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Nurture in Business

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It's the job of a manager not to light the fire of motivation, but to create an environment to let each person's personal spark of motivation blaze.
 
Frederick Herzberg

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Marketing - Creativity - How Can I Get Some?
 
Creativity is the lifeblood of innovation and marketing, but where does it come from and how should a company nurture this elusive trait? How does one explore creativity on the job - and use it to one's advantage?
 

Inventive, imaginative people are fun, cool, and can be one of a company's most valued assets, agreed panelists at the HBS Marketing Conference on April 9.

But first things first: Know the customer, take care of retailers, and cover the fundamentals. Philip Evans (HBS MBA '78), a senior vice president at the Boston Consulting Group, moderated the discussion, opening with a simple question: How do you create creativity?

"Creativity needs to be in the DNA of a company," said Barney Waters, vice president of marketing for PUMA North America. "At PUMA, it helps that our current chairman came from marketing and was named to the position at age thirty. The people who are running the place believe in creativity."

Kevin Moehlenkamp, EVP, Executive Creative Director at Hill, Holliday in Boston, was blunt in describing what it takes to foster creativity: "Balls. Having the courage to stand behind creative ideas. In our firm, the difference between being noticed and not being noticed is going out there with an idea that nobody feels comfortable with initially and being able to educate your clients to the point where they feel it's the right thing to do."

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Saddle up

Be a cowboy, advised Bill Nielsen of Microsoft's Xbox - but don't get so caught up in the persona that you fail to take care of the marketing basics. It's possible to be wildly creative and walk off with an armload of awards, but that won't help your company if you've ignored its fundamental needs.

What is a manager's role in all this? Evans wondered. If creativity should be part of a company's culture, how do managers go about setting the tone for it?

"The hardest thing for creatives to do is to get an idea through to people who don't understand its potential," said Moehlenkamp. "My job is to try to get upstream with the client and let them know that we have their business at heart - not just selling the next great idea. I call it setting the table."

"Most of my time is spent managing up," agreed Nielsen, "convincing others that we do have a strategy and that what we're doing makes sense." Nielsen said that he also allocates a certain percentage of his budget to trying new things. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't matter - that money was already set aside with the understanding that not all new projects will succeed.

Creative ideas can seem small at first, so persistence is important when convincing others of their worth, said Shripriya Mahesh (HBS MBA '97), vice president of product marketing and platform at eBay. "You will get a lot of nos," she said. "As a manager, helping your team get in front of the right people on a consistent basis is important."

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Outsourcing creativity

While creative work can be outsourced, it's still vital that someone owns the problem internally, panelists agreed. "You have to bring in external people for a fresh perspective," said Waters, noting that they've asked Philippe Starck to work on designs for PUMA.

"We outsource everything," said Nielsen, adding that he changes creative agencies frequently. "We also listen to everyone who calls us. Some of the best things we've attached ourselves to have come from a blind phone call."

Thanks to one caller, Xbox now sponsors NOPI Nationals, an annual drag racing competition and car show in Atlanta with a broad multi-ethnic appeal and an expected attendance this year of 90,000 spectators.

E Bay gets some of its best innovations from simply paying attention to what its users are doing, said Mahesh. For example, e Bay's hugely successful motors business grew out of one employee simply noticing that there was a Ferrari for sale on the site. "We innovate based on what our users are doing," she said.

When all is said and done, creativity is not an end in itself, said Moehlenkamp - being wild and crazy isn't enough. "I make my creatives go back and understand why it is that something works so that they can explain it to clients. It's not a self-serving process."

"Be a rock star at your job," Mahesh advised students in the audience. "Build credibility. Prove yourself. That will give you more leeway to work out of the box."

"Make creativity part of your repertoire," added Moehlenkamp. "It's not a luxury, it's a necessity. You have to live that and believe in that."

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What can I do to increase my creativity?

by Charles Cave

The first task in becoming more creative is giving yourself permission to do things creatively. The second is overcoming your personal blocks to creativity. For some people, being creative involves trying not to be embarrassed by their own ideas; for others, it is a matter of being aware that things can be done in many different ways. Some people are self-aware or confident enough to have fewer inhibitions and can just let their creative natures work.

Surround yourself with people who love and support you and you will be even more creative. Spend time meditating on your own worthiness, reading about other creative people and creative solutions, concentrating on the positive power of your own creative forces - these activities, combined with a belief in your own intuition and creative abilities, will help improve your confidence.

