Return on Optimism: Business as an act of positive thinking

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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  • Great post Eric! Optimism is vital in my important for your growth both personally and professionally. Without the first time you fail you give up, the first time something gets a little tricky you throw in the towel. And if that was the case for everyone no great business, discovery, book, or anything else for that matter would have ever been created.
    Plus I always figure…what hurt does being optimistic do?
    Thanks for sharing!

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  • I love this! No, you can’t get far if you start out thinking you can’t! Love this. Thank you for sharing it. “Business is act of optimism.” If I ever got a tattoo that might be it. LOL

  • Hi Eric,

    I would go as far as to say many businesses need a self-help guide. Dare I say guru? He he 😉

    Why? Because in business there is always uncertainty and frankly, most people can’t handle uncertainty.

    In fact, I often feel like I’m on a rescue mission, because the focus at the beginning of many marketing projects is on all the wrong things.

    Questions often revolve around what might go wrong?

    It’s usually treated as a crisis too, and crisis-mode is not good for anything.

    I would love to turn “How quickly can we get this done?” into something positive, like you, and I usually try by telling them deadlines come and go, but quality endures 🙂

    Anyway part of this process is getting out of the fear mode and on track with a glass-half-full-let’s-see-what-we-can-do-to-make-this-different mode 🙂 Gotta have a little fun too.

  • Herb Silverman

    Eric, your piece about optimism and positive thinking, was right on track. Not only for business but, for personal growth as well. Being a downer, in my opinion, is unproductive and unusable. Only innovation, creative thought and a can-do attitude can achieve anything. Bravo and what you are trying to accomplish…

  • Thanks Herb!

  • Great addition Craig. Fear can be paralyzing and when we just focus on the problems, we are feeding fear. Love that thought, thanks for sparking it!

  • I want a picture of that tattoo! 🙂

  • Thanks Mike!

  • Great post, Eric! If you are NOT optimistic about something, then WHY the heck are you doing it? Having also worked on the project you referenced, I can honestly say that this perspective on optimism changed my life…or at least the way I approach work. The critical insight for me was that optimism is not just a warm and fuzzy nice-to-have, but a vital ingredient in company culture that creates a happier, healthier workforce, better productivity and, ultimately, better business outcomes. When you’re optimistic about your work and workplace, big things happen!

  • MaureenMonte

    Eric, one of the things I enjoy about your posts is that they ring with humanity. To worry is human, to be optimistic and positive is human, really both sides of the same coin, just a question of what side lands “up” most often for each of us. And I like that you point out that we can choose that for ourselves. I just got off a phone call with a friend who, after reading my blog post, thought something bad had happened to me. Actually, it was all good (I think she misread it) but one thing I said to her was this: “The idea of a safety net is fantasy. None of us have it, even if we think we do. We have to learn to live with the ambiguity if we start our own business.” I was trying to say what you said, but you said it better. I’ll send her over here for a look! Thanks again.

  • Not many marketing projects have that kind of impact on the people that worked on them. Glad I had the opportunity to work on it with you and all of the discussions it sparked. Including the source of one very telling Tweet. 🙂

  • Thanks Maureen, I appreciate the kind words! Mark does a great job here of bringing out the human side, if I’m lucky it is rubbing off even a little bit on me.

    On the safety net, oh so true. Did you hear any of the snippets of Jim Carrey’s commencement address this week? He talked about his Dad, how he choose the “safe” path instead of what he loved and yet he still ended up out of work and with the same challenges he was hoping to avoid. (A very bad paraphrase…)

  • Bravo Eric! My life changed the moment I chose to see good in the bleakest moments, biz-wise, life-wise. Not easy at first, but with mental gymnastics, I learned how to be happy without being totally dependent on conditions for my happiness.

  • MaureenMonte

    Very good point about Mark – I understand and feel the same way. I had not heard Jim Carrey’s remarks about his father – will have a look. He certainly didn’t follow in Dad’s path, talk about the road less traveled! (who knew that dumb and dumber was actually a viable aspiration!)

  • LOL Trust me when I say you really wouldn’t. grin

  • Thanks Ryan, glad to hear it!

  • So much good can come from optimism! I am glad you are making an effort towards that! It’s a great goal. Great post by the way. I never realized how innovation is made by someone having the guts to think it is possible.

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  • Very helpful post eric, being optimistic boils down to the way you talk
    to yourself. Optimists believe that their own actions result in positive
    things happening, that they are responsible for their own happiness,
    and that they can expect more good things to happen in the future.
    Optimists don’t blame themselves when bad things happen. They view bad
    events as results of something outside of themselves.

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