I come from a family of lawyers. From a young age It was expected that my brother and I would also go into law. We broke with tradition, not without resistance from our elders.  He became a journalist and I became a designer. I didn't realize then that I was also making a choice that would morally position me on the spectrum of optimism versus pessimism. Lawyers are trained to imagine the worst. I chose, by profession, to be an optimist.

Optimism is one of the core strengths of  designers. We inherently believe that no matter how hard the problem, we will come up with a better solution and this optimism drives our energy and our passion. How else can you imagine, advocate and be a change agent for a better future?

Some of world's most daring leaders who strive to change the world practice this one trait daily. They're optimists.

For World Bank president Dr. Jim Kim, optimism is "a moral choice".

For John Bielenberg, Founder, Future Partners, a wrong thinking company, "Optimism is the thing that drives you forward."

For Silicon Valley's Singularity University president Rob Nail, the need to create a positive version of the future is a matter of survival because if the only thing we can imagine is dystopia, we will get dystopia.

"The future scares us because we don't know where it is taking us and the only visions for the future that we have from media or Hollywood are dystopian, terminator, zombie apocalypse scenarios...I believe in an abundant future -- one where everyone has equal access to extraordinary education, healthcare, food, clean water, and shelter and can pursue their own path to happiness from there -- whether it is to become a billionaire or a musician or a priest or an astronaut." Rob Nail

For Bill and Melinda Gates optimism is something they have modeled after Warren Buffett's infectious positivity. In contrast to most people who believe that Buffett's success drives his optimism, they believe that in fact his optimism drives his success. 

"Because optimism isn't a belief that things will automatically get better; it's a conviction that we can make things better." Bill and Melinda Gates

If you're not a natural born optimist here are some things that come from design to practice your optimism:

Turn constraints into opportunities.

If it wasn't for the constraint of making a shoe without any waste, Nike designers would've never imagined the FlyKnit shoe, a shoe that is knitted. 

Just do it. 

For a great and very moving example of following your convictions without falling into the pessimism trap, watch Bending the Arc (available in its entirety on YouTube), the story of Dr. Kim, Ophelia Dahl and Paul Farmer, and Partners in Health, fighting TB, Aids and Ebola in the world's poorest communities. As Dr. Kim says, they didn't know if they would succeed but they kept on going.

Practice wrong thinking.

Know that great ideas often come from the worst places. Mickey McManus, author of Trillions and Autodesk fellow, made his intern the boss; Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webby Awards and the co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts, banned technology from her life once a week; artist William Kentridge made Rome's grime from pollution into art

Whether your goal is to eradicate poverty from the world, like Dr. Kim at the World Bank, or to imagine the future of humankind like Rob Nail at Singularity University, or if you want to model Buffet and Gates' financial success, I advocate that you practice thinking positively.

So instead of thinking of all the things that can go wrong, imagine the choices you can make for it to all go right. Because what you can imagine is what you can make happen.

This post was in part inspired by Dr. Kim and Rob Nail's stories that were full of optimism in the face of some of world's greatest problems, during Marshall Goldsmith's 100 Coaches event in Washington DC where I am a cohort. 

Published on: Dec 9, 2017