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How ‘Creative Tension’ allows vision to become reality

September 8, 2008

Recently I was running errands when I bumped into a friend in the street. This happens once in a while, as he lives in the neighbourhood. Although we always have a nice chat, most of the time when I run into him, he seems tired and rushed. But this time I noticed something different. He was slimmer, brighter, more relaxed.

“How are you?” I asked, with extra emphasis on each word. “I’m great!” he replied. “I’ve been running every day. I’ve lost 15 lbs and I’ve cut out alcohol. I’m telling you: the secret to feeling good is in water and a good diet. But seriously – you can’t drink enough water!”

I was proud of him. After years of being uninterested in his health, he was beginning to take it seriously. But I couldn’t help wonder what inspired him? It turns out, a lot. He had been tired of feeling bloated, overweight and anxious. He said, “I just woke up one morning tired of being tired. I decided it was time to change.”

Later that night when I got home I got to thinking: in his book Change or Die, Alan Deutschman’s first key to change is relating new hope. My friend had found exactly that: he was able to relate to a vision of what he wanted and he saw a that he could achieve it. This inspired him to make the changes he needed from his current reality. It was this kind of drive, or tension, if you will that ignited the change.

But how do we create or seek out this vision and do we make it attainable?

Peter M. Senge, one of the most well-known authors on the “Learning Organization” suggests the best way to make your vision a reality is found in a principle he describes as ‘Creative Tension’. He illustrates his principle by likening it to an elastic band. On one end is the vision, and on the other end is the current reality. Senge explains that creative tension comes from “seeing clearly where we want to be and telling the truth about where we are. The gap between the two creates a natural tension.”

Building on this idea, Senge goes on to explain that this tension can be resolved by raising the reality toward the vision, or lowering the vision toward the reality. In other words, without an idea, an inspiration or relating to a new hope; the current reality will never change. The flip side is also true. It is very difficult to uphold a vision when we have no real sense of the current reality.

I related this to how we help create this same kind of tension in a variety of ways. For one, we use Socratic questioning to get people to come to their answers. Socrates believed that in order for people to learn, there had to be a tension in the mind. This tension forced the individual to question the status quo and pull upwards to a new thought or learning. In using Socratic questioning, Tatham facilitators allow Boot Camp participants to create their own learning environment.

The other way we help create creative tension is by looking at the end-to-end process. We force people to look at the big picture, taking each step and function of their company into account. By looking at an issue from a bird’s eye view, you gain a new perspective. With this new perspective and a current reality, it’s much easier to form a new vision.

If I bring this back to my friend’s newfound success, it’s clear to me that this very same kind of tension was compelling enough for him to change. He said to me, “Once I knew what I wanted to achieve, I couldn’t stop reading up about how to lead a healthier lifestyle. I got on the net, and just read, and read and read. I learned everything I could so that I would be successful in making the change.”

Needless to say, he’s kept up the effort. He says, “Now that I have a vision in my mind, and I am determined to make it happen.”