Bottling optimism

Do you see opportunity, or uncertainty and despair? Tony Chapman on how to find your "O Factor."

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By Tony Chapman 

Helen Keller said it best: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

Optimism breathes life into ideas, effort into execution, animation into sales calls and productivity on the plant floor.

It’s intangible, and at best a reflection of a view and an expectation of a desired outcome. The psychologist Tal Ben-Sharar defined it as a willingness to accept and learn from failure while remaining confident that success will follow.

Optimists see opportunity where others see uncertainty and despair. They embrace failure as learning, and they are the first to pivot when they are wrong or when a new opportunity presents itself. Some say they are possessed as they crash through barriers to invent new rules of play. Their eyes shine as they animate their ideas, and when they make intangibles tangible they make believers out of the stakeholders that matter most – customers, employees, investors and influencers.

They also realize that optimism alone isn’t the panacea for business; it can’t replace the need for a big idea or insight or a well crafted, executed and capitalized plan. It can however be the tie-breaker in a marketplace drowning in a sea of sameness.

The challenge is that optimism can’t be bottled or found on the pages of a self-help book. It’s elusive and often subject to market dynamics. One can argue that today’s pessimistic headwinds make it almost impossible to possess it.

However, as tough as these countering forces are, there are individuals who find a way to harvest optimism and to succeed.

Steve Jobs launched the iPod when Sony’s Walkman franchise owned portable music, MP3 players were everywhere and Napster made music free. How? He saw a different future and he convinced engineers and shareholders – and an entire music industry to come along. He reframed the conversation to “1,000 songs in your pocket” and “what’s on your play list?” and he convinced an entire industry that a $0.99 a download would save them. He made technology transparent and created a user experience the consumer valued.

Bezos has made Amazon into the world’s biggest vending machine and Jack Ma might trump him with Alibaba. Page made Google the shortest line between A and B. Oprah built a media empire by making us see more in ourselves. Arianna Huffington saw citizen journalism; Mary De Paoli at Sunlife turned financial services upside down by focusing on possibilities, not the product.

Optimistic people are few in numbers but play a disproportionate role in society. We’ve all been touched by their presence, some by a parent who never accepted status quo, others by a teacher or mentor who had a profound impact on your life. The coach that inspired, the rebel friend who never played in the box, the entrepreneur who dreamed and then realized its reality. Yes they are the crazy ones who invent, create, shape, defy, push and seek reward knowing there is risk. They are not always the easiest to work or live with as to them every second matters.

So why are there so few? I asked Alido Di Giovanni, the CEO of Summit Tech, a Montreal-based mobile company which sells its services (which includes mobile design, UX development, animation, etc.) to wireless carriers around the world. I have travelled with him to Berlin, Rio, Barcelona, London, Shanghai and Beijing. Di Giovani has the “O Factor”; he doesn’t see language, or the complexities of far-reaching markets as an obstacle. He believes his company of 50 can out-think, out-develop and out-execute competitors 100 times its size, and so far he is right.

I asked him how he has stayed so optimistic from the early days when mobile meant carting a phone around in a suitcase to today where wireless is revolutionizing how we live, work, commute and play. He said the answer lies in his company’s name, Summit. Not as a representation of market share or achievement but by realizing that every one of us and every business has summits to climb. Di Giovani is convinced if his company provides solutions to wireless carriers that allow them to improve the life and livelihood of its customers then his company will succeed beyond his wildest imagination.

There might lay the answer to why optimism is so rare and so difficult to sustain. You aren’t born with it, and even though it’s the oxygen of capitalism you can’t breathe it in. Optimism in fact isn’t about you. It comes from having a picture of a desired future state where your idea, or attitude or product could make someone or some organization’s life better, and then attracting and investing everything at your disposal to make it happen; to make it your destiny to enable them to be more and do more.

TonyChapman~2 (1)Tony Chapman is the founder of Tony Chapman Reactions a consultancy offering a fresh pair of eyes to clients and agencies.

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