually be attained. Simply put, under-promising is a promise to play small.
When companies under-promise to customers, team members, or investors, they restrict their ability to soar. Timid, under-promise solutions are the ideal fodder for fresh startups or hungry competitors to come devour your standing in the market. When you under-promise as a person, you may get a pat on the head for delivering against near-term forecasts, but you’re not setting yourself up to make history. No one will remember the under-promisers in 100 years.
Instead of think-small-and-deliver-small, try the polar opposite.
Put yourself out there in a big, bold, defiant way. Reach for the solutions for which you lack full confidence you can deliver with little effort, but that will delight your customers or colleagues if you reach. Push yourself and your team to the edges, to the rarified territory where greatness lives. Don’t set out to easily deliver a vanilla outcome. Don’t promise to finish the race in the middle of the pack when the possibility of a championship exists. Instead, reach beyond your comfort zone. Seek solutions, ideas, and outcomes that go beyond. That matter. That shine.
Once you put yourself out there with an overpromise, it provides a powerful calling to deliver. Showing bland results after an under-promise is for everyone else. You, on the other hand, can stand tall and bring home a much more meaningful victory. There’s mystery and magic in an overpromise that forces you to get creative, challenge your previous assumptions, and push yourself to new heights. You now have the opportunity to prove the critics wrong and deliver the dream.
The greatest achievements in humanity are the results of over-promising. We revere overpromisers like Galileo, daVinci, Mozart, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jobs, and Edison. They changed the world by first overpromising, and then doing whatever it took to deliver their masterpiece.
In the words of race car driver Peter Brock, “Bite off more than you can chew, and then chew like hell.” Your greatness awaits you. Overpromise, my friends, and then chew away.