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The Business Case for Hope

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Think hope is not something we need in the hard business world? Think again. In these challenging times, says psychologist and hope researcher Shane J. Lopez, it’s a crucial business skill. Here’s why. When we’re faced with challenges, as I describe in AdaptAbility, it is crucial that we think as innovatively and creatively as possible so that we generate possibilities, connect to our resources, reach out to others, and respond with all of our individual and collective brain power. But it’s very hard to do that if we are operating from fear.


Fear, as Lopez describes it, “is associated with signals from one of the oldest parts of our brains, the amygdala. When we experience threat, the amygdala initiates a process that helps generate the physical resources we need to kick ass or make tracks. We have few other options when we are fearful; we behave as if we have blinders on.


“No creativity comes out of fear; we just don’t see options when we are fearful.”


Fear actually slows down our thinking and, when strong enough, can even cut off the ability to think at all. We disconnect from others just when we need to reach out. It’s like putting blinders on. That’s why I call fear the enemy, not change itself.


Conversely, he explains, “Hope is wired in the youngest part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex. When we attach ourselves to the future through a goal that matters to us, our new brain tells us to reach out, find more resources, get some support. Hope effectively takes the blinders off and helps us see chance and opportunity.


“Innovation comes out of hope; we create something out of nothing then tweak, tweak, tweak until it works just right. Hope works because it broadens our thinking and because it fuels persistence.”


Not only does hope foster creativity, but without hope, it’s extremely hard to have goals or to be motivated to improve a situation. Here’s another reason to practice hopefulness—feelings are contagious. The more fearful you are, the more others around you will become, and vice versa.


Which do you want to bring to work—your primitive brain that’s as smart as a lizard? Or your new brain that can help create a positive future for yourself and the rest of us?


To make sure your most resourceful thinking is working, turn fear into hope with these three questions:


  1. If anything could be right about this, what could be?
  2. What opportunities has this situation created?
  3. How can I turn this situation to my advantage?

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