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Optimism and Innovation

Optimism and Innovation

By Fernando Cardoso de Sousa
President, APGICO

Whoever limits themselves to only listening to the news media, complemented by the comments made by people, will be convinced that the Portuguese are generally pessimistic. Nothing can be further from the truth, at least in the version of studies that report Portuguese people as being optimistic, that is: having a tendency to see the positive side of life. That is why we Portuguese bet so much on the lottery where the probability of winning is less than minimal. It is why we believe that our soccer club will surely win, even after a series of defeats. Of course, lonely or upper-middle class males, young people (especially those unemployed for more than one year), or people from the Alentejo (the southern, less populated region of Portugal), decrease the statistics a bit. However, the probabilities still not fall below 50%, even in situational optimism (i.e., dependent upon the situation, and not solely because of an individual's personality - or dispositional optimism). It is also very dependent on the level of education. Indeed, the present crisis is far behind other causes of pessimism, such as family, social interaction and health. Even the Catholic religion and its rituals favour collective optimism, while enhancing the value of hope and faith. In fact, everything that has to do with social interaction fosters optimism.

Optimism is Contagious and Is the Result of Social Interaction

Not everything is good about optimism, of course. As in Voltaire's Candide, this Leibnizian optimist believes that "everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds", to the point of thinking that all was well in Lisbon, right after the 1755 earthquake that destroyed the city. Studies indicate a higher incidence of excessive optimism among sequential entrepreneurs, i.e., those who pursue a single line of business, as opposed to portfolio entrepreneurs who engage in more than one industry and who are more moderate in the calculation of probable success.

In either case, you cannot create anything without a good dose of optimism for creativity; as optimism is primarily an emotion in which the exercise of will is above all other feelings. As much as with knowledge, or talent, the person who does not have a disciplined will will never be able to achieve anything truly important (this is one of the gifted people dramas).

The same happens in businesses which is why innovation is mainly the pursuit of a constant discipline. This has been revealed in a recent study, where the researchers concluded that the innovative entrepreneur is primarily a disciplined individual oriented towards sharing with collaborators, internally and externally. In this study, discipline, persistence and collaboration emerged as the keywords for innovation in companies, particularly in the creative industries. This is perhaps because these managers have a need for organizational skills and work dedication; objectivity; and the ability to concentrate, while having to share decisions with a more specialized and dedicated population of employees than in other sectors of activity.

It follows that, if we want innovation to exist, we must bring people together. Without that, there is no optimism that endures. Of course, first you have to get optimistic people. Without them, nothing can be done. But then you might want to temper the group with some pessimists, so that the illusion of success does not overshadow reality. In either case, the key is not only to have people with great ideas, but to have those which are able to persist beyond failure. This does not mean to do so blindly and ignoring evidence or imagining that everything will be solved by the incoming “D. Sebastian” (a character of Portuguese mythology who will arrive on a foggy morning and save the country), but consciously, learning from mistakes, experimenting, evaluating and retrying, but always endeavoring.

Optimism, as well as creativity, can be learnt by practice. And practice is not only looking to change the perception of reality and imagining new ways to interpret it, but also adopting routines that will help to maintain a firm determination to move on. Even if, in order to create, need some insulation, you also need to have social interaction, so that optimism can be maintained in spite of failure. In fact there is no such thing as lonely creation. Thus, if the company wants good ideas to be put into practice, it must employ teams and projects as its main form of progress whilst, at the same time, ensuring that compliance with day-to-day routines remains a strong point for creating a culture of discipline.

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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium