Facing Naiveté in Business; Necessary for Success or Reason for Failure: Balancing Extremes of Naiveté and Cynicism…

Naiveté is necessary for success in business, so say some experts; while others say ‘no’, it’s the reason for business failure… In dictionaries, naiveté is defined as a state or quality of being naive; its lack of sophistication, worldliness… it’s synonymous with– deceivability, dupability, gullibility, innocence, weakness… hence, such a mindset will get anyone into big trouble at some point…

According to naivety.org; there are countless disappointments as a result of naiveté… it can be a best friend or a worst enemy… although, we can’t control it but maybe we can understand it… Business is a constant race to produce more… and now more than ever, innovative visions are needed to sustain the future… Naiveté is a bridge to optimism, trust, creative ideas… Never blame a person for suggesting things you find too ambitious, too optimistic or just impossible… as being naive. Blame those, who don’t have courage to be imaginative or explore the impossible…

The traditional business thinking is focused on incremental improvements, which is not only very boring, but also prevents– breakthroughs, creativity ideas… beyond the established paradigms. According to Sonia Simone; naiveté is about rejecting stupid definitions of maturity… It’s about brushing aside rules that no longer make any sense (if they ever did)… Naiveté is about seeing a bigger picture… it’s about being brave enough to ignore the conventional advice that does not apply… Naiveté is not willful ignorance, but it’s about– curiosity, learning… It makes lots of room for experimentation, thoughtful observation… But, it has no patience for being reckless or just jockeying for status… in the name of paper success. 

images41RW3TPZIn the article Too Much Caution Means Not Enough Risk by Henry Doss writes: Naiveté is a powerful state of being, especially for the entrepreneur– nothing is more precious and more at risk than a sense of wonder and sense of possibility, these are enriched by naiveté. The true entrepreneur (or the true intrapreneur, for that matter) is almost always characterized by an inability to see negatives, certain blindness to obstacles, disregard for barriers.  For them, it’s almost as if they are unaware of limitations. And, being blind to obstacles, they will tend to run straight at them,  and often right on through them; while calmer, more practical heads hold back…

Often times this is not so much a function of courage, or intent, but it’s simply naiveté about obstacles, consequences, and for example, often we might say; If only I had known then… A naïve state is what keeps the entrepreneur alive, optimistic, energized and in the game. Without naiveté, there is more caution and less  experimentation; more management, and less leadership.

Probably, there is also less real success. Naiveté is power behind risk, and without it, the entrepreneur is in danger of becoming the jaded manager… That’s because– time, experience, miles… tend to make even the most imaginative and visionary entrepreneur less naïve, and more aware of negative consequences…

When that happens; caution– the Kryptonite in the entrepreneur takes over: That’s the risk-taking, innovative visionary who started a business with little more than a napkin sketch, a notepad and a coffee shop is replaced by the cautious bean-counter, intent on nailing that second round of funding. That near-Quixotic adventurer is replaced by an office-inhabiting financier…

Naiveté is a powerful state, but it must be distinguished from a simple lack of self-awareness or simple ignorance. Naive is not the same as dumb. A naïve visionary is ambitious; an un-self-aware visionary is foolish.  A naïve leader brings others along on a mission; an un-self-aware leader takes lemmings to the cliff. A naïve entrepreneur will prevail; an un-self-aware entrepreneur will just consume resources…

The difference lies in intentionality, because it’s quite possible to intentionally cultivate and enrich naiveté… Naiveté is the lens through which possibility is magnified. It’s a healing balm for failure. It’s a source of energy; cultivated, enriched, treasured, understood… Naiveté powers up a sense of wonder and excitement: With it, the entrepreneur is always engaged, active, growing something; without it, the entrepreneur may be limited, afraid, holding back…

 

In the article Between Naiveté and Cynicism by Douglas E. Welch writes: Too many people, these days, are living at the extreme ends of the cynic/naïve scale… They have lost the ability to dream. Life has become an endless toil of protecting themselves from all the people out there who want to harm them in some way… While I can certainly understand these feelings, especially in people who have suffered greatly, the truth is, such cynicism only breeds a stale life, cut off from new ideas, new opportunities. By denying themselves the ability to dream, these people have doomed themselves to a drab and dreary life with nothing to look forward to, nothing to work towards. In an attempt to protect themselves from pain, they are actually making the problem worse…

