Why Business Owners Need a Little Positive Paranoia

Catherine Lang-Cline

Paranoia is defined by Merriam Webster, as “an unreasonable feeling that people are trying to harm you or do not like you.”

The difference between positive paranoia and destructive paranoia is the word “unreasonable.” Positive paranoia is the reasonable tension we get when we sense something is not right. It’s a sense that comes with experience. It’s a sense that guides us to better business outcomes. Examples;

  • “We did everything right, but we should think of alternatives to a bank loan”

  • “There was something that the customer said that just doesn’t sit right with me”

  • I am going to have one more person read this contract”

  • “I know our presentation is supposed to be delivered today, but I am going to confirm”

  • “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”

Again, all of these examples, based on positive paranoia, simply protect your business. It is that “gut instinct”… that “spider-sense” that is triggered to keep you one step ahead of trouble. Tough lessons heighten our positive paranoia making it easier to predict the unpredictable. Here are three ways that you can evaluate your paranoia to see if it is positive or destructive: 

  • Understand your fear. Determine if it based on false evidence or something reasonable. Positive paranoia allows you to acknowledge your fear and determine if it is legitimate.

  • Channel your worry in the right direction. The best leaders and organizations create a culture that worries about and prepares for external change and disruption. Like recessions and maybe a pandemic. Most importantly, they cultivate a high degree of trust within the team so that aligns everyone around purpose, vision, and values.

  • Change your thinking on stress. Stress in the workplace is estimated to cost $200 billion per year from absenteeism, turnover, workers’ compensation, and other related expenses. You need the right stress. For example a guitar string too tight breaks, too loose and it won’t play, but just right and you have a note. Positive stress, like positive paranoia, can be exciting and can drive a team to be stronger. 

If you can achieve a perpetual state of positive paranoia, rather than one of distrust and damage, you can embrace the reality that there are always changes and circumstances that will try and derail your business. It’s just that now you have fine-tuned your senses will be able to predict it. Now, you will be ready. 

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