hope, optimism and high expectation

 Mates often give me grief about looking through rose coloured glasses. When you’re a “glass half full” person, it’s a challenge to strike the right levels of hope, optimism and expectation. Kevin Rudd’s recent demise led me to dust off my article from the 2020 Summit, which highlights the difference between having positive expectations about what we want (hope), and assigning a high probability to those outcomes (optimism). At the time, I wrote:

The spirit of optimism, hope and inspiration, in abundance at the 2020 Summit, reminded me of the mood that engulfed Sydney during the Olympic Games. Equality, respect, enthusiasm and pride in being Australian, transcended personal biases and partisan views.  This Summit was about starting a dialogue right around Australia that will continue. It has energised and enabled people to feel listened to, and relevant. Let’s hope that the infectious enthusiasm and debate generated by the Summit can continue throughout Australia as part of the fabric of our society. Let’s also hope that the culture of the weekend – where different views were offered and listened to, where there are no rights or wrongs, where opposing arguments can coalesce in consensus – transcends our lives and cuts through the dogma, parochialism and inflexibility that are all too common. 

Only 27 months later, the central figure giving stimulating the hope and optimism was removed from office. Why? Not because he offered hope, but because he failed to manage high expectation through effective delivery and relationship management. As a result, he dampened the hope and optimism of millions who believed in him. The danger in today’s world is that if hope rises and gets squashed too often, it struggles to rise again, giving oxygen to sceptics, shock jocks and conservatives preoccupied with precedent.  

High expectations, well managed (by parents, partners, or corporations) often lead to high performance and achievement. However, poor delivery and failure to bring people on the journey, mostly leads to spectacular falls. To make it even tougher, the bar is set high in this country as “tall poppy syndrome” and the media do their bit to foster “glass half empty”. That movement is also in full swing in the USA where the Murdoch media are doing a job on President Obama as he offers hope on ground breaking health reform.

 Markets love business leaders who “under promise and over deliver”. Effective sales men and women get rich on “under committing and over delivering”. They’ve learned to overcome that part of human nature that wants to promise what we think people want to hear. And yet we continue to fall into the trap. Setting unrealistic expectations can mean that an effort (like carbon pollution reduction) becomes the victim of its own promise. When we fail to deliver, excuses and denial become part of the landscape.

 Despite the constant negativity in parts of the Australian media and despite the natural resistance to change in every one of us, we need to encourage hope and optimism for a better world. Martin Seligman makes a strong link between “learned optimism” and happiness. Katie Couric explains the genetic programming of optimism and tells us that optimists live longer. Hope is a powerful motivator.

 Effective management of expectation is an enabler of legitimate hope and optimism, which can give people confidence, infectious energy and courage to become involved. We saw the start of that process at the 2020 Summit. Let’s hope that our political and community leaders, with the support of the powerful media, can embrace some issues that transcend politics and allow us to unite on some exciting journeys full of hope and optimism, against a background of realistic expectations. What are the most critical issues on that list?


  1. … interesting that you chose three men of religion as your image header here Ken. I guess we all have hope, optimism and high expectations of the Catholic church in getting their act together too. As indeed we do for the processes of politics (not holding our breaths – some things just don’t change). But somehow I feel, albeit at a distance, that the Labour Party has about as much chance of sorting our their issues and rebuilding our hope, optimism and high expectations before the next election as does the Vatican before the second coming.

    • Good to hear from you Rhett – with typical perspicacity! Don’t read too much into the header image – just a cracker shot from Rome shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Can’t help sharing some of your frustration – but we need to stay optimistic.

  2. Hi Ken, Interesting comments! Many people thrive on hope and optimism as their source of oxygen. You are absolutely spot on when you said we need to encourage hope and optimism for a better world in spite of the negativity that surrounds us everyday in the media and resistance to change.

    The main issues are Health, Education, Youth and Aged Care, amongst other things.

    Best wishes,
    Caroline Hong

  3. “Issues can’t transcend politics, but ways may be found to make them more rational.One that seems to have been actively practised recently is the use of a selected group, chossen RANDOMLY rather like a jury, who hear from experts over a reasonable period of time, and then come up with action recommendations that are returned to the elected “parliment”—-the elected parliment doesn’t have to follow the recommendations, but they do have to explain why they have chossen to do something different. I became aware of this through a professor of law in the USA study centre at Sydney university (joint appointment with Harvard and Stanford I think). But thirst for power always will remain. Noel”


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