A chance conversation yesterday with @rolandharwood, and a bit of serendipity with the part of the book I’m currently reading (Imagine by Jonah Lehrer, which comes highly recommended) has got me thinking about the role that optimism has in innovation and creativity.
I flippantly remarked to Roland that in my view nothing ever got changed by mindless optimism. However, without optimism nothing gets changed either. This has led me to the idea of “mindful optimism”…
I think that this manifests in two ways: firstly that mindless optimism will rarely challenge the status quo; and secondly that great creativity comes with great critique.
Mindful optimism sees that things could be better, and strives to find new ways. The part of Lehrer’s book that links into the second part of the equation is that creativity within teams is far better when there is trusted, but honest and often ruthless critique of ideas to ensure that ideas for change are the best ones, not just the first ones, the ones from people on positions of power, or the easy ones (one of my current bete noires is talk of “low hanging fruit”).
Lehrer, for example, cites research that started almost as soon as the concept was invented that showed that “brainstorming” (free wheeling idea generation where nothing is allowed to be criticised) is actually less effective as a way to generate ideas than when critique is allowed and encouraged.
My hunch is that the key to all of this is to foster an environment where people have strong trust in each other, and faith in themselves, to be open to critique of how things are now, but also how things could be.