Unhealthy competition and adversarial alliances will usually degrade school culture and limit the ability to learn and improve. While some tensions can be destructive, not all are bad.
It may sound counterintuitive, but creative tension can be used strategically to elevate our personal and school growth potential. When we purposefully challenge our thinking, we're often able to access untapped potential.
It all starts with a journey that gets us outside of our comfort zone. This is mine...
One day everything will be well,
that is our hope. Everything’s
fine today, that is our illusion.
We thoroughly enjoyed the privilege of working from Scotland last week, exploring many parts of that beautiful country. Our journey included universities and schools, mountains and lakes, waterfalls and bridges, sheep and cows, and fairways and sand traps (had to include a stop in St. Andrews ⛳️)
Tammy mapped out a wonderful adventure that had one important requirement: I had to quickly learn how to drive on the other side of the road from the other side of the car.
It was very uncomfortable, especially at first! I realized immediately as we were leaving the airport that I needed to be constantly aware of decisions while adapting what I knew about driving. That tension was invigorating, requiring me to be extra sharp and adjust habits that I had developed over decades.
Similarly, creative tension is a powerful motivator that can drive the transformation of people and schools.
Creative tension is experienced when we clearly articulate our vision and then clarify our current reality. That means looking at internal and external data to accurately and specifically understand where we are now and how we got here. The resulting gap becomes painfully apparent.
Then we have to face a decisive moment of creative tension:
Are we ok with it? Does the difference between where we want to be and where we are really matter?
Or, is that gap unacceptable enough to drive new thinking to do something about it?
Our minds are highly motivated to relieve that cognitive dissonance by doing what it takes to close that gap. The resulting tension gives us more energy, expanded resources, and greater imagination to find ways to elevate our game. (That's why we use this experience as part of our strategic planning methodology)
To grow and improve, we have to get uncomfortable. Not just inconveniently uncomfortable like sleeping on a strange pillow or riding in an awful airline seat for 10 hours.
This is about being uncomfortable at our core, where our brain kicks into fight or flight mode because we feel threatened. I’m talking about that painful discomfort that keeps us up at night and makes it hard to think about anything else. (I'm still stunned those trucks rapidly passing by on the right during those extra tight curves didn't crush our MG—and my hands are still sore from gripping the steering wheel)
We have the incredible ability to rise to the occasion, even when that includes overcoming great hurdles and obstacles.
Today, our very survival depends on
our ability to stay awake, to adjust
to new ideas, to remain vigilant and
to face the challenge of change.
— Martin Luther King, Jr
Creative tension is a powerful motivator that can be used to achieve positive change. It requires bravery combined with wisdom to change the status quo.
We certainly don’t need to teach people to embrace the status quo—it’s our nature to embrace the status quo and discourage those who see new ways. Learning and changing our methods is hard. We can easily get trapped by our own mindset and behavior.
But remember, yesterday’s adaptations are today's habits. We've just forgotten why we made those adjustments before.
Having a compelling vision of a desired future is essential, and how we communicate that vision is especially important. The powerful truth is:
If we can see it, we can be it.
We have no idea what we’re made of until we venture outside of what's familiar. Once we embrace a clear vision that is desirable and compelling, and we trust in each other as a unified team, there's little that can stop us from achieving excellence.
So refuse to settle for the mediocre! Instead, use that creative tension to grow toward a compelling vision.
Love'em and Lead'em!