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The Thing About Innovation

by Garry Miller, an Expert in Design Delivery and Project Management and Heading up the Centre for Optimism's Advocacy and Research on the Essential Optimism in Innovation

Let us firstly level the playing field. Innovation is for everyone, not for the few and privileged, but everyone, and especially for those that consider they have little and no hope.

Victoria's Lead Scientist Amanda Caples also made this democratic point in her interview with the Australian Leadership Project saying that "innovation is for everyone not just for scientists and engineers."

Now here is the thing, innovation is not a person or group of people nor a flashy lab, for all eyes to see, adorning the floor of a top consulting firm. What innovation is, at a grass roots level, is a way of approaching something that challenges the old and is curious about the new.

As we have come to realise storytelling is a powerful practice, especially when its topical and notionally of value.

So here is a story of innovation. Whilst leading a design practice for a global consulting firm I was encouraged to establish a lab for design and innovation. This idea was further enforced by prospective clients saying they would give us work if we only had a suitable studio and people to fill it. The statement, ‘Where is your studio and where are your people’, still resonates today.

At this point in the role, I recognised that many saw me as an exotic talent that brought something different yet was unsure what that ‘thing’ was. Fortunately, I had visited the firm’s London office, which was new and swanky, whereas the Melbourne office was old and tired. Clearly the efforts of an architectural practice given a big budget. I called my London counterpart, who had commissioned the London office, and asked for advice.

Sharing that I had been tasked with the job of creating a lab, I was asked what its purpose was? Having been conditioned by business leaders and prospective clients to consider it as a ‘thing’ its purpose had been lost in translation. There was a stark realisation, on the call, that innovation was best served with little, rather than more, and that designer furniture and a street artist mural, on the wall, would not promote the intrinsic nature of innovation nor make the business more able to demonstrate its value.

I was left with a grounded sense and a belief that no plying of a visiting global leader, with pizza for money, would do any of us any good. Fast forward the lab got built and the mural was installed, and the space served a purpose. Was its intrinsic value realised? Well at the very least the project represented a beginning and a stark reminder, for those that could see, that innovation was more than a ‘thing’.

So back to the beginning, innovation is for everyone, little is needed nor necessary to be innovative. What is needed is a curious mind and an intent to do good. Today is the best day to start, or to take the next step. And remember innovation is a group activity too so don’t be alone, find others that believe in the same importance and get going with bags filled with optimism and hope.

More Thoughts on Innovation

Glenn Barnes,  Joint Chair, Australian Citizens for Democratic Renewal

"Optimism is the font from which innovation flows.”

Jefferson Harcourt, Grey Innovation Group

Innovation and optimism are peas in a pod – they drive and influence one another,  and in many ways are central to the human experience.”

Brad Roberts, Xinova

"Optimism is the core of innovation: that there’s a better way"


Dr Martin Parkinson AC PMC, former Secretary, Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

“Optimism drives curiousity which in turn fosters innovation and invention. So whatever the challenges we face, it’s better to tackle them with an optimistic bent, confident that nothing is insurmountable given enough will and effort.”

Lisa Chikarovski

“Optimism drives us to look at the ‘solution’ in the context of a ‘problem’ - it changes the negative connotation of ‘problematic’ into an opportunity to think about how we can do better.  Striving to improve is the underlying driver of innovation - the desire to make the world a better place.”

Robert Noyce, Intel’s Co-Founder

Optimism is an essential ingredient of innovation. How else can the individual welcome change over security, adventure over staying in safe places?”


Associate Professor Kate Fox, RMIT

"Optimism is having the security to fail on your own terms knowing that you will be backed in despite the outcome."

“I believe optimism is the sparkle in our world. It is the optimists that believe positive change IS possible; they are the innovators, pioneers and changemakers that persist and continuously work towards a more positive world.”


Matthew Rascoff, Associate Vice Provost for Digital Education and Innovation, Duke University

“Optimism is crucial for all education leaders, doubly so for education innovators. The strange thing about optimism is that it is so infectious. It is a conversation-borne virus. Usually carriers don’t even know they’re transmitting it—but those on the receiving end always do.


Dr Cecilia Hilder

"We can’t have innovation without optimism - hope and confidence about the future. We now think of innovation in economic terms - about the wealth it will create - but innovation is creativity, it is doing and believing in making life better. Innovation is, in turn, optimism.  We all have moments where it is hard to be optimistic, but those of us who have had very difficult things happen know that things get better. It is our obligation to show those around us the truth and the power of optimism."

Paul Chapman, Chair of the Bendigo Invention and Innovation Festival

"Every innovator, inventor and change-leader, inherently use optimism as their energy and sustenance. It is the never-ending supply of 'fuel in the tank' that allows them to persevere and succeed."