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Action Steps

Here are a few additional things you can do to improve your creativity:

  • Study books on creative thinking techniques and put them into practice

  • Attend courses on creative thinking and put the ideas into practice.

  • Keep a daily journal and record your thoughts, ideas, sketches, etc. as soon as you get them. Review your journal regularly and see what ideas can be developed.

  • Indulge in relaxation activities and sports to give the mind a rest and time for the subconscious to digest information.

  • Develop an interest in a variety of different things, preferably well away from your normal sphere of work. For example, read comic books or magazines you wouldn't normally get. This keeps the brain busy with new things. It is a common trait of creative people that they are interested in a wide variety of subjects.

  • Don't work too hard - you need time away from a problem to be creative after periods of intense focus.

It really helps to think of creativity as a skill or set of skills. By practicing, one can get better at using them. So whenever you have a chance try and do mundane things in novel ways - it will make them more entertaining and you will get more used to expressing your abilities.

"Ideas are elusive, slippery things. Best to keep a pad of paper and a pencil at your bedside, so you can stab them during the night before they get away."
 
 Earl Nightingale

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Practicing at overcoming irrational inhibitions will also help to improve your creativity.

When you're at a standstill, and you witness somebody with a vital and flowing creative force, it can be intimidating. The thing that's easy to miss when you're caught up in the magic of somebody doing something effortlessly that seems impossible is that it doesn't happen all at once.

Anything can be achieved by breaking it down into its component parts. Creativity requires patience and a willingness to work for a creative outcome rather than simply wait for enlightenment.

Still, it is important to creativity to happen. This can be encouraged by setting up an environment that encourages creative output, a comfortable space within which you feel non-threatened and able to create.

A program to improve your personal creativity might include the following steps.

  1. First set a measurable goal. Some goals might be:

    • to generate 10% more solutions within 6 months

    • to come up with an original solution for problem "X" within 2 weeks

    • to practice generating ideas by brainstorming (for example, "find at least 100 ideas for a new pen")

    • to find a new and effective way to relate to my children that results in them wanting to spend more time with me

  2. Second, set up criteria to indicate whether or not you have or are reaching your goal. Typical criteria are:

    • a) the ideas are novel (in that particular context)

    • b) the ideas are useful, they solve the problem or meet the challenge

    • c) the ideas can be implemented within an appropriate time and budget

  3. Third, read and learn about creativity techniques which is one of the sections of the Creativity Web. This information can be gathered from books, conferences, other people, software products and the Internet. Spend time with people who you believe are creative and ask them how they did it. There are many paths to creativity.

  4. Fourth, surround yourself with people who love and respect you; people who encourage you to take risks.

  5. Fifth, celebrate your progress in reaching your creativity goals.

  6. Finally, begin thinking of yourself as a creative person. Surround that identity with beliefs about your creative abilities. Learn the skills of creativity, act creatively every opportunity you get and find environments that support creative behavior.

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Creativity is increased by acknowledging that it exists and by nurturing it. Create a sensory stimulating environment, increase awareness of that environment and provide sufficient quiet time to allow that sensory stimulation to be translated into external reality ... a poem, a bridge, a meal, a song, a quilt, a business report, a game, a dance, a garden.

Flood yourself with information in your chosen area of creativity then deliberately expose yourself to information outside your area. Respect and care for your creativity as you would a child.

Attend to your needs, listen to your creative inner voice, spend time with yourself. Manage stress in your life as much as possible.

Practice meditation or some kind of peaceful, relaxing activity such as handwork or quiet exercise. Avoid becoming too entrenched in your routines.

Don't allow your beliefs to distort your perceptions. A useful technique is to deliberately and consciously attempt to integrate opposites at every opportunity within your own mind.

Develop the attitude that your creative work is important even if others do not share your belief; allow such judgmental attitudes to be their problem, not yours. Practice using affirmations and reframing (seeing things from another angle or in another context) to de-program your self critical habits.

Creativity is not a gift of some sort, it is a state of being ("un etat d'ame", as they say in French). Learning a creativity - increasing technique of some sort will give you some tools and help you, but will not automatically change your point of view about yourself and your creativity; your belief and value systems about creativity and creativity myths must change as well.

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Developing Your Creativity

A & C Black Publishers Ltd 2006

GETTING STARTED

Everyone has creative talent, but many people lack confidence in their own creativity. “I’m not very creative” is a common lament, even from people who manage their careers well and are extremely successful in bringing value to the businesses where they work.

