I’ve always been the optimistic type, much to the chagrin of many people I know. It’s because I’m almost naively optimistic about life and how things will turn out, or how things are in life. I don’t intend on ever changing that though – it’s me and is a core part of my purpose in life. I believe in the best outcomes and the best of people. Being optimistic, for me, helps me to find a reason for carrying on in life. I’m optimistic for the future because experience informs me that the future can be a better place.
Optimism is linked intrinsically with hope. If I hope for a better tomorrow, I must therefore be optimistic about tomorrow too. It’s important for the human condition because it helps provide a way for people to suspend their belief for a brief moment. We might also link being confident with being optimistic. What are confident people good at doing if not installing a sense of optimism about that which they have confidence in?
It’s easy to become blindly optimistic though. That is, to believe something about the future which is not based on anything. Optimism comes from a sense of believing something can be better because experience tells us as much. Take the programme Dragon’s Den as an example. Budding punters take their inventions to potential investors and try to entice them to part with cash in return for a stake in the company. There have been many an occasion when the Dragons have liked the product, but they do not share the optimism of the inventor. More often than not this is because the figures provided do not instil the confidence to achieve a much sought after return on their investment. Or, the Dragon’s don’t share the optimism of the inventor because the evidence doesn’t support their belief.
This is a good example of where being realistic about the future is prudent. It means we don’t all clamour after the next big thing because in the main, we need to be convinced it has worth. The difference is, some people get convinced sooner than others. In another example, take the concept of the adoption curve. Those at the early part of the curve have really quite little to base their assertions on, other than the potential held by the product they’re about to invest in. The late majority will only be optimistic about the benefits of investing in the product once they have the evidence to support the optimism of the early adopters.
When it comes to human behaviour, though, it’s difficult to have an evidence base on which we can base our optimism. We have to base it on something more fundamental – how much do I trust you? If I trust you, I have faith in you, and I can be optimistic about what you can help me with. When we are optimistic about our fellow people, we have a belief they will be able to achieve something because experience tells us this is the case.
Even if we love someone, this does not equate being optimistic about them or their or your own future with them. Optimism comes from what we know. I can hope for something better, but I may not choose to be optimistic about it because experience tells me this will not be borne out. So optimism in others is dependent on the positive experience I have with them.
I often wonder how do we engender optimism in the workplace. Like so many concepts, such as creativity or the fear of not knowing or vulnerability or resilience, we aren’t comfortable with this notion of optimism. It’s all about the numbers in most cases, or it’s about he process or the system we can put into place. I don’t need to care about being optimistic because it doesn’t amount to anything tangible which makes me money. Ugh.
Live in hope.
Be optimistic about others.
Trust in the human condition.
Believe in better. (sorry BSkyB for stealing your tagline, although, now, finally, I understand it.)