“Whenever you look at a great success you are likely to find an optimist. Optimists are great for the economy because their unreasonable risk-taking is an engine of innovation… On average, however, they are not particularly good for themselves. The fact that most or all successful people are optimists does not guarantee that all optimists are successful.”

– Daniel Kahneman

Optimism is the ‘engine of capitalism’ wrote Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman in his 2011 classic Thinking, Fast and Slow.

And yet, for all its benefits, optimism has a dark side.

“Most of us,” Kahneman continued, “view the world as more benign than it really is, our own attributes as more favourable than they truly are, and the goals we adopt as more achievable than they are likely to be.”

“From those assessments, two questions arise. First, what makes optimism so dangerous? And second, how do we foster healthy pessimism without losing hope?” – Aaron Orendorf (I think ‘dangerous’ is a bit strong a depiction, unless optimism leads to loss of life).

We need to keep optimistic and positive about the future because this allows us to be courageous and tackle daring tasks and keep doing what we need to do to succeed and also to survive. Losing hope is not the solution; but blind optimism keeps us from seeing possible dangers we need to avoid.

In this pandemic, countries that have chosen to take a more pessimistic view and prepare for the worst have so far been better prepared and saved thousands of people’s lives. While those that have chosen denial, and minimising the threat so as not to ‘spook the markets’ are paying the highest human cost.

It would seem to me that the same optimism that fuels the engine of capitalism, if unchecked or balanced with a healthy dose of realism, can be the cause of its demise.

The lesson for us as individuals is that while we remain hopeful that our dreams will come true and our ship will roll in; it is better to also be willing to have plan B and C and D.

Before this is all over, some of us will have to consider accepting jobs we never wanted to do, or doing things we have avoided our whole lives. The trick though is…yup you guessed it… to stay positive and not lose hope.

Life doesn’t always go up and up, business has its highs and lows, you will recover. Only if you are willing to face the brutal facts and not let your optimism blind you from the harsh reality.

Chat to us if your team or organisation is needing help with navigating your new normal, or even if you’re just not too sure what your next step should be. We’ve been helping clients prepare and deal with disruption for the last 18 years, with equal doses of optimism and reality.



Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.



About the author of today’s Tuesday Tip – Buhle Dlamini

Buhle is an Organisational Culture and Diversity Expert who works with clients across the globe. He helps his clients leverage the benefits of diversity and shows leaders and teams how to create the most productive and effective organisational cultures.
Buhle’s Unleashing Your Greatness presentation is one of his most requested around the world! It can be presented as an online offering live or as recorded video.

Email [email protected] for more information or to ask for Buhle to come around and help you with Unleashing Your Greatness and Creating A Winning Culture.


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