Meeting Expectations

Where do you fit in your family? Oldest? Youngest? Peace-lovin’ middle? A recent study out of Norway indicates that, once again, there’s a possible connection between your birth order and how you’ll turn out. In this instance, the results had less to do with your actual birth order and more to do with how you’re treated:

A study of more than 240,000 Norwegian men found that older siblings score higher on IQ tests than their younger brothers and sisters. In cases where the first child dies in infancy, however, the second-born child raised as the firstborn assumes the mantle, performing as well as the actual elder child on intelligence exams. (link)

Researchers speculate the results are due to resource allocation:

“When there are more children, he notes, the resources will be more scarce for everyone compared with the firstborn who gets all the attention with no competition.” (link)

This particular article didn’t discuss the impact of expectations. Even more than resources, I believe expectations shape who you become. I knew, as a first born, that my parents had different expectations of me than they did of my younger brother. I also knew at a early age that I didn’t particular care for attention being divided between me and my brother.

My mother tells the story that after she came home from the hospital with my brother, I made my opinion of the situation very clear. Every time she went to feed him, I’d run down the hall screaming at the top of my almost 3-year-old lungs, “Don’t feed him.” Apparently I made the connection that if you feed something, it sticks around for the long term.

Over 20+ years, my brother and I have come to terms and get along quite well, especially when it comes to sharing eye rolls over parental behavior. However, what brought us to terms was recognizing that our parents expected different things from each of us. In essence, our competition was no longer with each other, but rather with the expectations assigned by our parents.

Telling Company Behavior

I see a connection between this behavior and how companies choose to operate. Some companies choose to operate in direct competition with their competitors versus those tho choose to operate based on expectations. Some might argue there is no difference between the two options. I argue that when you operate in direct competition, you’re measuring your standards against an entity you have no control over. When you operate based on expectations, you control all the standards and determine whether you meet them.

Consider these examples:

  • Apple creates the iPod. Microsoft follows with the Zune. (Gizmodo)
  • Google creates AdWords. Yahoo follows with Panama. (Got Ads?)
  • Netflix offers rentals via the mail. Blockbuster offers rentals via the mail. (Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection)

See a pattern emerging? Companies like Apple, Google, and Netflix create their own expectations and then proceed to match or exceed them. Companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Blockbuster are operating in direct competition, never able to match the original expectations set by the other companies.

In these match ups, resources aren’t a real issue. Microsoft, Yahoo, and Blockbuster are all established companies with the money, time, and brainpower to create their own expectations, and thus, their own success. For some reason, they elect not to, and end up playing the role of the younger, not-so-intelligent sibling. Imagine how the world would respond if Microsoft tossed aside Windows as we know it (even Vista) and created a new operating system that exceeded expectations. Oh wait, I think Apple might have already done that with Leopard.

Back to the sibling…my brother and I measure success differently. We’re living our lives based on individual expectations, not on direct competition. And we’re happier for it. Google has replaced Yahoo as the search giant because it created its own expectations. And even though Apple owns a smaller share of the computer market, they do own an overwhelming majority of the digital music market. Instead of saying what’s the other guy doing, and how do we match it, they created a new question, a new category, and then they defined it. Wouldn’t you prefer being the definer rather than the imitator?



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June 2007
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