What do Clate and Scott think is the silent killer for small businesses? The inability to cultivate disciplined optimism. Disciplined optimism is a balance between having a positive attitude while being willing to face the brutal facts of your current reality. Clate and Scott talk about why that optimism is so critical to the survival of your small business and how to harness it to help your business and your team succeed.

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005 – Disciplined Optimism Transcript

Clate Mask: Welcome everybody, this is Clate Mask and Scott Martineau, cofounders of Infusionsoft, and this is another episode of the Small Business Success Podcast. Today we’re going to talk about a concept that’s really important for entrepreneurs to actually something if not handled well becomes a silent killer for small businesses. We call it disciplined optimism, and in particular what we’re talking about is the ability of the entrepreneur to face the challenges that exist in the business. But then also be able to stay positive and focused enough on the outcomes that they’re after so that they can win. I’ve seen way too many entrepreneurs taken out by the inability to cultivate this, and we want to take a few minutes to just talk about – a little bit more about what it is so that you can avoid falling victim to this trap.

Scott Martineau: So, Clate I want to share a story that we shared in our book Conquer the Chaos. Jim Collins, who’s author of Good to Great, he shared a story about a gentleman by the name of Jim Stockdale, and he was a prisoner of war, and he made some observations

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about the prisoners and the way that they handled the idea of getting out of prison. He said that the prisoners who would basically say I know I’m going to get out of here by Christmas. Christmas would come and they weren’t out. I’m going to get out of here by Easter, and they would have this optimism. He said those were the ones who actually just didn’t make it. They ended up giving up, losing hope, and he drew out the point that disciplined optimism is this really interesting balance that you have between having an optimistic and positive attitude that you will prevail in the end. But also being willing to face the brutal facts of your current reality. I just – I felt like that’s been a really, really fantastic story to draw that out.

Clate Mask: Yeah. It’s something that we’ve practiced over and over at Infusionsoft over the course of the years, and we entrepreneurs doing this.

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It’s so critical because as we know in small business you’re challenged every day by the brutal facts of survival, of winning, of being able to – of being successful. You’ve got the negativity coming at you from every angle, from partners or customers, even families and friends and trusted loved ones that are saying just go get a real job. Why are you doing this? So that negativity mounts up and builds inside of us, and if we’re not effective at confronting the real issues, and at the same time maintaining an undying belief that we will be successful that negativity will take us down.

Scott Martineau: One of the reasons I think this is so important is because I think we have to be honest that in small business a lot of the times we’re just – we’re literally just making it up. I don’t – I think people look around and they think that company over there they really have got it figured out. It must have been perfectly clear to them in terms of how they would get accomplished. No, it – we make it all up, and we go to town and we work and we see what sticks and what works, and we do more of that, and that’s just the reality.

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Clate Mask: We’re always figuring it out. That’s just the way it is.

Scott Martineau: So built into your DNA of you personally in the company has got to be this understanding that there will be failures, and it’s your ability to face the brutal facts, and maintain optimism in the face of that is key. It’s not about whether you make all the right decisions. Sure, it’s great to make great decisions, I’m not suggesting we be sloppy. But there’s a resilience there that has to be present.

Clate Mask: Yeah, and then that key thing about discipline optimism is actually craving and appreciating the brutal facts, because they make you better, and that’s the –I think that’s the key thing that entrepreneurs, when I see them make that shift towards success they don’t run away from the challenges and the problems. They recognize that those things are coming at them to help them get better, and a complaining customer is actually a caring person that wants you to get better. Yet, the normal approach of an entrepreneur is to resist receiving that feedback. So it comes at us in all kinds of different ways whether it’s products or service issues or whether it’s a

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customer or whether it’s a partner or a bank loan or whatever it is that doesn’t work out. Those are actually things that are teaching you, teaching us what we need to do to get better in order to achieve that vision that we have for the company.

Scott Martineau: I think it’s a very therapeutic exercise too for you and the members of your company if you’ve got employees to actually go through the process of just articulating the brutal facts. Remember when we got the privilege of spending a day with Jim Collins, and I still remember we were all sitting down waiting for him to come in. He walks through the door, and then about the first five seconds he said, “Hey everybody, get out a blank sheet of paper, line down the middle, I want to know brutal,” – or line at the top, whatever he said. ” Brutal facts, go, write down all the brutal facts in your business.” We just started, and we have a little different approach to starting the meeting, which you can share if you like Clate. But it became clear that one of the ways to just – one of the ways to address these things is just have a systematic way on a regular basis of just uncovering the brutal facts.

