The way we are thinking affects what we do and this article is interesting because it explores alternatives and it challenges the positive thinking principle that if we can dream it we can do it.
“The Three Little Pigs” story gives us a good metaphor on poor evaluation of risks. The two pigs who wanted to play built their houses quickly overlooking quality and danger of the situation. When the wolf came, down went the houses! The lesson is that laziness and too much optimistic thinking are undesirable characteristics to possess, while hard work and careful planning are very positive characteristics.
Positive thinking in American culture is deeply anchored in the education system and workplace cultures.
On May 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. Without this type of thinking would it have been possible for Armstrong to land on the moon in 1969?
On the other hand we can probably credit an overly positive thinking for the disasters like the “Titanic” or the space shuttle Discovery (see details in a previous post: The Titanic Failure, Technical or Leadership Flaws ? )
You can have big dreams but connect expectations with facts and evidences. Good leaders make decisions based on good judgment considering positive outcomes and costs of failure and evaluating the risks of doing something or avoiding it.
How much risk we can tolerate is also greatly depending on culture according to Geert Hofstede. Among the 5 main cultural dimensions there is one called : Uncertainty avoidance: The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen?
The US scores 46 on this dimension and therefore, American society is what one would describe as “uncertainty accepting.” Consequently, there is a larger degree of acceptance for new ideas, innovative products and a willingness to try something new or different, whether it pertains to technology, business practices, or foodstuffs.
People from countries with high uncertainty avoidance, such as Russia who scores 95 and many of the former soviet states will typically expect explicit instructions and direction for many tasks and will need very detailed and formal responses to requests and questions, these individuals feel at their most comfortable and productive in a world of structure and rules.
Conclusion:In multicultural environments it is important to understand how people from different cultural backgrounds evaluate risks and project negative or positive outcomes. Avoiding ethnocentric decisions is key in intercultural project management but at the same time high risk-avoidance should not paralyze action.
- What is Positive Thinking? (corporatewoowoochick.com)
- Can negative thinking be a positive? (danpink.com)
- ‘Antidote’ Prescribes A ‘Negative Path To Happiness’ (npr.org)