Paranoid Optimism – Courage to Shine a Light into the Darkness
Optimism doesn’t serve you well when it prevents you from acknowledging dark realities.
We don’t need leaders spewing blind optimism. It’s better to name the challenge, craft a response, and take action.
Successful leaders talk about things others avoid.
Risto Siilasmaa, author of Transforming Nokia, says, “No news is bad news. Bad news is good news. And good news is no news.”
Practicing paranoid optimism:
Paranoid optimism is the resolve and courage to explore the worst possible outcomes and choose a path forward.
- Consider the worst case as well as the best-case scenario.
- What’s the worst that could happen? How can we prevent it?
- Craft a scenario-based plan and move forward.
The tyranny of optimism is reluctance to explore potential failure.
Shine a light into the darkness…, “People feel more at peace. There’s less to be scared of and more for us to shape….” Risto Siilasmaa
3 ways to dig into the darkness:
#1. Build trusting relationships.
- Respond with respect when you hear something you don’t like.
- Assume good intentions.
- Discuss the scariest possibilities.
- Value the gifts, talents, and outputs of the people on your team.
#2. Risto also suggests that leaders appoint a group of Cassandras to voice possible failures. The curse of Cassandra was no one believed her when she foretold the future.
Make it acceptable to discuss what might go wrong.
#3. Create options. “If you see several scenarios before you, you have options.” Risto Siilamaa
Help your team generate three possible solutions to their challenge. Ask them which one they would like to implement.
Choice makes people feel powerful. Feeling powerful energizes action. Don’t expect boldness from those who feel powerless.
How might leaders successfully bring dark realities to the table?
**This post is inspired by my conversation with Risto Siilasmaa, Chariman of Nokia and author of Transforming Nokia.
Great alternative to the blame and shame game.
Thanks Duane. The only thing blame and shame get is silence from the people you want to hear from. I really enjoyed my conversation with Risto and his book Transforming Nokia.
There is a fine line between too much optimism (whatever form it takes) and too little optimism.
Leaders must find the right balance between “keeping it real” and “being optimistic.”
Thanks Paul. I think part of the balance is facing brutal realities and still designing options for dealing with them. It’s one thing to circle the black hole. It’s another thing to choose a course of action.
Liked the provided solution to come out possible solutions while digging into darkness! The best way for a leader is to keep the communication links open across the board and invite suggestions to turnaround.
At times, good workable solutions come from the lower cadre employees if they are taken in confidence. The door to optimism opens in a free airy climate coupled with the faith and trust demonstrated in the own people. Inspire them by rewarding their creativity with possible good solutions.
Thanks Dr. Asher. Loved, “The door to optimism opens in a free airy climate coupled with the faith and trust demonstrated in the own people. Inspire them by rewarding their creativity with possible good solutions.”
Yes, the people doing the work often have great suggestions. The worst thing to do is to isolate yourself from others.
Transformational thinking. And it seems to relate neatly to Disruptive Engagement and all sorts of themes about innovation and creativity. Doing things the same way generates the same results, and that is the double-edge on which you pin this. Neatly done.
Thanks Dr. Scott. The trouble with plans and strategies that work is that eventually they don’t. It’s painful to come to that realization.
In time of change especially its critical to stay ahead of the rumors and there is only one to do that. Communicate! Talk openly about what is going on and stay ahead of the rumors. I tell employees that I want to hear the rumors so i can confirm or clarify them. I stay positive but not to the point of denial. Ole Johnny Fever from WKRP said “paranoid is a good attitude to have when people are after you”. I don’t live by that but I sure keep it in mind at time like now.
Thanks Walt. “Stay positive but not to the point of denial.” Brilliant.
Hiding from stuff you don’t want to hear seldom gets you where you want to go.
Love the focus on “challenge” as opposed to “problem”. Crafting challenges is a good positive way to look at what is put forth for teams and individuals.
Thanks Roger. It’s interesting to explore the difference. I suppose there are times when saying problem is appropriate. But “challenge” seems more optimistic and forward-facing. Using challenge seems less judgmental as well.
I think it is important not to conflate “positive attitude” with optimism. I am extremely positive however, sometimes that is viewed as blindly optimistic. What a mistake. One can face the harsh realities of the world and still maintain a positive outlook.
Thanks Frank. But can a pessimist have a positive outlook? I suppose so, but it seems weird.
You got me thinking. 🙂
I would say yes, a pessimist can have a positive outlook. “Pessimism” is a worldview while “positive outlook” is an attitude. At least, that is how I am thinking about it 🙂
Yes the pessimist is POSITIVE that it wont work out because it never does.
Very relevant to me today, Dan. It’s crazy-wonderful how that happens. Thank you.
Thanks Stephanie. Just goes to show, if you throw enough spaghetti against the wall something is bound to stick.
Love this. Blind optimism by leadership erodes trust when the pain people are experiencing is devalued. Pull the monster out from under the bed so that we can all see it in the light, and find a way to defeat it together.
Thanks Dan. You remind me of the times when our kids thought monsters were under the bed. I didn’t deny it. I wrestled them to the ground and flushed the invisible beasts down the toilet!
This post is most opportune for our parish committee in facing challenges and even pushback. Years ago, a wise leader/creative director used to ask us: “What’s the worst that could happen in this situation?” It helped us to face the challenge/problem/opportunity with realism and sometimes out-of-the-box solutions without giving up and going for hopeless. Thank you!