Make the present catch up to the future

When you make a prediction about the future, you are putting your reputation on the line. If your prediction comes true, people trust you more. If your prediction doesn’t come true, people trust you less.

When you are working with people’s expectations, making a simple prediction, “I’m going to get this thing done today,” helps set the foundation for what they think of you. You either get it done and deliver it to them, or you don’t. If you don’t, they will start calling your reliability into question.

As you build trust, people will believe in you more and grant you greater responsibility because you’ve built a reputation for keeping your word. You have constantly made the present catch up to the future you predicted.

You will be in a position to make bolder bets. Making a more complex prediction, “We are going to create a new device that will do something nobody has ever done before,” will naturally buy you more time, but you need to demonstrate progress along the way to renew the trust. Because this requires more trust, evidence of progress helps keep people’s trust in you. Being transparent is one of the best ways to do this. 

Nobody is going to be perfect at this. For example, Elon Musk has regularly fallen short of his predictions for how many cars Tesla will produce. It’s going to be fine—as long as the communication remains open.

By contrast, with some due diligence, people who are up to something shady will make it hard for others to trust them. When a COO candidate was interviewing at Theranos, the company would not let him past the reception area. That’s the level of opacity they needed to maintain. Deception shouldn’t be necessary; transparency is. When you maintain opacity, people will wonder what you’re hiding; you’re sending red flags. You probably won’t be able to make the present catch up to the future soon enough for people to catch you in the act. It’s never a good idea. (And in Theranos’s case, it was illegal.)

Whenever you execute, you are doing your best to make the present catch up to the future. The nearer the future, and the smaller the prediction, the simpler it is to execute. The further the future, and the grander the prediction, the more risky it will be to execute. 

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