This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on Forbes.com
Is Optimism Really The Secret Sauce To Success?
For years, we’ve heard the business and self help press touting optimism as the ‘secret sauce to success’ – in business, in maintaining wellbeing and recently, according to a Huffington Post article, declaring that maintaining a sunny outlook is a matter of life and death.
But as researchers know, there is a flipside to turning that frown upside down. Whether or not optimists have better health — which is debatable — they’re not always good for the health of a business. In my work with companies under constant pressure, as well as leading several startups and businesses, I’ve found that a business full of optimists can smile as their corporate ship steers ever closer to the iceberg. meQuilibrium’s digital coaching platform for stress and resilience gives me a bird’s eye view of the personalities and coping skills of employee populations facing significant business model change and mergers. Many of these businesses—digital services and media companies, financial services, healthcare organizations—routinely have many more optimists than risk takers. For example, the clinical staff of a renowned hospital, nearly the entire team was comprised of optimists. The COO asked, “Why is this a problem?”
1. Optimists Don’t Plan for The Downside.People who are wired to believe everything will turn out well have trouble planning for the worst. Business models are changing faster than they ever have before. The old rules and solutions no longer apply. Optimists are less inclined to create that Plan B for things going wrong—they don’t believe they’ll need one. If you are in a tough business climate, if you are fighting to invent a new model or steer through massive industry change, packing your team with optimists might make you stall, as the team waits for things to turn out better.
2. Optimists Tend To Be Too Positive to Take Care of Themselves: Based on meQuilibrium’s survey data, optimists also apply their power of positive thinking to their own health. We see a higher correlation between optimists and unhealthy lifestyle characteristics: They tend to be less inclined to maintain fitness, diet and sleep habits under pressure, because, well, you got it: They believe they’ll be fine in the end. Consider this image: a care-giving, optimistic nursing supervisor tending team or her critical care patients. Maybe she is overweight, doesn’t take care of herself while she is working long shifts, believes she’s fine; now fast forward through 15 years of tough and depressing working conditions: she is a recipe for diabetes and health disease.
The answer? Balance the Team. Another new age-y concept, but one that actually holds true: Build a team comprised of optimists and naysayers(meQuilibrium defines these as Regulators), people who hope for the best but routinely plan for the worst. If you’re an optimist, always cheerfully sailing along, enjoy your positive attitude – and have a partner or second in command to act as your counterbalance. If one of you routinely asks “What if?” chances are the other will never have to ask, “What now?”