The Pros and Cons of Blind Optimism

Oct 16, 2013

If you’re like me, you’ve probably started many projects with great enthusiasm only to find yourself up against many obstacles along the way.

The ability to move past such obstacles requires a level of optimism.  However, not all optimism is created equal.  There’s a big difference between realistic optimism and blind optimism. It’s important to know the difference.

Realistic Optimism:

One of my favorite assessment instruments is The Harrison Assessment.  I offer this assessment to most of my clients because it helps them understand the many complex traits that underlie their behaviors.  Since I’m in the business of human potential, I love watching the people I care about come alive with new information that helps them positively redesign their lives.

One aspect of The Harrison Assessment is that it measures Strategic Acumen.  In other words, it measures a person’s tendency to be optimistic against their ability to analyze pitfalls. A person who measures higher in realistic optimism is someone who can recognize the pitfalls of a situation and still remain optimistic in the process.

Blind Optimism: 

Juxtaposed against realistic optimism is blind optimism.  In this scenario, a person has the tendency to focus on the positive aspects of a plan or situation, but he is virtually “blind” to any potential pitfalls. These individuals are wise to seek advice from others before making important decisions.  Failure to do so may results in negative outcomes.

Why is it important to analyze potential pitfalls?

Chances are these pitfalls are going to knock you sideways whether you’re prepared for them or not.   For example, if I’m starting a new business with great enthusiasm and am under capitalized, there’s a good chance I may run out of money.  Or, what if the business takes off immediately, and I don’t have the proper systems and people in place to help me handle the growth?

Obstacles will occur.  Realistic optimism helps one take on the venture with a backup plan.  Blind optimism hinders our ability to have a plan in the first place.  In my professional experience, most entrepreneurs fail as a result of blind optimism.  They simply don’t know what they don’t know.

 Which am I?  

You’re first question might be, how do I know if I have a tendency towards blind optimism?  Short of an assessment, I’d say pay particular attention to the situations you get into and how often you are literally blind sighted by the many obstacles that occur.  Again, there will always be obstacles, but what you want to note is how alert you were to their potential going into the game.  If you’re consistently surprised by them, there’s a good chance that you have a tendency toward blind optimism.

In my experience, people who are wired for blind optimism don’t easily move away from that perspective.  They often benefit from coaching opportunities to help them develop strategies to manage this tendency.  Awareness, I find, is half the battle.

The Good News:

Yes, there is good news.  I have  found blind optimists to be energetic people who are willing to take on new projects and business ventures.  They are never paralyzed by fear and skepticism.  And, they are often fun to work with.

More importantly, their blind optimism gives them a level of resiliency that is unsurpassed.  Even when things don’t work out as they had originally planned, they are quick to dust themselves off and get back into the game.

Even so, they require some effort.

If you’re currently working with someone who exhibits traits of blind optimism, consider ways that you can help them be more grounded in reality.  You might even find that their optimism balances your skeptical attitude.  Sometimes there is great value in two opposites coming together for the greater good.

Consider the possibilities.

Question: How does either realistic optimism or blind optimism show up in your life?

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