The Cure for Pessimism
I’m a huge fan of “just go do something,” but a world filled with options and uncertainty paralyzes.
When fear prevents the next step, pessimism prevails. Pessimists can’t lead.
“The more fearful we are the more pessimistic we grow about the future,” Soren Kaplan, author of, Leapfrogging: Harnessing the Power of Surprise for Business Breakthroughs.
The cure for pessimism:
Refusing to take the next step because you fear failure creates pessimism. On the other hand, anticipating and preparing for contingencies is wisdom, not pessimism.
Churchill put it this way, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
I asked Soren for a cure to fearful pessimism. He said, “It doesn’t matter what you do next as long as you do something and learn.” The worst thing you can do is sit and stew.
Kaplan said, “Do something you believe is right – that aligns with values and makes sense – and you create optimism. The exciting thing about optimism is it fuels action.” But how?
Choosing the next step:
During our conversation we explored strategies for identifying the next “best” step. Soren suggested three questions:
- Where is the opportunity for biggest impact? Prioritize.
- What must be done? Urgencies are determined by threats and opportunities.
- What are the abilities of the team? Where can the horses in the barn take you?
Expert opinions, data, and research are helpful but not necessary. Just go do something. Soren said, “Mitigate risk by asking, what’s the smallest step you can take that gives the biggest impact.”
The only thing remaining is the courage and resolve to step out and learn.
“To achieve greatness: start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” Arthur Ashe
In a world of options and uncertainty, how can leaders identify the next “best” step?
Be willing to fail sooner. It’s often impossible to identify the next best step. We try to identify it… but bottom line we have to take a step and watch what happens. Then adjust. Step, adjust, step, adjust.
Be willing to fail sooner. You can’t get great results without doing something. Inaction prevents any success.
Thank you Dauna.
I’m glad you are a regular here and enjoy reading your insights. I totally enjoy “be willing to fail sooner.” Perhaps for some of us, it’s just be willing to fail. 🙂
Taking that step can be scary, but the more you do so, the more confident you can become in your own abilities, your own judgment, and the network of thought partners you surround yourself with in order to stimulate motivation. The key here is that although you can learn a lot from mistakes, you need to be sure you analyze them and learn quickly from them, rather than let them paralyze you.
Thank you Passionate.
Maybe an approach to this is “Just try it once.” And then just try it once, once again.
socrats said fools experiance from mistakes and inteligent peoples learn from others mistakes, so i have to say it here learning is better than experiance
They can go get a copy of “The Lorax” by Dr Seuss; read it with three generations (past; present & future); then go watch the movie with them. That’s what leaders can do!
Thank you Ben.
You gotta stick it out: right to the end Dan. It got released in the UK on Friday: same day as the Olympics opened in London. My son saw the link between the two before I did. If you missed it in the USA in March, get the DVD when it’s released or (if you’re now mobile) heist yourself over here and watch it (and the Olympics and/or Paralympics); bring your family if you can. Tickets might still available for US citizens: https://www.cosport.com/ or for others: http://www.tickets.london2012.com/
Most excellent Dan! Living courageously today through the power of His grace! ~ Blessings, Amy Alves
Thank you Amy.
A good word is always appreciated.
Dan, what a great point. The aversion to failure is one of the biggest drags on success. But it sure is hard to create a culture from the board on down where innovation is encouraged, even when it leads to those inevitable blunders and hiccups. Keep up the great work!
Thank you Anthony.
I think you are hitting on an essential idea…the ability to tolerate — even encourage mistake making begins at the top!
Great post, Dan. In our risk obsessed world, especially so if you are a project manager like I am, it’s important to look at the opportunities on the other side of risk. Sometimes we put all our effort into mitigating the risks facing our current path, when the answer is to take a new path. Sounds like Soren’s book is about that. Thanks for the recommendation.
Thank you Glenn.
The struggle of management is delivering consistent results which means emphasizing consistency and innovating at the same time which means disruption. I admire you for facing these challenges.
Two of the things I really enjoy about Soren’s book is his work on surprise (which is the whole book really)…it’s surprisingly useful and his chapter on humility. Highly recommended.
And with all of the mitigation, the nail, the shoe, the horse, the rider, the message, the battle, the kingdom, the opportunity was lost. (real world example: ask Nokia about their smart phone that was years ahead of Apple’s)
Thank you Doc! Ask who???
To paraphrase Yoda, ‘there is no mitigating, only doing.’
Do you think, Dan, that the paradigm is slowing changing?
Could we reach a point where failure is recognized (even celebrated) as much as success, but in different positive ways?
Can we give out ‘trailblazer’ or ‘first wave rider’ awards to those who are willing to take that leap of faith? (aligned with VMV of course) There can be a lot of scar tissue acquired for those early adapters.
Can we clarify ‘next best step’ as being accepted/approved as ‘best’ given everything that we currently know? (and that after we do it there will always be a better step the next time)
Nice work with Yoda; there’s a risk you took with using media designed for the mass-market (and principally young people) to see if messages still work later in other elements of life! 🙂 It’s all a part of humanity’s story-telling tradition. Seems you would give the Onceler a break…! But maybe there’s a point where one needs to be able to spot and stop failure and move on. Judging it, however, can be tricky; the Lorax kept his faith until the very very last…. well… [see above!]
Thank you Doc.
You seem the wise one, you do.
In some areas I’m seeing a shift toward greater tolerance for things that make for innovation – like failure. But in others… IE Higher Education (my background) I’m not seeing much shift.
Reading your contribution made me think.. celebrate what you’re learning… notice learnING not learnED.
Love the addition of “given what we currently know.” It opens the door to the real world where things change unexpectedly.
Way to keep dynamically tense aware Dan!
From my small part of the world, there does seem to be a shift…healthcare is learning from manufacturing.
Wonder if we can take off our old duds of “we are different” (so that is why we always do what we have always done) and try on a new suit or two of “maybe we aren’t so different, bet there is something I can learn, use and improve on…” –geez, wonder where those rose colored glasses came from!
I don’t celebrate failure. Part of growing is learning to spot the wrong path. However, I expect and protect failure. The best lessons my employees learn come from failures.
My job is to pick them up, wipe off the blood, give them some coaching, and send them back into the fray. When they see the old man grins and say “it only happens to the best of us,” they know it’s ok. I wouldn’t be pushing them out there if I didn’t think they could do it.
Summary: “ready, fire, aim, reload, repeat… 😉
too funny Ben
Thank you so much for this post. It really feed my spirit today. I am facing the same issues at work and this truly has given me the boost I need to continue to stay positive and teachable. It would be great to have others on my team who all shared these values, but that’s the challenge.
Nice read! I really like the quote from Kaplan on how optimism fuels action. I’ve always considered myself an optimist, it’s good to hear from respected people that it directly correlates to success and action. Thanks for sharing!