The Strategic Optimist’s Manifesto (excerpt from A Future So Bright)
This is an excerpt of the “manifesto”-style summary of some of the key ideas in my new book A Future So Bright, which will be coming out on September 7th.
You are welcome to print these pages out (and might I suggest reused or recycled paper) and hang them on your wall, give them to someone who needs to see them, or just refer back to them when you need a reminder.
The future of human experience is deeply integrated — everything depends on everything else. Our fates are interlinked. So although over the last decade I have characterized my career as “helping humanity prepare for an increasingly tech-driven future,” I now believe humanity has to prepare for the tech-driven future at scale by preparing for and mitigating everything else at scale: climate catastrophe, the cyclical expansion and collapse of globalization; ongoing geopolitical conflict; financial market upheaval; the legacy of racism, slavery, and colonialism; algorithmically-enhanced culture wars; the decline of trust; extreme wealth inequity and widespread poverty; etc. Because everything is too connected to treat one challenge as if it exists in a vacuum, far from the influence of the others.
We also need to prepare for this future in a way that respects the human scale of life, experiences, well-being, and rights — all without jeopardizing the natural ecosystem, non-human animals, or the potential for future life to flourish. In fact, part of the work that lies ahead of us is to move our way of life toward a more harmonious and respectful relationship with the natural world.
With all the change we face that is threatening or at least alarming, we owe it to ourselves and to the generations still ahead of us to look for the brightest possible outcomes, and work diligently toward them
Nothing short of our full commitment to an optimistic view will do.
For this view to work, it will have to shake off the cynicism of dystopian defaults and instead use integrative thinking and Strategic Optimism to develop a unifying framework for what an inclusive, connected better future for all looks like; create new curricula that includes early education on AI and the implications of algorithmic bias; identify new measures and standards of success, and more.
Envision bold new ways forward
And then commit to those bold ideas.
This way forward, Strategic Optimism, is rooted in what makes humanity thrive:
An understanding of meaning — that meaning is the central human condition, meaning-making and meaning-seeking,
that we thrive on meaning,
and that at every level,
meaning is about what matters.
And the further understanding that innovation, then, is about what is going to matter. And we need to let that meaning-centered — and therefore human-centered — approach to innovation lead our development of emerging technology and data-driven experiences.
This approach will need to be built around exponential change in multiple areas, like artificial intelligence, workplace automation, climate change, and more. And it must work alongside existing unifying frameworks for improvement of life on a global scale like the Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations. Those 17 goals themselves interconnect in important ways: ending poverty in all its forms everywhere (SDG #1) and ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all (SDG #4) are listed as separate goals, but they’re likely to be related both in approach and in results.
And we do want to move “forward”
So often when change disrupts us we talk about how we can’t wait to get “back” to the way things were, or “back to normal.” But the only direction that works is forward. Backward is not a direction consistent with living. It’s understandable, especially when we feel a sense of loss or grief over what we used to have. While we need to honor our grief and allow ourselves to heal, we ultimately need our energy focused not on going back to what we feel we lost, but going forward into the future as it could be.
Remember: we spend a lot of time thinking about what could go wrong and not nearly enough time imagining and planning for what we want to go right. But also remember the power in the kind of integrative thinking that allows us to see both/and: we can integrate all of our thinking, acknowledge all the possibilities of what’s going on around us, acknowledge the reality of what’s happening, acknowledge the full range of possible outcomes out of any given thing that happens to us. But then choose the direction of our action.
Remember the Emily Dickinson quote ”hope inspires the good to reveal itself.” The way I apply that in my life and work is to think of hope as a tool of focus and refocus. Whenever things change, whenever anything happens around us, we have the opportunity to choose where we’ll put our energy, our focus, our time, and our attention. But whatever we feel hope for, we are also compelling ourselves to work for. Optimism obligates us. Optimism isn’t about seeing only the good: it’s about committing to the good we see as we look ahead. Wherever we can see a better way forward, we have a responsibility to work toward it.
An optimistic view of the future can allow us to envision bold new ways forward.
An optimistic view of the future implies that we have a responsibility to work toward better outcomes.
But optimism alone won’t bring about the best outcomes.
Optimism needs a strategy
And hope needs action.
[End of this excerpt, but there’s more to the manifesto! Please pre-order the Kindle edition of A Future So Bright or sign up for updates and to be reminded when the book launches in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook formats.]
Thank you for reading. Please “clap” if you enjoyed this piece, found it interesting, or in any way meaningful. And feel free to share widely.
Kate O’Neill, founder of KO Insights, is an author and speaker focused on helping humanity prepare for an increasingly change-filled future, and on making technology better for business and for humans. Much of her work explores digital transformation from a human-centric approach, as well as how data and technology are shaping the future of meaningful human experiences. Her latest books are A Future So Bright: How Strategic Optimism Can Restore Our Humanity and Save the World (coming in September 2021) and Tech Humanist: How You Can Make Technology Better for Business and Better for Humans (2018).