GERMANY. We care about energy, demand more money for education and speak in favor of better infrastructure. But by doing so, we are only fighting half of the battle. The resource that we should actually care about, misses out: optimism.
The story of the power of an untapped resource could begin somewhere in the far East. Or in Silicon Valley. But a more urgent story about optimism begins in Germany, precisely where it is not recognized as a resource.
In his recent article “Der Rohstoff in uns,” literally translated as “the resource within us,” Handelsblatt Journalist Sven Prange traces the story of optimism as an untapped resource in Germany. In an exclusive interview with ROOSTERGNN, he now speaks about the motivations behind this characterization, and why optimism could be the missing key to Germany’s future economic success.
What first inspired you to think of optimism as a resource?
Sven Prange: If you review Germany’s uprising to a leading international export-power, you wouldn’t hear about commodities, neither about cheap work nor a flexible service-sector – but you will hear about the power of a good idea; the power of women and men who have and had ideas – and the power and optimism to believe in them. I think especially in a country with few commodities you have to believe in the power which is in you. And that is first of all the optimism to believe in you and your ideas.
Your argument is centered on the German society, putting forth that Germans should be more optimistic, and as a result, would also be more successful. Why do you think optimism is not generally considered a resource in Germany, whereas in other countries, such as the United States, it might be?
That’s a question of culture. Two years ago, the great German writer Thea Dorn published a fantastic book about “The German’s Soul” – the first impression: for centuries the Germans have been very dedicated to negative stories and pessimistic forecasts. Why? I don’t know. It’s just there. You can see it today regarding nearly all technical innovations: biotech, fracking, e-cars and even digital communications – the Germans are always among the latest to adapt thoes technologies.
You argue that there is no cost involved in order to foster optimism. How, then, can a society foster optimism? In your opinion, what role should policy makers, educators and other key figures play in this so-called fostering of optimism?
You can’t foster it. It needs some stories of success to boost that feeling. And it needs a change in the way the German elites – politicians, intellectuals, journalists, scientists – see the world. I think there is an ability among average Germans, to believe in them – but this ability has to be activated.
You are a journalist. Specifically, what role does the media play in creating, -or destroying,- optimism?
Maybe they have the key role. Journalists – in all countries – are dedicated to bad news. Bad news are selling. I think the media have to free themselves from this negative framing. I’m convinced that people want role-models, they want stories of success and they are ready to see the positive view on life.
Do you believe there is a link between optimism and development? What about optimism and wealth?
Regarding the first answers, there is no direct link: the German elites are pessimistic – but with no consequences for Germany’s wealth. Yet.
But I think, it’s a question for future: if you see the future as something dangerous, it will harm you. If you see it as a chance, it will serve you.
When should entrepreneurs and investors be realistic, as opposed to optimistic?
Always. Optimism doesn’t mean to be unrealistic. Optimism means to take reality as a chance. It’s just that.
And when solely considering the markets and the economy, is there ever a need for pessimism? After all, that could drive prices down and perhaps further investments that might later rise again.
As answered above: optimism doesn’t mean not to be careful. It doesn’t mean not to see risks. We’ve seen that before the outbreak of the financial crisis from 2008: when optimism grows up to hybris, it’s not longer a chance – it’s then the first step into breakdown.
Sven Prange is Head of Storytelling and Reporter in Chief with Handelsblatt, Germany’s leading Business and Financial Daily. You can contact him at email@example.com.
“Der Rohstoff in uns” appeared in the Handelsblatt on November 1st, 2013, and can be purchased online here in German.