10 May “Fact-based Optimism”: Lessons from Bruce Mau
This year, as with many things, the format was online. We really enjoyed two documentaries, one about runner/coach Alberto Salazar and the Nike Project, and the other featuring Canadian design genius Bruce Mau.
From a very humble – if not tragic – childhood in Sudbury, Bruce has overcome incredible odds and is highly revered for his creative brilliance worldwide. I found myself reaching for pen and paper throughout the film wishing to capture the essence of his philosophy for further reflection.
The film provoked some meaningful conversations that Robb and I enjoyed during our forest walks with the pups. A synopsis of my notes includes:
- Everything in your life is either “accidental” or “by design”
- Design the time of your life
- Work on what you love
- The importance of mindset and a “tool kit”
- Looking at sustainability as a positive (e.g., making furniture out of plastic bottles)
- His perspective that a lot of our current problems are the result of our successes, and therein lies the potential for creative solutions (e.g., pollution from cars)
- Leadership by Design by Inspiration
- Designing for perpetuity leads to positive design
- He lives his life and makes decisions fueled by fact-based optimism
I found Bruce’s approach to life joyful and inspiring. He has a legendary reputation for relentless optimism. He recently experienced significant cardiac issues, which, by his own admission, was “accidental” (meaning that he didn’t take care of himself), and that by purposeful “design” he could play a role in his own recovery. He acknowledged his chronic sleep issues as being a significant contributing factor, and by working on his sleep and heeding the advice and measures of his medical team, he has made significant gains (that’s the purposeful “design” part).
As a collector of mantras, I was deeply moved by his steadfast belief in fact-based optimism. It’s not Pollyanna or pie-in-the-sky delusion, it’s steeped in fact and action. With a year of weary, dire news with little prospect of hope, I found his story to be a much needed salve. It reminded me that there is much to be hopeful for. A real-life, present-time example of fact-based optimism lies in vaccines. We see case numbers go down as vaccines reach more people. This is fact, and this is optimism!
When we think that everything is horrible and spiraling downwards, the facts are that there has never been a better time to be alive. By design means that we can take steps to positively influence our lives. The steps may be small (Meatless Monday, for example) but no less significant. It’s so very refreshing to be reminded that we have the capacity and power to influence positive change.
It also reminds me of the sage observation of anthropologist Margaret Mead:
Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.