These are tough times for the American psyche.
Donald is yelling at Hillary, Tim is shouting at Mike, cops are shooting unarmed people, protesters are marching, and everybody seems to feel on edge and upset. The national spirit is not exactly positive at this particular (unusual) time in American history. And it seems easy for people to choose cynicism over optimism. Especially when optimism is perceived as the soft option. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
OPTIMISM’S GOT GUTS
Optimism is not a luxury, it’s a tool. A powerful weapon you can wield to shape things as you want them to be. As political blogger Charlie Pierce puts it, “Optimism is neither weak nor naïve. It can be tough and pure and earned just as clearly as any brooding existential despair.”
Optimism is at the core of who we are and what we do at 72andSunny. It guides our every decision, the ideas we conceive, and the things we make, and how we interact with clients and with each other. It was also a driving reason for founding the company – as a response to the crippling cynicism still pervasive throughout our industry.
But optimism is just smart business. Genuine optimism possesses an undeniable and infectious power. It eradicates fears that limit ideas, teams, projects, and businesses. And it makes you more resilient (and we could use some more resilience right now). I’m convinced that optimism is one of main reasons we’ve achieved a degree of success at 72andSunny. Optimism wins.
OPTIMISM CAN BE LEARNED
First, it’s important to understand that optimism is an orientation, not a personality trait. As Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Cleverly articulated but difficult to achieve when you’re confronted with seemingly insurmountable business challenges, shitty market conditions, offensive political adversaries, or all of the above.
But optimism can be learned. And you can learn to deploy it at will. It just requires practice. Like any muscle, it needs to be trained to perform properly and to maximum effect. This includes distinguishing between optimism and positive thinking. Positive thinking is akin to cheerleading. It’s “don’t worry—everything will be ok” with no actual plan for how to make things ok. It’s wishful thinking. Optimism requires action. The optimist confronts the situation honestly and says, “ok, what do I do now to fix this?” They don’t act with blinders on. They embrace the need for risk assessment. They use a bias for action to improve their situation.
Maybe you consider yourself an optimist already or maybe you aspire to it. Strong leaders use optimism as a development tool; personally, professionally, and creatively. Here are a few tips for deploying optimism for yourself, for your company, and maybe for your country…
HOW TO MAKE OPTIMISM WORK
Assess all realities. Without risk assessment, it’s blind faith. Good things rarely happen when you jump off the cliff without looking. Take a beat to acknowledge the bad. All of the bad. Be brutally honest. Then do the same with the good. Once you’ve assessed all risks and opportunities, focus on the good.
Prioritize momentum. Searching for the perfect, comprehensive answer to any problem can be frustrating, time-consuming, and totally overwhelming. Especially on a deadline. So look for partial solutions. Create any sort of momentum. Optimism snowballs. It thrives on momentum.
Curate then Cultivate. If you’re the leader, your job is cultivate optimism in those around you. But none of it works if you don’t believe that the best (idea, solution, America) is yet to come. Optimism starts at the top. Curate your own belief first. If you believe it—and show it—your team will too.
Believe in best intentions. Everyone has an agenda so it can be hard to embrace the idea that everyone around you has best intentions. But if you go into any situation believing that everyone is trying to make the final result better, chances are that the final result will, in fact, be better.
Ask for it. What do you do if someone just ain’t feelin’ it? When the intensity or pressure to produce makes optimism feel impossible? Ask for it. “I’m asking you to be more optimistic about this. Can you?” They might not at first. But talk it out and keep re-visiting the same question. They’ll come around. They can and want to. They just need the expectation. So make it one.
DROP THE HAMMER
Optimism is a badass tool used by problem solvers with a bias for action.
Making optimism work for you, for your business, or for your next presidential debate comes down to leadership and how you convey the spirit of optimism to your partners and your team.
Optimist leaders are less intimidating, more fun to be around, more inspiring, more influential, and more consistent. They’re also better listeners—and everybody likes to be heard, especially when they’re talking to the boss. Hopefully our country’s future leaders can discover this for themselves.
In the meantime, give it a try and see for yourself.
Glenn Cole is co-founder and chief creative officer of 72andSunny