Tuesday, 2 March 2010


In the last 12 months, two different blog posts have struck a particular chord with me. I wrote in August about lessons from a musician (see here). One of the main thoughts from her post was to "have inspired conversations". Last week I read a piece from comedian Mark Watson on the subject of optimism. He writes very well about trying to be more optimistic, particularly since his natural inclination is to be pessimistic.

The same is true in the two fields in which I work. I searched "The Lawyer" today for optimistic stories. On starting to read through the various items, I realised that I needed a good definition of "optimistic" - after all, was  the news that a firm had won some business optimistic? This way I could separate what might be a good news story from real optimism. The definition I most enjoyed (and, of course, I was selecting the most favourable definition according to my own set of unconscious psychological filters) was the following from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (revised 2009) was:
an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome
With that definition in mind, I started to trawl the "The Lawyer" web site, and was surprised and a little disappointed to be unable to find a really optimistic story. I rejected stories about firms re-starting partner distributions because I didn't think they were doing it because  they were anticipating the best possible outcome. This was perhaps good news (certainly for the partners concerned) but the story was not optimistic. The closest I got was a story about sets of chambers discussing the post-LSA environment. I suppose it was optimistic, but I didn't really feel optimistic having read it. Perhaps it was the reporting, since it is rare for journalists to use optimism - I don't think it sells.

I decided that I should examine my own "house" before looking any further. Before this one, I have 96 posts on my blog. Looking as dispassionately as possible, I decided that less than ten were optimistic (although a fair number were at least upbeat!).

Looking more widely at the world of business, I found it hard to find much in the way of optimism. Most stories mentioning optimism also used the words "cautious", "waning", and "limited". I'm not sure that real optimism can be "cautious" - isn't the point that optimism is many steps away from caution?

Optimism is much more visible in the world of charities. The only word regularly added to optimism in this world in my experience in "blind". Charities have to be optimistic - they have to believe they are doing the best thing in the best way. With belief, commitment and optimism they can conquer the world...

This is a lesson to be learnt for the world of business. I have spoken with many people from many firms of different sizes over the last few months and have come away with the over-riding impression that staff, management and owners have become worn down. It is not, however, poor economic news that depresses people and firms, nor is it poor performance. It is a lack of optimism.

I do not suggest that we should all blindly stick our heads in the sand and shout "everything will be fine!". What I do suggest is that we should all try to anticipate the best possible outcome - or at least to try that more often than we do. Optimism lifts people in organisations.

Be optimistic - it's alright! Make sure that the best possible outcome is included in your analysis, into your strategic thinking and into your interactions with colleagues and staff. If you are a manager, try to create a mood of optimism in your team. Optimistic people are happy people and happy people are more effective in everything that they do.

Optimism is, after all, perception. By turning our heads slightly and looking at the world in a more optimistic manner, we might not improve the world - but it will undoubtedly seem and feel better, and that is surely a good thing.


  1. if nobody reads this thing, why bother posting it anyway?

  2. If you are self employed, optimism is not just all right, it is essential! If you do not believe in your own product or service, how can you expect others to do so, and buy?

    I think though that it does to a certain extent depend on the sort of person you are, and has to be generated from within yourself.

    For example, I am still very optimistic and excited about the future, and the opportunities offered by the internet for the delivery of legal services online. These are interesting and exciting times.

  3. Thanks "gwueiroc", but happily a number of people do read this blog - for which I'm very grateful.

    In any case, I think that the spirit of optimism would win out and I'd carry on with it.