Success. The word inspires and intimidates, creates visions of grandeur or disaster. Of the many skills that are required and can be implemented for success in business, the tightrope walk of weighing exciting dreams and goals against the rigors of competitive markets is a talent that is not often discussed.
Much of this has to do with the fact that people are more often concerned with the tangible, measurable elements and tactics which can and should be employed to reach the heights of success, rather than whimsical visions. But digging a little deeper into the tactics of running a successful company will reveal ideologies and philosophies of entrepreneurship that can only be fully grasped through implementation and experience.
On that list of lessons that come with time is the skill of balancing optimism and reality.
The Benefits of Optimism and Realism
Most people, regardless of their business pursuits or career, tend to have a personality that leans into one of two sides: optimism or realism. The optimists, often through sheer grit of enthusiasm and love of their product*e, can demonstrate and maintain a sense of positivity in the forecasting of goals. The realists, though no less passionate about their product, tend to prefer to counteract possible disappointment and failures through the respectful consideration of many variables— no matter how frightening or depressing.
The optimists choose to see past the frightening fog of unknowns to walk steadily forward into the future, confidence in hand; The realists may prefer a more neutral emotional stance towards a bright, shiny future, because they see the inevitable potholes on the path toward success. Neither are fully right, or fully wrong. Hence the necessity to recognize which way a business plan leans.
There are multiple studies that show a firm link to successful businesses whose entrepreneurs maintain an optimistic attitude. However, unchecked optimism can blind a sound business model with delusions of grand success. An overestimation of potential client enthusiasm and market need can easily dilute the potential success of a company. Over-selling a product or service before properly vetting through field testing, or trial and error can result in marketing without having yet refined the abilities to deliver well.
All the while, that optimistic attitude can cause an unwillingness to measure and weigh the critical signs of impending problems. Either way, the balance that should be struck between the two qualities will be dependent not just on the product or service, but the business model and the seasons that are constantly changing economically. The ability to determine which side of the spectrum appropriately and accurately is most necessary for the current place in time will make a major difference in the long run.
How Optimists and Realists Can Work Together
It is important to note that an optimistic view is essential in the early stages of dreaming, brainstorming, and mind-mapping the nuances of a business. This is where ideas and innovation combined with passion can become a strong wind in the sails of a ship, but in order for that ship to sail it needs to be well built. That’s where the realistic side serves as the foundation for every model and marketing campaign that will come throughout the (hopefully) long life of a business.
A prevention focused mindset is useful in the planning stages. This is where astute judgments based upon measurable data— internally and externally derived from the many factors which need to be taken into account economically— serve as reality checks. These moments are where a realist can flourish.
The habit of optimists to dismiss small problems in a system just hoping that things will disappear is potentially crippling. Realists are typically aware of and sensitive to the potential problems that can arise, whether predictably or unpredictably.
Corporate accountants, lawyers, and HR staff each maintain unique perspectives that should not be overlooked. A practice referred to as defensive realism maintains that entrepreneurs should focus on a defensive business stance even if it means possibly sacrificing the desired goals for the quarter. This ability to look ahead, identify the problem, and take sound action is vital for a business’ health.
While valuable, the trick for realists is to not be dragged down by the negativity that can arise in the face of huge obstacles. As long as this kind of person is given the space to think and be heard, the value that they bring to an organization may be the attitude that continuously saves the day before anyone else even knew that there was a problem.
Keeping Optimism in Check
The rose-colored glasses of optimism’s enthusiastic nature run the risk of becoming blinded by the love and effort which have been poured into a business idea. The need for regular constructive criticism and, perhaps most importantly, a verbal, “No. That’s not a good idea.”, from team members or trusted friends is vital to an optimist’s nature. Learning to make time and space to earnestly listen to critiques can be very uncomfortable, just like any relationship, but businesses are intimate expressions of a person’s effort— especially for the entrepreneur.
Accepting the weaknesses and problems that arise when they come (and they will come) is a strong stance by which to begin the processes of problem solving. Market testing of a product or service is not just a good idea, it’s critical to success because, just like engineers and rocket scientists, no one wants to put a product out in the field with the still viable risk of explosion. The honest, critical consideration of a business will actually make it stronger, the team more empowered, and the product more effective. A good business sells itself, rippling through social spheres as people excitedly and wantonly promote the services they have found.
Success is more often nurtured than discovered. A business tended to daily, with the balance of optimism and realism, until all the quirks are worked out and systems can run smoothly, will rise into the ranks of established success stories.