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Positively stupid?

Is it a good thing to be positive? On a first glance at the question, the answer is YES! You become more successful, happy and your health improve. Victor Frankl also shows in Man’s Search For Meaning that focusing on what is possible is an important factor for survival and personal growth. But there is also the findings from Jim Collins Why The Mighty Falls: the first and third stages in the death of a successful business are Hubris and Denial of Risk. These stories tell about companies who think they are doing the right stuff and keep thinking so until the bankruptcy is a fact.

There is a fine line between seeing what is possible and believing in the impossible.

In the book, Smile Or Die, Barbara Ehrenreich discuss this misinterpretation of the notion that seeing the opportunities is the same as being positive about everything. Instead, her meta studies show that people tend to be over optimistic which makes them turn the blind eye to risks. Much the same as Jim Collins shows, in other words.

I will probably never look at personal growth books in the same way again.

When I look at software projects, this positive thinking virus is everywhere. Of course you shouldn’t start a project if you don’t believe in it and of course you should help build confidence in success in co workers in order to make them succeed with their tasks. But overly positive thinking can bring the downfall too. Here are some common examples:

1. Estimation

“This shouldn’t take more than 4 weeks/hours to do”. Some think that some things SHOULDN’T cost more than a certain amount and therefore they change the estimate in order to suite their notion of what a reasonable price is. An estimation should be based on how much time it takes, not how much time it’s supposed to take.

2. Good is the best enemy of Best

“Why are you questioning X, we’re making Y M [Currency]?”. The notion that we’re good as we are makes it hard to really improve. But even if X is enough right now, the competitors are just around the corner and historic successes is no grant for future ones. Just look at the current state of the companies named as successful in From Good To Great.

3. Denying risks

“But that never happens….It just happened three times last week. It will never happen again.” No wonder that Deming talks about an error as an error and an error many times as a system error. But many seem to fail to understand that just because an error is not supposed to happen makes it not happen. And it happens many times, why would this result in it never happening again?. This is also applicable in planning: “Well, we’ve lost all the buffer during the first half of the project, but we’ll make that up now.” This probably happened. Sometimes. Somewhere. In another dimension or something.

4. Kill the Happy killer

“Don’t say that, people get unmotivated”. Yes, there are whiners, those who just whine for the joy of that, but a culture where it’s bad to question the current status in order to bring an improvement is probably not the best one you can be in. I’ve heard many who are afraid to suggest improvements because they are afraid to be perceived as negative. We must all learn to differentiate between negative and positive about improvements.

Do you have any other situations?

Categories: Agile
  1. mostofa
    2010/11/09 at 6:46 pm

    The thing is that sometimes you need Positivity. I am not denying what you are saying. Over positivity leads to over confidence and that in my opinion is the major cause of failure.

    My opinion is that you should always be truthful. As a QA I feel that if you are afraid to raise your voice and raise concerns then you are not doing your job properly. Besides sometimes the naysayers and doomsayers are the people who are looking at things in a different light and have different viewpoints all of which together are critical for the success.

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