We Are Too Negative

Liesl Jobson


Will we survive? Won’t we survive? That’s the message that South Africans hear constantly from mainstream and social media alike. Adrian Gore’s simple and inspiring message inverts our standard pessimism and reframes our survival mechanisms in a new and refreshing light.

At last year’s Discovery Leadership Conference in Sandton, he laid it on thick: we are too negative. Gore, who is the founder and CEO of Discovery, received a 2016 All African Business Leader of the Year Award.

He traced our pessimism back to a primal instinct to seek out negative signals for the sake of survival. He described how we fixate on the negative, explaining it as an evolutionary mismatch. Essentially, we’ve outgrown the primitive threat of scarcity. Our new challenges are, paradoxically, is the threat of abundance coupled with the failure of systems.

“The nature of challenges have changed from physical threats to the threat of the failure of the systems and structures around us. We need to realise that being negative is not prudent, responsible or conservative. In the context of the systematic challenges we face today, a focus on the negative is fundamentally the wrong tactic. To get a system to work requires setting goals, creating a framework, creating positive context and motivating people,” he said.

“We need to create trust and co-operation. In addition to the negative bias, humans have evolved two other behavioural biases, namely the optimistic bias and the declinism bias. The first involves our belief that the future will be better than the past, while the latter points to our convictions that our environment is in a perpetual state of decline and that things are getting worse,” said Gore.

He explained how the will-we-won’t-we binary frame keeps humans seeking and seeing negative signals. We view our problems as intractable and insurmountable. Because we focus on problems, we don’t see progress and people start to believe we have nothing to lose. By focusing on the negatives, we don’t see the positives. We lose sight of progress and, importantly, we don’t realise what is at stake and how much we stand to lose.

Gore, who is involved with developing entrepreneurship through his work with organisations like Endeavor and the World Economic Forum Global Health Advisory Board, explores the profound difference leaders who aim at building up the country can make by focusing on the positive and the progress, while truly understanding what there is to lose.

“Leadership is about creating co-operation and trust between people who don’t necessarily know each other,” he said. “It is about creating a dream vision.”

Watch Adrian Gore on Youtube:


FETOLA 2016 0038Liesl Jobson is an writer, photographer and musician. Formerly a consulting editor of Books LIVE, she is now Fetola’s media co-ordinator. She is the author of Ride the Tortoise, 100 Papers, (which was translated into Italian as Cento strappi) and View from an Escalator as well as three Book Dash children’s books. She enjoys promoting the success of the small business entrepreneurs who make South Africa work.