The Science of Why Optimism Wins in Business

I have worked with founding teams for nearly a decade and watched how they run and grow their business. After mentoring, raising funds for and accelerating the growth of hundreds of emerging and established businesses, I’ve been privileged to witness exactly how optimism works in business: When they are hopeful and pragmatic, founders and their teams get better outcomes in startups and big business.


Being successful in business today is harder than it has ever been. Across the world, businesses must now deal with increased risk because of climate change, labour shortages, supply chain disruptions, inflation, stagnant economies and business interruptions due to politics or disasters. In Africa, legacy infrastructural issues make this even harder.


But over the years of consulting and growth engineering with hundreds of companies throughout Africa, the UK and Europe, one factor distinguished the greatest founders I’ve ever met from everyone else.



Glass half-full works


It is this: What I know for sure is that people who succeed in business are optimists. Call them ‘glass half-full’ – or say that they have a ‘growth mindset’ – optimistic people, in my experience, deliver better results.


The optimistic founders I’ve known are resilient and determined to triumph over adversity. They never lie down. In this way, they find solutions that work by being remarkable problem-solvers.


Let me tell you a story that proves this point: At Thinkroom Consulting, which owns a share in Grindstone Accelerator, we once worked with a female-founded business that needed to scale. Together, we were pushing hard on market access because we had to grow the customer base in preparation for a fundraising round.


The contracts for the fundraiser had already been signed, but a calamity on the customer side meant this business lost a key client. The founder was transparent and immediately phoned the fundraising and growth acceleration team to let us know what was going on.


The right thing to do was caution the investors to let them know the risk because that business was suddenly in choppy waters.


However, the founding team was incredibly innovative and asked for 24 hours to get their head around the problem that arose with the key customer.


They were unbridled optimists and believed that, given a bit of time and space, they’d be able to come up with a plan that would please everyone. They inherently believed that the deal could be saved.



The power of being positive


When the new day arrived, the leadership team had a strong plan that enabled them to reach a happy compromise with the customer.


Our female-led investee company licked their wounds but quickly moved on to forge a solution. They adjusted their costs, made a plan and managed to keep the customer.


This big factor differentiates founding teams who make it in business. Optimists always find a way to forge ahead, and in so doing, they create their good fortune.


What is optimism? After spending a lot of time with optimists in business, I’d say that it is all about the ability to hold onto hope while taking pragmatic action to make things happen for the better.


Importantly, optimists have confidence in the future. They believe that things will work out for them. Moreover, they do.



Life-lengthening optimism


In her book, “The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain,” Tali Sharot shows that optimism enables people to ‘time travel’ in their minds and plan positively for the future. Sharot says optimism is evolutionary because it has massive benefits and even lengthens our lives.


The research shows that optimism has massive business benefits. Optimistic salespeople close 56% more deals than pessimistic people. Glass-half-full people do better work and better at work, scientific studies show. Optimists experience less stress and conflict in the workplace.


The great news about optimism is that it can be learned. A recent Fast Company feature reveals that the route to becoming more optimistic is through expressing more gratitude, focusing on the future, and using bad news as an opportunity to clear, refresh and renew.



Source: IncAfrica – Catherine Young

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