I have always been on the optimistic side and consider myself lucky to be that way. Things are generally going well with the world, and with you too! You just don’t want to see it. An important part of anybody’s life is work. Recent studies on the work floor found that there are some ten filters causing you to look negatively at your office environment. Well people, there is no need for such negativity. I have listed these filters below and will explain to you how you can overcome those pessimistic barriers. There is of course a sure way of overcoming negativism by becoming your own boss, which I will outline below.
1. Our categorising mindset
Instinctively we divide the world into two camps: we and them; the poor and the rich; highly and lowly educated; the management and the wage slaves; coffee drinkers and tea licks. Handy when we were still post-neanderthals who had to decide in one second whether we were running into a bear (danger) or a deer (food). But reality is much more complicated. You should realise that the middle group is usually much larger than the two extremes. So if you hate those pretentious Nespresso drinkers in the office, remember that they also drink instant coffee or a cup of tea on holiday and that most colleagues use the same coffee machine. Older colleagues who shoot all your innovation proposals? Often they also have fresh ideas, if you ask them you might be able to bridge the gap.
2. Our pessimism
The sea level is rising, the over-fishing is worrying, terrorism is increasing, house prices are exploding, the head office is releasing middle management and your speech at that work-group meeting was completely dead. We tend to think that everything is going worse. Here is why: (a) we tend to romanticise the past (it was always better in the past), (b) bad news gets more attention in the media / WhatsApp groups while everything that goes well is not noticed, and (c) we’re more on emotions than on facts . Yes, bad news is always there, but that does not mean that it can not go well at the same time. Beware of your rosy past (was it better in the past?). Train yourself to recognise good news, because yes there is enough good news, just be actively looking for it.
3. Life is not a straight line
When we take a bike, we constantly estimate how other traffic users will behave. Usually they move in a straight line, which leads to our straight-line intuition. Unfortunately, reality is more complicated. The world population is not growing in a straight line. Your salary does not increase every year, your weight does not decrease by 1 kilo every month. Usually we see curves in the shape of an S, a slide or a curvature. Losing weight starts very quickly in the beginning, after that the results slow down. Your salary makes all sorts of strange jumps (from executor, to management to CFO). Remember that nature rarely offers straight lines, so why would your coffee use or salary growth meet that pattern?
4. Being afraid
Critical thinking is always difficult, but when you are afraid it is virtually impossible. If your brain is overcome by fear, there is no room for facts. Strangely enough, we are most afraid of snakes, spiders, heights and prisoners in a small space. Not really something you run into every day. Also present: fear of terrorist acts. But remember that the risk of a bomb attack in the parking garage of your office is minimal. Facebook and all other media choose stories that they know will stimulate your fear instinct. If you get a panic attack, take as few decisions as possible, calm down and calculate how much risk you are really running.
Just know that there are a lot of fearmongers out there (usually for financial gain). The best example for that I think is the HIV hype. Have sex with somebody and you will get it, was somewhat out of proportion.
5. Number fear
You will be presented with a list of policy objectives that you and your department must strive for. They all sound equally important, but the 120,000 euro increase in turnover within a year sounds ambitious and most important. We are inclined to hang back from large numbers and it is hard not to feel deflated, how are we going to do this? To bypass your size instinct, you have to put that 120,000 into context. If your branch has a turnover of 4 million, then the 120,000 turnover looks already small. Apply the 80/20 rule accordingly. The two, three parts that cover 80 percent of your budget together offer the most chance of improvement. Ignore the rest. That’s how you turn a giant into a dwarf.
Because of the sinus movement we divide the world into two categories: we and them. Because we can not immerse ourselves in everything and everyone, we like to generalise about ‘them’. We work in a hip office, our clients live in the countryside. Every generalisation about ‘the province’ hampers our view on commercial opportunities. “The majority have a gas cooker in the house.” But a majority only has to be 51 percent, so that would still offer a 49 percent chance for electric cooker pots. Do not consider yourself ‘normal’ and the rest as deviant. Beware of speaking examples, which you remember easily but are perhaps the exception! Generalising is part of life, but beware of the categories you use.
7. One sided thinking
A dime is never a quarter. Someone who has done college can never get an academic way of thinking. Young mothers will never be as ambitious and energetic at work as childless ladies. The world is as it is and does not change: instinctively we think that people / peoples do not change, ‘because that is their fate’. But slow change is also change. Some young mothers are part-time world champions, but if the company arranges particularly good childcare and is flexible in terms of working hours, that will change quickly. Many college graduates only discover their true academic passion after having earned their college diploma. The world is and will keep moving, so be prepared to update your current knowledge and talk to your oldest colleague: then you will see how everything really changes.
8. The all-encompassing idea
We find simple ideas very attractive. We enjoy that moment when we really understand something. Delicious when one idea explains all sorts of other things. In business, the idea is that you can better leave everything to the free market, because that automatically comes with the best solution. The more mail suppliers, train operators, coffee roasters, the better. It saves a lot of time to apply your favourite idea to everything. But it does limit your imagination. Instead use creativity. Realise that nobody is the perfect expert, that even their knowledge is limited. There are no explanatory solutions.
You have written a paper, but it has not been printed in an edition of 100 but of 1,000. How did that happen? Because of our scapegoat instinct we go looking for a clear simple reason why something bad happened. You knew you needed a hundred copies, so it is not up to you. Your secretary? The trainee at the print shop who carried out the assignment? We are looking for a scapegoat that fits our beliefs, so if you find trainees overestimating redundant workers, you look for it in that direction. If you prefer to keep everything in your own hands and do not want a department secretary, then the solution is clear. For all kinds of issues we look at the media, foreigners, shareholders, computers etc. Too easy. Look for the causes of the problem, not for villains. If you have found that cause, you will feel a lot better.
10. Now or never!
You have to decide whether you need to buy those new laptops for the department. Your colleagues complain about the old mess with which they work. The seller calls that you have to decide now, otherwise the offer will expire and ‘you will miss your chance for good’. The urgency instinct ensures that we immediately want to take action as soon as we see a danger looming. Handy with that lion hidden in the grass. But for that computer acquisition it does not help that this tendency to act quickly prevents you from thinking analytically and encourages you to take drastic, ill-considered measures. The urgency almost always comes along. Take a deep breath. Require the seller’s data on the laptops to be purchased. Beware of jubilant predictions: how often does ICT make its promises? Do not take drastic action, you keep a better mood and you will reap respect with your colleagues.
If the above sounds good to you, then you are going to be ok. But what if all of this does not work out for you? You still have this annoying boss, lousy colleagues and noisy work environment. Then you should take other action like changing jobs or start working from home and be your own boss. Google will give you all the possibilities available, but how to take the right one? Read here my full review of the world’s best internet opportunity for making money from home.