Radically Honest Blog

Determinate Optimism

Some time ago, I penned down my thoughts about the entrepreneur ambivalence, my doubts about it, and stuff like that. Then a colleague-entrepreneur commented on what I wrote, advising me to read wonderful lecture notes by Peter Thiel. I did read it—and understood something about myself. Suddenly, everything fell into place. It turns out (at the moment), I am a determinate optimist.

I do advise you to read the lecture notes; they really rock. Below, I’m applying it to the product owner’s role.

Thiel introduces quite a simple model and explores it. The model consists of two axes: the degree of optimism and the certainty of the future. You may be sure that things will be fucked up in the future and know exactly how (bottom left square). Or, say, you may think that everything will turn out just fine—but you don’t know how this will happen (top right square).

This model fits any product owner just wonderfully. I’ve been in all four states, so I can say that the top left is the best one.

I’ve been in the top right square: you have a sense of moving in the right direction but have no clear long-term plans. You turn on your Entrepreneur Mode and try to reach as far as possible with your tentacles. On your way, you try not to stray too much. It’s an exciting place to be, though quite stressful.

I’ve definitely spent some time in the bottom left square when you very clearly see how your product will be fucked and why. On the bright side, in such a situation you can also think of a tangible plan for getting out of this situation. If you do, you can climb diagonally upward by cutting costs and turning on the Entrepreneur Mode.

In the bottom right, you lose interest and don’t see any clear development paths. After interest is gone, the vision disappears rather quickly as well. There seems to be no actual crisis yet, but the situation is already disturbing. You kinda don’t want to take any radical decisions, though something should be done. This is the worst state for a PO. Been there too, got a T-shirt.

Right now, I’m in the top left square. I clearly know what I want from Fibery, and, next to the general direction, I’m confident about every step on this path. Sure thing, I collect feedback, listen and reflect—but people’s opinion does not affect my determined optimism. This optimism came pretty quickly to me as soon as I focused on one product instead of two.

I have a long-term vision of the product and can describe the next steps for several years ahead. And there is unshakable confidence that this product will succeed.

Why, would you ask, is this all interesting or important? Because only the state of determinate optimism allows you to survive long enough and try to change the status quo in this world.

My personal list of why determinate optimism is essential

  • There’s faith in it. Faith is contagious for the whole team. It allows coping with emotional pitfalls and solving difficult problems.
  • There’s willpower in it. Willpower is the engine behind the whole process. It stops you from throwing in the towel. It drives you to run to success, although it’s still many months (or years) away.
  • There’s passion in it. When you see the goal clearly, you want to move towards it even faster.

In conditions of determinate optimism, everything becomes very simple, and goals come within touch. The PO’s job is to convey this simplicity and clarity to the team. 🙌

Psst... Wanna try Fibery? 👀

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