Why Strategic Optimism is still our best approach for 2023 (and beyond)
We need to give it a chance to pull us where we want to go
If you’re anything like most people, you start the new year with optimism. It’s easy! The new year sparks in us a hope that maybe we can finally be the version of ourselves we’ve always wanted to be: healthier, fitter, more educated, financially better off, with better habits and better style.
We do this in our businesses, too: this time of year is when organizations invest in sales kickoff events, pay attention to trend reports and predictions, and commit to lofty revenue and growth goals — and no one can impeach these goals because after all, it’s a whole new year! There’s no limit to what this year can bring.
Meanwhile, we’re in that awkward stage, perched only a few weeks into the new year and only a few weeks out of the old one. We don’t have to cast our mind too far back to recall the bittersweet sense we’re left with about the year that just was.
2022 vs 2023: What’s the case for optimism?
Go ahead: Think all the way back to 2022. In 2022, AI evolved. Rapidly. Twitter went haywire. Rapidly. There was war, inflation, and instability. Increasingly dire warnings about the climate. In other words, plenty of stuff that didn’t exactly inspire optimism.
And here in the beginning of 2023, now that we’ve shaken off that first week that doesn’t really count aaaaand that second week that feels like the first week so it also doesn’t really count, are we ready — really ready — to dig into this year with hope and a plan?
Your goals and resolutions may be already off track. I hope not! But many people have already abandoned the gym, drowned their Dry January in booze, and abandoned Veganuary altogether. (Is this where I point out that now as of 2023 I’ve been vegan for 25 years? No?)
Amid all this, does that mean Strategic Optimism been disproven as a leadership approach? Not at all. If anything, it has only become more relevant.
When chaos and uncertainty dominate your field of vision and you still need to make decisions and lead, you need an approach. That’s not going to be a bleak mindset, right?
Planning a business amid uncertainty just means more variables, more buffer, and more what-if scenarios. Ideally it calls for more open communication and more agility, too.
It is possible to be clear-eyed and hopeful; to manage risks and make ambitious plans. It is, in fact, important that we do all of that. Otherwise we might cautiously under-plan our way into a future we don’t want.
But we need both! Optimism and strategy.
If your 2023 plan is lacking in hope
So what do we need to do to prepare for 2023?
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Perhaps your planning for this year could do with a bit more optimism in your strategy.
Think about the communities who are affected by the work you do. Are there opportunities to engage with them more, ask them for input, learn what their priorities are? Can their input help you align your long-term thinking with their needs? You might find a whole new source of insight.
Consider the SDGs. Are your goals for this year aligned with one or more of them? Could they be, in a measurable way? This work isn’t only for non-profits and government agencies. It’s entirely feasible to build a for-profit enterprise that contributes net good to these goals, and it’s important that as many for-profit enterprises as possible give it their best try.
If your 2023 hopes are lacking a plan
Or perhaps you could do with a bit more strategy in your optimism.
Remember that Strategic Optimism is not the same as toxic positivity. We are not denying the problems in the world, we're not ignoring risks and harms; we are sizing them up and including them in our assessment, making plans to mitigate and reduce them. But where we are focused, what has the majority of our attention and energy, is the best possible outcome.
Your turn: which way has your thinking for this year tended to lean?
Whatever you need, you can always reach out, leave a comment below, and let us know how we can support your strategic vision and clarity for this year and beyond. Are you looking for inspiration? Strategic tools? Future-looking insights that will help you cut through the uncertainty?
May this be the best year yet, for all of us.
Kate O’Neill is widely known as the Tech Humanist. She is a speaker, author, researcher, entrepreneur, and advocate for a meaningful future for humanity amid data and technology-driven changes at scale. She is founder and CEO of KO Insights, a strategic advisory firm committed to improving human experience at scale.