Cautious Optimism: 17 Secrets to Success in a Broken World (Pt.1)

First the bad news.  We live in a broken world.

Recession, foreclosures, business bailouts and outright failures scream from the headlines every day — plus earthquakes, tsunamis and world political upheaval.  Pretty grim, right?  I suppose it depends upon your mindset.

I am a realist, especially in business.  Looking at the stark realities around us might lead some business leaders toward a pessimistic outlook.   But now is definitely not the time for pessimism.  Instead, it is the time for astute, common sense, indefatigable business leadership … and the cultivation of cautious optimism.

Before you accuse me of being a business Pollyanna, allow me to point out that even the pragmatic Harvard Business Review headlined a recent interesting article, “Optimism: Unfashionable Perhaps, But Necessary.”

This post is intended for the economic mainstays of American business:   The small business owners, entrepreneurs, inventors and investors, who keep the wheels of our economy spinning.  Take heart, my friends, and read on.

Here are the 17 Secrets to Success in a Broken World

The average pencil1.  You are going to make mistakes, but don’t worry about it.

Robert Brault, a free-lance writer who has contributed to magazines and newspapers in the USA for over 40 years, once said, “The average pencil is seven inches long, with just a half-inch eraser – in case you thought optimism was dead.

If you are not making mistakes, you are probably not trying hard enough.  The only thing worse than lack of effort, is timidity.  Since no one has all the answers, don’t wait for guidance, forge ahead.  An effective leader leads.

Your employees and stakeholders do not expect you to be error free, they expect you to provide courageous leadership.  They are following you because of your vision, not infallibility.

Fear of Failure2.  Fear of failure is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish writer and poet of the 1880’s once said, “The basis of optimism is sheer terror.”

Of course you will be fearful from time-to-time, who wouldn’t be?  But don’t let fear paralyze you.  If you allow that to happen, you will be wrenching failure out of the jaws of success.   Just take it one small step at a time, review the results, and continue doing what you believe is right.  Be cautiously optimistic and the fear will subside.  In any case, a certain amount of trepidation is good for you, and for your business.  It will keep you watchful and diligent.

Don’t be alone in the foxhole.  Surround yourself with top-notch, creative people, and show them how to be brave under even the worst of circumstances.  They will respect you for it.

Look to the future3.  Look to the future.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr who gained his renown during the German resistance movement against Nazism, once explained:  “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”

Look at it this way, whatever market you are in, either you or your competitors are going to own the future.  It may as well be you.  The only certain way to lose the battle for market-share, is to abandon the field to your enemy.

When the going gets tough, you need to get tougher.  You need to focus on the future and then claim it for your company, your employees and yourself.   Others will resign or buckle under the weight of their present circumstances … you need to shield yourself with cautious optimism, and concentrate on the road ahead.

Avoid Fatigue4.  Remain healthy and avoid fatigue.

Margery Allingham, the English crime writer, once said, “The optimism of a healthy mind is indefatigable.”

If you guard your health and avoid fatigue, your mind will remain clear, your decisions will be sound, and you will find it easy to be optimistic.  Leadership can be tiring, so you must be doubly dedicated to keeping your body and mind in top shape.   Physical conditioning is just another form of leadership, and it will instill vitality in you and your business.

The practical result of this one success secret, is that you will be able to work longer, lead better, and think smarter.  You will find that sales improve, market setbacks become less troubling, and perhaps most importantly, you will learn to love your job.  Instead of keeping too many balls in the air at once, you will find you have extra time away from work that can be invested in your family and your life.

5.  Never give up on your idea.

Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright, essayist, poet, dissident, politician and the first President of the Czech Republic, made an important point when he said, “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

You can hope that things will work out for you and your business, or you can be cautiously optimistic that they will. It’s a subtle, but important distinction.

But most importantly, you must never give up on your idea.

Thomas Edison failed over nine hundred times before he finally invented the light bulb.  He didn’t give up, he merely reassured himself that his idea had merit, and that each failure brought him closer to success.

At the beginning, you believed that your idea made sense, and you must never let go of that certainty — no matter what happens.

If you keep your business as agile as a sailboat, you can make as many mid-course corrections as are necessary.  Even if conditions force you to tack back and forth forever, if you remain invested in your idea and focused on the far shore, you will get to where you want to go.

Nothing has more power, energy or vitality than an original idea.  And no one creates more optimism than an entrepreneur who is unwilling to give up.

(To be continued tomorrow…)


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About Michael R.H. Stewart
"Give me faith, freedom, resources, and a little time ... and I will make things happen that matter." Michael R.H. Stewart is a respected Internet executive with broad experience in all aspects of online business, with an emphasis given to social networking development, and company management. He has over 131,000 engaged Twitter followers. He enjoys 22 years of direct experience with corporate, entrepreneurial, governmental and non-profit clients, having advised them on all aspects of their online initiatives. Prior to his Internet career, he served as a Senior Vice President of AIG Marketing, doing business in 135 foreign countries as well as the United States. Stewart is an experienced public speaker and communicator, with worldwide experience; an expert on corporate branding; an accomplished writer, a creative thinker and problem solver.

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