Optimism and Positivity

We have an internal mantra of “we’ll figure it out”. I love this, because it’s a catchy, lightweight way of embedding optimism into countless meetings and group chats. (We even have a custom :wfio: emoji in Slack.) A cultural adoption of optimism is important—especially when teams face large-scale challenges or uncertainty.

That said, I’ll occasionally see someone conflate optimism with positivity. The differences are subtle but important to understand and communicate. If you attempt to embed optimism at a cultural level but don’t call out how it’s different from positivity, you’ll likely end up with a messy combination of mindsets.

Thankfully, it’s an easy explanation: optimism fights for the future, positivity protects the past and present.

A positive person will tell you everything’s fine. Those problems you had or have? They aren’t as big as you think! Positivity is useful, but it’s a strong flywheel. If you’re not careful, you end up peddling positivity for positivity’s sake. And to many, particularly the pragmatists, it can appear you’re attempting to avoid the underlying problem.

Optimism, however, injects positivity with vision and action. Optimism doesn’t try to make things OK right now. It acknowledges the gap between where we are and where we could be. And in that gap, creativity and forward progress thrive.

Positivity has its place, and there will be moments when it’s called for. But, the most innovative, consistently successful teams I’ve seen lean heavily into optimistic thinking. Whenever these teams face challenges, even new ones, the instinctual response is: WFIO. And they always do.

Tuesday, 19 October 2021