Friday, May 7, 2010

The Virtue Of Pessimism

We are told throughout our lives that optimism is superior to pessimism. Our parents tell us so. Our teachers. Our Coaches. Our bosses. The support for optimism is nearly universal. Nevertheless, pessimism has its advantages.

In business, most of what qualifies as “planning ahead” is simply optimism cloaked in jargon. It’s why virtually every business plan contains the infamous hockey stick charts, without rationale to explain the miraculous upswing. It’s also why so few managers are good at handling a crisis. They simply don’t contemplate the negative, and therefore don’t plan for it.

As Thomas Hardy once said, “Pessimism is, in brief, playing the sure game. You cannot lose at it; you may gain. It is the only view of life in which you can never be disappointed. Having reckoned what to do in the worst possible circumstances, when better arise, as they may, life becomes child’s play.”

Believing in something or wanting something doesn’t make it so. And blind optimism leaves managers ill prepared. So once in a while ask yourself, “If I worked for the competition, how would I destroy my current employer?” You might be amazed what a little negative thinking can do for your bottom line.

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