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Why optimism and entrepreneurship go hand in hand (and why it’s crucial to a growing business)

Blind optimists.’ That’s what entrepreneurs have been referred to throughout history – and for good reason. Entrepreneurs have the unique ability to envision a future that doesn’t yet exist and to take steps to make that vision a reality, even though they may be unsure whether those steps are being taken in the right direction.

‘Just start,’ is the one piece of advice many of those notoriously optimistic entrepreneurs share with people who ask them how they’ve managed to achieve what they have. To follow that advice and ‘just start’ – to begin creating something you truly believe will be the next big thing, you have to be optimistic. Otherwise, why start? What would all the time, money and effort be worth in the end?

Arguably, every entrepreneur is an optimist, in one sense or another. It takes a relentlessly positive mindset and dogged determination to see the opportunities that exist at the heart of the greatest challenges. Knowing one in nine start-up businesses across the world fail within the first five years, some may argue that many entrepreneurs are naïve or short-sighted.

But optimism is an essential ingredient for entrepreneurship, especially because of the very real possibility that failure may be the outcome, rather than despite it. It may be that very optimism that allows certain individuals to ‘fail forwards,’ and perhaps even fall – serendipitously – into the next best solution.

Of course, optimism alone is not going to cut it in the big wide world of business, but it certainly goes hand in hand with entrepreneurship. Here are three reasons why:

The feel-good factor in times of failure

Ask any South African entrepreneur what you need to succeed, and they’ll probably say resilience. The personal and professional journeys of aspiring businesspeople are very rarely linear. Most times, entrepreneurs face many extreme highs and lows before they reach a plateau or achieve anything close to what they envisioned. The difference between entrepreneurs that succeed in the long-term as opposed to those who give up when faced with adversity, is the ability to turn setbacks into stepping-stones.

To do that, business owners need mental fortitude and an attitude that says that the goal lies just beyond the next obstacle. It’s not surprising therefore, that some of the world’s greatest names in business are people whose lives have been fraught with difficulties. Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the world-famous Huffington Post wrote a book that was rejected by 36 publishers. 2023 Business Partners Ltd Entrepreneur of the Year® and founder of Bathu, Theo Baloyi, had to sell perfumes door-to-door in Alexandra township to make ends meet while studying for his accounting degree. Today he employs over 300 people. In these and other examples, the power of optimism shines through.

A catalyst for action

Entrepreneurs are vastly different – they have different backgrounds, different pathways to success, different mindsets and belief systems and different motivators. One thing that they do however share, regardless of their differences, is the ability to put their vision into action.

As many renowned entrepreneurs have attested, the will and drive to act is one of the single most important factors that determine whether a business transitions from being an idea to being a commercially viable enterprise. It is after all, why the advice to ‘just start,’ has become a mantra of the global business community.

Optimism is a powerful motivator to act and is the reason why many of the world’s most ubiquitous businesses get off the starting block. Beyond those formative years, optimism can fuel the passion and perseverance needed to navigate the complexities of starting and growing a business, from securing funding to scaling operations.

The science says it

The fact that optimism is ‘good for business’ is not only anecdotally true, but it has also been proven by science in many ways. One study, published by the American Psychological Association found that people with higher levels of optimism as an inherent personality trait, generally have better levels of mental health and are more successful across multiple life domains. Similarly, a 2019 study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that people who display a higher degree of optimism also benefit from a longer duration and quality of sleep.

A large body of research supports similar findings that optimism is linked to better physical health, longevity, and professional and academic achievement. All these health-related factors add up to the fact that entrepreneurs who are happier, healthier, and more fulfilled are more set up for success than their peers, and the science proves it. The synergy between a positive outlook and the entrepreneurial spirit is not just a coincidence but a fundamental necessity for the success and growth of any business.

Business Partners Limited is a National Partner of the NSBC

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