Brazil, Optimism and Realistic Optimism

The pessimist sees the glass half-empty.  The optimist sees the glass half-full.  The realist drinks the water and gets back to work!

I am still in sunny Sao Paulo, Brazil, finishing up work with my US client who has an assembly plant here, as well as having a few other meetings to explore the opportunities for more consulting work.  (see my previous post: Blame it on the Samba).

Since Sao Paulo is the “business” capital of Brazil, it is my current focus.  Alas, Rio de Janeiro is definitely the “fun” capital but I need to focus, focus, focus (darn it!).

One of the great things about the Brazilian culture is their innate optimism.  Nothing is impossible, everything is do-able, and their optimism is definitely infectious.  It is probably one of the many reasons why Brazil has secured both the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2014 FIFA World Cup of Soccer.  And the discovery of a large area of oil off the coast is also fuelling their optimism (no pun intended).

What I find interesting, however, is the difference I am observing, not just here in Brazil but all over, between “Optimism” and “Realistic Optimism”.  These are my terms for this observation, so let me explain because I find a big difference between these two.

Optimism I will define as  faith and belief in an idea or goal, and is usually characterised by the phrases, “I can . . . ” and “We will . . . “.  The enthusiasm and desire behind these two statements (and others like them) make the individual and the idea or goal very believable.  Many times I have been recruited by this optimism and have whole-heartedly joined the team of the optimist to charge up the “hill”.

But if you are like me, there have been numerous times when infectious and inspiring optimism proved to be less than realistic and sometimes, very hollow.  We get all excited, we build castles in our mind, fantasize about the end goal, and march off with enthusiasm.  But without a plan!

That is why I distinguish between Optimism and Realistic Optimism.  Realistic Optimism is backed by realistic planning and is characterised by the phrase, “I can, I will, and here is how”.  Having a solid plan puts even more power behind the energy and motivation of optimism.  Having a solid set of action plans gives confidence and stay power when the first few obstacles and barriers are encountered.  Obstacles that quickly defeat those with just optimism alone.

Here in Sao Paulo I am talking with an organisation that is interested in building a consulting firm based on my process of integrated leadership alignment and strategy execution.  They are all enthusiastic about the value this can bring for extending their brand.  They can see the need in the marketplace for a consulting firm with real expertise and hands-on capabilities instead of the normal consulting experience of an “army of juniors” and stacks of reports.

Sounds ideal, right?  But so far I am experiencing considerable Optimism without much Realistic Optimism.  They are long on ideas and enthusiasm and short on plans and commitment.  Like you,  I have faced these kinds of choices before.

How is your track record on choosing between Optimism versus Realistic Optimism? Can you step back and really see the differences?

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

PS.  If you are a fan of English Premier League Football (Soccer), this article is a perfect example of the difference between Optimism and Realistic Optimism:  Swansea’s Optimism Frustrated By Moyes’ Cunning Plan

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to Brazil, Optimism and Realistic Optimism

  1. Optimism midly annoys me. I need a plan for anything. I need to understand the steps and determine the probability that each step will be completed within expectations. Great post John.


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