Optimistic Outrageousness – Energy Innovation

January 21, 2012

By Matt Palmer

Carmen Medina, IBM Think Forum

The dictionary definition for “heretic” goes like this: a person holding opinions at odds with what is generally accepted. In today’s polarized world we may feel we are surrounded by heretics, people who hold beliefs fundamentally different from our own. They scare us, and that’s a good thing.

A friend sent me the above video link yesterday after I had posted an article on Facebook titled: “A Heretic’s View of Influenza’s Role in Health and Disease“. I won’t go into the specifics of the article, I have linked it so you can read for yourself, but it presents an interesting argument about the state of our view of health and disease.

Carmen Medina’s presentation in the video above, she is the former head of the CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, resonated with me with regards to “Unintended Consequences” my documentary on the future of global energy. I appreciated much of what she says, and in particular her emphasis on the need for “optimistic outrageousness”. This is my new favourite term, because that is exactly what our world needs more of now.

“When you are trying to make a difference and trying to change things, optimism is the greatest act of rebellion.” says Ms Medina. Yet, think of the obstacles that optimism faces in today’s world. Negative attitudes and stories permeate our media world, and because the media has great influence on our daily lives, it can be hard to separate from that negativity. Awash in this negativity, it becomes challenging to see ways out, to feel creative, and it serves to spiral our negative attitudes towards those we may feel are the “enemies”. Big business, big government, big oil, big environmentalism.

If you have ever veered into the dark corners of the internet where trolls lurk, you will find all sorts of unnamed creatures ready to take a dump on anything positive or different. I experienced a bit of this last year when I commented on an article in Huff Post  about big oil funding anti-wind efforts. The negativity directed towards myself and this project was illuminating. Some people have no interest in challenging what they believe.

Our future depends on innovation. Innovation in technology yes, but also a societal innovation in how we see the world and each other. How will we break though problems that seem overwhelming like climate change, or delivering cleaner more sustainable energy to 9 billion people? We have to stop arguing about whether our ideas about these issues are right, rather begin earnest investigations into how our ideas are flawed and incomplete, as Ms Medina suggests in the video.

We need is to embrace the heretics (although how long they remain heretics after we embrace them is an interesting question), embrace that we may have the wrong theories, and champion the divergent thinkers, the critical thinkers, because the status quo is not going to get us where we want to go.

Bold ideas can be scary. They challenge the way we currently operate or communicate our message. They may poke holes in our core values, and question the assumptions as to our purpose, or our company’s purpose. Deconstruction is not destruction, but it may leave us feeling vulnerable. And that is exactly where we need to be: we need to embrace our vulnerability. As Dr Brene Brown says “Vulnerability is not weakness, it is the birthplace of creativity, change and innovation.”

Heretics are part of the energy solution. Let us all stand up, be bold and shout for more optimistic outrageousness. Let’s all be a little more vulnerable.

About Unintended Consequences Documentary Project

I'm Producing and directing a multi-platform documentary project on global energy called "Unintended Consequences".
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2 Responses to Optimistic Outrageousness – Energy Innovation

  1. Interesting post Matt. I enjoyed the Carmen Medina link. She made a number of cogent comments. The one I found most compelling was this: “the best way to understand the future is to observe the present very very carefully”. Given the dramatic changes in the oil and gas industry which will result in the US becoming energy self sufficient in the next few decades and the public’s resistance to pipelines and tankers carrying fossil fuels to Asia, I’d say the future will be very different from what we expected 10 years ago. For one thing Alberta just might move to greater diversification and more upgrading of natural resources within the province. That would be a good thing.

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