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High Hopes

The business will grow. Clients will come. Customers will buy. And if you think we're wrong, maybe you should think differently.

Optimism's relationship with entrepreneurship is a many-splendored thing. It's what goads the initial con-cept out of your brain and launches it into orbit. Now, along with the scads of research proving optimism contributes significantly to business success, comes the revelation that such tendencies can be learned-a blessing for potential entrepreneurs whose dreams are threatened by their skepticism.

"Optimism is solely a habit," explains Michael Mercer, business psychologist and co-author of Spontaneous Optimism (Castlegate Publishing). "It's not genetic and it's not something you breathe in the air."

How does optimism play into the life of an entrepreneur? "If you think something won't work for your business, you need to automatically focus on the solution," Mercer says. "Optimistic entrepreneurs lay out clear goals for how they want their businesses to succeed, make realistic timetables and spend 50 percent or more of their time focused on achieving those goals."

Keep in mind, however, that a touch of pessimism isn't always bad, and optimism isn't always the golden key to success. The true goal? To be realistic, something that, with focus and effort, both pessimists and optimists can manage. Jack Wang, 30, chief strategist and co-founder of San Carlos, California-based Trancos, a multilingual online entertainment site, agrees that "if anything, a successful entrepreneur is just very realistic. As an entrepreneur, I'm an optimist to an extent. I'm optimistic about my business and my product. But it's very limiting to assume that success only comes from being an optimist. In business, you have every right to be cynical, too."

Then again, it's hard to tell which comes first: the attitude or the reality. Says Mercer, "If you expect to develop a successful business, you're likely to be successful. If you think you're going to fall flat on your face, you probably will."

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This article was originally published in the June 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: High Hopes.

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