The word terrific is fascinating. In one context it can mean “magnificent” as in “the weather is terrific.” In another context, it can mean the opposite–as in “it was a terrific thunderstorm.”

I mention this because yesterday after delivering the opening keynote at a technology conference where the theme was “surviving in an age of disruption,” I led two breakout sessions designed to help senior business leaders “think about the unthinkable.”

In one context, I counseled my audience how to think about unthinkable things from a negative perspective–in the sense that technology might render their existing business obsolete. I discussed how competitors could construct “unthinkable” new business models by leveraging emerging technologies; I reviewed how customers might develop “unthinkable” new preferences or tastes; and I even outlined how unconventional companies could invent and create previously unthinkable products and services.

The audience was able to readily grasp how technology could create these harmful “terrific storms.”

It was far more challenging to get the audience to accept equally plausible positive scenarios–situations whereby they could leverage the same technologies and trends to disrupt themselves and, in the process, create a more terrific future for their customers, themselves, and their communities.

Why are most people hardwired to fear the negative and overlook the positive? There are a host of evolutionary and psychological reasons, but the successful leader must work to unlearn these tendencies. She can do this embracing optimism as a catalytic force for positive change.

Optimistic leaders persevere through invisible barriers, they consider more options, and they don’t view setbacks as personal failures but rather as opportunities to learn and grow. Moreover, because they understand the future is changeable and they can help shape it, they are more willing to take action.

A “change in the weather” is coming to every business. You can either hunker down and try to outlast the terrific storm, or you can see it as a terrific time to set sail in search of new and exciting destinations. It’s all a matter of perspective!

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