Pollyannas, Progress, and Google’s Larry Page

by | Thursday, May 16th, 2013

“Being negative is not how we make progress.” – Google’s Larry Page, Google I/O Conference, 5/15/13

Yesterday, Facebook friend Dave Morin (brainy CEO of Path), posted a quote from Larry Page’s May 15th Google I/O 2013 presentation. Larry Page’s quote: “Being negative is not how we make progress.”

No disrespect to Larry Page (he’s a smart guy), but that’s myth disproved by mountains of scientific research. Being negative can actually be healthy (both personally and professionally) and propel progress.

Martin Seligman’s University of Pennsylvania research found that optimism can prevent people from seeing reality with necessary clarity and foster complacency. A University of Waterloo study found that negative thinking can improve your finances. University of Chicago research found that negative feedback inspired experienced professionals to strive harder than positive feedback. A European study of 40,000 people found that being overly optimistic was associated with a higher risk of disability and death.

Illustrious innovator and inventor Thomas Edison agreed.

“Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” – Thomas Edison
Does being negative kill progress? No. A healthy dose of pessimism can motivate you to go out there and make it happen. Other biz “taboos” with surprising benefits: renegade thinking, rewarding failure, creative destruction, team competition, productive friction, and collaboration with competitors.

No hard feelings, Larry Page. Your dad was a computer science professor at Michigan State and I’m a loyal Spartan.

Seligman: http://bit.ly/dS1gsQ
U of Chicago: http://bit.ly/13y5dkD
Fast Company’s “5 Happiness Myths”: http://bit.ly/IMsg4k
European Study: http://bit.ly/13y5sMx
John Hopkins Study: http://bit.ly/1gStKYt

Additional Sources:
Scott Bowden, “The Power of the Negative,” InnovationExcellence.com, September 2013.
Heidi Grant Halvorson, “Sometimes Negative Feedback is Best,” HBR, January 28, 2013.
Oliver Burkeman, “The Power of Negative Thinking,” NYT, August 4, 2012.
Hay, Louise L., You Can Heal Your Life, Hay House Inc., 1984.
The Economist, “Positive Thinking’s Negative Results,” The Economist, 11 June 2009.
Wood, Joanne, “Should we re-think positive thinking?” PsychologyToday.com, March 2009.
Yong, Ed, “The peril of positive thinking,” Scienceblogs.com, May 27, 2009.

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