In fact, developing a more efficient approach to your own workload or introducing a time-saving project management system requires considerable creativity. So the term creativity can have a much broader meaning than simply being possessed of artistic talent.

FAQS

I think creativity is born, not made. I’m not naturally a creative person, that’s all.

Creativity is certainly born - in all of us. Developing this talent depends on finding a channel for its expression. Think of something you enjoy doing, an interest that you’ve held for some time but never really explored. Even if it’s been in the back of your mind as a vague idea, if you focus on it and keep at it, your creative talent will begin to blossom.

Many people start to draw or paint in this way. It starts as a whim, continues with lots of practice, and ends with some wonderfully inspiring works. Most important, regardless of the outcome, newly discovered creativity can bring you personal joy and a belief in your own creative powers.

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Some of my coworkers are incredibly creative, but they just don’t seem to be able to make anything of it. How can you actualize creative expression in the real world?

Some people love to explore ideas but don’t have the interest or patience to turn ideas into action. But ideas in themselves are valuable - in fact, most research and development begins with ideas.

Instead of dismissing these people as dreamers, see if there’s a niche in your organization where their skill can be encouraged and nurtured. Such people can be very valuable members of a product or service innovation group.

Organizations can’t afford to waste time on fluffy, self-indulgent thinking. What’s the business case for letting creativity loose?

Even the most logically derived thinking is born of the creative impulse, and in today’s business environment, where good ideas are the only way of differentiating yourself from the competition, this creative impulse is incredibly valuable.

Some physicists believe that the smallest particle of matter is a thought, that we literally create our own reality. Surely organizations can use this force to generate the kind of innovation that enables them to excel in their industry or market.

I see my children being naturally creative. How can I make sure that this quality isn’t squashed in them?

Preschool children don’t yet comprehend the rules that tell them they can’t do certain things. Try to keep their imagination alive by allowing them to express themselves in their own way.

Let them challenge the acceptable, and give them a framework for making their own independent choices. Give them some questions to ask of their rule-breaking activities: could doing this hurt myself or anyone else?

What else could I do with this idea? What might happen if I really do this? Giving your children tools for analyzing their actions will help keep them safe and may actually help broaden their patterns of thinking.

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MAKING IT HAPPEN

Look at the World Around You

Developing creativity requires the same amount of thought and attention as developing any other skill. Although some people do seem to be more innately creative than others, it’s wrong to think that some individuals have it and others don’t.

Creativity is a natural form of human expression. Take a look at the world you’ve created around yourself. Your home and workspace are a creative expression of who you are and so are the social networks you’ve created for yourself.

What about the gifts you give to the special people in your life, or the hobbies and activities you like? Think about your role at work; what have you done differently from others who have held your job? What kind of relationships have you developed with your coworkers? What positive impacts have these had?

All these things are evidence of your creativity. All any of us needs to do is to recognize that creativity takes many forms, become aware of the process, and work on making it a conscious activity.

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Useful Techniques

A number of conscious techniques have been shown to promote the flow of creativity.

  • Brainstorming. Brainstorming generates a free flow of ideas, associations, and concepts, however foolish they may seem at the outset. Energy generated by a brainstorming group is contagious, fostering creative leaps and jumps. The speed of the process bypasses the logical circuitry of the left side of the brain, allowing imaginative ideas from the right side - the creative side - to emerge uncensored - perhaps offering possibilities for innovative products or services.

  • Finding the Zone. Artists, athletes, and craftspeople often experience the phenomenon of being in the creative zone, a state in which it’s almost as if they are running on automatic pilot. This usually happens when people are so  totally absorbed in what they’re doing that their creative energy takes over and generates its own momentum. Total concentration seems to switch something in the brain that enables pure, unrestrained expression. Science confirms that there are chemical and biological changes accompanying this state.

    Stimulating the Creative Side of the Brain. The right side of the brain is where intuitive and creative abilities reside; the left side is where logical thinking takes place. A number of techniques exist that allow you to switch consciously from left side to right, thereby enabling you to tap into your reserves of inspiration and innovation.

One activity that can trigger this is to write or draw with your non-dominant hand, simply allowing your instinct to direct your muscles. The result is a product of the creative side of the brain.

Visualization can also be helpful. Close your eyes and draw what’s in your mind’s eye. Your imagination is also part of your right-brain activity. Writing down a few pages of your thoughts on a daily basis - whatever comes into your mind - can also open up channels of creativity.

