Marketing often involves making assumptions about the future. As colleague Sean Buscay has pointed out, estimates are still always guesses. No matter how good our inputs, we never really know what’s going to happen.
I recently came across a set of personal assumptions I made my senior year of high school. The writing prompt was: “List of things I must do before 30.”
“List of things I must do before 30″ (from when I was 17 years old)
- Graduate from high school
- Go to college
- Get computer certification (CNA, A+, MCSE, etc.)
- Start my own company
- Get a job/jobs
- Acquire the means to retire early, either before 30 or sometime after that
- Go to grad school if I can benefit from it
- Buy a car
- Own my own home/condo/townhouse
- Be debt-free
- Have a perfect credit record
- Have a perfect driving record
- Have had an IPO and/or gotten stock options
Problems with making assumptions
Now that I’m actually 30, it’s a little embarrassing to read my list from high school.
The whole IPO-and-early-retirement thing was a preposterous assumption. A reasonable assumption, perhaps — in the late 1990s, many of my high school’s alumni were dropping out of college to start dot-coms — but not a realistic assumption, as the dot-com bubble burst six months later. I’m actively saving for retirement, but it isn’t going to be that early.
In retrospect, the list is also incomplete. Not having any dating experience in high school, I’m not surprised to see I don’t mention anything about relationships in 1999. Between that and assuming the dot-com bubble was the new “normal,” it’s a good reminder that our assumptions are colored by our current knowledge and experience.
In my defense, these were my best guesses back when I was 17. And I actually did accomplish 10 of the 13 items, and I’ll give myself partial credit for two more. Getting 79%+ right is pretty good.
Beyond percentages, it was also important to acknowledge that not all of my goals were important or even relevant today. Buying a house in suburban New Jersey at 24 was not the smartest decision, even if it made sense at the time. And getting certified as a network administrator assumed I was going to continue doing computer consulting, like the part-time business I started in high school. Knowing computers comes in handy all the time at work today — and I’m lucky to work with many people who have deep technical expertise — but my career focuses on using marketing and technology to achieve business goals, rather than my playing with tech for tech’s sake.
Making plans for the future, in marketing and in life
Thanks to my Writing Seminar teacher, Bettie Stegall, for prompting me and my classmates to record our assumptions in high school. In marketing and in life, you can only make plans about the future based on what you know and assume today. We do our best and then adjust accordingly.
We also should think about whether we’re tracking what really matters. Did I need a house or stock options before turning 30? No. Should my 1999 list have included things like my health and my relationships? Yes. In marketing, are profits and conversions ultimately more important than easy-to-collect metrics like pageviews and Klout scores? Yup.
Question: When you were 17, what did you think you’d be when you grew up? You can leave a comment by clicking here.