Conversely, some people are so naïve as to beggar description. They deeply believe; every piece of advertising copy, every keynote speech, every glitzy business plan and then find themselves in a deep depression when the reality does not match the dream… Your goal should be to find some sense of balance between these extremes. You want to be cynical enough to weed out– bad, immoral or illegal opportunities while still remaining naïve enough to listen openly and honestly to the ideas being presented… You are being naïve enough to listen and dream a little, but cynical enough to do research before jumping into the deep end… Some where between extremes of cynicism and naiveté lies the true path; listen openly but evaluate critically…

In the article Brilliance Of Naiveté by Mike Myatt writes: Perhaps we should all be a bit more naïve… there is a certain brilliance to naiveté that leaders would be well served to embrace. In my work with the Gordian Institute I have found that most challenges exist due to a failure to explore different paths and perspectives. Many leaders display uncanny propensity to protect status quo, thinking rather than challenge it. Failing to exhaust the limitless potential of creative thinking is a sign of weak leadership…

Leaders who possess an open mind, who are driven by an insatiable curiosity, and who are more interested in ‘what’ is right than ‘who’ is right tend to be much better leaders than those leaders who enjoy being the smartest person in the room. I’ve always said, if you’re the smartest person in the room you’ve built the wrong team. The best leaders I know spend their time taking about, thinking about, and learning about what they don’t know.

They are open to new views, differing or even dissenting opinions, learning from anyone regardless of age, title, position… While leadership intelligence doesn’t have to be an oxymoron, it certainly can be. When a person begins to believe their own smoke, they have placed themselves on a very slippery slope. I believe there is truth in the statement; ‘a person can be too smart for their own good’…

It has been my observation that hyper-intelligent people can tend to think themselves into trouble, and out of opportunities with great ease. Whenever I find myself discussing issues of intellect, ego, leadership… it reminds me of a cartoon which reads: Rule #1: The boss is always right. Rule #2: When in doubt refer to Rule #1. When you find yourself justifying, rationalizing a position based solely on intellectual reasoning without regard to culture, practical realities… you may be too smart for your own good…

Just as a lack of belief in ‘gravity’ won’t prevent falling, simply believing a particular opinion or theory to be fact, does not mean it is… Often times the problem with intelligent people lies simply in the fact they have come to enjoy being right, and often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it’s based on delusion…

So how do you know when you’ve crossed over to the dark-side and can’t tell difference between fact and fiction? The bottom line is this… the gift of intellect is an asset to be thankful for, but only if put it to good and productive use… It’s not an excuse to be lazy, arrogant, mean-spirited, delusional… Don’t let your intellect stand in the way, but use it to support and develop other people, which will increase your chances for long-term success… Hence when in doubt have a little naiveté, it will serve you well…

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Some people have managed to hang onto what is called ‘beginner’s mind’ (i.e., Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind) in Zen practice, which says; in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities but in the expert’s there are few… By constraining what’s possible, we tend to just repeat the known possibilities, and those happy accidents that we experience from time-to-time are less likely to occur… So how can we stay in touch with this ‘beginner’s luck’ long after we have enough experience to know better and become cynical?

According to Emmanuel Ording; probably the hardest and most effective way is to give ourselves permission to fail, and fail often. If you have permission to fail, you have permission to try, and you learn more from the failures than from the successes. For example; think about all your failures on the way to learning– how to tie shoes as a child. When was the last time you failed that much at anything? And, look at you now; you are an expert at tying shoelaces, or are you?

According to Adrain Reed; being a business analyst creates the permission to call out the ‘elephants in the room’ and ask the deep, dark, naive questions that others avoid… and when done well, those naive questions can yield some extremely interesting outcomes and create useful debates that can help to clarify some very important business issues… There are many questions that could be asked, but here are just a few possible examples of relevant naive business questions; Why are you in business? What is the company’s mission? Who is the customer? Why do they buy from you? How are you different from the competition? How is your market changing? Why do you sell they way you do?…

Along with a lot of hard work many businesses, whether acknowledge it or not, must attribute a lot of their success to a surprising simple factor; naiveté… Great companies are not built on luck.. but perseverance in many areas that they don’t know very much about… simply put– they don’t know what they don’t know. So, sometimes, one of the biggest strengths of a business is just having a good dose of– Naiveté…