According to neuroscientist Tali Sharot of University College, London, the group of people who turn out to be more accurate about predicting how long it will take to complete tasks — and how likely they are to succeed — are the clinically depressed. Optimists underestimate how difficult it will be to succeed. But that self-deception is precisely what makes them willing to take more risks and invest in a better future, while pessimists slouch toward self fulfilling failure. The Economic Power of Positive Thinking, Bloomberg Businessweek, Jan 12, 2015.
Sigh. Unfortunately I spend a lot of time arguing that basing our estimates and plans on data is more important than rah-rah extortions to just do better. I had a boss tell me that we could deliver on time if we just got everyone to believe. This was in an organization that never delivered on time and averaged three to four months late in delivering their products. If optimism really made a difference then we would have been more successful, at least some of the time I would think. We became successful, delivering products when we told the customer we would deliver them, when we finally based our plans on how well we had delivered products in the recent past. Did we take longer to deliver than we had in the past? Nope. Was the quality lower? Nope, it was dramatically higher.
The author of the above article did spend time at the beginning laying out all the positive data that should help people think positively about the economic future. That kind of data I like and I can use to successfully plan for the future. I just cringe when I hear too much an emphasis on positive thinking without anything to back it up such as positive data. The two go hand in hand. I don’t think we can really have one and be successful without the other. Too often we start with the “Yes we can!” approach because it is easy and we don’t really have to know anything to implement it. I’ve also rarely, actually never, seen such an approach succeed and I’ve seen it used a lot. The power behind the power of positive thinking is positive supporting data.
Is your positive message to your team backed up by data that supports what you are doing?