It’s important not to get in your own way as you write - just let ideas flow without judging or filtering them. You may feel self-conscious or awkward at first, but if you keep at it you’ll find that your mind is much freer and your expression more fluid.

Your ability to formulate ideas, think abstractly, and make decisions is likely to improve, while counterproductive tendencies like having tunnel vision or being judgmental will diminish.

  • Relaxation/Meditation. Logical thinking generates beta waves in the brain. Meditation and relaxation techniques produce alpha waves, whose myriad positive effects include creative thought. With practice, you can meditate even in the midst of chaos - in an airport or on a city street.

Certain breathing techniques can also help clear your mind and change your brain activity from beta to alpha waves. The alpha state has been found to be an exceptionally good way to enhance learning, as it clears the path for new thoughts and inspiration.

Listening to soothing, uncomplicated music is another way of tuning your brain into a different wavelength.

  • Doing Something Out of Context. Being creative is about breaking habits and being open to new thoughts and experiences. Try doing something that you’ve never done before - something undemanding like going to an event that you wouldn’t normally be interested in, or taking a different route to work.

You may be amazed at how such a simple change can open the creative floodgates. If you’re struggling to solve a particularly difficult problem, try asking a child or elderly relative. Without the clutter of knowledge (or, in the elderly relative’s case, with the wisdom of experience), someone coming fresh to the problem can often trigger insights that can prove useful.

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COMMON MISTAKES

You Don’t Keep an Open Mind

People who don’t have time for, or don’t value, creative talent often miss out on a flow of ideas that just might contain the germ of the next big thing. Allowing creative energy the freedom to express itself without restraint or censure is the best way to reap its benefits.

You Don’t Do a Reality Check

Just because an idea is exciting it doesn’t mean it will be useful! Organizations looking for a unique product may be tempted to pick up on ideas that really have very little mileage in them. Build a reality check into your development process to ensure that only those ideas that are viable actually end up on the market. If you get the timing or context wrong, you’re likely to make big, often expensive, mistakes.

You’re Not Receptive Enough to New Ideas

Sometimes ideas are dismissed simply because they threaten the status quo or challenge long-held, never-questioned values. Bottled water is a good example. It was launched at a time when drinking water was considered to be a commodity freely available to all.

What originally seemed like a commercial nonstarter has turned into a major sector of the beverage market. Always ask yourself “On what basis am I rejecting this idea?” If your dismissal is coming from habit or old assumptions, step back and think again.

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You Give Up Too Easily

Don’t expect too much of yourself too soon. Our pragmatic, do-it-now, bottom-line society doesn’t always value the creative process. Taking steps to develop your own creativity may feel awkward to you and seem odd to others.

Be patient and give yourself exploring time - free from censorship - before abandoning the effort. Rewards are often immediate, but if they aren’t, or you feel you need support, seek a teacher or mentor who can help you to unleash the latent power of your right brain.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Books: de Bono, Edward. Six Thinking Hats. Revised ed. New York: Little, Brown, 1999.

Miller, William, with Janice Lawrence. The Flash of Brilliance Workbook. Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2000.

McCoy, Charles W., Jr. Why Didn’t I Think of That? Think the Unthinkable and Achieve Creative Greatness. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Von Oech, Roger. A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative. New York: Warner Books, 1998.

White, Shira, with G. Patton Wright. New Ideas About New Ideas. Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2002.

Web Sites:

Creativity at Work: www.creativityatwork.com

creativityportal:

http://creativityportal.searchking.com

Creativity Web:

http://members.optusnet.com.au/~charles57/Creative/index2.html

Mind Tools:

www.mindtools.com/pages/main/newMN_CT.htm

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Optimism: The Hidden Asset

By Bruna Martinuzzi

Among the topics that young people study before they enter the workforce is calculus, the mathematics of change and motion. While training in calculus is undoubtedly valuable, I believe that training in optimism is also important. Just as it is good discipline to solve problems like the velocity of a car at a certain moment in time, it is also crucial to figure out what drives people to give us the very best that they have to offer.

Ironically, Leibniz, one of the inventors of calculus, is also known for his philosophy of optimism. He was considered to be an inveterate optimist, asserting that we live "in the best of all possible worlds". Optimism is an emotional competence that can help boost productivity, enhance employee morale, overcome conflict and have a positive impact on the bottom line.

