Optimism and Strategy
Surround yourself with optimists. The people and ideas on this page are the ones you'd like working with you on strategy!
Robert Masters, Chair, Centre for Optimism
It does not matter what strategies you adopt to achieve your goals, as long as they include optimism in the ‘how’ and ‘why’...
"The ‘secret’ ingredient of corporate and political strategies is optimism. It is a vital additive to achieving all the objectives of a goal or mission. Unfortunately, many leaders continue to fail to include the word and its framework when developing their strategies. Leaders who recognise and promote it are better at achieving their mission. Churchill, for instance, embraced it in his famous defence speech of 13 May 1940 when he declared the goal was ‘victory, however long and hard the road may be’. Of himself, he said: “I am an optimist—it does not seem to be much use being anything else”
Optimism inspires those to deliver the objectives of strategies.”
The Centre for Optimism's second web-based survey is entitled "Strategy and Optimism: Through the Pandemic and on to a Brighter Future" and commenced in March 2020. 390 people from at least 260 organisations from 17 countries, experienced in strategy creation have completed the survey.
We have kept the survey form open and you are welcome to complete it. Several strategists thanked us for the thought-provoking questions which sharpened up their strategy review. Our earlier research based on asking strategy experts one-to-one had led us to a view that good strategy relies on optimism. We waited in anticipation for the results of the on-line survey.
Should the purpose and objectives of strategy be optimistic in nature?
We asked "Do you believe that the purpose and objectives of strategy should be optimistic in nature?"
Eight-five percent of the respondents said Yes.
The Link Between Optimism and Strategy
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Robert Hillard on Optimism and Strategy
Some of the companies with the best consumer research get the optimism message. Coca Cola has included optimism in its mission statement seeking “To inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions.”
Optimism is at the core of strategy. As strategy is a large part of my work on boards and as an adviser, I have made it my business to ask others about the role of optimism in good strategy.
Allan Shaw puts it well, ”Strategy is about envisioning and planning for a better future. Without optimism there is little point in planning for a better future."
How do you put this into action at work?
At the strategy and business planning level, make sure each person opens with what’s going well, what makes them optimistic and what plans do they have to build a better future for the organisation and the team. If there’s a strategy retreat or business retreat, make sure the facilitators are optimistic and upbeat. I have sat through too many of these sessions led by people whose business model is based on making you feel bad about how you are going as leaders, managers, innovators and the like. The message is “you’re not good enough and hire me to make you better.”
My view is the leader looks like the person in your mirror. Everyone leads in some element of their work and their environment.
You are good enough and can get better as can your colleagues. Optimism enlivens and impassions while pessimism paralyses.
Professor Colin Jevons, Monash University
"A strategy without optimism is doomed to fail - by definition! Any plan to influence the future must be optimistic."
Successful strategy cannot exist without optimism! Strategy is the act of navigating through challenges towards something better and you cannot envision or define better without being optimistic that it indeed exists! Therefore, no optimism =no strategy!
Nina Anderson, Anderson Advisory
"Optimism resides at the core of good strategy, it provides the platform for critical and clear thinking, the ability to challenge embedded knowledge, the humility to ask questions and be open to new ideas. It is also critical for engaging stakeholders and communicating the benefits of the strategy.
"Optimism is essential throughout implementation too, without it you’ll bring the wrong energy and will be less inclined to motivate others, embrace new initiatives and adapt to market changes."
Paul Pastulovic , Divisional Manager, Yarra Valley Water
"Strategy and optimism go hand in hand, a good strategy has its roots in optimism. When you are building for the future, if you don't have a level of optimism in what you are doing, you can miss opportunities that can present themselves"
Chris Reddy, Leadership Coach
"A good strategy requires clear goals and aspirations, which by default is future focused optimism. Successful strategies rely on commitment, momentum and support from others. Bringing these together using a collaborative approach with strong values and positivity, only enhances long term strategic outcomes."
Ash Hamer, Yarra Valley Water
"Without optimism in a strategy, there is no hope of excellence. Optimism in a strategy provides enthusiasm and drive, but this should always be tempered with a touch of realism."
Dr Parag Shirnamé
“Optimism is the powerful understory that helps leaders to stand tall above the industry canopy. Mixed with a strategic buy-in by the team into the overall plan, optimism from the leader can be a major motivator for the team members. Clarity in each member’s role in jointly achieving the results is paramount. It doesn’t take much. A simple acknowledgement by the leader can galvanize the team to work miracles.”
