return on optimism
By Eric Wittlake, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Self-driving cars. Wearable devices. Solar arrays. They are incredible inventions.

We’ve heard the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention,” but what about all of the things that have been created when quitting wasn’t a matter of life or livelihood?

Many of us give up every day when we focus on the barriers instead of looking at what we can accomplish. For much of my life, I’ve been quite good at seeing these barriers.

  • I’ve focused on the information I still need rather than what can be accomplished with the information I have.
  • I’ve bemoaned the limitations of an aggressive timeline instead of seeing it as an opportunity to do something positive more quickly.

In short, I’ve been a pessimist. My outlook has kept me from fully investing myself into my work. Over the last few years I’ve worked to change that, to value forward progress far more than perfection and to see ambiguity as an opportunity for more creativity. Change isn’t easy, but I am starting.

I’ve had the privilege to work with a team at Xerox over the last few months on a marketing program that has included a look at the benefits of optimism in business. What I’ve learned has been changing my perspective for the better.

I’ve included quotes below from two of the experts we worked with on this project. Perspective from them and others is available as part of Xerox’s Return on Optimism site.

Business is an act of optimism

This perspective was a turning point for me.

Imagine, for the moment, a pessimist trying to start a business. Problems would loom large in his mind. He would see the potential for failure at every turn. Most importantly, every roadblock would be a confirmation of his concerns and a reason to fold.

Your own capabilities may be significant, they they aren’t enough. According to Shawn Achor, “research indicates that only 25% of our job success is predicted by intelligence and technical skills. 75% of your future success is predicted by your optimism, social support network and the ability to manage energy and stress in a positive way.”

Business is, by its very nature, uncertain. You cannot embrace it and fully invest yourself into it if you expect a negative outcome!

Innovation requires optimism

True innovation requires doing something in a way that has never been done before. Being first carries risk, but it also brings outsized rewards.

According to Dr. Stephen Hoover, “the more risk you’re able to tolerate, then, generally, the bigger innovation opportunity you can create.”

Look at Google, where research efforts are producing things like Google Glass and self-driving cars, or Amazon, which is making huge investments in new approaches to distribution. Without a belief in what can and will be accomplished, businesses cannot invest like this.

You have to be believe in your ability to create something extraordinary in order to continue to pursue innovation.

My Return on Optimism

I won’t change overnight, but my exposure to this program is changing my perception. Where I once saw all of the things I still needed to move forward, I’m learning to start by doing something meaningful with the information and resources I already have … and loving it.

How about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Eric WittlakeEric Wittlake spends his days working with B2B marketers and shares his marketing advice, perspective and rants on his blog, B2B Digital Marketing. He is optimistic today about building a new house. You can find him on Twitter (@wittlake) when he isn’t spending time with his three young boys.

Top Photo Credit: TerryJohnston via Flickr cc

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