In writing about optimism, you face the danger of being seen as advocating a "Pollyanna" or quixotic approach. The truth is, however, optimism has been proven to be a powerful tool that will pay dividends for your personal life and give you a competitive advantage professionally in your career. There is a lot to be gained, indeed, in cultivating an optimistic outlook.

Take leadership, for example. Nowhere is optimism more important than in leading organizations. Highly effective leaders have a transforming effect on their constituents: they have the gift of being able to convince others that they have the ability to achieve levels of performance beyond those they thought possible.

They are able to paint an optimistic and attainable view of the future for their followers: They move others from being stuck with "how things are done around here" and help them see "how things could be done better". In The Leadership Advantage, an essay from the Drucker Foundation's Leader to Leader Guide, Warren Bennis tells us that optimism is one of the key things people need from their leaders in order to achieve positive results.

Every "exemplary leader that I have met," writes Bennis, "has what seems to be an unwarranted degree of optimism - and that helps generate the energy and commitment necessary to achieve results."

Consider, as well, the reverse: the effect that pessimistic individuals can have on an organization's creativity and innovation. To be innovative, you need to be open to new ideas, wide open to seeing possibilities, willing to take risks and encourage others to take risks - willing to challenge the process in order to create new solutions or products or improve processes.

In short, you need to have a sense of adventure and an expectation of success. Those who have a pessimistic outlook typically approach changes to the status quo with the familiar: "We tried this before", "It won't work", or "It will never fly". Such individuals often label themselves as "devil's advocate". How can someone who has a pessimistic outlook embrace change over the safety of the known?

There are other areas which are impacted positively by optimism. Take sales, for example: A study shows that new sales personnel at Metropolitan Life who scored high on a test on optimism sold 37% more life insurance in their first two years than pessimists (Seligman, 1990).

In another study involving debt collectors in a large collection agency, the most successful collectors had significantly higher scores in the area of self-actualization, independence and optimism. (Bachman et al, 2000, cited by Cary Cherniss.)

Perhaps more significant are the countless studies that have shown that people with an optimistic outlook have healthier relationships, enjoy better mental and physical health and live longer.

In The Wisdom of the Ego, Dr George E Vaillant, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, writes about individuals who have "both the capacity to be bent without breaking and the capacity, once bent, to spring back". Vaillant mentions that, in addition to external sources of resilience (such as good health or social supports), these individuals have important internal sources which include a healthy self-esteem and optimism.

These coping mechanisms are fully explored in Dr Valliant's subsequent book: Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life, a truly fascinating study that will be particularly interesting to fellow boomers.

This is a compendium of three studies involving over 800 individuals, men and women, rich and poor, who were followed for more than 50 years, from adolescence to old age. In it, we discover that one of the most powerful predictors of successful aging is habitually using mature coping mechanisms or defenses, what Vaillant calls the ability to "make lemonade out of life's lemons." Vaillant's study discovered five of these coping mechanisms:

Altruism (doing for others what they need, not what we want to do for them)

Sublimation (diverting energy to more constructive pursuits such as creativity, art, sports)

Suppression (postponement of stressors, not repression);

Humor 

Anticipation. Anticipation is realistic, hopeful planning for the future. This means not operating in a pessimistic crisis mode but preparing and adapting for whatever life brings.

So how do you recognize an optimist? Alan Loy McGinnis, author of The Power of Optimism, studied the biographies of over 1000 famous people, and isolated 12 characteristics of the optimistic personality.

Among these is:

"Optimists look for partial solutions", that is, freed from the tyranny of perfectionism and from paralysis by analysis, they are open to taking small steps towards achieving success.

Another characteristic of those who have an optimistic nature is:

"Optimists use their imagination to rehearse success", in other words, they play positive mental videos of preferred outcomes, much like sports figures do. Michael Jordan, for example, once stated that he never plays a game that he hasn't first visualized.

Another trait is that

"Optimists think that they have great capacity for stretching" - they believe that their personal best is yet to come.

Dr Martin E Seligman, the modern scholar most often associated with studying the traits of optimists, and former president of the American Psychological Association and Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has devoted decades to studying optimistic people and reports three traits that they have in common:

They view adversity in their lives as temporary, specific and external, that is, not entirely their fault, as opposed to pessimists who view adversity as unchangeable, pervasive, and more personal.

In the face of setbacks, challenges or difficult jobs, pessimist are more likely to do worse than predicted and even give up, while optimists will persevere.

Optimism, therefore, is also an important component of achievement, and is especially important in times of chaos, change and turbulence.

