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Is Optimism on Your Risk Register?

By Victor Perton

A "lack of optimism could create a vicious cycle of disillusionment and social unrest."

A quote from Victor Perton, radical optimist?  

No, it's from one of the most influential global business organisations, Davos – The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report 2022.

The report was prepared by world leaders in risk, Marsh McLennan, SK Group, Zurich Insurance Group, the National University of Singapore, Oxford Martin School, the University of Oxford, Wharton Risk Management and the Decision Processes Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

A risk or a reality?

Only 16% of respondents to the World Economic Forum 2022 Global Risks Perception Survey "feel positive and optimistic about the outlook for the world."

The question asked was, "How do you feel about the outlook for the world?"

It's the lowest result for such a poll I have ever seen nationally or globally.  

Those surveyed were the World Economic Forum's multistakeholder communities, including the Global Shapers Community, the professional networks of its Advisory Board, and members of the Institute of Risk Management.

Two possible conclusions? The WEF survey was pitched to the world's pessimists, OR we are in deep trouble as the world's elites are so pessimistic.

What do you reckon? Has Davos given in to the zeitgeist of pessimism?

WEF adding climate change to its risk register was influential in corporations adding climate to their risk registers.

So too, putting a "lack of optimism" on the risk register should be influential in corporations placing a lack of optimism on their risk registers.

Our surveys indicate that less than 20% of corporations measure optimism in their workforce, customers and stakeholders.

Read More: Strategy and Optimism: Through the Pandemic and on to a Brighter Future

WEF is undoubtedly correct that the declining levels of optimism in the developed world are creating disillusionment.

I know the Australian situation best.

In the 20 years leading to the pandemic, there was a dramatic decline in the personal optimism of Australians and an even more dramatic decline in optimism about the nation. In the same period, the number of Australians medicated for anxiety or depression has doubled.

It's hard to say what the pandemic will have done to community and workforce optimism. But, in theory, overcoming struggle and a major crisis makes communities more optimistic and resilient. That was the case after the two world wars and the great depression.

Our recent Centre for Optimism poll asked Australians about leaders who inspire them, and it had a surprising result: The top-nominated leader was Angela Merkel. Angela Merkel adopted an optimistic mindset seeing opportunity in drawing the old West and East Germany together. On the international platforms of the G8, G20 and the EU, she was brilliant at pulling people together in conversation. She had 16 years in office; in the same period, Australia had 6 Prime Ministers.

Optimism owes more to mindset, life experience, faith, and family than to politics or economics; it is the fuel that drives people and the foundation upon which leaders build greatness. 

Building a more optimistic nation, corporation or community requires leadership that fosters and generates a mindset for collaboration and harvesting the essence of the community's optimism.

COVID has many people living in fear and avoiding crowds and traditional workplaces.  The test of the 2020s leader is to take us beyond that – imagining the opportunities to come.

It's time for a shared vision for a future built from an optimistic mindset that reframes challenges as opportunities rather than constraints, which brings people together on the journey and is aligned to new possibilities that are limited only by individual and collective imaginations. 

In short, a future where optimism is the fuel for a better normal.

Victor Perton is the Director of The Centre for Optimism and served 18 years in the Victorian Parliament. He is a former Victorian Commissioner to the Americas and worked on the Australian G20 presidency.

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