Practicing Practical Optimism
What we believe is pragmatism can be perceived as pessimism. Is it time for BAs to start practicing practical optimism instead?
The Problem With Pragmatism
There are many words that BAs hold dear – objective, holistic, pragmatic. They guide our approach. We want to consider all factors and all perspectives, avoid bias and ensure appropriate action is taken in light of all relevant information. Pragmatism should mean planning for the worst, but hoping for the best. We are skilled at identifying the worst-case scenario, highlighting gaps and risks, and getting to root causes; have we become so focused on being ready for the worst outcome, that we have forgotten to hope for the best outcome? Has our pragmatism turned to pessimism?
We really do want to move forward, learn lessons, and avoid re-making past mistakes. It can feel like a way to achieve that is to focus on everything that has gone wrong previously. This past-focussed pragmatism nudges us closer to negativity.
The Problem With Optimism
Many BAs see optimism as naivety. We believe that if people really understood the issues (as we do) then they wouldn’t be quite so positive! We think that the role of analysis is to surface and clarify needs, issues, and problems, and it’s very hard to talk about these topics in a positive way. We also know that over-optimism in planning and delivery causes many projects and products to fail.
Optimism has become synonymous with unrealistic and uniformed.
The Benefits Of Optimism
There are wide-ranging benefits, observed in comprehensive research from all around the globe.
Optimists are healthy and live longer. They are more likely to achieve their goals. They are more resilient and less stressed. They are more productive and have better relationships. Optimism increases the likelihood of success.
The good news is optimism is a skill and mindset we can all practice and improve at, whatever we consider our ‘natural’ disposition.
Optimism does not mean naively hoping for the best, denying reality or failing to prepare. The phrase “practical optimism” acknowledges the unspoken accusation of “blind optimism” and provides a path to taking sensible steps towards the best possible outcome. Genuinely understanding the best-case scenario and always keeping it in mind makes that outcome much more likely to occur!
Risk identification and problem-solving seem to get much more airtime than benefits and drivers. Reminding ourselves of why we are doing something, who benefits and how is a great motivator. Reflecting on how far we have come, highlighting successes, and celebrating milestones all contribute to future-focused thinking. This creates the right climate for practical optimism to thrive.
Pragmatism seems like the perfect balance between uninformed optimism and immobilizing pessimism. In reality what feels like pragmatism can easily look like pessimism. Striving for an approach of practical optimism rather than pragmatism can lighten our mental load, improve our relationships and lead to better personal and business outcomes.
Being realistic can be about striving for the best possible reality. It’s time for business analysis to look on the bright side.
 When BAs Go Bad, C Lovelock, BA Times, 2019 https://www.batimes.com/articles/when-bas-go-bad/
 How To Incorporate Realistic Optimism Into Your Life, Forbes, 2021 https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2021/01/07/how-to-incorporate-realistic-optimism-into-your-life/?sh=465ae45476f0