Trigger Creativity With Tension

I think what makes the work worth talking about is tension and fear. There is tension because we are simultaneously doing something that might work and something that might not work. And living with both of those things at the same time is very difficult for most people.  —Seth Godin

The Edge

I n his audio presentation, Leap First: Creating Work That Matters, Seth Godin challenges our thinking as he pushes us to “ship our art” into the world.  One of his segments presents the notion of tension as a mechanism for creativity.  Godin argues that our best work is done on the edge between “this might work” and “this might not work.”

Think about that for a moment.  Godin challenges us to embrace tension rather than avoid or eliminate it.  Our natural inclination is to reduce tension.  We want to run away from it.  However, pushing through tension, working at it, and letting it unfold yields our best results.

Tough Decisions

Consider a tough decision you may be facing.  From your vantage point, there is no right answer as none of your options are appealing.  As you consider the facts of the situation and waffle back and forth, it is draining and frustrating.  In this situation, our tendency is to relieve the tension as quickly as possible.  We make a call and push forward.  Or, we make no call and retreat from any decision.  We abdicate.

Decisiveness versus Endurance

I am a big believer in being decisive.  We never have all of the facts and there is a time to make a decision and push forward.  However, there is tremendous benefit to enduring the tension to make a better decision.  Time is one element but other things can be happening as well.  We may have one more conversation that brings a fresh perspective.  The morning shower may foster one brilliant idea.  Someone else may make a decision to relieve their tension and open the door for us.  Enduring the tension as it unfolds can change everything.

Enduring the tension as it unfolds can change everything.

The tension is uncomfortable but pushing through it can yield our best work.  That edge heightens our senses, challenges us to be more.  We will lean into it or we will retreat from it.  It is a choice.  It is YOUR choice. This isn’t masochism but an opportunity for enlightenment and improvement.  Tension gives us the chance to rise to the occasion and stand apart.  Choosing to endure it empowers and emboldens us.


The next time you feel the tension in a situation, stop for a moment and consider it. Rather than seeking to relieve it by speaking first, making a snap decision, running from it, or abdicating responsibility, embrace it for a few moments. Deliberately holding the tension feels incredibly unnatural so you will have to be very determined. However, on that edge, in that moment, you may feel something else. You may recognize that pushing beyond the tension reveals another path, another idea, or simply relieves you of a fear that you held dear. Intentionally walking through the tension might take you toward something new and surprising.

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