Another conversation I was recently party to had an interesting opening post, that people should only comment in reply if they have a positive mental attitude. Knowing the scenario, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a sly reference to me in there, as only earlier in the day there had been a less than positive repartee going on between myself and the opening poster.
So I got wondering how much of a positive mental attitude is involved with innovation.
A disclaimer: I’m not just an innovator, I’m an implementer too – usually as a programmer; a lot of what I do when looking at innovation is finding the holes in things, probing, assessing them, whittling down the issues until I’m left with something that improves the status quo without making more issues.
The result of that is I’m often considered abrasive, even harsh, and very cynical, and very blunt; these are all the consequences of diving right in and not messing around with finding the heart of a problem.
It also gives me a distinctly non positive appearance, and frequently the assumption that I approach everything with a negative mental attitude. I don’t call it ‘negative’, though, I call it ‘realistic’ or ‘pragmatic’, but to a third party it often sounds similar.
That attitude is what draws out my best work as an innovator; by being ruthlessly critical of things, you can strip away the layers and diversions and dig down to what needs to be changed to improve the current environment.
It means you can take an idea, iterate through generations of it, and pinpoint where it falls down before you ever get that far, so you can iterate through those issues too. For me, then, having a negative mental attitude, if you will, is the secret ingredient in my recipe.
It’s not the only thing, though, far from it. As hinted at above, innovation isn’t the only thing I deal with – I have to make good on it sometime and realise the innovation, which means I get the job of implementation too.
The secret to that part isn’t having a negative attitude, that just makes what should be an enjoyable part into a drudge, wearying and slow. Innovation’s the spark that starts the journey, implementation’s getting to the destination, and the last thing you want is additional detours.
Plus, I find the implementation part takes much, much longer than the innovation part, generally, so I want to make that as painless for myself as possible.
So, generally, positive mental attitude for the implementation part, an a slightly negative one (or at worst, a pragmatic, no-nonsense attitude) for the innovation part.
At least, that’s my take on it, I’ve encountered people who demonstrate visible angst at themselves and their work during implementation, fretting over every line of code, that each line must be perfect, that every aspect must be perfect, which I usually find to be an overly negative attitude to work with, that no matter how much goes in, it’s still not perfect and can’t be so, no matter the end result.
That said, it is the exception rather than the rule that those who make innovation have a strong tendency towards either positive or negative attitude; I’ve found that typically it is the pragmatists who make the strongest innovations, those who can see the merits and flaws of a given system for exactly what they are, and have the vision and temerity to bring it to fruition.
Steve Jobs, in my estimation, is one such person: he can see the merits and flaws in the devices that led up to the iPad, for example, and in the competition that’s building at the moment – such as when he infamously declared that 7″ tablets were impractical, and isn’t afraid to bring about the vision he has for computing; recently a comment from Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak suggested that Jobs had been contemplating, even dreaming of, an iPad like device since the foundation of Apple in the 1970s. Right there: there’s vision, and bringing it to fruition… it was a whole new product in its own market and position.
And yet, I don’t see Jobs as having a positive mental attitude. At heart, I think he’s a cynic, with imagination, inspiration, vision and the balls to put it together – positivity not required.