The definition of Pessimist is an optimist with experience.
Most people look at pessimism as a negative trait. In contrast, I find pessimism to be a very productive trait. People who find problems with new ideas are valuable asset to minimizing future failures and complaints when that new idea is introduced as a product or service.
Optimists get so excited about new ideas, seeing all of the benefits resulting from the introduction of such an opportunity, that they often rush to introduction without realizing potential problems. It is important to have optimists to keep momentum and energy when moving a new idea forward, but such enthusiasm can also produce expensive failures, when ideas are not critically thought out.
When building teams to convert an idea into a new product it is a very good idea to include pessimist who will list with skepticism potential problems. Many of these problems may not have much credence which can easily be resolved. Others might be minor short comings that require minor alterations. But the most important issues pessimists expose are true unforeseen problems requiring deeper digging to expose the severity. These are the issues requiring time and thought to overcome.
My favorite customers are pessimists. These are the people who can’t wait to tell me all of the reasons my companies products or services will not work for their organization. Many times their doubts are misunderstandings that if they are given time to talk about in detail the customer will actually correct their own misunderstanding of the products capability. Which is why is very important to listen to the customer and give them plenty of time to express all of their thoughts uninterrupted.
More important is when pessimistic customers raise a concern that is valid, my product or service falls short of solving their concern. This is called an opportunity to improve what my company has to offer. If such a complaint is real, it is not unique to this one customer, but if improvements are made, could result in increased sales with many current and potential customers.
When creating work team, development teams, problem solving teams I like to have pessimists. For the same reasons listed above, the pessimists will find all of the reasons the central topic for which the team was created will fail. Once again, if pessimists are given the time to talk out their skepticism and doubts they will provide solutions. I cannot emphasize strong enough this works best when the pessimists are given time and respect to express in detail why their skepticism is correct. But if the optimists on the team take up the art of debate to prove the pessimist opinions to be wrong antagonism will occur reducing the chances of a productive result.
Optimists are important to such a team’s success but they need to be respectful of the pessimist’s opinion and possess the skill of listening and questioning to produce productive answers.
This article was inspired my niece Emma Hornfisher, for her pointing out my pessimism.