The dark side of optimism

Optimism: The doctrine or belief that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly. Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) 

According to recent research, leaders who become excessively positive can ward off reality. This perspective has been termed by the author, David Collinson as “Prozac leadership”. Drawing on the metaphor of ‘Prozac’, Collinson suggests that leaders’ excessive positivity is often characterized by a reluctance to consider alternative voice. Optimism tends to resemble a well-intended but addictive drug: It promotes artificial happiness and discourages critical reflection, leaving organisations ill-equipped to deal with setbacks and unexpected problems. “Prozac leaders” can wind up believing their own narrative that everything is going well. As a consequence, they ask fewer and fewer questions and become deaf to feedback that is “off-message,” leaving them, and their organisations, dangerously insulated from economic and social realities. 1


Acclaimed journalist, author and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich explores the darker side of positive thinking.

Manju Puri, professor of finance, and David T. Robinson, professor of business administration, both at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business, have determined that while moderate optimism is good, extreme optimism is not. “Extreme optimists don’t think savings are good, don’t pay off their credit cards and don’t do long-term planning,” Professor Puri said. “They think the economy will always do better.” They are also more likely to remarry if divorced. Moderate optimists, on the other hand, work longer hours, save more money, are more likely to pay off their credit card balances and believe their income will grow over the next five years. 2

1 - Is there such a thing as too positive? By TESSE AKPEKI
2 - Lean Toward the Sunny Side, but Don’t Overdo It By ALINA TUGEND 

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