Once upon a time, okay nearly half a lifetime ago, I worked for PC World Magazine as the administrative assistant to a senior executive.
Although we were not on the content-related side of the publication, my boss had an valuable and very eerie talent: By looking at a mock-up of a cover, she could determine within a 1,000 copies how well that issue would sell on newsstands. The art department hated her. They wanted to do new and creative work, and she would give that a low number, and more traditional formats usually scored higher. For the most part they listened to her. On the few instances they didn’t, they regretted it because she was ALWAYS right. At the time, I didn’t understand just how rare this kind of talent could be – how many variables were involved with the seasonality of newsstand readers and their ever changing tastes.
I gained a much greater appreciation for her ability when I listened to 37 Signals‘ book Rework, in which they bring up studies showing how bad humans are at estimating. As a whole we substantially underestimate the amount of time any given project will take.
My brain, of course, has to be contrary. I normally overestimate how long things will take. In my head, it takes a half hour to get anywhere in my fair city. Part of it is my fear of being late, but most of it is being a bad judge of time, which I guess still supports their theory!
All this reminds me of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Relics”, where Scotty from the original series appears. He and Geordi have a conversation sparked by Piccard asking for an estimate of how long a project will take. Scotty asks how long the job will really take, and Geordi proclaims that he told Picard the correct amount of time. “Oh, laddie,” say Scotty, “You’ve got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker!”
Are you more likely to overestimate or underestimate the amount of time things take? or Have you ever deliberately overestimated how long something would take so you could look like a miracle worker?