Creativity: Generate for the Long Term

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Generate a creative tension

I recently discovered the interesting teaching of Peter Senge, an American systems scientist who is a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, co-faculty at the New England Complex Systems Institute, and the founder of the Society for Organizational Learning… just that!

In one of his lectures he explains what creative tension is and why it is useful in a system. He goes on to say that the creative tension is the force that is generated between our appreciation of the current reality and our comprehension of a desired shared vision for a future reality we wish to become.

The better our appreciation of the current reality is, the more it will generate a push in a system. Equally, the more articulated is this vision of a shared desirable future reality, more it will generate a pull in a system, both push and pull contributing to this creative tension.

  • Push with a good understanding of the current state of affairs.
  • Pull with a compelling shared vision of a desirable future state.

Tell your dreams

In the U.S. social system of the 1960’s, segregation was about to be challenged, on a decisive day of the year 1963. In August of this year, during a march in Washington, Dr. King shared with the peaceful protester a shared vision for a more desirable future, the famous “I have a dream” speech.

On one side, the appreciation of segregation was being more palpable via the means of the media (mass communication happened in the 60’s) that relayed the numerous civil actions demonstrating in a more forceful manner the impact of segregation on the people and society (for example when Rosa Park refused to sit elsewhere than where she decided to sit).

Although segregation isn’t completely solved even to this day, it was a shift in awareness that happened back then, a change of paradigm.

And then you have on the other side people like Dr. King or Malcom X who tried to articulate their visions for what their believe a more desired future could be, and the more they articulated it (like in the form of a dream) the more it generate a tension that will allow for the emergence of creative actions taken by the people. 

Design “concept cars”

You are probably already familiar with the “concept car” approach. But for those who aren’t, it is an imaginative exercise the automotive industry is fond of. They basically come up with futuristic concepts that breaks the standard of style and technology to design a car that could be in sci-fi movies.

As cool as it sounds, it isn’t not a mundane exercise to work on, and the aim here isn’t to create a car that will be made one day and circulate on our roads — these “concept cars” would be too expensive to build for the masses and most of the ideated technology doesn’t exist yet.

The point is not about what “will” a car look like in 30 year, rather it is about what “could” or “might” we be at in the automotive world. The aim is to share a common vision that inspire those who strive to create this desired future together. It is a “north star” that motivates us to reach for something truly extra-ordinary, and like any travels it isn’t about reaching the destination but really about the journey.

Designing “concept car” is an important exercise that tries to continuously stretch your mind into imagining what might be desirable for the future, and how best we could make that vision tangible enough so that it inspires people to make that shared vision become a reality.

On the head of a pin

In short, you don’t need to tell the people what to do for them in order to act together toward a common goal.

What you need is to make sure they can experience and appreciate the current state of affairs, and to provide them with an articulated shared vision of a more desired future state of affairs, and if it’s compelling then people will find ways to bring that future alive.