- Entrepreneurs are optimists by definition.
- The most successful entrepreneurs temper their optimism with a healthy dose of pessimism.
- Pessimism is essential to identifying obstacles to growing a small business.
- Optimists are more likely to be successful and earn more money than pessimists.
- Success as an entrepreneur requires a mix of seeing the glass as half full and half empty.
Choosing which of the above philosophies to follow may depend as much on your past as your future. Perhaps you’re a serial entrepreneur with as many failures as successes under your belt. Or, you’re a small business that has achieved significant growth during an economic downturn. Or, you’re a former pessimist who now needs to motivate and inspire your staff through a change in business plan. It all depends on your perspective.
As you evaluate which category you occupy, it might be helpful to take a look at the benefits of optimism and pessimism when it comes to entrepreneurialism.
According to expert speaker and author Dr. Martin Seligman, entrepreneurs and business executives who engage in sales activities need to be optimists. He believes it takes a positive view of the future to keep picking up the phone or knocking on doors while facing rejection. It’s important to remain patient when there are few indicators of success on the horizon, to view every phone call or conversation as a potential opportunity, and to be able to see alternative courses of action when there are roadblocks. Optimists view problems as temporary and specific to a certain time and place, as opposed to permanent and pervasive. Even if you lean toward pessimism, retraining yourself to think positively is a good idea if you’re a small business owner.
In fact, there are many who believe that, while a healthy dose of pessimism might be warranted occasionally, it takes optimism to even start your own business. As cited in Bloomberg Businessweek, “Individuals with higher levels of overconfidence and lower levels of risk perception are more prone to start new ventures.” According to author and brain science expert Charles Jacobs, entrepreneurs need to be comfortable with self-sacrifice and delayed gratification – both associated with optimism. Further, since entrepreneurs identify closely with their businesses, having an optimistic attitude is needed to preserve self-worth. Jacobs has shown that entrepreneurs who are visibly excited by what they do are able to get their employees to mirror this type of behavior. He argues that the best thing a leader can do is set an example by his actions.
Strong leadership should not consist of wallowing in misery or hyper-focusing on the negative. On the other hand, there are moments in an entrepreneur’s life when a little bit of pessimism is warranted. One way to tell if you’re overstating your chances of success is to look at your proposal through someone else’s perspective. Have a colleague or friend pitch your idea back to you and then think about the viability of your proposal from a neutral perspective. Your ideas might not look as strong when you step out of your own shoes for a moment. Also, be careful not to get so pumped up after a seemingly positive sales meeting that you start making off-the-chart financial projections. A little bit of skepticism might help you look at your data more clearly and make the adjustments that will lead you down a clearer path to success.
Would you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist? Which perspective do you think is the best approach? Discuss in our comment section below.