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Optimism is often dismissed as false hope. But there is also false hopelessness. That’s the attitude that says we can’t defeat poverty and disease. We absolutely can.

The commencement address at Stanford University is a stage for inspiring keynote speeches – Sandra Day O’Connor (2004), Steve Jobs (2005), Oprah Winfrey (2008) and Michael Bloomberg (2013) to name a few. This year, Bill and Melinda Gates took the podium and used the opportunity to talk about the power of optimism. Those who have followed this blog know that’s a topic I’m particularly passionate about and their speech was truly inspiring.

The Gates spoke of how the innovations that truly matter in this world are powered by empathetic optimism. By people who are determined to improve the lives of others, no matter how impossible it might appear on the surface. They refer to big ticket issues like poverty, malaria and AIDS. In essence, human suffering. They contrast the outlook of pessimists who see only a world of increasing inequality and declining opportunity, with those who believe in the power of the human spirit and mind to innovate and make the world better, and ask: ‘who is right?’

The Gates are driven by the heart-breaking scenarios they’ve seen first-hand, and the feelings of inadequacy and helplessness when confronted with suffering on the ground. They know they don’t have all the answers. Not yet anyway. But they believe in the power of optimism and the abilities of future generations to unleash a new wave of creative thinking. If their speech resonated with just a fraction of the audience and helped shape their future decisions, then the world will be winning.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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