03/30/2015 03:13 pm ET | Updated May 30, 2015

Positive Thinking: A Brief User's Guide

AAEAAQAAAAAAAANvAAAAJGVhMWE0Y2NhLTY0ZWItNGJiOC04ZjIxLWE1YzlmODVlYWM4OQPositivity will lift your spirits, but will it lead to meaningful change? The short answer is yes. Clinical studies have shown that people with an optimistic sense of destiny are more effective innovators than those who try to make up for the things they lack. In fact, there's even a whole scholarly discipline --positive organizational scholarship -- centered around the basic premise that positivity promotes growth in the workplace.

But positivity has its limits. And, taken in excess, optimism can become dangerous: for too much positivity begins to replace actual creative action and takes over as a self-deceptive force.

The key to harnessing positive energy while innovating is to achieve the right balance of enthusiastic optimism and deep awareness of the actual factors determining your targets in the real world. Here are three key points to keep in mind when cultivating a positive mindset in your innovation projects:

Go beyond where you are now but not beyond reason. Having a hopeful conception of destiny when you form your growth initiatives is a great way to inspire yourself and those around you. But don't let that optimism cloud your logic. Stay practical and sensible about the things you can achieve given the constraints you're working with. No matter how positive you are, you'll never be able to boil the ocean. However, you can rebuild the boat.

Innovation starts with dissatisfaction. While positivity can inspire you to get far, don't underestimate the power of displeasure. It's often the feeling that sparks the desire to innovate: a frustration or annoyance with the way things are going now. That initial negativity can be the very thing that motivates you and your team to implement change. Dissatisfaction creates momentum, but it can only take you so far. Here is where optimism comes in: it helps you transform that early disgruntlement into a force of good, the incentive to create something bigger and better.

Positivity does not mean happiness -- it means pulling yourself toward a target. It's easy to let optimistic thinking stand in for the payoff or reward for a concrete project. The joy that comes with having a hopeful demeanor is not the same thing as actually achieving your goal. Use optimism as fuel for your ambition. Think of positivity as an instrumental feeling that brings you closer to something else -- not an end in itself.

The challenge is a seeming paradox: generate positivity and then control that same positivity. The art of smart optimism is a careful balancing act, a measure of enthusiasm and restraint -- a flash of a dream with a dose of reality.