In celebration of a little optimism
It’s the middle of November, the presidential election is over at last, and the comment from all Americans is, "We are happy to put that behind us." It’s an understandable emotional response, especially given the tenor of the campaign, and yet it ignores the more urgent issue-what’s in front of us?
We do get stuck looking backwards. Some of us are nostalgic for what we perceive were happier days. Some of us remember the lessons history teaches us and use the past as a warning sign for what can go wrong. Some of us simply cannot look past today.
Optimism is in short supply these days, and that’s unfortunate. I think optimism-the fundamental belief that tomorrow can be better-is one of the most uniquely human emotions, yet one of the most often overlooked. Some folks even believe optimistic people aren’t being realistic.
Product developers and product managers are not among those people. They see the potential in taking a good product and making it better. They take technology, twist it and form it into something uniquely their own and something fundamentally useful. They understand the engineering principles upon which the world is constructed and then reinvent ways to turn those principles into solutions. Product developers are optimists of the highest order. They take hopes and dreams and ideas and turn them into solutions to problems. They believe they can make good things better, and that is the very definition of optimism.
We need more of that today. We need to not settle for anything in our world today as good enough. Striving for improvement, even in the midst of challenges, is another thing humans always have been good at. In my lifetime, we’ve cured polio, gone to the moon, mapped our DNA and brought most of the people of the world within a click of one another. There are challenges and setbacks in all of those achievements, but they were monumental achievements nonetheless. We can appreciate those achievements both on their own merits and as an example of what we can do when we look forward.
Part of optimism is asking what you could do if you had better tools. The guy who came up with the wheel must have asked how much better his life would be if he didn’t have to drag everything around. That was a problem, and the wheel was the answer.
We offer the 29th annual Plant Engineering Product of the Year finalists as an example of optimistic solutions looking to find a home. This year’s finalists all innovate to solve problems in manufacturing. They all provide a better way to do things we’ve done well in the past.
Improvement is a moving target, but it’s always in front of us. We can see the next milestone, the next level. Wanting to get there is one thing; finding the best way to get there is another. Innovation is the path to improvement. It is all about optimism. For those people who find themselves without much optimism at the moment, I offer another life lesson: I have seen 1963, where a president was assassinated; 1968, when two national leaders were murdered, and a country was torn at the seams; 1974, when a president resigned in disgrace; and 2001, when America was attacked on our own shores. We recovered from all of those terrible days, and the choice to recover was a choice of optimism over despair.
So as we move past Nov. 8, and as we move forward in all of our endeavors, including in our professional lives, we have the choice again to embrace optimism. Look at all that has been won with a little optimism, and you see there really only is one choice. Let’s leave our past for the historians to wrestle with and focus on our future.