Truth be told, Valeria Maltoni (@ConversationAge) and I were looking for a way to describe optimism that was tempered by linear logic. A couple of weeks ago there were several reports from around the globe about how optimistic business owners and leaders were feeling about the economic recovery and I got to thinking about how we use optimism for a competitive advantage in our businesses.

As we began to notify our #kaizenblog followers on Twitter about our topic, it came up that Matt Ridley had written a book titled, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. His thesis wasn’t really what we meant but it wasn’t completely off the mark either. Our questions had more to do with disciplined optimism Rational Optimism and your businesswhich combines optimism with some kind linear or logical component.

Semantics aside, can you have rational or disciplined optimism?

When you have semantic issues, you have to start with definitions.

  • Bill Lublin (@billlublin)-“BTW, I’m for cautious optimism-rational is a little subjective for me when discussing optimism”
  • John Reddish (@GetResults)-“I think “rational” (as defined in lit) represents a positive cognitive choice, not totally free flowing.”
  • Joe Sanchez (@sanchezjb)- “Rational optimism-one view: The future can be better but only if influenced. It won’t happen by itself.”

As a group, we decided to work with rational optimism and even incorporate parts of Matt Ridley’s description.

How is optimism the same as or different from hope?

To deepen the definition, we compared hope and optimism. This seemed to bring out a lot of reactions.

  • Joe Sanchez- “Hope is not a method.”
  • Rayna (@RaynaNyc)- “View hope as emotion & optimism relating more to thinking/reason–keep cool & access objectively reason to be optimist.”
  • Sian Phillips (@whatswhat_sian)- “Personally I think Optimism sounds more confident than to hope for something.”

Most of the comments seemed to center on how hope is really more of an emotion while optimism is more of an attitude. Optimism seems to lead somewhere or to something.

When does it make sense to temper optimism?

This question seemed to lead to more discussion about judgment and action. There seemed to be a reluctance around adding judgment to optimism. Perhaps this is due to the prevalent belief that judgment is always a negative. On the other hand, it might be pessimism, realism, or cynicism that interrupts optimism.

  • Stephen Denny (@Note_To_CMO)- “Judgment. The J word. We temper our optimism with command of facts, experience, openmindedness.”
  • Caroline Di Diego (@CASUDI)- “~ Appropriate judgment ~ to make optimistic end results a reality.”
  • Tom Asacker (@tomasacker)- “Action creates optimism, not the other way around.”
  • Mary H. Ruth (@maryhruth)- “I think business at the hard core also has no use for hope. It is science. Optimism is de riguer.”
  • Joe Sanchez- “Rational optimism means knowing how 2 influence (via rational actions) what needs 2b influenced 2 achieve goals.”
  • William R. Younce (@WilliamRYounce)- “Rational optimism=Positive thinking which always puts you ahead of the pack. Makes you more aggressive, better risk takers.”
  • Sian Phillips- “Rational optimism better than overly optimistic in business. Results need to be quantified so don’t imagine out of scale.”

How much of a competitive edge does rational optimism provide for business?

This question drew fewer responses as the chat ended but here are some food for thought:

  • Stephen Denny- “Competitive adv angle is important focus. If optimism is based on forethought + planning, then it’s rational (and a C/E).
  • John Reddish- “Rat Opt gives shape, input, to Comp Adv – in helping to identify logical customers, price advantage calcs & cost savings”
  • Amber Cleveland (@ambercleveland)- “Rational optimism creates large competitive adv. for biz it’s contagious & can create generate support that can lead to success.”

Perhaps the hour was too short to really identify if what place rational or even disciplined optimism has in our businesses. On the face of it, it seems so. It is probable that we have an attitude that things will work out for the best and we can help this along by anticipating and planning for different outcomes. Optimism is a key trait of entrepreneurs.

What do you think about rational optimism?

How do you rate the competitive edge you get from rational optimism?