We are Contrast

We humans are complex creatures. The older I get, the more I’m fascinated by the human experience and the frequent apparent dissonance between what we think and what is. There is no shortage of societal driven “beliefs” we have adopted that are flat out wrong.

A Harvard Business Review piece this morning reminded me of my fascination with this topic. I think that most people associate optimism with a laze fair approach to life and tough-mindedness with pessimism. The piece, titled, Why the Future Belongs to Tough-Minded Optimists, reminds me that optimism and tough-mindedness aren’t opposing forces, but rather a powerful combination. From the Author, and co-founder of Fast Company, Bill Taylor:

I’ve just finished writing a book about companies in pretty ordinary settings (banks, hospitals, even a parking garage) that have won big by doing truly extraordinary things. As I think about the outlook on the future that cuts across these organizations, the mindset that guides their leaders and energizes their members, I’m struck by the fierce sense of optimism that pervades them. Not wide-eyed optimism, an unthinking faith in the inevitability of success, but what the leadership scholar and civic reformer John Gardner famously called “tough-minded optimism,” a blend of original ideas, deep convictions, and resilience in the face of change.

My book list (which is sorely in need of an update) is filled with books that expose some of these contrasts. A few of my favorites:

  • From W. Edwards Demming book The New Economics, the notion that grades are demotivating for both good and poor performers. Kids who get good grades are demotivated because they learn that they don’t have to work hard and kids that get bad grades are demotivated because bad grades are a form of punishment and punishment never motivates.
  • From Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, the idea that people are generally afraid to express vulnerability, believing that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. But that what we often most admire in others is their ability to be vulnerable. and that the ability to be vulnerable is a key ingredient in personal success and well-being.
  • The idea from Carlol Dweck’s work in Mindset that behaving in unexpected and counterintuitive ways is sometimes the best way to drive behavior change in colleagues.
  • From Charles Jacobs author of Management Rewired, the notion that pay for performance schemes don’t work. Yet, carrot and stick performance schemes remain pervasive and we investors/directors put countless hours into crafting, tweaking, optimizing them.

A personal favorite from an entrepreneur I’ve had the great pleasure of working with… During a period where a senior leader on his team was struggling, he ultimately made the decision to part with the employee. In reflecting on the decision he referred to his own mindset in making the decision as tough-minded and big-hearted. Quite a contrast but a powerful combination.

I’m as susceptible to falling into the trap of societal norms as anyone. Catch me when I do. In the meantime, I’ll keep working on being a tough-minded optimist…

We are Contrast