"Voices of Bendigo Optimism"

Nathan Carkeek - URNOONEEK

“You can’t have innovation without creativity and collective creative often lays dormant in people at the heart of organisations through fear of failure. Key to unlocking that creative is removing the fear. This at its core requires a mindset of optimism” 

"Voices of Bendigo Optimism"

Evan Shellshear,  Author of Bestseller Innovation Tools

"The driving force behind disruptive innovation is a belief in the possible, a belief in progress, a belief in something better. "The Case for Optimism" embodies this disruptive perspective and gives us the mindset and drive to achieve it.”


Adrian Furner, Managing Director, Kommercialize

"It took James Dyson over 5000 versions to create his 1st vacuum cleaner.  To be a successful innovator you need to be resiliently optimistic or get lucky."


Dewi Savitri Wahab, Advisor to the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs on Social and Culture matters.

"With optimism, we can be innovative and creative and thus, be a part of solution."

Rob Solic, Australia Wide Engineering Recruitment

"The obstacle is the difference between the optimist and the pessimist. The optimistic leader is an innovator, not distracted by obstacles which cloud the outcome"


Peter Riddles AM

"Optimism and innovation are virtually connected, each becoming the motivation for the other."

Simon Egerton, Deputy Head – Department of Computer Science and Information Technology, La Trobe University

"Be optimistic! It frees the mind and nourishes the soul of innovation."

More "Voices of Bendigo Optimism"

Lynn Wood, Founder of Ideaspies

"Optimism is essential for innovation. Fortunately it can be learned."

Optimism Can be Learned

Chris Reddy, Leadership Coach

"All innovation, change and progress must come from a belief that things can improve for the better.   Innovation requires change. Change is not possible without optimism and the idea that we can overcome obstacles and challenges."


Oludotun Babayemi, co-founder of Nigeria’s Connected Development

“Optimism drives imagination, with it, we exist, without it, we become inexistent.”


Paul Ramadge, Managing Director, The PLuS Alliance

“To dream, to imagine, to think about the world in new ways, to set out to make a positive difference, and to inspire others to join you . . . herein is the essence of optimism and innovation. Here's to the thousands of exceptional leaders who embody this spirit.


Paul Pastulovic, Yarra Valley Water

"The relationship between optimism and innovation is perfectly summed up in the line from the Frank Sinatra song Love and Marriage... ‘you can't have one without the other’"


Melis Senova, Author of “This Human”

“We are creative beings and have the ability to change our perceptions of reality just by changing our minds. If we are optimistic in our mindset, we perceive our reality positively, which then encourages us to go about creating more of it.”

Kylie Hargreaves, Chair of the Australian Ocean Energy Group

"What makes me optimistic? The fact that when the human spirit combines both innovation and kindness, extraordinary outcomes are inevitable." That's what , told me!

Martin Stark

"The best innovators share their passion with optimism"

 Walter Russell Mead

"optimism, the belief that working hard and sticking to your principles will bring results, is a defining characteristics of the American spirit. Pessimists don’t change countries and cultures in hope of building a better life. And a nation of pessimists produces few world-class innovators and entrepreneurs."

Minerva Tantoco

"Reward people for bringing up problems. In order to innovate, you need to be an optimist but not a blind optimist."

Rocky Scopelliti 

"What makes me optimistic?  There’s a pure idea in every mind, waiting to be acted on."

Prof Brett Heyward, Professor of Practice, Graduate School of Business & QUTeX QUT

“What makes me optimistic? I'd have to say the human spirit. Our innovative nature comes to the fore at times of crisis, and I'm sure it will pull us through this particular event.”

Dr KH Kim

Want to Innovate? Science Says, “Be Optimistic!”


Charmaine Quick, Managing Director, Goulburn-Murray Water

"Optimism is that mindset that enables you to know that tomorrow will look better when things get tough today.It enables you to believe in the possibilities and opportunities for tomorrow and innovations that can make this possible."

George Wall, Managing Director, Water Industry Operators Association of Australia

“Optimism, the belief that something good or better will come from our efforts, is inherently linked to innovation. Human nature says people are unlikely to put their effort into, or even search for something innovative if they don’t have optimism and belief. Without optimism, innovation will rarely be delivered”

Neville Christie

"The daily practice of gratitude not only fosters optimism that leads to creativity, but it is the wellspring of innovation that creates a better world for all."

Voices for Gratitude and Optimism Daily Gratitude Reflections

Professor Ken Sloan CPA FAUA FRSA

"Innovators must be optimists, even if they don’t always sound it. Most of their ideas fail but their resolve to create and solve never fades. Even if they give up for a while, their addiction-like commitment to the possibilities for positive change always comes back to the fore. Innovators, in looking for a gap that needs to be filled or a problem that can be solved, remain optimistic that a different state of being is always possible. Spend a bit of time in a start-up hub and you will ‘feel’ exactly what I mean."

