As founders, leaders, and entrepreneurs, admitting that our thinking about the future has gone negative isn’t something we do willingly. We’re supposed to be the upbeat ones, the folks with the ideas and the answers, the ones who know how to pivot when things suddenly go against us. Persistently, uncertain times make that hard to do.

The true challenge, however, isn’t to avoid one extreme or to seek the other. It’s realizing that the environment around us is never fully positive or completely negative, and that the real trick is finding the ability to dance between the two polar opposites.

How do you do this? The mindset of ‘maybe’ goes a long way towards helping us figure that out, as a the following parable explains. The form presented here, first appeared in my book, A Deliberate Pause: Entrepreneurship and its Moment in Human Progress. The tale, however, is more than a thousand years old–so too is its lesson.

An aging farmer had a horse that he relied on for working his farm. One day it ran off. When his neighbors heard, they came to offer their sympathies. “Such bad luck,” they said. “Maybe,” responded the farmer. A few days later the horse returned, bringing three other strong, beautiful, wild horses with him. The neighbors came again. “Such good luck,” they cried. “May be,” said the farmer.

A few days later, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. “Such bad luck,” the neighbors said. “Maybe,” said the farmer. The very next week, a group of soldiers came to the farm, seeking young recruits. When they saw the boy with his broken leg, they passed him by. “Such good luck,” exclaimed the farmer’s friends. “May be,” said the farmer.

The maybe in our thinking– and in our leadership of others–reminds us that the waxing and waning of growth and uncertainty is natural, even when it feels outsized. It’s how we frame the larger picture of our efforts and our purpose, individually and in the organizations we lead that matters more. So, when those so-called negatives rise up, as they surely will, try flipping such thoughts into maybes, and mining your actions and your options from there.


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