There are some people at startups who are cynics. They see everything that might go wrong and assume it will. Sometimes they even list all the things that might go wrong and assert you would have to be crazy to believe that their company might survive all these potential disasters. These people are often smart and talented in the narrow area of their job, but they are poisonous for the company overall.
There are other people who are eternal optimists. They like to focus on the big picture “we are on a mission to make the world a better place by ….” and naively assume that potential problems will work themselves out by themselves. Sometimes they hate to acknowledge that there might be problems and don’t like it when others address difficult issues. These people aren’t much better than the cynics.
The dichotomy between hope and cynicism is, of course, present in all walks of life, not just startups, and this quote from brainpickings sums it up nicely:
To live with sincerity in our culture of cynicism is a difficult dance — one that comes easily only to the very young and the very old. The rest of us are left to tussle with two polarizing forces ripping the psyche asunder by beckoning to it from opposite directions — critical thinking and hope.
Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.
Successful startups embody both hope and critical thinking at the right times and in the right places. The ability to dream big and hope for massive success is essential, as is the ability to honestly confront challenges. Hope should be mostly for the medium to long term and should be grounded in reality. Critical thinking should be more about the short term and should remain positive in outlook.