• Mat Smith
  • , Aug 2020
  • - Phaidon

Bruce Mau Know How – Make Fact-Based Optimism Your Mantra

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams – Bruce Mau has a way to help you dream smarter

There comes a time in the life of every generation when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, a time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. We’re very probably at that time right about now. For anyone looking for an emotional and intellectual route map out of the moment might we suggest our forthcoming book, Bruce Mau: MC24.

Why should we care what Bruce Mau says? Well as co-founder and CEO of Massive Change Network (MCN), a Chicago-based global design consultancy he has long applied the power of design to transforming the world. “To undertake the challenges we face today,” he writes in Bruce Mau: MC24, “we have no choice but to be optimistic.” Why? Because, according to Bruce, pessimism lets you off the hook.

“If the world is going to the dogs, there’s nothing you need do but watch, wait, and grab what you can from what’s left of it. Optimism challenges you to action. Wherever there is opportunity, there is work to be done. Possibilities are not actualities. We have to roll up our sleeves to make them real.”

“Pessimism engenders a cynicism that closes the mind: only through optimism does opportunity become visible,” Mau says. But as he points out, fact-based optimism is not the fake cheeriness of a Pollyanna, it is based on looking at things as they are. “But ‘things as they are’ entails a muddled picture of good and bad. It takes effort and discernment to discover which is which. So optimism—even of the fact-based kind—requires mental effort.”

As you’d expect of a man who as well as heading up MCN is also chief design officer of Freeman, one of the world’s largest brand-experience companies, Mau understands analysis is key.

“Optimism without information and analysis is folly. Information and analysis without possibility leads to paralysis. The challenge is to remain informed and thoughtful in the pursuit of the brightest opportunities.

“The global challenges we face today are real and existential. Fact-based optimism makes no pretense otherwise. On the contrary, if we are to avoid disaster we must immediately tackle some of the most vexing problems in human history. To do that, we must start with solid information and then visualize possible solutions, so everyone can join the conversation. Fact-based optimism is a collaborative endeavor.”

For Mau, fact-based optimism may appear unreasonable—but it does not expect to arrive at perfection. Instead, questions are the engine of new thought.

“Generating better questions may be the most important contribution designers can make. But for designers, these questions are never merely academic. Our overriding question is familiar and inescapable: “What is to be done?” The focus of design should always be practical objectives.

“The reality is that we’re living in an age of unprecedented cooperation across the planet. Cooperative activity vastly outweighs conflict. The problem is that cooperation isn’t frightening—and therefore doesn’t compel attention the way conflict does. It’s inherently uneventful.”

Why has cooperation expanded so dramatically? Mau has an answer for that too. “Until recently, problems could only be addressed locally or regionally—it wasn’t realistic to orchestrate a global effort. In fact, it wasn’t possible for the mass of people to “see” the world as a whole. Digital technology has changed that. Now we have vast systems for collecting and organizing data worldwide. Technologies for travel and communications, for example, make international collaboration totally practicable.

“Cooperation, connection, and the creation of global systems for human development are the great untold story of our age. Because of these systems, the present day is the best time in human history to be alive and working.”

You’ll find more fact-based optimism in Bruce Mau: MC24 and look out for more Mau Know How in the coming days and weeks.