Optimism and Realism

Everything in life and business is a learning opportunity. The fact that all of us learn more, and more quickly, from our mistakes and when times are difficult, rather than when all is easy and going well, has always been known, but 2020 is certainly reminding us very forcibly of that fact.

This series of articles is intended as a reflection of 2020 and trying to ensure that we all learn as much as possible from this very strange year as these lessons will be very useful in the future. But even as we head through the final quarter of the year and we learn that we are about to enter into the second lockdown, it reinforces that unpredictability is the new predictable. 

Another truism is that we are all a product of our own experiences in life and whilst some have had it much tougher than others, some people are born optimists, whilst others are born pessimists, with any given situation being viewed from a glass half full or a glass half empty perspective. There is a very large school of thought that suggests that these are often self-fulfilling prophesies and that those that are more optimistic not only are more successful in business than those that are pessimistic but they also enjoy life more.

Any entrepreneur or successful businessman or woman needs to be tenacious and they tend not to accept no as an answer or to accept defeat. In other words, whatever life throws at them they will pick themselves up, learn from the past, and move on; better able to take on the next challenge. In 1940 when Britain faced total defeat in the second world war Winston Churchill made many rousing speeches and these included the unforgettable quotes of “if you are going through hell, keep going” and “never, never, never give up”. These epitomise the optimistic and rising to the challenge approach and the determination not to give up leading to the self-fulfilling prophecy of success.

Optimists, by their very nature of not accepting defeat, will look for different solutions or different ways of approaching any new problems that may arise, whereas pessimists only see everything in a negative way and are much more likely to adopt the ‘there is nothing to be done’ approach. What 2020 has taught us is that those businesses that have adapted, changed their communication, and actively looked at doing things differently, as well as seeing new opportunities rather than only problems, are those that have prospered.

However, at every stage in business it is important to be realistic also and not to let your enthusiasm run away with you. Being over optimistic can be very dangerous as it leads to false assumptions and greatly inflated forecasts which are unlikely to ever be met. This in turn can mean that the business does not hold enough financial reserves or conducts its activities in other ways not appropriate for the actual situation.

2020 has taught us like never before that we need to be optimistic in order to absorb the shocks and to keep on rising to all the new challenges, but we also need to be realistic in order to ensure that we do not underestimate those challenges. In short, we always need to plan for the best but prepare for the worst.