High Hopes

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

This story appears in the June 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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."

Signs You're An Optimistic

1. You have a clear vision of what you want to achieve.

2. You spend more than 50 percent of your time working toward achieving that vision.

3. You take 100 percent responsibility for all your successes and failures. (Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to blame other people.)

4. You avoid emotional vampires; i.e., people who try to suck the good feelings out of you.

5. You ooze confidence and have a "can do" attitude.

Wow, What A Difference!

We asked a self-proclaimed optimistic entrepreneur and a self-proclaimed pessimistic entrepreneur the same questions. Can you tell which glass is half empty and which is half full?

What do you expect from your employees?

Mila Radulovic: "Incentive, initiative and camaraderie rather than competition," says the founder of New York City-based Fashion Icon Inc., an Internet content syndication firm. "Productivity and clear thinking happen naturally with enough sleep, good food and exercise. I encourage employees to swim or run during lunch breaks. It helps keep them centered and happy, which helps keep senseless mistakes to a minimum."

Shannon Entin: "I expect my employees to give me their best, of course," says the 31-year-old publisher and editor of Lambertville, New Jersey-based online fitness resource, FitnessLink.com. "I expect their work to be accurate and delivered on time. I also expect things to 'pop up' that will inevitably slow me down-like someone getting ill or a writer not making a deadline. That way, if everything goes smoothly, I feel like it's a bonus."

What are your growth expectations?

Radulovic: "Incredibly massive. I have such a strong belief in Fashion Icon's self-empowering messages and ensuing product line that I see multiple spinoffs on a worldwide level. There's no doubt in my mind we'll be on equal footing with Martha Stewart one day."

Entin: "I'd be happy to work out of my home for the rest of my life while the company grows around me. I expect it to continue growing exponentially, but I want to hire others. Any entrepreneur, no matter how realistic or even pessimistic, must believe in success, or the company is doomed to fail."

What are your views on competition?

Radulovic: "If your business is clear, centered and internalized, competition shouldn't even appear on your thought screen. Competition is a mirage to me; I seldom qualify its existence. If I did, I'd be giving away my power. Every company has a unique path and an equally individual timeline-my job is to stay focused on mine. No two people think exactly alike; therefore, no one can really fulfill my vision as I can."

Entin: "I find competition motivating, but, emotionally, it's daunting. I've been known to complain about having an idea first, but not having the resources. I sometimes feel we can't compete because of the dollar issue, but then another article comes out heaping praise on us or another viewer thanks me for helping him or her get in shape and I feel reassured."

What's your business motto?

Radulovic: "Since the age of 2, I grew up hearing my Yugoslavian father's motto: 'Napred nasi,' which means 'Never give up.' By simply not giving up, you can do anything. I did update the motto in the '90s to 'I can do anything,' with reminders strategically placed in spots like notebooks, drawing boards, fax machines and computer screens."

Entin: "Life's too short to spend time doing things that don't make you happy. You have to pour all of your energy into creating the business and the life you dream of."

Think Happy Thoughts

1. Change your body language. Use straight posture, take bigger steps and walk faster. "You need to straighten out your body before you straighten out your head," says Mercer.

2. Think of solutions, not problems. Focus on what you want, not on what you don't. Focus on how you want to grow your business, not on how you might fail. "You can only have one thought in your head at a time," says Mercer. "So make sure that one thought zooms in on solutions and what you want in your life."

3. Speak in a cheerful voice. People feel better emotionally when they use a sparkling tone.

4. Use upbeat words; avoid upsetting words. Instead of saying "I'm overworked," say "I'm ambitious." When you feel "tired," say you're "recharging." Don't use the word "hyper"; replace it with "I'm very alert."

5. Avoid emotional vampires. "It's hard to stop people from stepping on you if you keep lying down under their feet," says Mercer. "If entrepreneurs feel someone is trying to suck the enthusiasm out of them, they have to realize they're letting them do it."

6. Stop using the words "try" and "but." According to Mercer, research proves that underachievers use those words eight times a day, while high achievers use them only once a day.

7. Be an exemplary role model for everyone round you. How? Follow the first six tips and you're well on your way.

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