When I was a teenager several of us would go down to the lake where there was a highway bridge that crossed over the water. It was the perfect distance from the water to jump off of and the water was plenty deep. Trouble with this bridge was that it was both a busy highway above and a route to a popular marina below. Also, there were these pesky “No Jumping From Bridge” signs that we interpreted as “check for cops before you jump”. Needless to say, such was life as an idiotic thrill seeking teenager.
One particular time at the bridge, I was in a particularly good mood and had just ascended the bank for my second jump of the day. I decided that I would do a twist on this jump. I found my position and leapt from the bridge rail. Just 180 degrees into my twist I saw a boat coming in my direction from the other side of the bridge. In mid air I panicked. I tried to grab the side of the bridge on my way past it. Unfortunately, it was too late. I was headed down the 30 feet to the water surface if I didn’t hit the deck of the boat first.
Luckily for me I’m still here to tell this story.
There’s a sense of immortality that comes with being an American teen. Its a belief that having fun is truly the most important thing one can be doing and that anything that interferes with fun is a bother. Coupled with this belief is that nothing bad will happen. This belief is reinforced with every experience that goes well. Truth is, there is plenty of time for fun but it only takes one time not paying attention when going too far can turn fun into pain.
As a teen of course there is always the problem of peer pressure. No one wants to look anything but bold and confident to their peers, especially those to whom there might be romantic attraction. No need for that digression here.
What I would like to examine in this article is two concepts.
First I’d like to discuss optimism. More specifically, the overinflated optimism I perceive emanating from technology and social media marketing organizations today. These certainly are not the only organizations taking rose colored glasses to hyperbolic levels but for the sake of brevity, these are the groups I will try and constrain the examination to today.
Second, I’d like to examine courage. It seems that somehow we’ve misplaced courage and replaced it with some emboldened recklessness where people “pivot” and do things “agile” when they err. We make thoughtless blunders that have been repeated throughout history and yet we just dust them off as “fast failures”.
Ok, let’s start with optimism. To get our context for optimism we can consult the dictionary. The extremely handy dictionary built in to my computer says that optimism is a hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.
So a hopefulness about the future is part of optimism. This part I think I can buy into. Truly, it is quite difficult to live without a hopefulness for the future. To dream of a something good coming in the future is an excellent thing indeed.
Next is the sticky part, confidence in the future or the outcome of something. Confidence, from the same dictionary, means the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust.
An optimistic claim for something that is done in reckless fashion seems odd doesn’t it? I mean, one has to have a track record of consistent performance to establish trust. If one has a track record of failure how can one justifiably claim that they are trustable? Take credit scores for example. They exist because the downside risk of losing money by loaning to someone with a poor track record for paying back is greater than the upside potential of the loan for the lender.
Here’s a short list of aspects of optimism that give me the most concern.
Inflated optimism sets up false expectations
A claim made in bold confidence goes from sweet to sour quickly when the promise is not backed up by delivery of the goods. The regret and disappointment following the experience are quite unpleasant not to mention the potential for litigation.
People who buy in to over optimistic claims will not make preparations for mitigating risks. Should the risks become actual issues they are taken by surprise and can feel exposed and betrayed.
Overly optimistic claimants are strangely defensive towards dissent
One thing I’ve found interesting with interactions with hyperbolic optimists is that they can become hostile to dissent. This is ironic because optimism usually accompanies a happy demeanor and disposition. This tide goes out in a hurry once the weakness in the optimistic claims become exposed.
Here are the last two thoughts on optimism before we transition to the next topic.
Especially when it relates to digital marketing services, the internet of things and the cloud I feel like the marketers took a page out of the book of a popular strongly scented body spray brand. You know, the one where beautiful women appear out of thin air once you put it on. Perhaps this is on purpose.
Last this idea of agile, fast failure and “disruption”. The misapplication of the Darwinian idea that order springs out of socio-technical chaos when combined with hyperbolic confidence is just plain dishonest. Its a plan to get money from suckers. I’d be happy to have someone convince me otherwise.
Let’s move on to courage. Following the same path let us consult the dictionary. Courage is the ability to do something that frightens one. Perfect topic for the upcoming Halloween!
To restate the idea of courage we can reposition it as-courage is the ability to act in the face of knowing the possible risks. In other words, you look at the situation and understand clearly what has the potential to go well and what has the potential to not go well. You go towards the goal while monitoring for potential danger. Make sure you saw that first part, YOU GO TOWARDS THE GOAL.
Here are some aspects of courage that are the most meaningful to me.
Courage is purposeful and intentional, not accidental
When acting in courage you act intentionally, face forward and fully aware. Acting in courage is taking deliberate calculated steps towards a goal in full awareness of the risks.
Recklessness is not courage
Just doing whatever and being confident in a positive outcome is not courageous. Its stupid. There is nothing bold about dismissing risks or distracting yourself from risks and fear.
Courage is better in the long term
When you look what frightens you in the face and take it head on you become stronger. The fear becomes less as you overcome the obstacles preparing you for greater obstacles in the future. No one ever grew by avoiding challenges either in actuality or in their own minds.
Courage is honest
When you face the facts you are being honest with yourself. If you can be honest with yourself you are in a far better position to be honest with those you serve, your friends, your family, your customers, etc.
Belief conquers fear
When you believe in what you are doing you can use that to conquer fear. Fear has visible symptoms. An angry defense is one of these symptoms. In contrast with optimism, the certainty of courage attenuates the fear that can lead one to mount an angry defense when faced with dissent.
Courage demonstrates true concern for the customer
In a business context, every customer appreciates the truth. If there is a risk that they find out about during go-live, that will be your last time on that account. It is damaging to your customer’s business and to your own. Honesty is the best policy even when it is unpleasant, even when your customer might decide not to do the project.
All in all, optimism and courage share some aspects that when combined can create a powerful attitude that is universally good in almost any situation. That attitude to me is summarized as follows
I will be hopeful and confident about the future.
I will limit my confidence to what I can know, understand and control
I will prepare for risks and clearly inform my customer of those risks
I will act fully informed and directly in the face of what I fear because I act intentionally and with purpose towards what I believe in.