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.