A Different Kind of Creative Tension

About 20 years ago, I attended a training series that showcased Peter Senge’s model of workplace innovation reflected in his book The Fifth Discipline. It was at this training that I learned the idea of creative tension. According to him, creative tension is the distance between a workplace’s vision and its current situation. Cool, but not being a particularly organization-minded person, I began to apply this to other situations. Since then, I’ve applied the notion of creative tension as a way to understand how to bridge differences or meet goals.

Parenting, for example, is chock full of creative tension. The toddler definitely does NOT want the nap, but you know that if said toddler doesn’t get a nap they will become Category 5 hurricane of mood and impulse. Intense negotiation, filibusters, strikes, and either compromise or capitulation is par for the course. Any workplace is full of creative tension. We may agree on goals, but how we reach them can be – and often is – wildly different. It’s no coincidence that shows like Parks and Recreation or the comic strip Dilbert feel so real to us.

Our personal goals and visions are playgrounds of creative tension. I might have the desire to finish my reports and grade my papers before I go home, but it’s Friday and the call of my friends and family rings loud and clear. The distance between my vision and my current reality is never quite so clear as it is on a Friday. While I love Friday, I have also begun to recognize one of my symptoms of creative tension: getting tired. My desire to complete all my tasks so that I can begin other projects is directly inverse to the amount of residual energy I have left at the end of the work week.

At the end of a long week, instead of spending time with friends, returning to this book or that craft or, please no, doing housework, I sit. Once I sit, I fall asleep. There’s little I can do once the Friday rest impulse strikes. I could watch a movie, which I’d view behind closed eyes. I could talk on the phone, but I tend to either become monosyllabic or giggle too much when I’m tired. I could go out with friends, but I’d come home early. I eat my Wheaties (metaphorically) and take care of myself, but no matter how much I desire the time to tap into my creative genius, Friday fatigue is the boss of me. Maybe for some, Sunday is a day to relax; for me, it’s Friday evening. My creative tension will have to wait until Saturday.

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