“Optimism is the triumph of hope over fear, of truth over deception, but it must be grounded in reality. Optimism without realism is just a dream; hope alone is not a strategy. Detailed planning of scenarios, laying out of plans towards an ambitious goal, and then inspiring a team to climb that hill together with passion and a mission greater than oneself – that combination is a sure path to success.”
Louka Parry, Education Changemakers
"Make a positive culture your key strategy. The benefits are overwhelming, and as a positive and optimistic leader you are not only enabling others to do their best work but to live fuller lives"
Dr Asaf Bitton
"I believe in optimism as a strategic imperative."
Jim Rohrbach, Leadership Coach
"Optimism is the ONLY strategy if you want to be successful. How many naysayers have made a difference in the world?"
Jess Ekstrom, author of ‘Chasing the Bright Side’
"The threat of not being optimistic is stagnancy. We can’t move forward to a better tomorrow if we don’t believe and visualize what could be, and remain confident enough to actively march toward that vision."
“Optimism is core to strategy. Optimism drives innovation in any strategy. It is the fundamental source of fire that lights the way for creativity to thrive"
Allan Shaw, Principal, Knox School
“Strategy is about envisioning and planning for a better future. Without optimism there is little point in planning for a better future."
Richard Hames, Futurist
"If optimism and hope are at the core of strategy conversations, the strategy can result in levels of engagement, inspiration and trust that are both powerful and inimitable."
David Pich, Chief Executive of the Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia & New Zealand
“I have a relatively simple view that strategy and optimism go hand in hand. A leader arrives at a strategy via a process of consultation, investigation and analysis. The strategy that is selected is selected because it is – all things being equal – the best strategy for a given situation. It is, therefore, by definition, a positive process and a positive outcome. Even if the strategy itself doesn’t appear to be ‘positive’ – it is the best approach at the time for the business, team or organisation. So, I consider optimism and sound strategy to be highly correlated. In short, a leader creates the strategy, and she needs to own that strategy and be accountable for it. It’s her strategy, and she needs to be optimistic that it will work."
The Honourable Philip Dalidakis, Australia Post
"Optimism is a state of mind and a strategy in its own right."
Sue Barrett, Author of the “Selling Better Manifesto"
“Purposeful optimism is an approach to doing business. It is derived from strategy and built on substance. which is why we need effective strategies with clear purpose and intent that are underpinned by well-resourced people who are enabled to pursue opportunity and do meaningful work with others.”
Darren Woolley, CEO, Trinity P3 Global Marketing
"As a business leader, optimism keeps you turning up and trying even when the odds are against you. Like Steven Bradbury, Australia's Olympic Speed Skating Gold Medallist, success comes from being there to take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves. This is not just luck, but a deliberate strategy when you are being out-spent and out-resourced by the competition."
“As a way of life, business strategy, or leadership philosophy, optimism will serve you well in the good times and the bad.”
Bert Jacobs, Life is Good
"Optimism isn't a soft philosophy. It's a pragmatic strategy.”
"from soft elements such as leadership or business culture to the hard element like implementation process or measure mechanism, strategy execution is difficult, but can be conquered via optimistic leadership and systematic practices."
Christina Gerakiteys, Co-CEO SingularityU Australia
"Optimism leaves you open-minded. An open mind listens, learns and strategises for the best outcomes for the greatest number."
"strategic reality is a good start, optimistic reality follows"
“Optimism is the ability to occupy the present with equanimity and aplomb, a practical strategy since our future will soon become our present in any case”
“The essence of good strategy is optimism.”
Charles Kovess, Author of Passionate People Produce
“A good strategy is one that ensures the organisation is growing, developing, thriving, and being sustainable at the same time. Optimism about the future is, therefore, crucial to design a strategy of growth, development, and thriving.”
Nóirín Mosley, CEO, Race Party
"I believe strategy and optimism are intrinsically linked and co-dependent. If you aren’t optimistic about your strategy how can it achieve your desired outcome?”
Miriam Feiler, co-founder, bizzi.co
“Creating and implementing a good strategy is based solely on the end result we seek. The result inevitably involves a strong desire to win, prevail, succeed. The road to success is littered with missteps, mistakes and failures that can easily derail you. What is needed is optimism. Optimism is a muscle. Without it, you will not have the push-through to overcome seemingly insurmountable setbacks to stick to your game plan and see your strategy through to successful completion."