Those who have an optimistic outlook will roll with the punches, will be more proactive and persistent and will not abandon hope.

So, where does optimism come from? Is it something we are born with or is it learned? For some lucky individuals, being optimistic comes naturally. The good news is that, for those who don't have it naturally, optimism is an attitude that can be learned and practiced. Here are some strategies you can consider in your journey to becoming more optimistic or in helping someone else who suffers from pessimism:

  1. Avoid negative environments. If this is not realistic, make every effort to seek the company of positive individuals in your organization. Sometimes this may mean fraternizing with peers in other departments. Stay away from the professional complainer.

  2. Celebrate your strengths. The key to high achievement and happiness is to play out your strengths, not correct your weaknesses. Focus on what you do well. (If you are not sure what your signature strengths are, consider reading Now Discover Your Strengths which includes a web-based questionnaire that helps you discover your own top-five inborn talents.)

  3. Take care of your spiritual and emotional well being by reading inspirational material on a daily basis. This may be different for each person. Some may be inspired by daily quotations, others by reading biographies of successful people in their field and yet others may derive inspiration from reading about all the innovations that we are graced with. A useful website for this is the World Future Society, which keeps up with new inventions.

  4. Manage or ignore what you cannot change. When faced with setbacks, identify what you can change and proactively try to find ways to do something about it. We have often heard this advice - it bears repeating. Be inspired by Benjamin Franklin's words: "While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us."

  5. Learn to reframe. This involved deliberately shifting perspective and looking for the hidden positive in a negative situation: the proverbial silver lining. Look for the gift in the adversity.

If you are serious about developing greater optimism, there is no better book than Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Dr Martin E Seligman. Learn Dr Seligman's ABCDE model for disputing pessimistic thoughts. This is a very useful and powerful tool to help you change the way you explain events that trouble you from optimistic to pessimistic.

  1. Adapt your language and outlook: Consider how a simple shift in the language you use can make a difference in your outlook: Do you frequently say: "yes, but...." in response to your constituents' suggestions? The "but" automatically negates anything you have said in the beginning part of the sentence. A simple shift to "yes, and..." might make a positive difference. Check the emails you have sent recently. Count the proportion of negative to positive words. It could be enlightening.

    Become aware of your stance in business meetings. Are you known as the "devil's advocate", the one who is quick to shoot down others' ideas? Jumping in too quickly to negate an idea can derail the creative process. Often valuable ideas are the result of an initial "crazy" thought. At meetings, even when we don't have the floor, we are under a magnifying glass. Practice being more upbeat, practice speaking last, and see what happens.

  2. Focus outside yourself, on important people in your life, on pursuits and projects that fire you up. Bertrand Russell once said that the quickest way to make ourselves miserable is to continually focus on ourselves. It was his love of mathematics that kept him going.

  3. Nurture a culture of optimism when you are in charge of other people at work. Expect people to succeed. Even when they occasionally fail to achieve what they set out to do, encourage them so that they can tackle the next challenge. A simple: "I know you'll do better the next time" can have very positive effects.

  4. Cultivate spontaneity. Consider putting aside all your plans once in a while to take a walk with your kids, play a game or catch a show. Getting out of your comfort zone by being spontaneous helps to develop your optimistic muscle, as spontaneity essentially involves an expectation of having a pleasurable experience.

  5. Consider the health benefits. If you need an extra motivation for practicing optimism, consider the statistics linking optimism to greater health. As Dr Seligman explains, there is evidence to believe that immune systems among optimistic people are stronger than among pessimists.

This paper would not be balanced if we did not address the benefits of pessimism. Pessimists, as Seligman explains, may be more realistic and accurate about dangers and risks. At times, when there is a risk of serious negative consequences, a cautious, risk-avoiding evaluation is appropriate and desirable.

But the positive effects of being optimistic - fighting depression, aiding in professional, academic and sports achievement, and boosting mental and physical health - outweigh the benefits of being a career pessimist.

The answer then is, as Seligman explains, "flexible optimism", i.e. having the wisdom to assess situations and identify those that require a pessimistic inquisition, and those that call for optimism, for having a "can do" attitude" and taking a chance. Winston Churchill had a reason for saying:

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

Practice seeing the opportunity.

Copyright 2006 Bruna Martinuzzi. All Rights Reserved.

Based in British Columbia, Bruna is the President and Founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd, a company which specializes in emotional intelligence and leadership training. Click here to contact her.

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