I have revered my long-ago friend Dick as the best salesman of my experience, and he was. Dick never lost his enthusiasm and he never gave up.
But Dick had a serious flaw: He never gave up . . . when he should have.
My most illustrative Dick story is about a string of fatally over-optimistic decisions he once made.
He had bought a house, mortgaging it through a bank that was persuaded by some flexible assertions related to current vs. potential income. When the inevitable came about, Dick and his wife were out of a home, but still had some ready cash.
Dick immediately started up two sales-oriented businesses with the money. Then he met a guy who was running a no-hope race in a presidential primary. Dick leaped on this “opportunity” and became the full-time campaign manager for the “candidate.”
The two infant businesses dried up and blew away. As did the candidacy. And the boodle of money.
Optimism is the indispensable fuel for success. We’ve all marveled at the occasional tale of some unshakable visionary who just won’t quit, and winds up astounding the world.
“Sail on! Sail on!” Columbus commanded, at least in Joaquin Miller’s grim poem, the one with the repeated conversations detailing the mate’s long descent into hopelessness.
The happy ending validates the commander’s steadfastness, without real evidence and even in the face of a possible mutiny. Welcome to project management, Christopher! Sort of.
Thomas Edison displayed immense persistence in pursuing the dream of a practical electric light bulb – driven by his endless curiosity, his scientific bent . . . and the fact that money was not a problem for him.
Every one of those situations was a project, whatever it might have been called or thought of at the time. Complexity, risk, lack of information and all the rest were there, in various proportions, in every one of them.
None would have been started without optimism, and none would have progressed to ultimate success or failure without persistence – which is the durable action arm of optimism.
The projects that worked had another, equally vital, quality. They were guided by judgment and launched with its star ingredient, preparation. The breathtaking possibilities opened up by optimism must experience the cooldown of hard proof if the dreams are to come true.
For that reason, proper preparation of a potential project demands that the lessons of experience be researched and employed, and the forward drive of imagination engaged. Both must be active components of a balanced strategy, preceding the ever-tempting allure of how-to planning.
Both constraints and opportunities must be taken to all the way to specification in risk management, resource estimation and the rest of nuts-and-bolts planning. And key participants must buy in at the level necessary to maintain momentum.
Without original thinking, project planning is reduced to the assembly of recycled processes. That reduces risk, but also limits the opportunity for truly fresh advances.
Big ideas crash and burn if they aren’t supported by the essentials of sound research, comprehensive preparation and balanced action.
In short, without optimism there is no real progress; without judgment, there is no real success. They need and feed each other.
Regarding my friend Dick, you couldn’t say he was pure optimist, completely devoid of judgment. He did, after all, carefully plan his annual vacation trip to Las Vegas.