In Episode 20 of Gimlet Media’s podcast, StartUp, Lisa Chow investigates what happens when a lean, “let’s all try to do new things” startup shifts into the established, “wait we have an HR department now?” organization. It’s a brilliant take on the need for process and the translation of vision from one strategy to the next. Episode 20, “Disorg Chart”, opened my eyes… but not for the reason intended.
I tend to be a positive person, but listening to Alex Blumberg (cofounder of Gimlet media) contemplate the negative affect of his own positivity, with help from cohost Lisa Chow, was like the opening of Pandora’s box for me. You know, if opening Pandora’s Box was a good thing and only new insights and thoughts flowed out, not the gross evils of the world. So maybe bizarro Pandora’s Box.
“Optimism is inevitably the last hope of the defeated.” – Albert Metzler
Wait, innovation and startups thrive on the whole “We’re not afraid to fail” and “Let’s try something completely disruptive.” Well, unfortunately that same optimism can hurt when a prototype fails or the market dislikes your idea. Uncontrolled optimism urges you to push forward, past the failures.
You have the data and feedback in your hands that tells you moving forward is wrong. Yet the can-do mantra of steamrolling optimism is very luring, it’s just that sometimes it lures towards the rocks like a siren song.
“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” – Walt Disney
One of the best lines from Disorg Chart was that a leader needs to protect employees from their worst selves. More than that, they need to provide opportunities to grow into their best selves. The same holds true for ideas, prototypes, minimum viable products, launched products, et al.
You still need a healthy dose of optimism to survive in the entrepreneur/intrapreneur world. Sometimes the only one believing that you can, is you.
- You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you have to ignore hard data to move an idea forward.
- You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you avoid the difficult conversations with people who flirt with their worst selves.
- You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you constantly sacrifice your own values and strengths just to smooth things over.
- You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you have analyzed the results of a prototype test and blamed failure on the testers because they just didn’t get it.
- You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you read this post, questioned your own bright-like-an-iPhone-at-night optimism for a brief second, and then said “Nah, I’m sure my optimism doesn’t need evaluating.”
- If this is you, please embrace your kaizen. Every process (even internal ones) are up for constant improvement.
In all things, moderation is a major key. Optimism has it’s benefits, but don’t let your drive to be optimistic prevent you from charting a better course. If you are charging up a hill and all the signs point to it being the wrong hill, there is no shame in a rapid retreat to charge up the right hill.
The only shame is in pressing on when you know deep down that you shouldn’t.