Cynical Optimism, Innovative Pragmatism

November 17, 2009 at 2:22 pm Leave a comment

Post contributed by Aaron Fairchild:

The Cascadia chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Seattle branch conducts four workshops during the year. Last week they conducted a workshop, and I had the opportunity to join in the conversation as a panelist on the topic of, “Emerging Greener from the Recession – A panel discussion on codes, incentives, and opportunity for greener communities as we emerge from the Recession.”

Generally there was a lot of optimism on the panel and in the crowd. Interestingly, one term that came up was, “cynical optimism.” Sounds like an oxymoron, but I believe the thought behind the comment was more along the lines of “cautious optimism.” We have a lot to be optimistic about in Seattle right now. Our leaders are making difficult decisions in a tough budget environment and they continue to land on the more environmentally progressive side of policy and business. This causes me to be optimistic. During the discussion we all agreed that while there is room for optimism right now, we should remain cautious and get involved because political winds change with each election and economic cycle. Our elected leadership and the policy they create should favor business and free markets that align with societal values and norms. Smart policy should incent these companies with favorable legislation and regulation and not take a “hands-off” approach.

Panel at Cascadia WorkshopOne of the questions to the panel was, “what are the exciting opportunities that are arising out of the recession?” Someone on the panel said, “Innovative pragmatism.” I am not sure which panelist said it, but it certainly struck a chord with me.  Innovation with a purpose is really how I read this. Again, it relates to societal values and objectives. We have entered an era of innovation driven by need, not necessarily by want. This new era will have legs that last beyond fashion and economic trends. Certainly there will continue to be innovative new plasma, ultra thin televisions coming to the market that have everything to do with wanton consumption and innovations focused on “want” vs. “need.” However, there will be less innovating for innovation’s sake, and much more pragmatic innovation. Society has begun and will continue to reward businesses that foster innovation in alignment with societal values and a common desire for a healthy environment for future generations.

Exploring the two ideas of, “cynical optimism and innovative pragmatism” made the evening worthwhile and memorable. While I am not overly idealistic, I do hold out hope that conversations like the one last week help stimulate positive change and action in our critical times. Thanks for having me as participant in the discussion!

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