Simon Sinek on the difference between positive and optimistic

Richard Branson and Simon Sinek talk at the Virgin StartUp MeetUp
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A close up of Richard Branson smiling, looking at the camera
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Published on 1 October 2020

Delighted to surprise more than 800 startup founders and the unshakeable optimist Simon Sinek at a Virgin StartUp Digital MeetUp. 

Before I made an appearance, I was ‘backstage’ listening to Holly welcome the audience and talk to Virgin StartUp’s Managing Director Andy Fishburn about how we need to put purpose at the heart of everything we do in business. 

It was then Simon’s turn to talk about the future of business with another entrepreneur, Ben Keene. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting to Simon on multiple occasions and every time I hear him speak I’m bowled away by how inspiring and uplifting he is. 

He was asked a question by an entrepreneur called Kyle Frank on why young founders like him should feel positive about the future right now and his answer really resonated with me. 

He said it’s all about your mindset – and there’s a difference between being positive and optimistic: “Positivity is blind. Optimism is the undying belief that the future is bright, but it’s not a denial of the current state.” I couldn’t agree more. 

Optimism is one of the most important traits to have in business - especially right now. As Simon explained, if you can hold on to your vision in a time of crisis, you’re still feeling your way in the dark but at least you have a direction and you’re moving forward. 

I love hearing stories of how people have started their businesses and it’s brilliant seeing people take the challenge of a pandemic and find so many opportunities in it. I’m so proud to see the team at Virgin StartUp supporting so many creative businesses that have been founded to try and solve problems for people.  

I joined the MeetUp at the end to surprise Simon and the audience by asking the final question. I asked Simon: “If you were starting a business right now, what problem would you be setting out to solve and why?”

His answer couldn’t have been more timely or more important. He said he would like to solve how we relate to each other. “We’re living in a time when we’re more judgemental, we’re bad at listening, things are black and white, when in reality they’re mostly grey, and if I’m right you must be wrong.” 

He said we’re missing a lot of human skills such as empathy and the ability to have difficult conversations. It’s time for us to all be little more human and understanding. 

Again, I couldn’t agree more. We’ve all got to sit down with people we disagree with – our partners, our children, business relationships and friends, and try and work out where we agree on things and find the common ground. This is how we make it through crises and out the other side. Together. 

Thank you Simon for a brilliant, inspiring evening and to the Virgin StartUp team for all the work you are doing to support startup founders through the pandemic.