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  • Writer's pictureLouise Carnachan

Is an Optimistic Vision a Delusion?

Recently, I naively got into more than I’d bargained for. I didn’t know as much as I probably should’ve so I stumbled gamely forward based on the assumption that my ingrown toenail procedure would be a snap. No doubt you can recall experiences that turned out to be more complex, time consuming, and/or required more expertise, people or money than you initially thought.

A vision is a sparkly preferred future that’s tied up with a pretty bow. In our mind’s eye, we see the completed state, not the messiness that occurs between start and finish. Our visions are simpler and more elegant than reality, yet they’re important because it’s that picture of perfection that drives us forward. If we identified everything that could possibly go wrong, we’d never start anything new. Unfortunately, being wedded to nirvana leads to a host of unhappy emotions when the remodel costs more and takes more time or the “minor” procedure requires significant recovery time. Maybe we’d been warned and didn’t want to hear it, yet at other times, the negative is all we can focus on. We teeter-totter a lot.

People who regularly launch new ventures (and have earned a degree from the School of Hard Knocks) add a cushion of time and money by giving a range based on various scenarios. Yet organizations rarely want to see a realistic budget. They want the cheapest version based on a different universe where everything goes perfectly. Then when disappointed, they feel justified in grumbling and threaten to pull the plug—which leads to a lot of drama. The ensuing search for the guilty usually fingers the very people who tried to build in flex from the start. It’s understandable that folks just trot in inflated numbers; they’ve been to this circus before.

When you’ve been through enough situations where things don’t go as planned, or you have particularly vivid recall of the chaos during the not-yet-completed phase, you might fear starting anything new (let me tell you about the bath remodel I continue to delay). There are always plenty of reasons not to move if you want to justify your inertia. However, doing nothing for too long actually is movement—backward. Things cost more, you lose market share, there’s a decline in value to the customer, you risk losing employees who want to work in an innovative organization that is making a difference, and you have trouble recruiting replacements. So, there are two options: get pulled toward a change or get pushed. Pull is the vision; push is the threat.

Because we’re capable of complex thought, it’s possible to hold a vision, deal with the unexpected, and be open to things turning out way easier than predicted. For example, my toe was less painful and healed faster than I was led to believe. Now, who doesn’t love that kind of surprise? When told what could go wrong, we laser in. Yet most of the time things go as expected or better. Since we can choose our outlook, we might as well hold a world view that looks for better-than-expected-results. In that frame of mind, we tend to behave more positively toward others which may in turn produce faster and higher quality outcomes. From that vantage point we see what’s going well and comment on it which in turn feeds everyone’s optimism—and that encourages further positive momentum.

So go ahead and create the dream and plan, then take a gamble and start. Regardless of whether everything goes smoothly or your new venture hits snags, it’s worth it because that’s how we make improvements and innovate. The see-saw between optimism and reality doesn’t have to be a bad ride if you can flex and remain optimistic about the results. Then let the chips and salsa fall where they may. I’ll let you know how the bath remodel goes…

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