Dona Tantirimudalige

"Where necessity might be the mother of invention, without optimism, invention would seldom grow beyond the embryonic. What do I mean by that? Well, I believe optimism is critical in every step towards innovation. The drive to dream of what might be possible unconstrained by the perceived restrictions of the status quo requires optimism. The courage to not only envision the future you want but to step into planning and creating that future requires optimism. The willingness to step away from the theoretical and into action requires optimism. And when facing failure, the resilience to dust yourself off, regroup, learn, and try again (or try something different) requires optimism. Every step towards innovation requires optimism."


Raja Murthy

"Innovation ignites with ‘creative optimism’. Optimists see the glass half-full, not half-empty. Self-confident creative optimists find solutions through out-of-the-box thinking. They open a new path rather than follow derelict tracks. They are determined to find a way, and so they find a way."

Graeme Grovum, Corrs Chambers Westgarth head of innovation  

“Be realistic, optimistic and open."

“Realistic about your current position – solutions do not come about by ignoring a problem that clearly exists.  

“Be optimistic about what’s possible. Innovation is a mindset – a belief we can improve, a desire to discover and an optimism to succeed.

“Be open about where new ideas can come from. Restricting your firm’s efforts to internal ideas only is, no matter how great your team, a very limited well of inspiration.”

Surendra Soni in Optimism As A Creative Source And Strategy For Innovation

"Bridging the gap between simply being positive and being positively successful, optimism can be set into force as the creative source and strategy for innovation."

Rob Hartnett author, "It's all Possible: How to live an epic life and unleash the high-performance hero within you."

I don't believe I have ever met an innovator who is not an optimist. It didn't matter if they were in technology, film, arts, business or sport. It is impossible to innovate as a pessimist. When you are innovating you are asking “what could be” you are challenging the existing process, the existing thought. The reality is when you are innovating you are saying no to facts: That is facts as they are currently understood.

"Every innovator has looked at those who have gone before and said with respect, “great work, but I think there is a better way”. Think of Roger Bannister and the four-minute mile. Think of Einstein and then Stephen Hawking. Think of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Think of Sir Edmund Hillary. All innovators in their own way and all optimists for what is possible.

"Optimism allows us to understand that we see the world not as it is, but as we are with our current level of thinking. Innovation always requires a new level of thinking and optimism frees us to think at a higher level and inspire those around us."


Arthur T. Johnson is Professor Emeritus in Bioengineering at the University of Maryland

"Optimism opens the mind to curiosity and creativity, both of which are necessary for innovation to occur. New technologies, new techniques, and new approaches to societal needs are not likely to happen unless someone somewhere believes in their merits strongly enough to persist and bring them to fruition. The ability to focus enough on the subject at hand to create something new or to improve something already existing requires a sense that everything else is at least satisfactory, even good, and does not require extensive attention. These are hallmarks of an optimistic outlook."

Enrique Rubio, Founder, Hacking HR

"If we think about the greatest minds and innovators of all times, we must know that there was something more than just love for the idea at hand. Each of these successful individuals was deeply optimistic about the journey, without really knowing for sure the fate of the end results. They didn’t know whether their idea was going to be successful and great or not, they probably weren’t even sure about how to keep things together in times of difficulties or how to get up after every failure. However, they managed to learn how to do it and keep their enthusiasm, resiliency and patience, despite the many adversities. Optimism was one of the fundamental sources of energy that fuel their soul and spirit when working for innovation."

Chris Griffiths, Author of the Creative Thinking Handbook in Innovate with Optimism

"The truth is, the energy afforded by an optimistic viewpoint perfectly lends itself to an innovative mindset. There is great power in optimism, and that is something anyone can harness. With the right adjustment in attitude, even a natural pessimist can use a positive outlook to their advantage in business."

Fernando Cardoso de Sousa, President, APGICO in Optimism and Innovation

"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."

Fareed Zakaria in "The pandemic has led to innovation. It’s a reason for optimism."

"The last great pandemic, the 1918 influenza outbreak, was followed by the Roaring Twenties. It is too soon to tell whether this one will usher in that kind of sustained growth, but there are reasons for optimism.

"The most important of these is innovation. Crises always lead people to find new ways to do things, adopt new technologies and cast away old practices. In the United States, the ability of large parts of the economy to function and excel in the digital realm — when the physical economy was broadly shut down — has surprised even techno-optimists.

"I’m trying to look at the bright side of a terrible situation. There are real grounds to be optimistic that, grim as the pandemic has been, it could open up progress across the world."


Moses Ma On Innovation and Optimism

"The innovator's greatest reward is the bliss of proving the naysayer wrong. Your optimism isn't a form of shortsightedness; innovation is actually a spiritual discipline - one that requires exemplary positivity, perspective and perseverance. And any hope of turning our economy around requires that this positivity be shared by the majority of our citizens."

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