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Why being a “pessimistic optimistic” can help you grow your business

By Erika Hovland

Have you tapped into the power of being a pessimistic optimist? We all know that optimism is “good.” By maintaining optimism, you imagine the best situation and begin to move in this direction.  But by introducing pessimism, you imagine the worst situation and begin to put plans into place to avoid those situations. You aren’t as surprised or caught off guard by challenges and obstacles. You know you can fail, and as a result, you’re more prepared to get up again.

This is a powerful combination.  Let’s envision what it could look like:

Imagine the kid who won the award for “Most School-Spirited” in your school.  She probably had the qualities of enthusiasm, belief, excitement, energy and optimism. Perhaps a little starry-eyed, she would smile and clap for each success.  She wrote with exclamation marks!!! and emoticons :).

Now imagine the kid who sat in the back of the classroom, who cynically critiqued the curriculum and pointed out what was wrong in the world.  Other students gave her a little space when she went on a passionate tirade. But they loved the way she would challenge the teacher, and couldn’t wait to see how the teacher would respond. This kid was respected. She had critical-thinking skills, read a lot of books, and saw what needed to change in the world. Our ‘smart cynic’ may have been voted “Most Likely to Tell You Why You Will Fail.”

If this was the same person, she would be ready for success, and prepared to avoid failure.

Being someone who plans for success, but stays aware of everything that can go wrong, makes you more vigilant.  You scan the marketplace for change. You stay ‘plugged in’ to shifting market dynamics. You pay attention to new competitors, changing prices, and other challenges – or opportunities.  You also celebrate growth, have a clear vision and a plan to get there.

How can you become a pessimistic optimist?

1. Act like a trapeze artist who is willing to jump, but who makes sure there is a net.

The pessimistic optimist would also make sure the net has been inspected for fraying and holes. And that it has been installed correctly. And that she has practiced on a smaller scale to learn how to do the jump she is about to do. And she has a coach. And a partner to catch her.

2. Keep up the ‘school spirit.’

You might not doodle smiley faces, and you may not be cheering “we’ve got school spirit! how ’bout you?” at a game, but as a business owner, marketer or sales person, you need both energy and belief.

Our ‘school spirit’ side gets us to climb over obstacles and to celebrate successes. It provides momentum and gives us courage to make decisions.

3. Find the right balance.

Together, these sides can balance each other out.  You plan for success, imagine failure, hope for success, plan to avoid failure.

Throw on a cheerleading uniform, pick up Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” exposing the dark side of capitalism, and get to work installing that net.

And take a look at those sales numbers, jot down a few notes on how to respond to your latest competitor, and send a thank you note to someone who’s done a good job.


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