The formula for happiness

Photo by Christoph This week I’ve been presenting at the Gilb Festival, on the subject of how difficult it is to identify “top level” requirements in a large organisation. The slide which provoked the most discussion was the formula for happiness, from Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells:

Happiness = Reality – Expectations

This works surprisingly well in everyday life. The participants also discussed how it might be applied to the world of project management, and there were a number of angles on this.

The most obvious application is that expectations management is standard part of a project manager’s, or any other manager’s, activity. Keeping expectations down generally leads to much more satisfied stakeholders in the end.

The logical extension of this is asking what happens if you create negative expectations. Creating expectations of disaster, which are then miraculously averted, should also lead to similarly positive (or, taking the formula literally, more positive) results. Of course, there’s a real danger here of being seen as a fraud if it’s discovered that those expectations were overblown.

We also debated whether the formula applied to children as well as adults. I suspect it does, although a child’s reality may be different to an adult’s (monsters, ghosts, Santa Claus, etc). Inevitably it follows that reality is different for different people, and therefore while expectation management is a standard business practice, “reality management” might be a useful phrase, too. Or perhaps it would be more politic to call it “perception management”… or PR, or marketing.

A surprising amount to unpack, then, from such simple formula.

Photo by Christoph on Flickr