Aim high, just don’t set expectations too high

There’s an opinion piece in the TJ this morning arguing that “Obama is no Moses” and that maybe expectations were a little too high when he came to office.

It seems to me that in this environment, politicians would be better off not setting expectations too high.  The old adage “it’s better to underpromise and overdeliver than to overpromise and underdeliver”.  In other words, if you set the target as the stars and you hit the moon, you are a miserable failure but if you set the goal as the treetop and you hit the moon, you are a wildly successful. 

I think that works in New Brunswick, too.  The former Premier was going to solve all the problems overnight.  In the words of one of the backroom guys in the early days, after six years of stagnacy on all the major files, we are going to fix things: French immersion, post-secondary education, population growth, economic development, NB Power, municipal governance, – on and on – all under the rubric of self-sufficiency.

The expectations were set very high – I remember talking to economic developers in the early days and they were practically giddy that things were about to get a whole lot better for them.

Two years on many of those same people were deeply disappointed and by the time of the election, they were saying it was time for a change.

The problem is that setting reasonable expectations is not necessarily congruent with aiming high – I just wrote a column last week on the importance of ambition and now I am saying what seems to be counter to that point.

Not really.

We need to have ambition but align it to reality.   Eliminating Equalization by 2026 was never a realistic objective unless the Federal government was prepared to dramatically rethink the program itself.    Going from “worst to first” in education should start by going from worst to not quite as bad.  Going from last in Canada for R&D per capita to fourth among the provinces (a Prosperity Agenda item) should start by going from last to ‘a little bit better’.

I am a fan of the Edmonton Oilers and the Washington Nationals.  Arguably, two of the worst teams in professional sports during the period I am been following them (late 1970s) (the Oilers of course were not crappy until the now convicted criminal Pocklington sold Gretzky).  Every year I am told they are ‘rebuilding’ but every year they are crappy.

My point is that fans (voters) should see incremental improvements on the way to the ambitious goal.

As a side note, it is somewhat ironic that Kevin Lowe said on numerous occasions that if he could compete on payroll, he could build a Stanley Cup winner in Edmonton.  Since the salary cap, the Oilers have gone from bad to worse.  They are even crappier and now they get to waste money too.

It’s a very loose parallel with those who complain that New Brunswick’s problems are the fault of the other guy.

1 thought on “Aim high, just don’t set expectations too high

  1. “I am a fan of the Edmonton Oilers…”

    One of NB’s problems is obesity. Obesity seems to be correlated with low incomes, so it is not a surprise that obesity is a problem here. Apparently, our politicians either can’t or won’t do anything to increase the proportion of high-wage jobs in NB, but perhaps they could use fan support as a way to reduce obesity.

    As I see it, by asking hockey fans to support successful teams they would, in effect, be encouraging fans to jump out of their chairs to cheer more often. When multiplied by the number of hockey fans, the number of calories lost by jumping out of chairs would be significant.

    David, I am asking you and other Oiler fans to switch your allegiance to Montreal. Similarly, I’d ask all Leaf fans to jump ship and support Montreal, and I’d also ask STU hockey fans to admit defeat and switch their support to the V-Reds. Think of the calories to be lost, and how much healthier we’d all be.

    This is such a great idea that I think I will apply to SSHRC for a grant to expand the concept. I’ll just ask them to take the funds out of the budget for STUs Centre for Qualitative Research.

    Yours in sympathy

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