208-376-1701 bryan@bryanyager.com

First a quote: “Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.” – George Bernard Shaw

Good morning and happy Monday!

I am often asked to lead workshops on the power and importance of diversity within teams and organizations. As you might correctly assume, there is often a focus on gender, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation in most corporate diversity initiatives.

Without minimizing the important topics above, the importance of diversity of all kinds is important to successful teams, organizations, communities, and indeed life itself. Diversity also includes education, experience levels, thinking styles, personalities, approaches to problem solving and our general outlook on life; just to name a few.

When it comes to diversity in thinking, which is more important, optimism or pessimism? Which style is better? I submit here both are important, and both are needed for the long-term success and survival of our organizations. I often address this topic while teaching strategic thinking skills and best practices.

While teaching on the importance of positive leadership with the senior leadership team from one of the country’s largest food companies, a senior executive interrupted with the following comment:

“It is irresponsible for senior leaders to not be pessimistic! Let me repeat, IRRESPONSIBLE!”

He continued, “If someone isn’t concerned with ‘what could go wrong’, they are not doing their job. Not being prepared for the worst could be devastating. In our case as a food company, we could be responsible for a serious food borne illness, our ‘brand’ could be severely damaged, we could be forced to close plants and lay off employees.

The leader finished with, “We should all be skilled at being pessimistic. I agree, knowing how, and when, to express that pessimism is also important.”

As a self-proclaimed optimist, I agree with his statement and his rationale. The ability to see, and foresee, problems is an important leadership skill. Perhaps there weren’t enough pessimists on the leadership teams at Kodak, Blockbuster, Nokia, or Sears to name a few.

So, I propose we stop passing judgement on each other as optimists, pessimists, and those who suggest they’re realists. All styles are important, and all have value in different ways and at different times. Like with any tool, knowing when, and how, to use the tool is most important.

“I like pessimists.
They’re always the ones who bring life jackets for the boat.” ―
Lisa Kleypas

My question for you today is, “Can I, can you, be a Positive Pessimist?” I suggest the answer is yes. Here are a few tips for your consideration:

  • Use your gifts wisely. – If you tend to be naturally pessimistic, you have been given the gift of being able to see, and foresee, problems. Your team needs you. The challenge is to share the problems you see in a way that is constructive, not destructive.
  • Know your timing. – Every idea deserves its moment in the sun. If you’re concerned or have reservations, ask for time to review and contemplate the idea before shutting it down out of hand.
  • Honor the hope and intentions being offered. – Just as you have been gifted with the ability to see problems, optimists have been gifted with the ability to see opportunities. Your team needs both gifts to be successful. Acknowledge the opportunities as possibilities. Be sure to acknowledge the good intentions of the person, team, or project.
  • Look for, and offer, solutions. – It can be very easy for people to find and point out problems. It is much more difficult to offer solutions. Before shutting down new ideas because of the problems you see, offer ideas for addressing or resolving those problems too. Be a part of the solution!
  • Acknowledge the good. – Difficult problems are often complex and multi-faceted. It is wise to address and support the possibilities you see, prior to pointing out the problems you see.
  • Tame your inner perfectionist. – New ideas, products, designs and methodologies rarely work perfectly the first time. Don’t let your need for perfection prevent you from moving forward.

Positive pessimism… I like the sound of that. How about you? Would you be willing to offer your ideas on this topic?  I know many of my pessimistic friends would value your advice.

How will you love, live, or lead, differently, or better, this week?

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Bryan Yager


“Expanding Your Capacity for Success”

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Bonus Quotes:

  • “I like pessimists. They’re always the ones who bring life jackets for the boat.” – Lisa Kleypas
  • “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward
  • “An optimist will tell you the glass is half-full; the pessimist, half-empty; and the engineer will tell you the glass is twice the size it needs to be.” – Oscar Wilde
  • “I’d rather be optimistic and wrong, than pessimistic and right.” – Elon Musk
  • “Pessimists calculate the odds. Optimists believe they can overcome them.” – Ted Koppel
  • “Pessimists see a problem behind every opportunity. Optimists see an opportunity behind every problem.” – Denis Waitley
  • “Pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists.” – Thomas Friedman
  • “Optimists focus on the place they are going. Pessimists focus on the obstacles along the route. To become an optimist simply look ahead.” – Simon Sinek
  • “An optimist may see a light where there is none, but why must the pessimist always run to blow it out?” – Rene Descartes
  • “When its dark enough you can see the stars.” – Charles A Beard
  • “Your strategy is hope, and hope is great, but it is not a great business strategy.” – Robert Herjavec