One of my favorite big-picture quotes comes from the Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates:
We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.
I’ve seen it play out so many times with new technologies, organizations, initiatives, etc. Things start slow, as they always do, and then eventually pick up momentum such that you look back a few years and are blown away by how much has changed. Coming from the startup world, this quote is especially applicable as the first couple years are always overestimated by entrepreneurs (think about how revenue and progress is always below expectations).
Here are a few examples of overestimating the short-term and underestimating the long-term:
- Twitter – I had heard about it for two years before I created my @davidcummings account at a Georgia Technology Summit in 2009. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time but the early adopters loved it. Now, looking back, I clearly underestimated its potential.
- Atlanta Tech Village – We’re still in the top of the first inning at the Village but I’m confident that the Atlanta community overestimates what we’re going to accomplish in the short-term as it takes so long to build great startups. On the other hand, I believe people underestimate the profound impact we’re going to have on the city over the next decade.
- Marketing Automation – During the first two years of Pardot most people thought that B2B marketing tools were good enough and business buyers weren’t in the market for a whole new platform. Now, Pardot is almost seven years old and I can honestly say that I underestimated the power of marketing automation and how fast it would catch on in a major way.
Humans are apt to repeat themselves and consistently overestimate the next two years and underestimate the next ten, and that’s never going to change.
What else? What are your thoughts on the idea of overestimating and underestimating change?