Being too positive is dangerous

As Alfred E. Neuman famously said, “What, me worry?”

In October, I facilitated a discussion with Bruce Sheppard (CEO of Gilligan Sheppard) and Evana Lithgow (Managing Partner of Working Minds) to add to our series on life and business post-lockdown. The discussion centred around how do we deal with, and face the uncertainty of the weeks, months or years ahead given the massive disruption we have gone through this year already.

We are all ‘feeling’ the impact in some way, shape or form.  Interestingly, since the January 23, 2020 Wuhan lockdown the MCSI World Share Index has risen by 8%, and the Global GDP Tracker has risen 4% on an annualised basis. If this was 2019 or 2018, we would be all be pretty upbeat and optimistic about the year ahead.

The truth of the situation is that how we face the immediate future has nothing to do with lockdown levels or Government policy, or Government spending.

Evana, an expert in human dynamics and human behaviour observed being too positive about the future is dangerous. She referenced Jim Collins work with Prisoners of War, labelled ‘The Stockdale paradox’, and how important it is to balance realism with optimism. Stockdale explained this idea as the following:

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Stockdale speaks about how the optimists fared in camp. The dialogue goes:

“Who didn’t make it out?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”

The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said earlier.

“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

At times we may have felt like prisoners over the course of the year, but what can we learn and apply to where we are today?

Evana summarised the keys to surviving as being:

  1. Connecting in the moment
  2. Understand your options early – talk often, plan, and choose your response

One of the causes of much uncertainty as New Zealanders has been the enormous debt being created for all New Zealanders and taxpayers for generations to come. This initially induced great fear and some loathing. This fear has passed, and as Bruce observed,

“We need to moderate extremist reactions but realising that it’s not over yet.”

Bruce went on and stated that the UK in 2015 paid off the debt it incurred during WW1, nearly 100 years later. The national debt in the UK went from £650m in 1914 to £7.4 billion in 1919. If that was not bad enough, by the mid-1920s, interest on government debt was absorbing 44% of all government expenditure. A situation Illya Kuryakin once described as “Having your balls on a very long leash, held by a very short man.”

So, what are the key messages for survival?

Evana suggested:

  1. Be clear about what you care about, and
  2. Preserve energy – we are in a long game

This can be easier said than done, especially with the ‘news’ we are all exposed to on a 24/7 basis. On this, Evana observed that there is a difference between ‘Connection’ and ‘Consumption of news’. Do not confuse social media engagement / consumption as connection – it’s not real.

Bruce suggested:

  1. Conserve cash
  2. Balance sheet strength is important to give you options, but free cash is not enough

In summary, as a human find your important relationships, deepen those relationships. Be part of a collective effort which will build community resilience. This is why what you do matters. It’s about courage and adaptability. If you have resources, and energy, what else do you need?  

A Strategy!

In this context, strategy is a clear, articulate message to yourself, staff, and others that provides enough detail to give confidence in your chosen direction.  It is not ‘just do more of what we have done before but do it better’. 

A lasting and effective strategy addresses risks, markets, and mitigation strategies. This needs to relate and connect to your mission and long-term goals in a meaningful way.

Look at the foundations of your business, do you have customers or clients?

What’s the difference, and why does it matter?

From Apple to Google, Sony to BP, they all know the answers for them.  

Once you know for you, then you can build your strategy and tactics so you can actually measure what matters most.

We are offering Half-day Strategy Realignment and Development sessions for clients in January and February, and have three timeslots left. If you would like one of the remaining times, email me directly for details –

It will be the best thing you can do for your business in 2021. 

All the best for the festive season.

Watch the discussion on our You Tube channel:

If you don’t know where to begin, want to talk through something, or have a specific question but are not sure who to address it to, fill in the form, and we’ll get back to you within two working days.

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