Importance of exuberance

Exuberance is the defining quality of great scientists, statesmen and managers

For people with unconventional ideas, exuberance is an important attribute that may be taken for granted or stifled.

In an interview with Federal Computer Week, author and Johns Hopkins University psychiatry professor Kay Redfield Jamison discussed the importance of exuberance and its relationship to unconventional thinking.

In her view, exuberance is the defining quality of great scientists, statesmen and managers. Jamison cites examples of people whose exuberance led to scientific breakthroughs, such as Robert Gallo, one of the early investigators of HIV-AIDS when he was at the National Institutes of Health, and Andrew Cheng and Robert Farquhar, astrophysicists at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory who work on NASA contracts.

"Exuberance carries us to places we would not otherwise go," Jamison writes in her book "Exuberance: The Passion for Life." She defines exuberance as resiliency, energy, optimism and expansiveness. Exuberant people have a heightened awareness that brings curiosity, courage and creativity.

Exuberant managers and leaders inspire others and create infectious enthusiasm. Although they have a capacity to overcome problems, their exuberance also brings risk. Overly enthusiastic people may strike others as unreflective, error-prone or hasty. Exuberant people can appear to be all fizz, Jamison said, and supervisors may try to temper their energy.

"While we don't want a society of all exuberant people, we do want people exploring and taking risks," she said. "In a time of tolerating diversity, we need to consider tolerance of temperament."

Jamison said that exuberance is not a mania. It bears some similarities to a Type A personality, except that a person with those characteristics can be joyless.

In a society that values organization and order, people who come up with unconventional ideas may find themselves not taken seriously. "Exuberance is vulnerable to ridicule, but much more importantly, exuberance is not recognized for the vital role it plays in discovery, creativity and leadership," she said.

Although exuberance is a largely inherited quality of temperament, the trait can be nurtured. Jamison observed that when NIH scientists are given the most latitude, they do their best. Although rules may be necessary, less structured situations can encourage original and enthusiastic effort.

Exuberance is contagious, and if you are a person of ideas, being around exuberant people can be encouraging. Most of all, appreciate exuberance if you have it

Telework question

My Nov. 22, 2004, column, "Telework's Wintry Mix," anticipated the Office of Personnel Management's new procedures for responding to adverse weather conditions. Those procedures recognize employees who telework as an invaluable resource.

To ensure uninterrupted service to the public, OPM officials suggest that agency supervisors may wish to require teleworking employees to continue working, without overtime or compensatory time, when the agency is closed.

Although the purpose is worthy, should employees telework without extra compensation when colleagues have the day off with pay?

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at