The Power of Productive Paranoia

“Really great entrepreneurs have this very special mix of unstoppable optimism and scathing paranoia.” – Astro Teller, intelligent technology scientist

It was an incredible relief when I first read Jim Collins’ book Great by Choice where he talked about the attributes of leaders who thrived in turbulent times. One of those attributes was Productive Paranoia.

Common in some of the most successful leaders, Productive Paranoia can be healthy. It’s the attribute of being hyper-aware so that you do what you need to succeed, no matter what.

This is not the paranoia that freaks you out, but the kind that gets you into action, to plan better, think better and prepare better.

Productive paranoia makes you feel better when you’ve done what you can, allowing you to stop worrying and be present to what’s important right now. It’s about anticipation versus worry.

Turn Thought into Action

I’ve always felt paranoid about things that could go wrong, and am constantly thinking about what can be done to make sure we win, making Plans A, B and C. It’s fascinating that, in many conversations about paranoia with a dozen CEOs, I learned they felt the same way!

I once worked with a CEO in the US who was a doomsday person – a preparer to the extreme. He even had a large SUV with bullet-proof blankets, just in case.

As I talked to him, I realized I could do something about my own worry about disasters – like what would happen if the power went out for a month and people went crazy.

So I got into action: I made survival kits for my family with a back-up generator, emergency supplies, food and water. I put together a winter survival kit for my car, as I often drive through the mountains in the winter. And when I travel, I anticipate what could get lost or break down, and always go with extra chargers and connectors for phone and laptop.

While I haven’t gone as far as bullet-proof blankets, or a stash buried in back yard, I do know that, if things got weird, my family and I are ok for a few weeks.

And I noticed that after I put together the kits, I was more relaxed. I felt better, knowing I was prepared, and could move on to other important things. That’s the power of Productive Paranoia.

The Challenge

Think about where you can convert paranoia to productivity:

  1. What do you need to do to let the paranoia go, to quiet your mind?
  2. Get into action to make sure it happens so that you can focus on what’s most important.