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These are the things that – we let these slip into the shadows of the business, these brutal facts, and they’re the things that start eating away at our confidence. So just getting them out through a brutal – through a regular brutal facts exercise is one suggestion for…

Clate Mask: Yeah. Another practice to incorporate in your business to get – to have some balance there is we call it positive focus, and we’ll start every big meeting or every meeting with several people. It’s not just one or two people where we’ll take just a minute and say here’s what I’m positive about that I’m seeing in the business. Sometimes it’ll be a personal thing as well, but that’s a really critical thing because by starting with the positive it puts us in a place of creation of having an approach to problem solving that’s very effective as opposed to be in the back of our minds where all of the doubt, fear and uncertainly exist. Coming from that place when we’re trying to solve problems together in the business. So, yes, the brutal facts exercise is great, the positive focus discipline, and the way that you do positive focus is important to bring that creativity.

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There are a couple other things that we’ve found and we recommend in our Leap Programs all the time, a series of exercises, but a couple in particular that we’re [overlapping conversation] …

Scott Martineau: I want to enter one more thought on that positive focus. I think what you’ll find if you start this practice is you’ll find that it will – it is work. So positive focus, sometimes everybody’s feeling great and it just naturally flows. But undoubtedly there will be times where one or more person it’s evident to them physically that they are having a hard time coming up with a positive focus.

Clate Mask: They’ll come in and they’re like I don’t have anything today.

Scott Martineau: That’s not allowed in the positive focus exercise. It’s actually the work of fighting through that mental place that you’re at, and getting to a place of say this is – that’s right there is something that I should have positivity about, and finding it. Now, you can – and the great thing is we’re doing that while also being very clear about the brutal facts that are affecting us.

Clate Mask: Yeah, that’s awesome. Then we have a couple of exercises that we do. One, when we call our accomplishment exercise, and this is each quarter we do this as we’re doing a reflection on the prior

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quarter, and we just say what have we accomplished over the quarter. It’s amazing how rich and satisfying that list is. I’m – it never ceases to amaze me how quick we are to forget the cool things that we accomplish, and how 90 days, a quarter, can just go by so fast. So just taking the time to do that, we’re very deliberate about it. In fact, one time we had an advisor that was attending one of our meetings, and he was watching the whole thing. We’ll go a good 30, 45 minutes; if it’s good juicy stuff we’ll just keep that thing going on accomplishments.

We’ll get these all listed out on big stickie notes, and we’re going through that exercise, and he was like, “You guys are going to throw a shoulder out of joint patting yourself on the back so much. Let’s get on to the good stuff.” We short circuited the exercise, and we actually found out later in reflection that wasn’t a good thing to short circuit. We needed to get all of those accomplishments out, and that way acts as a positive focus at the beginning of the quarterly planning exercise for us to reflect on the things that we’ve done.

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Scott Martineau: In fact, we ought to – Clate, we really out to do a podcast on elements of the strategic planning framework, because it’s – it’s been so impactful for us. But I want to mention one other – actually two others really quickly. Another exercise we do, there’s seven total, but another one that we’ve done for many, many years is we’ll focus on lessons learned. That’s – this isn’t like what we learned that we’re horrible at. This is actually what is – let’s take stock of the things that – the painful things we went through, and what we learned as a result of that. Then we also have a weaknesses exercise where we get just really open and vulnerable, and allow us to self-assess where we are. It’s a former brutal fact, but I just – I don’t think we can emphasize enough the need for you as an entrepreneur to be balanced in this approach, and bring both that optimism as well the willingness to face the brutal facts.

Clate Mask: Yeah. That’s a great point about doing a podcast just on – or doing podcasts on the elements of the strategy planning exercises.

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So hopefully this concept of discipline optimism makes sense to you, and you can see how powerful it will be to apply this approach in your business. If you want to understand a little bit more about it we – there’s a chapter in Conquer the Chaos, one of the mindset strategies that we talked about is on disciplined optimism, and you can also read the full story there of the Stockdale Paradox, and Jim Stockdale. But hopefully you’ll take this to heart, and I can just tell you I want so badly for entrepreneurs to find this place where they really appreciate the brutal facts, and embrace them as the way to get better all while maintaining that undying belief that they’ll be successful. Turns out that we are successful if we believe we’re going to be successful.

Scott Martineau: Clate, you used a phrase at the beginning of this podcast the silent killer, and I think if maybe I’d encourage listeners look around at the businesses that fold, and that give up, and you will undoubtedly find that there is either maybe an over focus on optimism, and not enough focus on the brutal facts or the opposite.

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Just getting hung up and mentally not being able to stay so focused on the brutal facts that you can’t maintain a place of optimism. We’ve seen that through the years that business ownership is as much about the mental game as anything else, and you’ve got to be tight in the way that you think, and you’ve got to realize that your thoughts are what’s going to lead your success.

Clate Mask: Awesome. So don’t fall victim to the silent killer master disciplined optimism, and we wish you the best in the success of your business. This has been another episode of the Small Business Success Podcast with Clate Mast and Scott Martineau, cofounders. Go get them and get that success.