[creative matters] chapter four: resisting resistance

Written by L.L. Barkat

L.L. Barkat is the author of God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us and the upcoming Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing. She is also Managing Editor for The High Calling and creator of Every Day Poems.

August 10, 2011

[serialposts]Call Me Glinda: Tension and Relief for Successful Work Teams

This past weekend I saw the broadway show Wicked. It was a hilarious re-envisioning of the Oz story, centered on the bond between two unlikely friends: Elphaba and Glinda.

They couldn’t have been more different. Elphaba was unpopular, brunette, and analytical. She had a thing about granting monkeys freedom of speech. Glinda was popular, blond, and politically sensitive. She had a thing about traveling by bubble.

This morning, thinking about my role as a Manager, I am suddenly aware that though I am a petite brunette with a strong sense of drive, I have a laugh as big as Glinda’s (and I’m just now digging through my family tree to see if my ancestors were blond).

Before you think I’m trying to claim attractive curls, heavy-duty hairspray, and popularity status, let me put that thought aside. What I’m getting at is the role I play in the issue of creative tension, as it relates to forwarding workplace vision.

At The High Calling, where I am Managing Editor, we have a large vision. As C. J. Alvarado notes in Creative Matters, tension always follows vision (like the monkeys followed Elphaba): Predictably.

Tension comes because we know we’re not “there yet.” This creates pressure. And there are two ways to relieve it, says Alvarado. We can lower our vision and “bring it back toward reality” or we can “move reality toward the vision.”

The risk? That we’ll quit along the way because we want to relieve the pressure, and end up staying with our current reality.

Just yesterday, I had occasion to think about this issue. Another leader on my Team was feeling a sense of discontent with where we are. As we talked, I thought, “This is what I love about him. He’s always reaching.” In other words, I thought of my colleague not as “a nuisance and a roadblock,” but rather a “source of energy.”

This is a critical nuance. Because when tension arises, we are only one step away from letting it become emotional and draining, rather than creative and energizing. On this point, Alvarado warns…

When it becomes emotional, people respond in a variety of ways. They may get angry, they go into protective mode, they may become tempted to abandon ship. If you work with teams and it turns emotional, the pressure grows exponentially. You may feel like people become more focused on themselves or distance themselves from you, losing sight of the vision.

To keep it creative instead of emotional, Alvarado suggests a magic charm of sorts: “Use the power of language to help people understand that this tension is part of achieving greatness.”

I strongly agree. However, I also think emotion is a source of energy. This is a subtle point, but one worth making. The key for partners and teams is not to simply adopt a new slogan: “Keep it creative, Dude,” but to validate emotions along the way and invite them to be part of the problem-solving process.

Validation can come in simple forms. Listening to an emotion, putting it on the table for the other person (“you seem frustrated, can you tell me about that?”), and responding with a collaboratively-created staged plan to address the vision-tension. (Staged plans give a sense that we can “get there,” because people are able to find markers along the way.)

Of course, the truth is that we will never get there, because in a vital organization the “there” will keep moving. But we don’t need to always focus on that. We can and should celebrate real accomplishments, ignoring the reality of tension if only for a while. We should travel by bubble before we pop it again. And we should find time for hilarity.

“So your job is to lie to people?” Elphaba says to Glinda at one point.

“My job is to encourage them,” Glinda replies.

Elphaba is right of course. We aren’t “there yet.” But a little Glindification will help us go a long way.


    • @bibledude

      this wins the award for best comment i’ve seen on a post here in a long time! #fistbump

      • goodwordediting

        Thanks, Dan. I wouldn’t make a comment like that on just anyone’s blog or post, but I trust you and LL more than I can say. And it frees me up to have some fun. 🙂

        Great post by the way. I featured it at THC yesterday afternoon, and in CT next week.

  1. Claire

    the tension of reaching… in the book ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ the author goes to great lengths to discuss this tension. i like your illustration of it.

    • Llbarkat

      I read that book, but I can’t remember that (been too long :). Thanks for the “like.” I figured, why not use my vacation to discuss my work? 🙂

  2. Llbarkat

    LOL, Marcus! 🙂

    My job is to *encourage* them.

    • @bibledude

      i’m not sure how much i can believe you now…

  3. Anonymous

    What I like most about this post is that LL Barkat said both, “Keep it creative, Dude,” and “Glindification” in it.

    • @bibledude

      anytime @llbarkat:twitter says “dude” anything, well, it just makes me smile! #fistbump

  4. Amy Sondova

    Oh, WICKED is such a wonderful musical!  I love that you tied your post to seeing WICKED. 🙂  I don’t know which of these quotes I like better– “We should travel by bubble before we pop it again.” or “And we should find time for hilarity.”  But one or both are going in my quote book.

  5. Marilyn Yocum

    Smiled all the way through this one, the way you tied the play to team dynamics, being aware of what role we play and how language can be an important tool. Delightful and true!

  6. Leslie J. Rowe

    Glindification…I like that. Really do. Can you give me a fictitious dictionary definition for that? Like maybe, “to assign a positive bubblefication to a perceived negative emotion or experience…”

    It’s scriptural, actually. “Whatsoever is good, whatsoever is…”


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[creative matters] chapter four: resisting resistance

by L.L. Barkat time to read: 3 min