Is there a difference between hope and optimism? In this Tough Things First podcast, Ray Zinn gets to the heart of the matter and warns there is a danger of letting your hope and optimism overrule your logic.
Rob Artigo: I’m Rob Artigo, your guest host for this edition of The Tough Things First podcast with Ray Zinn, the longest-serving CEO in Silicon Valley history. Hello, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hey, Rob. So good to be with you today.
Rob Artigo: Is there a difference between hope and optimism?
Ray Zinn: To a degree. I mean, they’re somewhat synonymous, but in the case of hope, that is a singular thing that you have something that you desire, strongly desire to have happen.
Ray Zinn Cont: Optimism is more of a human characteristic. In other words, it’s not necessarily something on a singular thing you’re hoping for, but that you’re always looking on the bright side, you’re looking at the flower, not the thorns as you would on the rose. And so to have hope means to have that sincere desire for something or some event to happen or take place. Optimism is more of a characteristic in your life. They go together because it’s hard to have hope without being optimistic. I think optimism is akin to starting hope.
I don’t know of a pessimistic person that can have hope because, by nature, they’re not hopeful as you would. So again, I think optimism is a nature or characteristic that you have that instills in you, that hope or desire, strong desire to have something come to pass.
Rob Artigo: Why is it hard to defeat an optimistic person?
Ray Zinn: They don’t give up. Again, they say a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. They’re turning that lemon into lemonade, and so they’re always looking at the bright side as opposed to the negative. I’ll tell you, if there’s any negativity that you feel about something, your optimism or your hope is going to fade, don’t be optimistic to the point where you’re doing something stupid. You believe that some particular drug or something’s not going to hurt you, that’s the wrong kind of optimism or hope as you would.
So when you’re optimistic, you look on the bright side of that hope or desire, and then you make it happen, you’ll accomplish it. So again, optimism is the key to being hopeful.
Rob Artigo: I also think that in the business world, we see situations where people think they’re being optimistic, but it’s just wishful thinking, right?
Ray Zinn: Yes, exactly. So again, that could come from optimism. If you can’t see the thorns on the stem of the rose and so you end up getting cut or hurt, then your optimism is not working for you. Don’t let your optimism run away with your logic. You want to make sure that you’re optimistic in the right way and not in the wrong way. So wishful thinking is hoping for something that’s more of a dream or something that is less likely to happen. We all talk about our dreams and it’s good to have dreams, but not if the dreams are going to take you in the wrong direction. You have to know what the school your optimism as they say. So in other words, you don’t want your optimism to ruin your logic.
Rob Artigo: Yeah, being realistic because you don’t want to go down the wrong path, which is so easy to do when you believe in something enough where you’re a little bit blinded by the fact that it’s not really going to work out. And I guess many businesses have probably failed because of that kind of thinking.
Ray Zinn: I watch Shark Tank all the time because I kind of like the program. It kind of reminds me of when I was running Micrel. And I see this, I see people come in. Of course, I’d say 99.999% of them are very optimistic, but they’re heading down the wrong path. And of course, they get that feedback from the sharks as to where they’re going awry. And so sometimes in watching the program, I can see, I can say, well, that guy’s got some wishful thinking, or that person’s got some wishful thinking going on because they’re heading down the wrong path. But I don’t know of a single one on Shark Tank. Well, I shouldn’t say that single one. I very seldom see anyone coming on Shark Tank that’s not very, very, very optimistic.
Rob Artigo: Usually, that conversation is followed by one of the sharks saying something like that. So how much money have you put into this? And they go, $3 million of my own money. Oh, really? Yeah. Well, I cashed in my 401(k) and I did all these things and I took a mortgage on the house and that kind of thing. And the next thing you know, you’re like, whoa, you’ve invested all this money on this one product? You don’t even have a company really.
Ray Zinn: So again, optimism’s good. I mean, obviously, it takes optimism to be hopeful, but make sure that your optimism doesn’t ruin your or rule your logic. It’s the ability to school your optimism to control it so that you’re not going to just head down the wrong path just because you’re optimistic.
Rob Artigo: And you mentioned that being hopeful and being optimistic, they kind of go hand in hand, but they have different characteristics and roles in your life. But is it more important to be hopeful than optimistic or being optimistic over being hopeful?
Ray Zinn: Well, as I said in the beginning, optimism is the key to being hopeful. If you’re not optimistic, you’re unlikely to be hopeful. And about a particular event, as I mentioned about Shark Tank, there’s some that come on of probably at least a third or half of them that come on are very, very hopeful and very, very optimistic, but are not going down the right path. In other words, they haven’t recognized the pitfalls and the shortcomings of their company. And so I think there’s five or six sharks on the shark tank, and I think it was five on a regular basis. And I’d say that if all the sharks are coming out negative, that means you’re heading in the wrong direction. The key here is, again, to recognize and control your optimism so that you don’t do something stupid, right?
Rob Artigo: Are there questions that I can ask myself to try to distinguish how optimistic I am, relatively speaking?
Ray Zinn: Well, that’s saying if something’s too good to be true, it probably is. So you got to look at … We know that life is ups and downs, and half your life is going to have some positives, and half your life is going to be negative. When I was running Micrel, somebody would bring in a project they wanted us to fund. I would look for how many pros and how many cons they had. So I expect them as many cons as they do pros. Con meaning why something is not good. The pro is something that is good. So it was interesting to me that when I looked at them, I’d see that they had a lot of pros and very few cons or the cons that they had were not very well thought through. And I could tell that I was looking for as much the cons as I was the pros.
In other words, why something is not going to work as opposed to why it will work. So again, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t optimistic, it’s just that I want to know what the pitfalls are. I want to know where the things that are possible to happen will happen.
Rob Artigo: And can’t you be optimistic too about, say you’re facing some crisis in the economy as a business operator or a crisis in a product that you lose a big customer, that you can be optimistic, that you’ll find a way to navigate to make it a positive, or at least get through it and make it work out, even if that means that whatever the dilemma is ultimately ends up being a dead end and you pivot and you do something else. But being optimistic is that whatever happens, I’ll get through it, around it, over it, under it, whatever I have to do to make it work in the end.
Ray Zinn: Yes. Like in a football game, you got the passer or the runner or whatever. He’s trying to get downfield and he’s got all these defensive players that are trying to tackle him to take him out. And so the success of the runner is depending upon how he can read the field, read the defense, and then be able to get around it. And the same is true in running a company. Again, I go back to the pros and cons. If you have some well-thought-out cons, in other words, when the sharks, again, ask them, well, what about this, what about that? And if they haven’t thought through, then they’re more likely to get funded. So you have to know where the pitfalls are. There always are pitfalls in any operation, but as long as you have a game plan and a way to avoid the pitfalls or like the runner going downfield, trying to avoid the defensive player, then, of course, the more successful you are, you’ll be as a entrepreneur. So again, look for the pitfalls, know where they are, and then have a plan to avoid them. Well,
Rob Artigo: Ray, this is a fast-growing podcast. And for listeners, they should know it’s a top-rated Silicon Valley podcast, and we’d like to keep that up. So they should go to their podcast provider and check it out. Rate the podcast, keep us going. And also check out Ray’s books on, of course, the Zen of Zinn series one, two, and three, and the book, Tough Things First, make sure you get it. I look forward to the next time, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Thanks, Rob. Appreciate being here.