My week has involved some tension. It has also resulted in creativity. Tension and creativity with partners. Creativity and tension within the organisation. Tense creativity with a contractor working on our house. And even creative tension over a presentation I have to give next week.
The first I time I cam across Creative Tension was in a story told by a colleague a few years ago describing the relationship between Quality Control and Production. One wants to deliver most products possible…the other wants only output of necessary quality. The creative tension between these two generates maximum output of high quality products.
In truth, the ‘tension’ referred to in Creative Tension is normally less about interactions between people or groups but is more an internal feeling. An example is that moment when we compare our current location to our vision for where we want to be. The inevitable gap (between vision and reality) creates an emotional and energetic tension that we just have to resolve.
The choice of ‘tension’ as the descriptor originated from imagining that ‘gap’ as being like a stretched rubber band. The larger the gap, the tighter the rubber band stretches…and the more emotional and energetic ‘tension’ there is for us to resolve.
This concept helped me with my presentation. I long ago realised I am a ‘Last Minute Merchant’ when it comes to presentations (and yes, this has been known to drive most everyone to distraction). But now I realise that in fact I am increasing my own creative tension by delaying production to the last minute in order to boost my inspiration and creativity.
Within an organisation, introduction of creative tension between groups, or even inside a team, can be a very important component of leadership. By definition, the moment any new vision is outlined, creative tension appears…provided the vision is some distance from where we are today. If there was no gap, there would be no need for any action…no opportunity to move forward.
There are risks – risks with any scenario where creative tension is introduced. Human nature will always look to intervene. It is easy for us to feel tension. It is harder for us to see creativity. And it is in our nature to reduce tension. The simplest means to relieve tension is to blur the vision, or to re-assess our current state. Either response reduces the gap between vision and reality…and reduces tension. But both actions will also reduce motivation and stifle creativity and – at the very best – will lead to a less attractive version of our vision.
It is no surprise then that a clearly articulated vision – with as much detail as possible – will always help ensure success. As will a genuinely honest assessment of current reality – again easier to say than to do.
The other big success factor in a world of creative tension is doing stuff. Taking actions…big or small, obvious or not – anything that moves us from where we are today towards our vision. And we are always driven in the right direction – provided we continually assess where we are relative to our vision – by our innate need to resolve creative tension.
At its simplest, creative tension is all about delivering what we want. A challenge for us in our industry is that our scientific training leads us to concentrate efforts on solving problems – a valuable activity of course, but an activity that intrinsically focuses on avoiding what we don’t want.
Maybe then the true power of creative tension is to focus our efforts on what we are trying to create…rather than on problems that need to be resolved.