Optimism is Overrated or Why I am a Realist

I was reading this morning’s news and came across this article, The Sad Truth about Optimism: It’s Overrated and had to laugh.

You see, I’m a realist.  I ask questions.  I try to dive deeper and get a deeper understanding of the situation – the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats.

That drives optimists absolutely batshit crazy.  I have been accused of being a pessimist.  Negative.  A naysayer.

And that drives me batshit crazy.

Here’s my favorite excerpt from the article.

The first is that people tend to believe that optimism boosts the likelihood of success. Not only were participants more likely to say that positive thinking helps boost motivation—they also associate the mentality with positive outcomes.

The second is that when people believe that they can do something—rightly or wrongly—they tend to try harder, or at least for longer, to accomplish it. In one experiment, for instance, participants spent a good deal longer looking for Waldo in Where’s Waldo when they were convinced they would find him.

The third and most sobering of the three findings is that in every case optimism didn’t produce any measurable improvement in performance. Those people who kept their head up and spirits high, looking longer and more intently for Waldo, still didn’t find him. Nor did those who took part in two other experiments which tested how optimism affects outcome show any tangible improvement in performance.

Let me explain why this was my favorite part of the article.  First, what really boosts the likelihood of success is a clear vision and an action plan that clearly identifies who does what, when, how, why in order to measure performance and determine effectiveness.  Feeling positive without a really clear vision, clear goals and an action plan is delusional.

Second, trying harder or at least longer wastes resources.  It burns out the staff, causes turnover and inconsistent service which upsets the customer.  Work smarter not harder…that’s my belief and it’s worked throughout my career for the benefit of employers and clients.

Third, optimism doesn’t produce improved results.  Go back to #1 for the cause here…there are no clear, measurable goals beyond “Become the best” or “Grow the business” so what happens is [a] you don’t know what success is, [b] you bust your ass trying to achieve something you really haven’t defined, and [c] you pursue the undefined/unachievable for far too long which further wastes precious resources.

So, why am I a realist?

Earlier in my life, I was told that mowing my neighbors front yard was a kind act that would be appreciated.  Then the neighbor came running up to me, yelling that I stop because he didn’t like the way I mowed.  (Evidently, I went lower than he preferred.)

That was the action of an optimist.  As a realist, I knew I should have gone to the neighbor and asked.  If I had, I would have been told “No thanks” and saved myself a lot of time, effort, and energy.  Or I would have been told “Sure but I need you to do it this way…” which would have saved me a lot of time, effort, energy and frustration.

When a client tells me they are going to launch several new products in the next 12 to 18 months, I ask why.  And unless I hear that they did some research to identify the unmet demand in the market, I am unconvinced.  They are usually all excited…and I am starting to contact various segments of the audience to figure out if the plan has the chance to work…or eat up limited resources.


So what about you?  Optimist?  Pessimist? Realist?  A little of each?  When it comes to running your business, do you fall in love with an idea and move forward without confirmation?  Or do you ask a lot of questions, gather a lot of data and do a little analysis before moving forward with the more expensive resource investment?

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