What makes an optimist?
Is it a “glass-half-full” person who expects good outcomes? Is it a person who, as Winston Churchill once said, “sees the opportunity in every difficulty”? I think an optimist believes tomorrow can be better than today—and they take an active role in making it so.
This commitment to actively working toward a better tomorrow is a prerequisite for working in the technology field. In fact, technology is basically science and information put to practical use to solve problems. Think about the various applications, software programs, and devices devoted to mental health, physical wellness, and workplace productivity. Most people who work in the tech field are optimistic and believe that technology has the power to make people’s lives better.
So, how does optimism manifest in the tech workplace? For one, optimistic employees are “all in” when it comes to effort. Research proves this: Optimistic employees are 103% more inspired to give their best effort at work. But hard work is only part of the optimism algorithm. Let’s take a closer look at what an optimistic workplace looks like, how you can nurture optimism at work, and the benefits of an optimistic workplace.
Make optimism part of your hiring criteria
Just like negativity, optimism is contagious. That’s why it’s key to hire those with an optimistic outlook. Look for initial signals of excitement, a sense of purpose, and an awareness of why they want to work at your company. Remember that most new hires are coming from another exciting, well-paying job. They should be joining your company to do more, transform more, and innovate more. This “more, more, more” sentiment increases the capabilities of other people on your team, and boosts the level of service you provide to customers (more on that in a moment). You want people who are multipliers—people who work toward solutions rather than saying, “We can’t do that because no one has ever done that before.”
“Multipliers invoke each person’s unique intelligence and create an atmosphere of genius—innovation, productive effort, and collective intelligence.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement from Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. As multipliers, your employees should consistently go above and beyond what their job title requires. For example, our company’s employees transform organizations by helping them become more profitable, successful, and impactful. We are not simply doing engineering work or selling widgets here; we are in the business of allowing customers to be limited only by their imagination as to what they can implement and achieve. This is optimism at work.
Optimists work to expand their circle of influence
One book that inspired me 20 years ago is Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People—and Covey’s “circle of influence” concept. Your circle of influence includes the things you can do something about, while your circle of concern encompasses things you have no direct control over (economy, global pandemic). Optimists focus their time and energy on the factors they can control. By focusing on that which we can control, we can indirectly make an impact on a larger scale. For example, while I can’t personally stop or prevent a global pandemic, I can take measures in my own life (social distancing, avoiding poorly ventilated spaces) that will help me (and may influence the larger community).
In addition to focusing on their own circle of influence, the optimist always seeks the silver lining in any given situation. If a developer encounters an unexpected bug during the beta release of a new product, their first question should be, “What can I learn from this?” They may have adhered to a strict product roadmap and done everything within their power to ensure a smooth release. Yet, they still encountered a bug—something beyond their control. They should later ask, “How can I apply this learning to the greater organization and future product releases?”
Think solutions, not complaints
In the technology industry, change is a constant. I like to say we are always operating at the tip of the sphere. IT services and cloud tech, especially, evolve more quickly than just about any other industry (including healthcare or financial services). How teams respond to all these changes (many of which we can’t control) is what matters. You don’t want a team that complains (about customers, fellow team members, or partners) for the sake of complaining. Optimists still complain sometimes—but there’s a high degree of “solutioning,” collaborating, and suggesting within the complaint. A team should work to isolate an issue with the purpose of solving a problem rather than simply venting.
In the workplace, how does this solutioning play out? Let’s say a customer complains about something. Instead of responding defensively, the optimist chooses to see it as a gift. Maybe the customer is operating under the wrong assumptions, or they have outdated information. Or perhaps their complaint is an actual product issue. If you listen to the customer and work to address and resolve their problem, you win that customer for the long haul; their satisfaction will be higher than it would be if they had never complained in the first place. A customer who complains is not necessarily a negative; it’s the customer who leaves without any feedback that is worrisome.
Similarly, if a technology partner makes a pricing or contract change, the optimistic team asks, “How can we navigate this change while being of service to customers?” The team may help customers take advantage of current pricing plans before the pricing change takes effect. Again, work to control the variables you can so that you minimize the impact of the variables you can’t control. If you do this consistently, your positive impact on customers (and your organization) will be substantial.
There are three constants in life: change, choice, and principles, according to author Stephen Covey. If optimism is a guiding principle within your company, your teams will be best equipped to tackle unexpected changes with actionable choices that create positive results. And over time, these cumulative positive results build a stronger company—internally for employees and externally for customers, partners, and everyone who interacts with the business.