Mindsets of Public Design Bureau: Optimism

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Mindsets of Public Design Bureau: Optimism

What’s the mindset 
Optimism is the attitude that things can be better than they currently are, and that change is possible

Why it’s important 
For us, design is the intentional process of making things better than they were before — ideally, more sustainable, just, effective, fun, and joyful. It requires a belief that things can improve (aka optimism) for design to even happen at all. Without optimism, we might get stuck spending our energy just focusing on the challenges, rather than considering what could be different. Before design can make tangible things in the world, it first has to inspire intangible confidence for change in our minds – and that takes a dose of optimism. 

Optimism in the real world
Annemarie: “When I was (very) late for a flight at O’Hare airport, I asked people if I could cut them in line. People, looking at the giant line ahead, would say, ‘sure, but there’s no way you’re going to get through this line by asking each person, AND you’re not going to make your flight anyway!’ My response (quietly in my head) was ‘Not with that attitude I won’t!’ and I moved ahead and asked the next person in line. I made that flight, and it reminds me that optimism is about trying what’s possible to try – even when the context is discouraging.” 

Optimism in design
Optimism happens at every step of the design process, but one easy place to see it is in the small moments of realizing that there’s something you can change, even if it’s “always been this way.” For example, something we see frequently with partners is that there are a lot of opportunities for internal, organizational improvement, yet it might take some outside view to realize that things can be done differently. That standing meeting that overlaps lunch? It doesn’t have to be that way. You can always try out a new system, but it starts with noticing that things are changeable. 

How we cultivate optimism
A good first step to practicing optimism is noticing when you’re saying ‘No, we can’t do that,’ and asking yourself why – what’s behind that reaction for you. Assess if it’s an actual thing that can’t happen (like unicorns), or if it’s your perception: something seems too hard, or you don’t want to try, or you feel uncomfortable about it because there’s some sort of cultural taboo. For example, when Annemarie was in the airport line, she realized the only reason people don’t do this is because they’re too embarrassed to have this conversation with 100 other people in front of them in line. But she was motivated enough by the possibility of missing a flight to live in that embarrassment for a while, and went for it. And she was surprised to see that other people who might miss their flight joined her on her quest. If you’re noticing that something could be better, you’re probably not the only one!

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