‘Aha!’ vs ‘everyday’

Tension isn’t necessarily bad – just ask an Olympic athlete jogging to the starting line or an opera singer minutes before the curtain rises on opening night. No tension means no adrenalin and lacklustre impact. There’s the build-up to performance, the execution, the aftermath, the debrief. Then it begins all over again, perhaps countless times, depending on the pursuit. Innovation is much like that, a sometimes magical cycle of creativity and focused performance. The tension between creative chaos and disciplined execution is not particularly difficult to comprehend to anyone familiar with the arts, yet it seems to confound many in the business community. Organisations often veer too much to one side or the other or aspire to eliminate tension altogether in a quest for efficiency. “We really should stop pretending that innovation is not so hard and (admit) it is often incompatible with much of what we perform on a daily basis,” says Paul Hobcraft, an innovation adviser and blogger. “The task of managing intangibles (unknowns) alongside tangibles (knowns) needs greater appreciation of their complexities, and the difficulties of balancing the two for achieving a ‘decent’ result.” No surprise, then, that business leaders are increasingly turning to the arts for guidance. They may have their shortcomings (just ask any CFO), but arts organisations are much more comfortable with the tensions emanating from the creativity-execution marriage. It’s the price of doing business. Professor Wanda Orlikowski, chair of communication sciences at MIT, says improvisation – “improv” – offers business leaders a useful tool to steer through uncharted waters. “Change does not always lend itself to well-rehearsed orchestration,” she says. “The organisations most responsive to change are often the ones that replace the orchestral model with a new one — the jazz combo.” Orlikowski’s tips for managing the tension of the unknown: plan to improvise, adapt when you cannot foresee, and allow employees to experiment.


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