Using creative tension to your benefit

What do Elon Musk and a rubber band have in common? To explain, I want to explore the concept of “Creative tension”.

Creative tension is a thinking tool that helps you from merely addressing problems to actively creating new potential futures. It consists of three steps.

Figure 1: Creative tension (Senge et al. 1994: 195)

First, you need to take a step back from your daily routines and ask yourselves: what do I want to create? This requires awareness about your inner desires that can be reached through self-reflection. In this thought process, you should not limit yourself by what you think is possible. Go big! Or as Robert Fritz says: “The human spirit will not invest itself in a compromise”. Elon Musk uses this power of vision in telling his SpaceX team: “We’re going to land people on Mars by 2025”.

In a second step, you begin to assess the current reality. Be brutally honest to yourself: Where do I stand right now? What can and can’t I do? This is all about the power of truth and dramatizing the current reality to make the need for change visible. Many revolutionaries such as Martin Luther King or Gandhi used this technique to gain media attention and spark a social movement. Once again, Elon Musk uses this by saying that the only alternative to avoid an eventual extinction event for humans on earth (i.e. nuclear war, climate collapse, or asteroid impact) is to become a multi-planetary species.

The third step happens automatically. It´s the gap between where you want to be and where you are right now the so-called creative tension. Similar to a rubber band that generates more tension the more you pull the two sides apart. There are two ways to release this tension.

On one side, feelings of discouragement or hopelessness can usually make you lower your vision down to your current reality. Sadly, this would lead you in a downwards cycle that decreases your motivation and confidence. Change is hard work. Thus, the other option is to patiently and consistently work on steps that bring your reality closer to your vision. This is where change can happen, and the creative tension is the force that brings you closer. And who knows, maybe this creative tension will fuel Elon Musk enough to make us live on Mars.

To find out more about this topic I can recommend the book “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter M. Senge and “Path of Least Resistance” by Robert Fritz.

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