The power of under promise


We’re dining at Jimbaran Bay (pictured).

A few metres away, roving musicians Take it to the Limit One More Time for enthusiastic backpackers. Lean dogs edge close to tables, but are driven off by restaurant staff.

Ring tones

Suddenly our table is ringed by blue shirts, white teeth and worn instruments.

This is not our thing. Fonnie has no requests and I’m flummoxed – ten years of DJing gone in a second.

The men wait, while my Bintang brain races for a track. Any track. It’s our ten-year wedding anniversary.

I stare at my wife, hoping to unlock some memory. Finally, a name surfaces and I blurt:

‘Every Breath You Take! By ... um ... by ... ummm ... ahhh ... The Police!’

I look at the faces in triumph, but there’s no flicker of recognition.


‘Do you know it? It’s by The Police ... umm ... Sting?’

The musos exchange faint looks.

‘Er ... it’s OK if you don’t ... ’

A few tentative strums. Then an unmistakable chord.

‘That’s it!

The leader communicates something like:

‘We’ll do our best, but don’t get your hopes up, Sunshine.’

Off & running

Then, like (the cyclist formerly known as) Lance Armstrong, with a wobble and two clicks, the pedal goes down and we’re off.

It starts well, and I realise these guys must have played together for years – throwing cues to carry each other through.

Then I recall that Sting isn’t known for his simple chord progressions: what will happen at the bridge?!

But they’re already over it, rocks and rapids far below. They lyrics are perfect.

Now I think they’re freakishly talented. I beam at other diners, who are similarly impressed.

The song climaxes and I think we’re done. But not before some spot-on harmonies and a visual flourish from the double bassist that could only have come from MTV.

Penny drop

I finally twig that they know the song inside out. They’ve probably played it a hundred times.

Had they said that, though, it wouldn’t have been as good.

The pretence of ‘figuring it out and winging it’– the under promise – gave a profound impression of over delivery.

And while I always maintain that ‘faux is foe’, these guys certainly got away with it.

This particular under promise won’t work for me again. But used correctly, the practice packs a punch.

Under the pump

When I quote a client three days turnaround but nail their job in one, the effect is always positive.

I’ve learnt the hard way that quoting ‘one day’ and doing same stresses me, seldom delights them and leaves no wiggle room for unexpected events.

Writing this, I see I could be called faux for quoting three times the turnaround I need. So maybe I’m like the band. Maybe their strategy, too, is born of hard knocks.

Perhaps it comes down to intent.

Is under promising ethical, expedient or both?

Do you under promise and over deliver?

If so, is it a one-shot deal or a strategy you can use for life?

I’ll be watching breathlessly

for your



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