The risk taker. The change maker. The entrepreneur. They excel in the art of deception. Not the deception of you and me, but of themselves (although we remain eyes-wide-open for used-car salesmen). To go out and build and launch enterprises requires advanced skills in optimism. Psychologists refer to this as the optimism bias and entrepreneurs carry a master’s degree in this cognitive illusion.
At its core, the optimism bias causes us to believe we are at less risk of negative events compared with others. Tali Sharot, a cognitive neuroscientist, explains it as “our tendency to overestimate our likelihood of experiencing good events in our lives and underestimate our likelihood of experiencing bad events.” We are habitually more optimistic than realistic. If this doesn’t describe the ‘aha’ moment of someone committing to the entrepreneurial lifestyle, I don’t know what does. One. Two. Ready. Launch.
Entrepreneurs are encouraged to define the values of their businesses and the values that guide their behaviors as individuals. Let’s take a look at the three values of “growth,” “continuous improvement” and “determination.” Each of these can connect to our confidence about the future and our abilities to shape a successful outcome in a way that is central to the hope provided by an optimistic outlook.
The optimism bias definitely can play to our benefit and it isn’t limited to future outlooks for our business success. The hope we feel in the present by being optimistic can lead to reduced stress when urgent distractions and challenges pop up because we KNOW we can tackle them.
In a 2011 Time magazine article, Tali Sharot wrote, “To think positively about our prospects, we must first be able to imagine ourselves in the future. Optimism starts with what may be the most extraordinary of human talents: mental time travel, the ability to move back and forth through time and space in one’s mind.”
To drive and lead change and to create new solutions to our customers’ needs, we must, on a regular basis, strip back the minutiae and envision a future for our businesses, which will more often than not be brighter and better than today, especially with our three values guiding the way. I encourage you, the Super Optimism Bias Business Hero, to balance the rose-colored glasses with a little devil’s advocacy.
Startup Check-up Tip: Audit your organization by evaluating how balanced it is when looking at the “left brain” (logical and analytical) and “right brain” (expressive and creative) sides. For organic growth to occur we must create the whole brain. Analytic versus creative. Rules versus tools. Execution versus innovation.
Failure is okay. So is success. Winston Churchill once proclaimed that, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” The first venture of a newly realized entrepreneur is not always the home run envisioned, but if one thing is true of an entrepreneur, it is that we all at one point believe we are the masters of our own universe.
Hayden Blackburn is the director of IDEA Works FW. He is an explorer of ideas and a passionate doer, here to be a switchboard to fellow entrepreneurs and build community. Connect at firstname.lastname@example.org.