Prepare for Creative Tension or It May Cloud Your Vision


Creative TensionThe team was excited and energized. They had created a vision that would lead to the breakthrough they had been looking for.

They set goals and identified next steps, roles and communications. They had a great plan and the means to achieve it.

All set, right?


They fell victim to “creative tension.”

Working toward the vision was not as exciting as the process of creating it. At times it was downright mundane.

It was harder than they had anticipated. It required more work, making adjustments to plans, communications and coordination was more difficult.

Some people began to say the vision wasn’t practical. Others decided they really didn’t want the vision after all.

Soon things on the team returned to normal, and life returned to the way it had been before they created the vision.

The vision? No one remembered it.

Creative tension is entirely predictable

If they had known about “creative tension,” they could have been prepared for it and used it to their advantage, rather than allowing it to be the undoing of their vision.

In his book, The Path of Least Resistance, Robert Fritz coined the term “creative tension,” because the tension is what creates the future you desire.

Think of it as the grain of sand in the oyster that produces the pearl. It is a necessary and important part of birthing a vision.

It is a law of nature that tension seeks resolution.

It is a natural response to let go of your vision in order to resolve the tension.  However, it is the wrong response.

When you accept the tension as inevitable and are willing to live with it…

when you are honest with yourself about your current situation and also keep your vision front and center at the same time …

the tension will resolve differently. -> Current reality will begin to shift in favor of your vision.

Use tension to your advantage rather than trying to avoid it.

Have you ever gone fishing?  Consider the difference between the fish that got eaten and “one that got away.”

When hooked on a line, the fish that gets eaten pulls against the tension of the line until he is worn out. Then he is easily reeled in. The smart fish swims toward the pole until he finds a way to get off the hook.

The point is that it’s important to recognize your current reality and accept that there will be a certain amount of tension, frustration and hard work. Use the tension to your advantage.  Don’t let go of your vision.

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16 comments to Prepare for Creative Tension or It May Cloud Your Vision

  • I can relate to this as someone who is very much future and goal oriented. In every organization I took charge of, establishing a vision and strategy was one of my first order of business. A lot of creative energy and excitement was generated from the process.

    But then the heavy lifting began.

    I quickly discovered that people need to be affirmed and supported throughout the doldrums and the tough times that inevitably occur.

    As you so wisely say, preparing for it is absolutely key if you want to have a chance of actually achieving the vision.

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      Thanks, Joe. As Jim Kouszes, Warren Bennis, Peter Senge and others have pointed out, a key responsibility of leadership is to keep the vision front and center in conversations. I think it’s helpful to share this concept throughout the organization because as they say, ‘Forewarned is forearmed.”

  • Hi Jesse

    Creative Tension is a lot like tension in life period, there are those rare events when something big and exciting happens, but they either setup a lot of tough hard work or were the result of it. It takes true character to slug through the tough parts, in business it helps if the team has a few cheerleaders or its superiors are good cheerleaders. It can help keep people motivated.

  • Fascinating. That is exactly what is happening with a firm I am currently working with. The CEO, in his eagerness to keep everyone’s head down and focused on bringing in revenue, has dismissed the vision which was created with great effort and unanimous buy-in. He proclaimed in “Nice but”….

    Needless to say, there’s a lack of energy and engagement among team members. If it’s only about money, then the building of relationships doesn’t matter either.

    How do you turn around a CEO?

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      How do you turn around a CEO? I’d say the same way you turn around a stampeding rhino. If the CEO doesn’t value the vision immediately after engaging in a process to create it, you’ll need to wait until he’s in pain to catch his attention.

  • Gurmeet Singh Pawar

    Nice post and a very sound advice. thanks.

    @ Eileen McDargh:
    “How do you turn around a CEO?”

    well you don’t or to be precise you can’t. Only he/she can turn around themselves and all we can do is wait for them to learn their lessons from their choices and make a turn around. Meanwhile look for those whose time has come. :-)

    Thanks & have a nice day.

  • To get to True North it is highly likely that you have to prepare for storms and winds that blow you off course. Nice reminder Jesse of the perspiration that comes behind the inspiration. Thanks.

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      Thanks, David. I like your metaphor. You remind me that when sailing, you reach your destination not by pointing directly toward it, but by tacking, making a series of turns as you adjust to the wind.

  • Great article. We tend to look askance at all forms of stress, pressure, and tension as something to avoid. But the truth of the matter is that we need certain amounts of stress, pressure, and tension in order to move out of the ordinary and move into the extraordinary!

    Thanks for reminding us…these words can have very positive meanings as well.

  • So true. I advocate to some clients that they’d better get used to arguing over new vision, direction, etc., but that they need to make sure the tension gets resolved vs. avoiding it. We talk about being unafraid to disagree, but also to work on solutions and decisions that move people forward no matter how uncertain they are about the choices.

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      Great point avoiding conflict, Alan. Studies have shown that there is actually more conflict on high performing teams that are aligned around a shared vision. They surface conflict, quickly address it and move on. The vision is of the end-result, not the process to get there. There are many decisions to be made about what path to take.

  • Love Fritz’s book and glad to see it getting this exposure. So much wisdom!

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