#32 Think Positive?: Failure Is An Option And I Still Choose To Hit Go

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In 1990 I took a job with a company that said all the right things - Oracle Corporation. Everyone was so positive, brash, and happy. Their product roadmap stopped just short of taking over the world. There was nothing they couldn’t do. 

Except be honest.

It turned out they were positive to a fault. They’d been covering up shoddy business practices. Soon the SEC came knocking and the company had to restate earnings twice. Ten percent of the workforce was eventually laid off. 

I survived the cuts, but the experience left me with a permanent discomfort toward over-the-top positivity.

As I moved to my next employer, a sputtering startup named Powersoft Corporation, I was on high alert. And these folks did have positive things to say, but it was a different kind of positive. 

In my interviews the pitch had gone something like this...

"We’re trying to establish a new market - graphical application development tools. Right now it's just us and a bunch of other start ups trying to get some traction. If the market does eventually take hold, only one or two of us little guys will survive. And that's when the big boys - Microsoft and Oracle - will show up. They'll try to crush us because we sit so close to their lucrative database markets. So this is a long shot, but we think we can pull it off. And we’d like you to help us."

The Oracle version of positive was “we are the most amazing thing on the planet and we can do anything”. Powersoft’s version of positive was "this is going to be brutal but we believe we can pull it off with the right team and strong execution."

So which version of positive is the best for my Map of Me?


In 2006 author Rhonda Byrne released the book The Secret. Oprah jumped on the band wagon and the book has since sold 19 million copies. Parts of her message would fit right onto my map. Stuff like taking some responsibility for outcomes and that my mindset can impact my reality. I’ll even go along with her suggesting the use of affirmations and positive visualizations. Not something I do, but it can’t hurt to remind yourself of your positive intentions. 

BUT then she keeps going, right off the deep end. Claiming she fixed her eyesight by thinking positively about having better eyes. She also claims she no longer has to study to learn hard concepts. Check out this quote of hers…

“I never studied science or physics at school, and yet when I read complex books on quantum physics I understood them perfectly because I wanted to understand them.”

I think that's horseshit. I knew lots of kids who, just like Byrne, badly wanted to understand physics, and still failed. And I won’t even bother to address her reading glasses claim. In general, I can’t accept that all I have to do is really, really, really want and believe in something and it’s going to happen.

So I think her positive spiel is a load of garbage that’s done nothing but put money in her pocket. I rank her and her book up there with other scammy crap like Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich from the 1950’s. This person and this person agree with me.

One quick aside, if you love this over the top positive stuff it should be all over your map. One persons trash is another persons treasure. That’s why it’s called map of ME.



To me this Suzy Sunshine rah rah crap feels like something I’ve already talked about. Remember our Herzberg discussion on how to demotivate people? The fact that blowing smoke up someones ass is not a good idea.

Well if I tell myself to just believe and then success will show up at my doorstep - aren't I blowing smoke up my own rear end? Wouldn’t it follow that I’m demotivating myself?

To further look at this question I want to introduce you to the term self efficacy. 

It’s not a word I was familiar with until I dove into this book by respected psychologist Robert Bandura - SELF-EFFICACY: The Exercise of Control .

Self efficacy - the extent or strength of one's belief in one's own ability to complete tasks and reach goals.

And to explain how self-efficacy spurs us to action here’s a Bandura quote…

“People take action when they … expect given actions to produce desired outcomes and believe that they can perform those actions.”

So if you have a goal that you want to take action toward, two things must be true.

One, you must believe that you know which actions you should take to achieve the goal. And two, you must believe you can perform the required actions.

So forward motion comes from your positive belief in both your path and your ability.


So doesn't it follow that The Secret is correct and I’m wrong?

That all I need to do is positively believe that I can do the task and my dreams will come true?

That Oracle was doing it the right way? That I should blow smoke up my own rear end?

I don’t think so. Here’s a further quote from Bandura. 

“Resolute strivers do not delude themselves about the tough odds of lofty attainments, but they believe they have what it takes to beat those odds.”

So this is where the whole positivity thing gets interesting. He’s saying resolute strivers - motivated people that get shit done - must absolutely believe in their abilities to get the job done. But it’s not a stupid, over the top, we can’t be stopped kind of positivity. It’s an intelligent, I see the scope of the challenge and still believe I can do it, kind of positive.


This was the problem at Oracle circa 1990. They were delusionally positive. Drinking their own kool aid. So cocksure that they considered themselves immune to the laws of gravity and reality.

Contrast this to the positivity I found at Powersoft. They were brutally honest that we were up against long odds, that we were statistically likely to fail. Yet still believed.

So no, in answer to my own earlier question, I should not blow smoke up my own rear end. 


The “WRONG STORY” I need to PURGE is that failure isn’t an option. That I can immerse myself in lots of positive talk and defy gravity. 

Forward motion for me is about believing in my ability even in the face of well understood odds. It’s an informed positivity that keeps me clawing ahead.

I’m POSITIVE this is the right approach for MY map.

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