Managing Expectations & Understanding Reality

A guest post by Yva’s partner and professional Chemist, Ben Watt. 

Typically, it’s 8pm and we have just had dinner, Yva cracks open the laptop and states “I had better work on the blog for a while.” Whilst I am full and tired, somehow Yva is finding the motivation to pick up the computer and start working the backshift.

I ask what the blog post is about this time. Is it a practical based blog with lots of hints and tips or is it more reflective and personal?

This week it’s personal and about prioritising; not letting other people’s agenda interrupt your own and about keeping on top of the to-do list. We often have a chat on this topic.

Let’s face it, unless you are a troll living under a bridge, you will have to find a balance between work, life and play.

There is helping out the family and alleviating their stresses. Then there is helping a local charity grow and reach their goals. Oh and of course there is the full-time job that you need to do to pay the bills.

You could ditch the voluntary job. You could ignore the family too and just meet at Christmas. You could hide at work, arrive late and leave early, but who really benefits from that?

We are quick to criticise ourselves and say we are being lazy or procrastinating, but I think it’s more about managing our expectations and understanding the reality.

As a chemist, I would draw a comparison between what you aim to achieve and what you actually do achieve, and hypothesise what could get in the way of your goals.

Chemists call this percentage yield; ideally, all your reactants come together and react to form the desired products. When all of your resources combine to produce your intended result, you have 100% yield.

% yield = ( actual yield / theoretical yield ) x 100

In reality, though, many reactions are incomplete. The steps needed to complete the reaction don’t take place. Perhaps there is a change in conditions; temperature, pressure or the customer’s deadline.

Perhaps the proposed reaction goes awry and an unexpected by-product is created and needs to be dealt with. Something you hadn’t accounted for that affects the overall plan and therefore yield; an additional task that leads to scope creep.

Then there are the inevitable losses. In chemistry, this is the purification and separation of desired product from the reaction mixture. In business, this may be a delay in delivery from a supplier or it might be the extra time you’ve spent dealing with a customer problem.

The other thing which can affect the yield is that the reactants weren’t pure. When we were putting everything together at the start, we perhaps made assumptions. We thought we had a certain amount of time, motivation or money to put in, but perhaps we hadn’t thought it through and weren’t able to create the product we had initially intended.

The thing that you don’t realise when learning about the concept of percentage yield is that 70% yield isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. If you know to expect that outcome then you are more likely to accept it.

The important thing to understand is what limits your yield. Can you actually increase the yield? Is it worth increasing your yield if it involves further sacrifice?

In chemistry, this may involve carrying out the reaction at a higher temperature or under pressure or using a catalyst to speed it up. In business, this may be investing more time, outsourcing tasks or spending more money on the cause.

Then there is the toss-up between economics and result. Turning up the reaction temperature increases your fuel bill. Working overtime puts a strain on your body and mind and can affect your life outside of work. Is it worth it to squeeze out an extra few %?

The reality is that not every reaction goes to plan. Not every Gantt chart is adhered to. You just need to be upfront about the idea that you can only achieve a 70% yield.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you prepared for by-products?
  • Have you’ve minimised your losses?
  • Have you accounted for your impurities?

In chemistry, we take the results of our previous experiments and they feed the aims of our next experiment. We improve the process, and are better-prepared for what can affect the yield.

We learn to manage the expectation and understand the reality.

As entrepreneurs, you can’t expect a perfect outcome all of the time. Learn to accept the gap between where you are and where you want to be, and your next “experiment” will be more successful than your last.

1 Comment

  1. Ben and Yva – Jenny just pointed out your “guest post” to me.
    What a lovely article and wonderful way to mix a reaction between business, chemistry, and life and highlight the ingredients for success in each .
    Best wishes – Gordon

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