Entrepreneurs are known to be relentless unstoppable self-driven beings among other hero-like superlatives. I now believe their success has a much simpler explanation, summarized into a single characteristic – optimism. For sure, if there’s one essential ingredient for a startup it is undoubtedly optimism, the hidden engine that will make it through the never-ending obstacles, desillusions, failures and false starts.
In my life, I’ve met very talented and committed people, full of energy and always delivering great results. Naturally, they had very different personalities, which didn’t affect their excelent performance and I actually believe that a great team must include different mindsets, as diversity will certainly lead to a more vibrant and open culture. However, if I could get all these people together in a room, separate the optimists from the pessimists, and then give both groups the task of creating a company, I strongly believe the pessimists just wouldn’t make it. The problem is that there’s tons of uncertainty but absolutely no time for careful analysis in the beginning of a company, so they become depressed really fast. The very mindset that makes them deliver great results doesn’t work here – a startup can’t afford to plan minusciously, to test thoroughly or to fine-tune a certain component until it’s able to survive a cataclism. Most of all, a startup fails. A lot. And pessimists are very intolerant (almost allergic) to failure. I’ve seen pessimists who were working at bullet train speed coming to an halt after a single failure. It’s almost as the entire world had collapsed on that moment and they have to rebuild an entire nation.
On the other hand, to an optimist, failure is just a bump in the road. They just go around it and move on. Scott Halford writes:
“Optimists think that there are more options when bad things happen. So they try different things in order to get out of a jam. Serious pessimists usually give up once they think the outcome is foretold.”
All the stories about successful entrepreneurs are filled with optimism and bright visions of the future. Here’s a quote from Marc Randolph, founder of Netflix, found here:
“In my past life as an entrepreneur, this optimism was a critical tool. I just always believed we would succeed. Even when everyone else said my ideas were ridiculous. Even when we were almost out of money. Even when the metrics were all upside down. I always have confidence that I’ll figure something out. I just have that confidence that things are going to work out fine.”
Back to the group of people in the room, when you hear some of them talking, they sound almost idealistic and naive. These are the optimists, who don’t remember that things fail, so they are much bolder on their plans. They are not satisfied for fixing a problem or making something work, and thank God for that because I’d rather have those type of tasks being done by pessimists. A serious pessimist fixes a problem for good because he remembers everything that can go wrong and prevents that from happening. Even so, he will finish the task saying that he cannot guarantee that it will work 100% of the time. So, pessimists are a perfect fit for developing rock-solid software, which is not what a startup should care about in the beginning.
So, if you’re starting something new, make sure everyone aboard is an optimist. At least in the beginning. Or you’ll risk having people who won’t miss a chance to tell you “I told you so” (this is the mark of a pessimist), when you should (you must!) have people telling: “Glad we tried that one, even though it didn’t work. Now let’s try this one”. Your team must not only see the glass half-full but they actually should be seeing the glass overflowing all the time! If it succeeds, and only when it shows strong signs that it will succeed, then it’s time to bring in the pessimists.