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Feedback is absolutely essential to producing a successful innovation. Innovators and designers probably subject themselves to more feedback than just about anyone else. And while feedback is good for the product they’re creating, feedback can take a toll on the creator. Sure it’s truly great to discover what kinda sucks about what you’ve made. But hearing over and over again that what you’ve made isn’t all that great can wear on you. This is why innovators need to be resilient. They need to embrace the mindset of an idealist.
Idealists are strange folks. They’re relentlessly optimistic, but they’re not blind. Far from it. They’re keenly aware of all the imperfections in the world. Seeing so much wrong doesn’t get them down, though. Idealists are the kind of people that believe all problems are solvable. They’re both rationally unsatisfied and emotionally optimistic.
Maintaining this balance takes work, but there are three habits you can practice to help bolster your idealist mindset.
Seek to Understand
To adopt an idealist’s sense of possibility in the face of problems, the first step is to truly understand the problem. If you have no clue why the problem exists, your brain’s going to struggle to come up with a way to make it better. But once you know the root cause of what’s happening, it’s not so hard to jump to the next step of addressing the root cause.
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Journaling can be a great way to discover problems in the world that are ripe for innovation. But idealists take this journaling one step further. Every time you record an observation in your journal, go one step further. Engage in a mental dialogue with your observation. Put on your best interviewer hat, and in your mind (or out loud if you don’t mind some strange looks), begin to question your observation. Asking “why” is the first step, but as good interviewers can tell you, sometimes your subjects will be shy, not exactly ready to give up the root cause of what’s going on. When this happens, you need to probe deeper and use some variations to try to get at the answers. “Why not,” “What if,” “What is it that,” and “What caused” are all great questions to ask yourself when trying to understand what happened. Another technique that is the Five-Why’s. Follow up each answer with another “why” until you feel like you’ve gotten to the true root of the issue. By having enough optimism to search for the why, we’ll soon discover the root cause, and as this happens, our confidence level will soar! It’s amazing how much more optimistic we become as soon as we truly understand the problem.
Accentuate the Positive
There are also practical things you can do to help reinforce your positive outlook. A technique developed by Giovanni Fava, psychology professor at the University of Bologna, and has been shown to help keep you positive. The first component of this technique also involves journaling. Three times a day you write down one positive aspect about yourself and one positive aspect about someone you’ve encountered that day. The second component is all about gratitude; express it regularly, and pay attention when you do. For bonus points, you can record those times in your notebook too. The final component is compliments. Look for as many opportunities to dole them out as you can (genuinely, of course). And then, you guessed it, write them down. This sounds like a lot of writing, we know, but the act of journaling about all things rather than just saying or thinking them, forces your brain to pay extra attention to these positive thoughts and actions. The more attention you pay them, the stronger connections they’ll form in your brain. Of course you can take this expression of gratitude one step further by making it public, posting it on a wall in the break room or even in a dedicated slack channel.
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Being at Peace with Our Designs
As we near the end of our journey to create a solution for our users, we have to be even more mindful of maintaining our balance between satisfaction and optimism. The unfortunate corollary of “there’s always something that can be improved” is “nothing’s ever perfect.” If you’re not careful, this kind of thinking can eat away at you — especially when it comes to your own designs. We can be tempted to never release them to the world because we’re always going to be coming up with tweaks to make them just that much better. But this kind of thinking leads down a dark and paralyzing path where you never actually make anyone’s life better.
Perhaps even more maddening can be the experience of releasing your design, only to obsess over its many flaws. Rather than focus on the positive impact that your innovation is making, it can be tempting to ruminate over what you didn’t get right. Maybe there was something you missed. Or maybe the constraints you faced didn’t allow the time or budget to do everything you had hoped. Whatever the case, you can go crazy obsessing over what you didn’t get perfect.
So how do we foster an idealist mindset, but not go crazy worrying about our imperfect designs? We have to let ourselves off the hook a little here. We have to channel our inner Yoda and embrace a simple truth — things can only be “better or not better; there is no perfect.” The whole notion of perfection is an illusion. So why get so hung up over it? Instead, we need to find satisfaction, not in the status quo, and not in absolute perfection, but in moving in the right direction.
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Having an idealist mindset can be tough. It’s not easy being attuned to the world’s problems while simultaneously believing that things can and will get better. Even though this somewhat paradoxical outlook might not come naturally to everyone, anyone can develop it. All it takes is a little training. Simple habits like people watching and expressing gratitude can go a long way to building up the mindset of an idealist.