Think back to the last time you visited a bookstore and walked by the business and management section. It was probably located right next to the self-help books. The titles where full of exclamation points. The covers had bright, bold colors and every author seemed to be promoting some sort of rags-to-riches story or secret to unlocking your potential. With so many people writing about this big “secret” how is it even a secret anymore?
If you don’t remember the world before Kindle and haven’t been to a bookstore in some time, all you have to do is take a look at your Twitter feed to have the same experience of being barraged by positivity. Businesses, especially businesses who are in the business of helping other businesses, love to post positive messages. It is like walking through a hallway lined with positive thinking posters. It makes me feel like I am sitting in a guidance counselor’s waiting room.
If Positive Thinking Works, Why aren’t We all Better Off?
The most interesting part of this whole movement is that we all know for a fact that business is full of challenges and failures. I don’t know any successful business person who was able to positive think themselves to profits. If we could all really just sit and visualize money into being, then why would anyone ever want for anything? So why aren’t we taking about what is actually going and addressing problems head on rather than trying to rise above it with false positivity?
Recently, there has been a bit of a backlash against the cult of positive thinking. My suggestions for further reading include: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking and Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America. These books, among others, look at the blinding effect of positive thinking. Always searching for the silver lining can make us completely ignore obvious problems and prevent us from addressing them before they become full-blown catastrophes. From 911 and the economic collapse of the late 2000s to the way we treat breast cancer, positive thinking has played a decidedly negative role in some of the biggest events of our time. The same phenomenon may be happening right in front of your nose to your very own business.
The Disadvantages of Positive Thinking
It is important to remember that this penchant for positive thinking hasn’t always been an inherent American quality. Like a lot of trends that stick, it was manufactured and has become so pervasive that it is simply taken as truth. Unfortunately, there can be a lot of danger in positive thinking. In the corporate world, employees who point out problems or raise uncomfortable questions are often seen as troublemakers and fired. On a more human level, positive thinking lacks compassion and leads us to believe that any circumstances can be overcome with the right frame of mind.
Again, in the business world, a culture of positive thinking can actually stifle problem solving, encourage “Yes” men and leave you open to being blindsided by problems that will seem all too obvious in hindsight. A more realistic approach that tries to get closer to a sense of what is actually happening can help you avoid disasters and create a more resilient business that is able to anticipate market trends and adapt as needed. Only hearing and seeing things that agree with your picture of how your business should be is not the way to avoid failures. In the end, positive thinking can be toxic to your business.