Traditional management is designed to suppress tensions. The future of work demands we embrace tensions to create new ways of work and to create new value.
Many of the elements of traditional management suppress tension. Hierarchy, silos, decision making rights, carefully managed flows of information, narrow roles, tight process are all efforts to reduce uncertainty, variation and tensions in the coordination of people. You only look to the loom-smashing, violence, strikes and street riots of the late 19th century and early twentieth century to see why we may have preferred to manage in a predictable safe low tension environment. However, practices designed for low information and high barrier to communication start to break down in an era of greater connection and greater visibility of the surrounding systems.
The art of management in the future of work is leveraging the generative potential of tensions. The tension that comes with uncertainty and doubt is a signal to learn more through experiments and engagement. Customer tensions are insights to improvements in experiences, products and value. Employee tensions are sources of insights into new ways of organising and working. Community tensions are ways to shape a new role for the organisation and to engage with its purpose. Supplier tensions are the platform for new partnerships and new approaches to the entire supply chain. Conflicts between these stakeholders is the ground on which truly new value is created. At an individual level, flow occurs when the rising challenges of our work meet our rising capabilities. Generative tension creates new human capabilities.
Leveraging tension requires new practices in management and new ways of leadership. We need to surface, engage and explore these tensions in conversations and in our work. If we aren’t working against some tension, then we are going through the motions. That is now or soon will be the work of robots and not worthy of the creative talents of humanity. In customer experiences, employee experiences and community engagement, an absence of challenge and debate is a sign of entropy. We are most comfortable passing over the peak to decline.
When we step into the discomfort of tensions, value, learning and growth await us.
PS. Thanks to David Holzmer for prompting this piece on his comments on yesterday’s post. Thanks also to James Altucher for the reminder “Don’t Be Easy”