Optimism and Innovation: Anand Kulkarni

By Anand Kulkarni, Head of Research at The Centre for Optimism

It is said that necessity is the mother of innovation. Optimism is the whole family. Optimism is vital for innovation.

 It is the fuel that lights the fire of innovation. Optimism drives risk-taking, entrepreneurial impulses, positive forward thinking, absence of fear and strategic mindsets that give rise to positive outcomes. What, then, does this have to do with family? Happy and resilient families embody the characteristics of optimism that shape innovation. Positive family life embodies the following optimistic traits:

 Nurturing: Just as a nurturing environment is essential for a strong family, so too it is for innovation. Around the world, governments and entrepreneurs invest in start-ups that drive innovation. These start-ups are nurtured through, for example, incubators and accelerators designed to assist innovators in taking ideas to the market.

Collaborative: Well-functioning families help each other, look out for one another and work together to pursue collective and individual goals. So, too, it is with innovation. The innovation system brings complementary capabilities together, shares knowledge and insights, and jointly develops solutions to complex problems. The Global Innovation Index, for example, monitors explicitly and grades the extent of collaboration between universities and the private sector, among other determinants of collaboration. 

 Competitive:  Which family does not have that competitive spirit, that urge to win amongst its members and healthy sibling rivalry? The touch football games the Kennedy siblings played at their seaside home in the U.S. were legendary in their fierceness and competitiveness. As much as collaboration is essential, so is the spur of competition to drive innovation, foster risk-taking and step out of the comfort zone. Again, the Global Innovation Index captures competition-related metrics as essential to innovation. 

Disruptive: It is typical for a family to have a maverick in its midst, the one who upends tradition, whose quirks bring joy and challenges and the one (or more) who does and says things to startle. So, too, with many facets of innovation. Schumpeter's "creative destruction" mantra comes to light in this context, as does Clayton Christensen's disruptive innovations in which radically new technologies, products and services can completely alter industrial structures and landscapes.

 Resilient: Optimistic families bounce back from setbacks, grit their teeth and plough on. So, too, for optimistic innovators. Setbacks don't faze innovators. They continue to experiment, take risks, re-build and regenerate. One of the oft-quoted attributes of the success of American entrepreneurs is the ability to bounce back, remain buoyant in challenging times, and look ahead. 

 Happy: Optimistic families are happy and buoyant. At a national level, happy nations tend to be those that are successful economically and socially, sustainable and inclusive, according to various Happiness indices. A positive frame of mind is vitally important for innovators in fuelling innovation. 

 At the outset, I drew on the adage that necessity is the mother of innovation. While this is partly true, it obscures the more significant and broader notion of innovation. Firstly, innovation is not just necessity-driven but guided by the lens of opportunity. Secondly, innovation embodies the characteristics of optimistic, positive families. 

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