Urgent Optimism: Your Superpower for the 2020s and Beyond?

By Victor Perton (6 January 2023)

Hannah Ritchie’s essay in Time, titled "How ‘Urgent Optimism’ Can Save the World," an excerpt from her upcoming book "Not the End of the World," has brought the concept of urgent optimism as a transformative force to the forefront again.  As you can imagine, I have ordered Hannah's book.

This aligns with my recent exploration of intelligent optimism and highlights the growing recognition of optimism as a catalyst in addressing global challenges.

The embodiment of this "urgent optimism" concept by figures like Prince William of Wales showcases urgent optimism as a practical approach to achieving seemingly impossible goals.

In an era where pessimism and cynicism often dominate, optimism is a refreshing counterbalance: A superpower. But what exactly is urgent optimism?

What is Urgent Optimism?

Urgent optimism, a term popularised by Jane McGonigal, is characterized by a highly motivated and immediate desire to overcome obstacles and a belief in the likelihood of success. Observed initially in the gaming context, McGonigal introduced urgent optimism to describe the proactive and positive mindset gamers exhibit when faced with game challenges. She posited that this mindset could be harnessed to address real-world issues, as it encourages immediate action, a sense of purpose, and a positive outlook in the face of challenges.

Hannah Ritchie builds upon this concept, defining urgent optimism with clarity and purpose: "Urgent optimism isn't about looking away from the climate crisis that faces us. It's about facing up to it, not from a place of 'damage limitation' but with a clear vision of the future we can build. One that not only stops warming in its tracks but builds a better world for us – all of us – and the species that we share the planet with. That's not going to happen on its own. It's something we need to fight for."

This definition encapsulates the essence of urgent optimism as a proactive and determined approach to the world's most pressing issues, emphasising the importance of confronting challenges head-on with a vision of creating a sustainable and inclusive future.

Jane McGonigal's Contribution to Urgent Optimism

Jane McGonigal offers valuable insights into urgent optimism, hosts a Coursera course titled "Urgent Optimism: How to Turn Foresight into Action," and leads the Institute for the Future's "Urgent Optimists" membership program. She defines urgent optimism as a highly motivating and resilient mindset that combines foresight with creativity, comprising psychological flexibility, realistic hope, and future power. This mindset involves recognizing the potential for change using positive and practical perspectives and feeling empowered to impact the future directly through intentional actions today.

The Urgent Optimism of Prince William of Wales

Prince William of Wales exemplifies urgent optimism through his work with The Earthshot Prize. He said, "seemingly impossible goals are within reach if we only harness the limitless power of innovation, human ingenuity, and urgent optimism."

By embracing urgent optimism, Prince William advocates for a proactive approach to addressing global challenges, emphasizing the importance of innovation and human ingenuity.

Urgent Optimism in Addressing Today's Challenges

In today's world, where we face significant environmental, social, and economic challenges, urgent optimism is more critical than ever. Amy Brachio, Global Vice Chair for Sustainability at Ernst & Young, encapsulates the imperative of this approach in addressing contemporary issues: "And so if we all apply urgent optimism in the roles that we've got, to be able to drive some change, I think we can help be part of the solution."

Adding a practical workplace application, Hilario Fiandeiro, a contact centre optimization specialist, emphasised the transformative impact of urgent optimism in a professional setting: "Urgent optimism is not just a mindset; it's a potential game-changer. For contact centre professionals, it's the secret sauce that turns challenges into opportunities, problems into solutions, and customers into loyal advocates."

In the essay "Urgent Optimism In Leadership" writer M Baldwin lauded the attributes of urgent optimism and those of effective leadership. He observed that addressing issues immediately with the understanding that things can go wrong, yet maintaining the belief in a positive impact, is a powerful approach, especially in leadership roles. Baldwin notes that many great historical leaders in politics, business, sports, or the military were essentially urgent optimists. They had to convince people that they could achieve what seemed impossible, envision potential pitfalls to improve outcomes and hold an unshakable belief in their ability to shape the future.


I refer to myself as a radical optimist and sometimes a Pollyanna optimist. My day-to-day work promotes infectious and magnetic optimism. I love the work of the "urgent optimists" while maintaining that optimism is a long-term state of mind for the individual and society.

The concept of urgent optimism, championed by Jane McGonigal, Prince William, and Hannah Ritchie, is an excellent call to action for today's world. It merges a realistic understanding of our global situation with a steadfast belief in our collective ability to effect change. This approach is a hopeful aspiration and a necessary tactic for progress. Urgent optimism compels us to not only dream of a better future but to actively and promptly work towards it, holding onto the conviction that "seemingly impossible goals are within reach if we only harness the limitless power of innovation, human ingenuity, and urgent optimism."

Optimism is a superpower.

Can Urgent Optimism Be Your Superpower for the 2020s and Beyond?

What's Your Optimism Superpower?

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