Business · Career

The definite, indefinite, optimist and pessimist

Peter Theil, in his book ‘Zero to One’, discusses a very intense two by two matrix (picture below). His favourite quadrant is the definite optimism. I am not entirely sold on Peter’s advise but this matrix definitely gets you thinking about your plans and actions.He compels the reader to draw a parallel of the same and apply the matrix to her own life.


1. Definite optimism

The definite optimist has a concrete plan for the future and strongly believes in that future being better than today. Every generation feels that there are enough inventions in the world for it to sustain the coming centuries. Any new invention is seen as a probable clutter and not real value addition. Definite optimists hold a belief, quite contrary to this and do a good job at identifying things worth creating and go out to create those very things, despite all odds. Example companies are Tesla, Facebook and Space X.

2. Indefinite optimism

The indefinite optimist is bullish on the future but lacks any design and plan for how to make such a future possible. Instead of working for years to build a new product, indefinite optimists rearrange already invented ones. Bankers make money by rearranging the capital structures of already existing companies. Lawyers resolve disputes over old things or help other people structure their affairs. And private equity investors and management consultants don’t start new businesses; they squeeze extra efficiency from old ones with incessant procedural optimisations. A lot of you might find yourselves belonging here.

3. Definite pessimism

The definite pessimist has a specific vision for the future but believes that future to be bleak and that she must prepare for it. China is the most definitely pessimistic place in the world today. From China’s viewpoint, economic growth cannot come fast enough. Every other country is afraid that China is going to take over the world; China is the only country afraid that it won’t.

4. Indefinite pessimism

The indefinite pessimist has a bearish view on the future but no idea what to do about it. This describes Europe since the early 70s, when the continent succumbed to undirected bureaucratic drift. Today, the whole Eurozone is in slow-motion crisis, and nobody is in charge. Europeans just react to events as they happen and hope things don’t get worse.

In conclusion

You are not guilty if you belong to the indefinite optimism category. Some people have it by circumstance and situation while a few others have it by conviction and thorough planning.

In the initial phase of your career(number of years can vary from 5-15), you are building skills, making the most of opportunities and working hard to make a difference. You may not know how exactly you want to make a difference. But the intent is there. That’s good enough. Just make sure that you are not walking randomly. Just make sure that you are contributing to meaningful causes and creating value.

Sometimes, you may not start something of your own because you might not have a definitive plan. At such times, identify a company powered by definite optimism and to lend your talents and energies to them. Are you definite or indefinite? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? It’s worth reflecting…

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