The Case for Pessimism

August 25th, 2009   •   no comments   
Worriers Can Be Winners

“Lincoln, Churchill, and Newton, to name just a few famous mopers, all accentuated the negative.”

I have been accused, a good part of my life, for only seeing the bad stuff.  Some of this, possibly, is genetics — my hardwiring — and other pieces could be learning: it got rewards from my father and others.  Doom and gloom folks, though, seem to have skills that the optimists don’t: to see the future more clearly, the pitfalls, the dragons lurking in the dark that will breathe fire and…bite.

An Op-Ed piece in Business Week by Patricia Pearson, sheds light on the need right now for some balance.  She reports that optimists have an “attentional bias” to notice opportunities and look for rewards.  They’re unlikely to pay much attention, though, to the gathering storm clouds on the horizon.  That’s the domain of the somber.

For the scientists out there, the analyticals, there appears to be a genetic link between mood disorders and “problem-solving creativity.”  A plus.  Those with irrational optimism are, by contrast, not the best at creating a “Plan B.” 

Businesses, especially during difficult times, are encouraged to tap “depressive realism:” the gift given to the melancholy to see “reality more accurately.”  While they won’t  be warmly welcomed at today’s relentlessly upbeat sales conferences, they are needed and should be listened to.  (Remember Sharon Watkins who told Ken Lay [Enron] about the impending “implosion of accounting scandals?”)

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