A little paranoia is healthy
The corporate world is awash with advice for leaders to inspire their teams to greater performance. We’re also told to embrace vulnerability and create a sense of purpose. That’s all good. But in our experience, the trait that consistently gets complex projects over the line is not the power of positive thinking. It’s pessimism.
I remember one gruelling review of a client’s ‘in distress’ project. We were in the throes of estimating the impacts of certain events that had happened, along with some we knew we couldn’t avoid. Sighing at the lateness of our intervention, my colleague said, ‘When it comes to projects, you can never be pessimistic enough.’
People are hardwired optimists. How would we get through life otherwise? Project teams, therefore, are also optimistic. Or how would they make it through the inevitable dips? But, on large complex projects, success depends on more than good people following standard processes.
That’s why we encourage our clients to embrace ‘pragmatic pessimism’ over ‘energetic optimism’.
Things go right in the end because you anticipate what risks you can, while knowing you can’t mitigate everything. Then you respond to whatever actually goes wrong. It requires a mindful, almost paranoid, alertness for warning signs. That’s why we encourage our clients to embrace ‘pragmatic pessimism’ over ‘energetic optimism’.