Uninformed Optimism – The Challenge with Certainty in Entrepreneurship
July 28, 2015

Uniformed optimism has been documented several times, in the 5 Stages of Entrepreneurship, The Entrepreneurial Roller Coaster as well as The Positive Change Cycle. At its core it refers to the level of excitement, anticipation and jubilation one feels at the start of a new idea or venture. Uninformed optimism is an overly positive phase, the honeymoon period if you will.

Even in the famous television series, Game of Thrones, a leading character is constantly chastised and berated by those around him for his naivety and lack of seeing the full picture going into the next adventure. “You know nothing Jon Snow.”

Having a new idea is a great time! It’s a rush, it’s exciting, it’s scary and it’s fun all at the same time. We truly believe in ourselves and in the impact of our new venture.

High fives all around! We did it! This is going to be great. Everyone is going to love this. And most dangerously, “We’re going to make so much money of it!”

Its great time to build up and motivate your team. However, it’s not sustainable and naïve enthusiasm can put you in a dangerous position.

A few thoughts:

Uninformed Optimism is about doing instead of thinking

Coming up with great ideas is the easy part. Once we do we want to hit the streets, ready to run. We’re always ready to brainstorm and come up with more and more ideas and iterations, in a rush to start implementing. This phase is typically best for selling, raising money, building a team, and telling your story.

However, uninformed optimism keeps your from thinking of the challenges up ahead. We know the guys who love moving from idea to idea, always wondering why this one or that one didn’t take off. Often it’s because they are so caught up in brainstorming rather than hunkering down and truly figuring out the business case.

While I love action and despise overthinking, everything in moderation! Action has to be directed.

Uninformed Optimism is based on insufficient data

Every idea, every business concept needs research. It needs to be backed up by what people actually want. What’s the gap in their lives? What’s missing from current technology? What’s the best way to use current infrastructure efficiently? And the answers are not from you and your friends’ perspectives but through real market research and consumer feedback.

Think of 2 circles – The Greatest Needs and The Greatest Contributions. It’s quite easy to fill up what your contributions are, all the ideas, all of the potential features, all of the innovative concepts you came up with. However, it’s a bit more work to get the true insights on what the real market needs are. It’s even sweeter when you can combine the 2 with a few of your contributions directly matching to a few of the needs detected.

Uninformed Optimism is about ignoring the warning signs

When we are caught up in our enthusiasm and excitement we can often look right past the obvious signs pointing us in the opposite direction. This can mean choosing the wrong team or business partner. It’s very easy to get excited over a drink or networking session, but harder to look beyond and say, Are we really suitable as partners? Can we do this together? Do our skills compliment each other? The intensity and keenness of a new moment can lead down the wrong path quickly.

One can also look right past the shady client or “huge deal” in front of you. If it’s too good to be true, it really is just that. Looking back over the last several years, all of our most successful opportunities and clients came from pure hard work, nurtured relationships and establishing our brand over time. Even despite all of the Cinderella stories coming out of Silicon Valley and the like about angel investors and tremendous capital raising, almost every situation started after many years of hard work, positioning and fine tuning; all necessary to really win over anyone.

During the uniformed optimism phase one shouldn’t be doing any long-term business planning, making financial decisions or hiring. It’s not a logical period to do so.

So what then? 

To avoid being completely negative about this phase, it’s more than okay to embrace positivity and embrace opportunities. The creation phase of ideas through all-night white boarding sessions can be the most exhilarating time. There is also a general lack of certainty in the entrepreneurial space, you’ll never have it all figured out, and that doesn’t mean stop because you don’t. There is always opportunity to learn more, insights don’t end, but instead get even more fine-tuned and in depth.

I’m not here to discourage optimism, but one should always be honest and aware of exactly what that feeling is.  Bridle it and use it to your advantage. Contain the energy into hard work to making your plan succeed.

Unfortunately enthusiasm and optimism don’t last in this space. Being an entrepreneur is full of valleys and peaks and seemingly more low points than high. Enthusiasm can be fleeting and temporary. Rather embrace discipline and channel it accordingly. It’s reliable and it’s rooted. Establishing the habit of measuring your enthusiasm against a list of tests will prepare your for success.

The Next Stages

As you become knowledgeable, uninformed optimism can quickly turn into informed pessimism. It can be a crippling phase due to hitting your first roadblocks, anxiety settling in, feeling like a failure and wanting to quit. Preparing yourself with as much information to back up your ideas is the safest bet.

A little pessimism allows for more judgement and less risk. One of the characteristics I love most about my business partners is that someone is always playing devil’s advocate. Not for the sake of being argumentative or a cynic, but for critique and measuring all ideas against our ethos and why. It’s very easy to start running with a great idea and then looking up months later wondering, “What the heck are we even doing this for?”

We all want to get to the Informed Optimism stage. That’s where beauty and success truly set in. It’s when you know your space better than anyone else, you know where it’s going, you know the next trends, and you own it! Your excitement and enthusiasm is now backed up! You can now really be excited because you know factually that you’re on top and that your ideas have an audience and value proposition. Push to get here.

And don’t be Jon Snow…

For more insights, rants and motivation tune into our weekly show, The Opportune Time, telling the stories of Joburg’s entrepreneurs, Wednesday 4-6pm CAT on

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