Is Optimism a Requirement for Entrepreneurship?
A while ago I saw a quote someone re-tweeted from Michael E. Gerber, the author of The E-Myth and Founder of Club E: “The entrepreneur sees opportunities everywhere we [sic] look, while many people see only problems everywhere they look.” This statement made me wonder: Is seeing opportunities (aka optimism) vs. problems (aka pessimism) a requirement for entrepreneurship? That just seemed too polarized and limiting for my tastes.
Here’s what I’ve been able to work out so far. Gerber’s quote may be true for entrepreneurs who see opportunity everywhere and especially for visionaries surrounded by opposition. His statement provides a needed psychological boost–and rationale for consumption. One thinks: “I see opportunity everywhere; others only shoot me down. This guy supports and gets me so I need to follow him, buy his stuff, join his group, etc.” Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE Michael Gerber. I’ve read the E-Myth Revisited and I’ve seen him speak. He is an incredible resource and inspiration. He essentially has made the business case for process development to small business–something most consultants constantly struggle to do. In many ways, he is a hero and an icon for small business owners like me.
But I guess I’m more concerned with defining a successful entrepreneur vs. just an entrepreneur. So my position is that successful entrepreneurs see opportunity but don’t put blinders on when it comes to problems. In other words, they have to see and listen to potential problems. Sure, they must consider the source, but to mistake critical thinking for negativity and therefore to discount it is (in my mind) a huge mistake. Everyone talks about entrepreneurs having vision but I think that vision alone can be their downfall. Instead, I propose this: Success equals vision validated by data and tempered with reality—which is sometimes clouded by enthusiasm. This is all the more reason entrepreneurs need outside perspective from a trusted advisor. I realize my statement might sound pessimistic to some, but I call it healthy skepticism–and part of the value I provide to those who understand the necessity of working through “problems” before launching. The rationale: Better for me to point out any potential pitfalls than your customers (or non-customers!) after you’ve already invested blood, sweat, tears, time, your money, other people’s money, etc.
What do you think? Is seeing opportunities enough to make a successful entrepreneur? Does optimism trump all?