The downside of optimism & what it means for your startup

    The "be positive" mantra is widespread in today's startup culture. We’re expected to avoid negativity in conversations, reports and meetings because of the assumption that positivity will get us where we want to go. But will it?

    27th Mar 2018
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    Positivity is almost necessary for many startup contexts. Critical feedback is frowned upon and considered to be the same as disloyalty. “The people to break out the bad news are seen as pariahs, rejected and avoided by coworkers and partners. 

    To be honest, this makes me cringe. Because mandatory optimism is far from being helpful. In fact, it is the best way to fall into a crisis situation.

    Hit or miss

    I work with several new startups each year on their websites, content and marketing campaigns. Most of them approach me when they are already in some kind of problem.  

    Something is looking off, and they're not generating leads and sales at a rate they projected. Maybe it's the offer, their messaging, or the product or service itself has no demand. And that leads to a, not of anxiety.

    Their initial thought process is usually something like this, "We're doing everything right. But probably we need some new magic pill that you may know about." Until I help them remove their rosy glasses of optimism, there's usually some trouble seeing the reality as it is. 

    Once they start seeing reality, they treat the problem differently now. “Okay,” they'll say, “something’s not working. Let’s look deeper into the things we are already doing and find out.” And they usually do. Because now they're on the right track. 

    It's good to take a negative view when you're not getting results. This is because a negative view enables you to ask better questions and find real solutions. 

    Mandatory optimism would just be getting in the way. It will make sure more likely to keep trusting that things will work out by themselves until they want and we'll miss on our goals. 

    Striking the right balance

    Whether it's extreme negativity or absolute positivity, both are just mechanisms we have learned to use in order to avoid pain.

    While extreme negativity helps us achieve a sense a certainty that something bad has happened and nothing can be done, excess positivity ensures us that all is well and nothing can go wrong.

    Instead of accepting difficulties as they are and facing them, we pretend they aren't there. What we need is the right balance. 

    As a founder, you need to have an accurate grasp of reality, yet be confident that you can overcome the worst of situations. 

    The situation might just take care of itself ultimately, but I won't count on it if I am not willing to see what's really wrong and take action.

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