In coach training, one of the earliest skills we were taught to employ was shifting from Doing into Being. It is a relatively simple process of preparing to be fully present for a coaching client. But in my daily life, it is a blind spot currently being illuminated.
I am a person historically over-run by my own Intensity, Complexity, and Drive. How it has manifested varies, but usually has been something to do with pushing, pushing, pushing. Even in prayer or meditation, I have been Doing. In the empty space of the mind I would “make” a prayer, make “deals”, and never quite reach the thinkless mind. I never could see the value of empty space, or witnessing the mind. It made me feel bored and antsy. In essence, I was uncomfortable with facing the discomfort, so I didn’t stay with it.
I’ve been experiencing some discomfort lately, a gnawing confusion, a sense of straddling two worlds, as I described to my friend, a brilliant organizational coach in Europe. She suggested I Google author Peter Senge’s (the Fifth Discipline) description of “Creative Tension” to see if it bore any resonance. Here is what I found.
“The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision. We call this gap creative tension.“
I found this video on YouTube. Peter Senge uses a rubber band to illustrate what happens in the space between reality and vision, relating it to historical markers and Dr. Martin Luther King’s exemplary “I Have a Dream” speech.
Oddly, I can follow this construct quite fluidly in big-picture examples and visions, but parsing it into application within a personal creative practice is taking me a minute. But I think I’m starting to flow into it. Basically, what I’m getting from this is that the “pain point” that is reality would exist without friction/energy independently and void of relationship to the vision/creation, thereby remaining in an unchanging state. So with the advent of a vision, the space between reality and that vision is energized by the “need” to transport reality toward that vision. I like it. Science.
So why does the concept become so off-putting to me when applied to a corporate or organizational structure? See if you feel me here…
In his article (link above), Chris McGoff states that:
“Peak performance leaders pay close attention to the amount of creative tension being experienced by their people and they know how to increase or decrease this tension as appropriate.”
He continues to explain that there are three crucial components to creative tension, and that to establish and maintain creative tension, there must be agreement on the following:
1. Current reality.
Your people must have a collective understanding of the way things are today. They need to be brutally honest and recognize the absolute truth about their current situation. Shared understanding of “what is” generates a sense of authenticity and credibility.
2. Desired future.
Your people must have a shared vision that moves and inspires them. The vision must be articulated in such a way that people are motivated to do whatever it takes to realize it. The vision is less about employees or the company.
A powerful vision is about the world and the opportunity to help cause this great world you desire. You will need to decide what needs to change about the current reality to achieve this vision.
3. What’s at stake.
In addition, and critical to the establishment of healthy creative tension, people must be convinced that something important to them is at stake if they don’t resolve this gap. Your people must have a shared and felt sense of consequence should they not rally and achieve this vision as well as a clear understanding of the benefits of moving ahead.
What is the off-putting part? Well, as I was reading along in the Inc. article, I must have been simultaneously processing the concept of creative tension, from the Peter Senge piece above, and relating to it. So, by the time I was reading the second piece with even more of a corporate/organizational frame around it, the notion that organizational leaders “know how to increase or decrease this tension as appropriate” feels “Big Brother” to my sensibilities.
It seems that if you were the organizational leader, you might want to spend a little time getting to know the team and asking the right questions to identify that there are varying levels of tolerance and performance in response to tension. Some of us work in this manner innately, and are able to reconcile and balance our experience to perform our best in this self-generated model. But the notion of a person in leadership applying intentional tension “as appropriate” to increase output performance is precisely why I have never worked in a large organization. That entire set-up would be a big fail in my department, I can assure you. No, I can promise you. The dispensing of deliberate tension by a leader to an already-high-achieving self-bar-raiser would be not only unnecessary, but undoubtedly counter-productive.
I didn’t start this post intending to push against the interesting information I have mined from the Organizational Coaching scene. I’m just saying that it has taken ages for educators to evolve into the fact that education is not and will never work as “one size fits all,” so why would organizational solutions with adults be any different? The way we process information, prioritize mental tools, tasks and steps… not the same or everyone.