Language and words fascinate me. I find joy in understanding the connections between concepts and ideas. Between thoughts and deeds. I am particularly intrigued by the concept of ‘creative tension’.
For me, creative tension is a key precursor to transformative change for people in organizations and communities. I believe creative tension energizes individuals and teams to value creation. Creative tension sparks a ripple effect to transform our world.
Creative tension was popularized by Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline and Robert Fritz author of The Path of Least Resistance. “The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy.” said Peter Senge. “If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision. We call this gap creative tension.”
The marketing and branding professional in me knows the power of the written and spoken word. Each word has meaning and purpose, each word to be revered and treated with respect. During my time as an advertising professional, I experienced creative tension between my vision of a brand idea and the creative document awaiting words and inspiration. So, I deliberated over each word (still do), at times for hours on end, before finalizing a concise written brief to my creative colleagues. Colleagues who then interpreted the brand idea into a creative idea and ultimately, a successful marketing campaign.
Experience has taught me that the time invested in the practice of deliberating words concisely, bridges vision to a powerful written brief. This practice leads to clear and meaningful communication, and strong campaigns.
Deliberating over words and meaning is also a leadership practice. And, it’s in the interpretation of our spoken words by others that determine the response we get. I believe interpretation and assumptions are a constant challenge, and opportunity, for leaders on the path to effective leadership.
Harold S. Geneen said: “Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.”
How do we form our attitude?
What choices determine our actions?
As a business and team leader, I’ve been called to hold an Authentic and Authoritative attitude. Although not competing qualities, there’s been a creative tension in me in how I’ve interpreted being Authentic and Authoritative.
Each word comes from the root word – Author. This makes me believe that when we show up as authentic and authoritative, we bring our self-truth to the forefront. Yet, in practice, I feel a sense of creative tension in being both Authentic and Authoritative at the same time. I’ve felt a dissonance to the word Authoritative, inaccurately equating it with Autocratic.
The shift in my self-acceptance of these leader qualities began when I was told one of my personal superpowers is being ‘Authoritatively Playful’. Apparently, I behave in an authoritatively playful way when I am challenged. And when I am authentic in my response to a challenge, and I bring my ‘authoritatively playful’ superpower to conversation, others respond! This revelation shifted my perspective on showing up authentic and with authority.
As my fascination with words and phrases continues, I have tuned my senses to recognize and honour creative tension. I have also realized that creative tension can be mistaken for disagreement or conflict, and treated with avoidance and resistance. The perspective shift I find most powerful is to liken inner and outer conflict as creative tension preparing us to step onto the springboard to change.
How do you recognize creative tension?