Business is for the optimistic, extroverted and hard-nosed. So the story goes. Problem is, the story is wrong. At least, that is, according to a few business gurus and authors out there. Speaking as an introvert, a pessimist and a businessperson, that makes me do something akin to smiling. But not quite.
According to Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times, pessimism is good for business. The thinking behind this statement seems to be that pessimists are better prepared to deal with the world as it is rather than how we would like it to be. I find her suggestion interesting that an organisation should have a mixture of the two types if it is to function with maximum effectiveness.
This notion is not unique to her. Apparently uber guru Tom Peters recently tweeted his appreciation for a book by Julien K Norem called The Positive Power of Negative Thinking: Using Defensive Pessimism to Harness Anxiety and Perform at Your Peak. This book is a recent edition to a selection of authors who either warn against the dangers of the positive psychology movement (Barbara Ehrenreich) or positively (!) extol the virtues of pessimism (Roger Scruton).
I find myself conflicted. On the one hand, I like the idea of using what you are, playing to your own strengths. So, if you’re an introvert, discover or invent ways to turn this to your advantage. Likewise if you are a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) in the workplace. On the other hand, I believe that key business skills such as motivation and resilience are largely due to your ability to initiate ‘growth mindsets’ or positive ‘explanatory styles’ in order to interpret goals and setbacks to yourself.
I suspect that an answer lies in the notion that optimism and pessimism, introversion and extroversion, sensitivity and thick-facedness, are different strategies or tools the skillful businessperson employs as the context requires. None binds; none defines.
Do you agree?