I Disagree: Irrational Optimism Is Not Entrepreneur’s Most Important Asset

I don’t know Jeff Haden but I like his work and respect him. Still, when he posts on BNET that The Entrepreneur’s Most Important Asset is “irrational optimism,” I say no. Absolutely not.

yes yes yes

Courtesy of bnet.com

Jeff wrote that “irrational optimism” is more important than “plenty of capital, a comprehensive business plan, a solid market analysis, or great employees.” I completely disagree. Maybe he’s exaggerating for effect, but still … here’s his explanation:

Entrepreneurs must embrace belief and ignore self-doubts: Feelings that we aren’t smart enough, dedicated enough, adaptable enough… or simply that, in spite of our best intentions and best efforts, we cannot and will not succeed.

Ignore stupid self doubts, sure … but irrational optimism in the face of market problems, quality problems, sales and marketing problems, competition, changing technology … that’s going to get you nowhere fast.

It’s much better to recognize weaknesses as well as strengths, threats as well as opportunities, and manage your business away from threats, and towards opportunities. Deal with your business’ weaknesses, and take advantage of its strengths.

Fear, when it’s irrational and stupid, is harmful. But fear, well harnessed, linked to awareness and alertness and flexibility, is good for a real-world business owner. In my opinion.

(Image: Jackie Kever/Flickr CC)


  • genie garage door opener says:

    Irrational Optimism is only for people who don’t know what they don’t know.
    Great rebuttal to Jeff’s post, Tim.

  • mattress says:

    I have to agree with you capital and a good business plan ranks pretty darn high on the list.

  • Stallar Lufrano says:

    I agree. In fact while attending San Francisco State University’s entrepreneurship program, a student added the term “rational optimism”. We have to see the reality of all situations but understand that there is potential in every opportunity. Not just bop our way around real world scenarios and real, hard to fight corporations.

  • andrew says:

    what do you have to say about agency theory and financial management decisions?

    however, i stand by your idea because that is all about business success and without determination it is very had to stand in a competitive environment

  • Tim S. McEneny says:

    Fear of failure is a good thing. Some of the greatest athletes and performers of all times have admitted to their fear of failure……Arnold Palmer, Jerry Rice, and Dustin Hoffman to name a few. It keeps you humble and flexible. It helps you become a better listener. It leads to lifetime learning. Irrational Optimism is only for people who don’t know what they don’t know.

  • Gene Marks says:

    I couldn’t agree more – while a ridiculous amount of self-belief certainly doesn’t hurt, there’s a point where it crosses over into delusion, where you have an entrepreneur who believes that literally everything they do is gold. Not a great situation.

    Gene Marks

  • Joel Libava says:

    Great rebuttal to Jeff’s post, Tim.

    Admittedly, I’m one of those folks who hangs on too long to some things-business-wise, but, and here’s the big but;

    I am so open to ideas from others though, that I’ll scratch my own if I feel they’re worth a shot.

    I’m pretty optimistic about believing in others that are a heck of a lot smarter than I am, especially if they’re able to help me “get where I want to go.”

    Where ever that is 🙂

    The Franchise King®

  • Annie says:

    I have to agree with you capital and a good business plan ranks pretty darn high on the list.

  • Jeff Weiss says:

    I agree – Irrational Optimism should be part of the mix and married to Obsessive Enthusiasm, but on its own it will get you nowhere. Each of the other areas on their own, Capital, Business Plan, Market Analysis, etc. will get you further than irrational optimism. Only when you combine it with something tangible can it work some magic.

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