Adam Bowcutt, Psychologist
“Optimism must be the foundation of strategy because the power of collective confidence helps create sustained energy and momentum. Consistent high performance is a result of an optimistic and purposeful vision of the future."
Natalie Foeng, CFO, Yarra Valley Water
"Optimism is a critical enabler of growth, new opportunities and sustainable business. We are now at a turning point with strategy, where our days of surviving purely on profit and risk mitigation are numbered. Optimism is ultimately what will keep our businesses sustainable."
"I think optimism is the foundation for developing and achieving a good strategy. With an optimistic leadership team, they are more likely to develop an ambitious strategy and then feel more confident about achieving the actions to deliver it. Their optimism also flows down throughout their respective teams, which has flow-on impacts to engagement, productivity and safety."
Ross Judd, author of "Cultural Insanity."
“If you see things, and build your strategy, from an optimistic perspective, then you will build attitudes and behaviours that will create that reality. If you look for opportunity, you will see opportunity. If you look for threats, you will see threats and behave defensively. To be successful, a strategy needs to look for opportunity.”
"Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so."
Pip Marlow, CEO of Salesforce.com ANZ
"History is still being written. Optimism is a strategy to make our history a better one."
Andrew MacLeod, Member of the Centre for Optimism's Advisory Board
"Good strategy is about getting things done.
"Sometimes problems can seem so large that planners can get bogged down by the size of the challenge. Take the Pakistan Earthquake in 2005. How do you keep 3.5 million people alive over a 6 month Himalayan winter, in territory controlled by Islamic fundamentalists, where an internationally recognised cease-fire line between two nuclear armed powers still technically at war when 8000km or roads have been destroyed?
"What optimism does is it allows you to believe that the problem can be solved. Optimism gives you the power to overcome huge obstacles and achieve great things.
Thomas Suddendorf, Evolutionary Psychologist
“Optimism is a strategy that can make the future better because it makes you want to work to make it so.”
Optimism and wishful thinking are not the same thing. In some ways they are opposites. Optimism is fed by research and a profound understanding of how things actually are. Wishful thinking is a lazy version of hope. An example of wishful thinking might be Gallipoli - Churchill's great folly. What was he thinking, or perhaps more accurately, crossing his fingers, would happen?
Conversely, an example of strategic optimism - i.e. placing positivity squarely within a pragmatic framework of what the evidence says is possible - would be Great Britain's dam-busting bouncing bomb program. The unrelenting trial and error required to perfect a technique that was beyond complex indicated indefatigable optimism, perhaps best expressed in the age-old truism, 'practice makes perfect'.
Heads did not drop as, again and again, test bombs missed their target... until they didn't.
Optimism is the tool we need to keep going when when the data suggests that the only distance between what has happened and what hasn't happened yet is hard work, recalibration and incremental steps in the same direction.
Megumi Miki, Author of ‘Quietly Powerful’
“Without optimism, strategies will become defensive and focus on risk avoidance. While such strategy may be necessary for short term survival, at some point, optimism is required to develop a more proactive, innovative and growth-oriented strategy. I believe some organisations which have continued a defensive cost-cutting strategy for prolonged periods have lost a sense of optimism. Such approaches get in the way of innovation as individuals in these organisations become even more fearful and risk-averse. Optimism, on the other hand, enables possibilities, experimentation and learning from mistakes.”
David Sharrock, author of Fighting for Enterprise Success: through the eye of the tiger.
"With business strategy itself, optimism needs to underpin and influence strategic direction and planning. Setting a strategic direction that will enable a business to stand out in the marketplace from all others in the same industry is premised on hope, namely, hope for a better future for the business as it works to its competitive advantage. It then takes the formation and implementation of planning to enable the overall strategy to work. The mindset of a leader and team members alike is essential here. There is no room for half-belief when they are working to an agreed strategy. There is no point in them setting goals and plans with a negative mindset while contemplating failure and envisaging defeat. They must envisage the end result and work wholeheartedly toward its achievement, full of hope, and sharing an optimism that all their efforts will be successful in the end. Their optimism must not be disingenuous. It must be grounded in reality and tested against milestones, reassuring them that good progress is being made.
"When it comes to good business strategy, hope fuels optimism, just like a match lights a fire, while optimism acts like oxygen, keeping the flames alight."