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11 Oct 2012

Creative Innovation (Pt 9): Pessimism’s Positivity

This entry is part 9 of 18 in the series Creative Innovation

Positive aspects of pessimism when it comes to innovation.

Nay-Sayers will not see pessimism’s positive side in innovation.

Imagine one chess player who can see nine moves ahead and another who can only see two. Which is more likely to see potential dangers? Now, imagine this player on a team of players who can only see two moves ahead. Will they discredit him as pessimistic when he claims their moves are only worsening the situation?

There is nothing like a crisis to change us and to improve our situation. Those who see dangers ahead are more likely to go and get more water for their half-empty glasses. Yes, it’s important to nurture positive feelings in employees but not Pollyannaism. Unfortunately, the article “The Secret Reason Your Employees Won’t Innovate” (Harvard Business Review, April 2010 edition) found in the work of Feirong Yuan ( University of Kansas) and Richard Woodman (Texas A&M) that:

[Employees] believe that coworkers will think negatively of them if they try to come up with better ways of doing things. . . . they’re even afraid they’ll “provoke anger among others who are comfortable with the status quo . . .”

It’s highly likely business cultures will paint innovative initiators as pessimistic. Yet, as the article “Mens Sana in Corporation Sano” (The Economist, July 10, 2010 edition) makes historically clear:

. . .  it is not self-evident that a positive mental attitude is good for a worker or his output: history shows that misfits have contributed far more to creativity than perky optimists.

Usually, people want to change the status quo because they don’t like it. That implies negativity and pessimism especially when creating urgency around changing it. Balancing all these forces requires a more talented manager than traditional business models tolerate. This talent needs to see the positivity of pessimism’s creative power as the desire to grow beyond an endangered status quo.


Other posts in this series:


Series Navigation<< Creative Innovation (Pt 8): Guidelines over RulesCreative Innovation (Pt 10): Information & Interruptions >>

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