Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Blind optimism

The stress laid upon the unquestionable advantages which would accrue from success was so great that the disadvantages that would arise in the not improbable case of failure were insufficiently considered
Field Marshall Sir William Robertson
"Soldiers and Statesmen"
If you're like me, you have to read that quote a couple of times to be sure you grasp the point, given the somewhat stilted prose of a nineteenth century aristocrat (although this was written around 1920)

But, Sir William gives us the working definition of blind optimism:
  • Blind to a reasonable consideration of risks and
  • Blind to the advice of others and
  • Blind to any proposition other than success
Sir William is also telling us that's what you get when driven by overwhelming sponsor pressure (or customer or market pressure, take your pick)
Of course, if you are driven to succeed in such a "best the enterprise" adventure, you are a hero, an acknowledged risk taker, and a shrewd judge of the impossible.
And there will be many who will step forward and help you celebrate success!
But if you fail, there will be many who will line up to criticise group think, highly discounted risks, and over optimistic success factors, to say nothing of blinded by pressures. They may well be correct.
Oh, and you'll be alone with the outcome!
Who does not remember this bit of wit from JFK:
  • "Victory has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan"
So, is this a discouragement of risk taking? Hopefully not. Just a discouragement of blind optimism.