The power of a positive attitude

It’s often the ingredient that makes all the difference

In the immortal words of Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Years ago, I was chatting with an oncologist. I asked him why some people survive the deadliest types of cancer while others succumb to far less dangerous types of the disease. Without any hesitation, he replied, “Attitude. Some people toss in the towel the minute they hear the C word. Others take it as a challenge and do everything they can to survive. They don’t always make it, but their attitude gives them a far better chance.”

He went on to say the survivors often have some important thing to do, whether it’s accomplishing some noble task to benefit others or taking care of someone who is dear to them. The desire to overcome the disease is often fueled by the need to benefit others.

Interesting, isn’t it? The more concerned we are about others, the greater the likelihood of our success. Those, who are concerned only, or mostly, about themselves are less likely to survive.

Admittedly, many religions teach this sort of thing, but sadly, they aren’t convincing enough for many businesspeople. Try putting your heart of gold in your business plan and see if it helps you get angel or venture capital funding.

We’re supposedly living in the golden age of entrepreneurship. There are all kinds of think tanks, societies, even government programs to help anyone starting a business. Yes, I know, some of these may not be helpful at all, but there’s a lot more encouragement and “help” today than there has ever been in the past.

So why do some businesses with absolutely tremendous products and/or services fail, while others with seemingly less spectacular offerings prosper? In fact, the overwhelming majority of startups fail, and I know of several successful businesses that failed after the founders retired. They were incredibly successful for decades until the cadre of new management came in and summarily went bankrupt a year or two later.

Admittedly, there could be many causes, and your local business school can probably enumerate them, but I wonder if they would ever include what might be the real one?

You see, I think businesses die from cancer just like real people. In business, the most common type of cancer I’ve found is something called greed. The purpose of the company, so stated or otherwise, is simply to make as much money as possible. In some cases, we can even add the phrase “no matter how.”

On the other hand, thankfully, there are people in this world who would like to leave it a better place than they found it. They come up with an idea that would be really beneficial to many of us. Their overwhelming desire is to make it available to as many people as possible. They know they have to make a profit to survive, but to them, that’s a detail. Their driving desire is to help as many of us as they can, and hopefully, they can bring it to us without the profit centered constraints required by many sources of capital.

Those who succeed at this tend to make an awful lot more money, especially since it’s not their primary goal. They’re not constantly in trouble with Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the IRS, or anybody else. We can’t seem to catch them doing anything wrong. Helping people is just so hard to prosecute. Just think of the money they save on lawyers.

And, of course, there are the bad guys. They may start with the best intent, but when they start making all that money, they forget their ideals and will do anything to make more of it. Unfortunately, leaving the high road often invites the reckoning shortly thereafter. Think of Facebook and Google as recent examples.

So, going back to wise old Henry, thinking we can do it is the most important ingredient. This is a lot easier when our consciences are clear, and we aren’t afraid to face ourselves in the mirror every morning. In fact, when we’re convinced what we’re providing is really valuable, we know we can’t afford to lose; we become almost unstoppable.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or

Categories: Business Advice